LG will launch five new OLED TV ranges in 2018: B8, C8, E8, G8, and W8. HFR is a major development but it will take many years to emerge, whereas the new ‘Alpha 9’ processor and auto-calibration are more immediate advantages. Here are our first impressions.
Chicken and egg
All of LG’s 2018 OLED TVs will support 120fps High Frame Rate, or HFR, which is a more significant development than most people realize. The reason why LG is not beating the jungle drum is likely because there is no content in 100 or 120fps HFR. Not even the usual suspects in Netflix and Amazon have hinted at plans to offer content in HFR. The UHD Blu-ray format only goes up to 60fps and broadcast networks severely lack the bandwidth.
So let us instead start with a demonstration. To show you the benefits of HFR, we shot a video at 240fps slow-motion. Notice how the jumping ball rendered at 120fps is almost silky smooth whereas the ball moving at 60fps exhibits some stutter and the ball moving at 30fps is stuttering like something was wrong.
The video speaks for itself but we need some context here to understand why this is significant. First, know that movies – more or less all movies coming out of Hollywood - are shot at 24fps. Lots of TV content is shot at 25 or 30fps.
We often hear people complaining about stutter, judder, motion artefacts, and other issues, and it seems as if the community has reached some kind of consensus that it is up to the TV to fix this. But motion issues are often – of course not always – caused by low frame rate video content rather than the TV hardware. OLED TVs owners may even have noticed that 24fps movies tend to exhibit an almost strobe-like effect in the very brightest scenes, which is actually caused by the ultra-fast response time of the OLED panel (unlike LCD panels that tend to add a natural blur to motion). You could say that an OLED panel – and soon microLED – reveal the limitations of the content.
It is time to move on. Now, before you shout to us from across planet about how you hated the look of The Hobbit at 48fps please remember that movies have been shot at 24fps for decades. The techniques will have to be improved and refined when moving to HFR and it will likely benefit sports, animation, and other genres more than more conventional movies - at least initially. And then it will take some getting used to.
So, what comes first? Hardware or content? It is a chicken and egg situation, and we do not expect HFR content to materialize in meaningful way in 2018 or 2019 but we must applaud LG for laying the groundwork. It helps that OLED displays are extreme fast; fast enough to reproduce HFR as… well HFR.
We spoke to all major manufacturers of OLED TVs at CES and were told that the 2018 OLED panel is more or less a continuation from last year’s panel. There is some talk about it having slightly larger subpixels but during one of LG’s sessions at CES we saw a measurement of peak HDR brightness, which revealed that peak brightness was more or less on par with last year’s panel. The way LG is enabling HFR is through a much more powerful video processor. The company has dubbed it the ‘Alpha 9’ and it is perhaps one of the most capable video processor out there, as evidenced by the fact that it can process 4K, HDR, and 120fps HFR at the same time, a feast that no competitor can match in 2018.
Which brings us to the Alpha 9.
Alpha 9 video processor
The new video processor is an enabler. It is 50% more powerful than last year’s chip and while video enthusiasts scoff at the idea that a video signal must be enhanced, remember that a more powerful processor can also enable new features like HFR.
At CES 2018, LG demonstrated how the Alpha 9 can improve poor source content through object-based analysis to improve details, contrast, motion, and more. LG appears to have made significant improvements to its motion engine, including its motion interpolation system (TruMotion). In a side-by-side comparison with the Sony A1 OLED, which LG applauded for being the second best TV on the market, the LG’s 2018 E8 OLED outperformed the Sony OLED that suffered from shimmering and dancing pixels during fast panning over a brick wall as well as other challenging situations. However, it must be stressed that both TVs were in Vivid mode with motion interpolation turned on. We will let you decide if it is a meaningful advantage. One of the first things we do when setting up a new TV is to turn of motion interpolation. The only way to significantly improve motion on our TVs is to push for HFR.
This is where we remind you that the new B8 series does not include the Alpha 9 processor but a less capable Alpha 7 that allows it to process 120fps HFR in 4K SDR (but not 4K HDR). It must also be emphasized that 100/120fps 4K works via streaming and USB, however, the TVs do not feature HDMI 2.1
The Alpha 9 can also improve HDR in a number of ways. LG is doing its own analysis and tone-mapping to try to simulate dynamic metadata and adjust the luminance level on a scene-by-scene basis - like Dolby Vision and HDR10+. The company calls these approaches ‘HDR10 Pro’ and ‘HLG Pro’ but these are not new formats; simply names that LG has thought up to describe the capabilities. LG employed a similar system in its 2017 OLED TVs.
LG’s 2018 OLED TVs support 4 HDR formats; HDR10, Dolby Vision, HLG, and Advanced HDR by Technicolor. There are no official plans to support HDR10+ – at least that’s what LG said. Seeing how strong momentum is for Dolby Vision, LG finds itself in a strong position. LG still offers support for Dolby Atmos in its 2018 OLED TVs.
Last but not least the Alpha 9 operates with a larger, more accurate 3D LUT, or 3D look-up table. Modern TVs use a 3D LUT to improve color accuracy by mapping colors inside a 3-dimensional cube. Usually, this cube has only the most essential points; black, white, 3 primary colors (RGB: Red, Green, Blue) and 3 secondary colors (CMY: Cyan, Magenta, Yellow), while the rest of the colors are calculated based on these points inside the cube. LG has expanded the cube to have 33 points, meaning that colors can be more accurately defined – before and after calibration. There is a bit more on this subject in the next section but if you want to learn more about how a 3D LUT works we can recommend this article over at ReferenceHomeTheater. At CES 2018, LG added that, to its knowledge, no other TV manufacturers use so advanced color processing, and that LG OLED TVs are now being used in Technicolor grading suites as reference consumer displays.
Which brings us to a partnership with SpectraCal announced at CES.
”This is not an evolution, this is a revolution”, LG’s Neil Robinson said when he announced a new partnership with Spectracal that involves an auto-calibration feature for LG’s 2018 OLED TVs.
You may recall that Panasonic and Samsung already offer auto-calibration via CalMAN but Neil Robinson emphasized that this is the first hardware-based auto-calibration system. It does not change the values in the menu but actually communicates directly with the TV on an underlying hardware level.
"This is not an evolution, this is a revolution"
What does this mean if you are not a calibrator? It means that even if you pay someone to come calibrate your TV, this method should significantly improve the result. Spectracal’s CalMAN software now has direct access to the look-up tables inside LG’s 2018 OLED and LCDs, allowing it to calibrate SDR and HDR, including HDR10, HLG and Dolby Vision, very quickly and extremely accurately. You can even calibrate the game mode.
The way it works is that you need a meter, a pattern generator, Spectracal’s CalMAN software, and of course a 2018 LG OLED - or just know someone with the equipment. The system connects over IP, meaning either Ethernet or WiFi.
FlatpanelsHD saw it in action, during SDR and HDR (including Dolby Vision) calibration, and except for a few manual steps that you must complete in the CalMAN software, it works as advertised. It really is a major step forward for calibration and very quickly the solution reached extremely accurate grey tones, and went on to calibrate colors within a couple of minutes to reach average Delta ICtCp below 0.3. You can set it up to be even more thorough, depending on how much time you have and what you want to achieve.
And because it is done on a hardware level you only need to calibrate once after which the picture settings will apply across all sources; TV, HDMI, apps etc. You can auto-calibrate a total of 11 picture profiles (SDR: Cinema, Expert 1, Expert 2, Game Mode & Technicolor – HDR: Cinema, Game Mode & Technicolor – Dolby Vision: Cinema, Cinema Home & Game Mode). The 3D LUT is now using a 33-cube for over 35000 color points (33x33x33), which is a 731% improvement over the 2017 OLEDs. It would have been impossible to calibrate so many color points manually but when calibration is automated, it becomes possible. LG added that this new auto-calibration method can increase HDR peak brightness of the calibrated panel by 5-10%.
We asked SpectraCal when users can expect auto-calibration to be available in LG’s TVs, and the company expects it to be ready as soon as the LG 2018 OLED TVs hit the market – most likely in beta. LG said the same thing.
LG will also introduce Google Assistant as well as new smart features to its TVs in 2018. If you want to know more check out our article here.
To sum up our time with LG’s new OLED TVs, we are a little disappointed that there are no major upgrades to the panels. However, the new hardware platform and other significant improvements are worthwhile. We are exciting to get our hands on one of the 2018 LG OLED TVs that are expected to launch in early March.