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LG 55EC9300

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Product Description

I had my first hands on experience with OLED technology last year at Cleveland AV, spending a few days calibrating and evaluating LG's stunning 55EA9800. The technology that gave the EA9800 such seductive picture quality, Organic Light Emitting Diode, matures into it's second generation with LG's new 55EC9300.

The EC9300, like it's predecessor, features a gently curved screen and sleek, modern style. While my preference would be for a flat screen, I found it naturally easy to look past the curve; and the EC9300's form factor can undoubtedly increase the appeal to our artistic sides.

The EC9300's screen stays commendably dark in rooms with ambient light, though the glossy screen generates sharp but generally well controlled reflections. The reflections have a somewhat lumpy and dimpled appearance due to the slightly curved screen. When finding a home for the EC9300, care should be taken to ensure that any bright, uncovered windows or doors are far to the side or behind the screen rather than in front of it.

Before calibration:

The EC9300 comes out of the box in the dismal APS (auto power save) mode. Unfortunately, the image was very dark; not just in overall light output, but also dark shadings that should have been visible in the picture appeared to be buried in a black blob. I saw quite a bit of pumping and brightness fluctuation while navigating menus. When my test clip started, the first thing that jumped out at me were how red some normally orange carrots appeared. People looked too ruddy, and whites were obviously bluish. Motion and pans exhibited the Soap Opera Effect but with occasional stutters along the way. On the positive side, there was a good illusion of depth and deep, rich blacks.

The EC9300's most accurate picture modes are Cinema and the ISF Expert modes, all of which looked identical except for motion and overscan being different in Cinema. Coming from APS, which featured the hyper smooth SOE, to ISF Expert, the change in motion and pans could be a bit shocking. While overall picture quality improved remarkably over APS mode, the ISF mode seemed to exaggerate warm, earthy tones. Colors looked more realistic, but an off-white tinge in brighter objects spoiled the fun. At the other end of the brightness range, shadow detail exhibited a slightly blue or purplish character, but was otherwise well reproduced. I didn't feel the sense of depth was quite as strong as it should or could be in this mode. Contrast looked impressive, and brightness was adequate unless I left the image paused long enough to type some notes for this review; when the EC9300 senses a static image for too long, it slowly dims the brightness. Skin tones appeared a bit too rich, though not unpleasant. Overall, Cinema and ISF Expert serve up a good picture before calibration, though with some annoying white balance and color issues on the side.

Calibration:

Before calibrating, the firmware was updated to 04.30.17. Calibration and viewing was done in a totally dark room.

The EC9300 includes both a 2 point and a 20 point white balance adjustment. The 2 point is simple and straightforward to use with a meter and measurement software, but the 20 point seems to have an evil desire to frustrate and mislead unsuspecting calibrators. The first pitfall is displacement. If the contrast is adjusted so any Whiter Than White headroom is preserved, the controls progressively mistrack in a way that can make it nearly impossible to calibrate with any precision. The best method is to set contrast to shave off everything above 100% video white, and then after the 20 point calibration is done, if WTW headroom is desired the contrast control can be backed off a bit. This method works pretty well, but it can cause small errors in gamma and grayscale tracking. The second problem with the 20 point calibration is panel fatigue. The EC9300 will gradually dim the image if the same size and shape is displayed for too long, effectively ruling out real time adjustment of the 20 point control. It doesn't matter if the intensity or color of the object changes; if it sees nothing but a window pattern on screen, it's going to dim. I found the best way to calibrate the 20 point adjustment was to use the 2 point to get things close, using 10% for the low adjustment and 100% for the high. Then take full 20 or 21 step measurement runs and put in the corrections deemed necessary after each pass is done. It's a painfully slow process, but it works well with some practice.

After calibration, the grayscale and gamma tracking were textbook perfect, as can be seen in the attached before/after calibration report. The "Before calibration" column in this report is the untouched, before calibration measurements of the ISF Expert mode and illustrates why I felt the before calibration white balance skewed the picture so much.

As with the 9800, I measured the EC9300 with the following conventional (non-APL) window sizes: 3%, 5%, 10%, 18%, 25%, 50%, and 100% (full field), and 5% size APL windows with 18%, 25%, and 50% APL surrounds. They all measured exactly the same except for the 50% and 100%, with the 50% APL windows having a just barely measurable higher gamma. Light output was 53 fL for all sizes except 50% windows, which were 29.9 fL, and 100% full fields, which managed 14.6 fL. There should be no mystery or controversy over what size or style of windows to use while calibrating the 9300; any window size up to and including 25%, APL or non APL... Doesn't matter!

I had found the Color Management System controls in the EA9800 to be severely flawed, and unfortunately, LG still hasn't fixed them. The CMS section is best left alone. At extreme settings, they cause scary, blotchy messes in the picture. Even with milder settings, their use will result in uneven looking color shades. The red saturation and luminance controls are the most obvious offenders, but I tested every color's controls and found similar, if less noticeable, problems. To illustrate the issues, I took screenshots of the picture with various settings of the red controls and attached them here. Notice the blotchiness and awful artifacting in people's faces and other objects in the image. Thankfully, color tracking and accuracy at various saturation and luminance levels was just fine after calibration; there really wasn't a pressing need for a CMS control after all once other aspects of the picture were calibrated.

Many TVs, especially edge lit LED LCDs, suffer from poor screen uniformity; in other words, the white balance and brightness can be significantly different in the center of the screen than near the edges. To test the EC9300's uniformity, I examined full screen gray and white shades for changes or shifts across the screen area. With very dark gray shades just above black, the EC9300's uniformity was poor; shadow detail below about 3% could disappear or reappear depending on where it was on the screen. Brighter gray and white uniformity was fair, not particularly good or bad compared to most LED LCDs, but poorer than most plasmas. Though easily visible with test patterns, these problems never drew attention to themselves with my reference program material, even when I spent over a half hour of The Dark Knight just looking for the near black uniformity problem.

The EC9300's black level was absolutely black in every situation and test I ran. There was absolutely no glow in black areas of the picture, no matter what content was right next to it. I have never seen this good of contrast performance in any other display technology; not even in the contrast kings like the Sharp Elite, 9.5G Pioneer Kuro, or Panasonic ZT60. The 5x5 ANSI checkerboard measured infinitely low blacks and 28.5 fL white.

The EC9300's picture quality takes on a yellowish, off white appearance when it is viewed significantly off axis. Viewers sitting along a typical 3 cushion couch will all see great picture quality, but at more extreme horizontal and vertical angles the shift becomes apparent. Though I don't think it's sensitive enough to be a major concern, I would attempt to arrange a layout where seating positions are not too far to the side or below the screen. The attached report shows how the EC9300's measurements change off axis, with the "Before calibration" column showing the measurements on axis and the "After calibration" column being the same settings measured about 45 degrees to the side.

After calibration:

The EC9300 left me nearly speechless with it's amazingly lifelike, razor sharp image. There was tons of pop; unlike the LED LCD competition, the image looked punchy and exciting in both bright and dark movie scenes. Too often I am sent soaring with an LED's pop and punch in bright scenes, only to come crashing down to earth when a darker scene comes along with it's milky, fluctuating blacks. Not so with the EC9300.

I felt the image had a wonderfully smooth naturalness, which I referred to as "photorealistic" in my 9800 review. I saw great shadow detail overall; it was well balanced and neutral, though from my testing I knew it wasn't that good across the entire screen. When I looked for problems caused by the poor uniformity just above black, very occasionally I was able to see slight black crush in the upper left quadrant of the screen, but it was only because I was looking for it having seen issues with test patterns. I would never have noticed it otherwise, and my conclusion is that it was a non issue on my reference material. I was not able to pin down any confirmable sightings of the Dirty Screen Effect.

Motion could seem a bit choppy sometimes if I focused on it too much, but in the end I had no complaints.

Color was rendered beautifully; there was not even the slightest hint of the bluish dark shades or off whites mentioned previously. The combination of truly amazing contrast and very good color resulted in the most lifelike, realistic, and exciting image I've ever seen on a display.

In nearly every way, the EC9300 reminded me of the EA9800, which leaves me wondering if anything picture related was even changed. But that's not such a bad thing when, to quote my previous review, "the EA9800 is the best of the best, handily surpassing previous reference displays." That tradition continues with the seductively beautiful EC9300.

 

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