LG 55EA8800 Gallery OLED TV Review
Design and picture quality that's truly worthy of the Louvre.
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This isn't complicated: OLED is the best screen technology available today, hands down. If you can afford it, buy it.
LG's new 55EA8800 (MSRP $8,499.99, $4,499 online) seeks to build upon that success. Unlike the LG's curved 2013 OLED, the EA8800 is flat. More importantly, it's also a work of art: Hidden speakers in the shape of a "gallery" frame wrap this beautiful panel in an equally beautiful finish, providing expansive audio support that's well beyond what you typically find on a TV.
Most people can't afford an $8,000 TV, and while the current price of $4,500 is a huge incentive, it's still about three grand more than you'd usually pay for a 55-inch TV. If you do have deep pockets, however, know that this investment is a wise one for anyone searching for the best in picture quality, sound quality, and design in a single package—and really, who isn't?
Right now, the LG 55EA8800 is one of just three OLED TVs available in the United States, and one of them (Samsung's) is extremely hard to track down. With picture and audio quality that outperform last year's LG OLED, this TV is a one-two punch kind of success story.
Behind The Screens
OLED stands for organic light-emitting diode, and while it's not as new as it sounds, it's still the biggest thing in TV tech right now. Like a plasma panel, an OLED panel's pixels can light up individually, producing pure colors and vibrant highlights, and shut off individually, rendering a complete black. For this reason, OLED TVs are bar-none the best performers on the market right now—but they're also prohibitively expensive.
As we expected, the LG 55EA8800 (MSRP $8,499.99) is an excellent performer on all fronts. I tested a full 178° horizontal viewing angle, mostly accurate colors, true black levels, and plenty of light output. What's more, LG's motion interpolation smooths out the action in just the right way, resulting in great-looking motion that mimics the way high-end gaming computers often render video.
The EA8800 isn't flawless, though. For example, it falls prey to auto light limiting, meaning luminance falls off inversely to the amount of the screen that's bright. And its green point is just a little oversaturated, resulting in a small loss in detail.
Need I say more?
Today, OLED TVs stand in a stark spotlight: These displays have a reputation for producing the best picture quality people have ever seen, TV reviewers included. Yet LG's EA8800 is right at home in this spotlight—because it easily meets the sky-high expectations.
To start, the 55EA8800 produces magnificent black levels. Dark areas of shadow are completely free of luminance, which adds to the overall contrast and "pop" of anything else on screen—even subtle, gloomy colors like blue and purple stand out by comparison. And unlike plasma TVs (the previous champions of shadow) the EA8800 also gets bright enough to use in a well-lit or sunny room. A contrast ratio this massive easily delivers a lifelike, impressive picture.
The EA8800 is very adept with motion handing, as well. I sat down and watched Baraka on Blu-ray and the EA8800 was up to the task. With motion assistance enabled, the film looked fluid and lifelike—even during complex motion and camera panning. Even better, there was none of the unnatural smoothness that often accompanies settings of this kind.
Most colors, like the low-luminance red of dying embers or the stormy blue of angry ocean waves, look accurate and vivid, but the EA8800 has a tendency to oversaturate green. The result is that subtle details like definition in a grassy field become slightly obscured—bad news for World Cup fans. Fortunately, we were able to fix the TV's green point during calibration.
Rounding out its dynamite test results, the EA8800 also delivers the outstanding viewing angle we've come to expect from OLED TVs. You can enjoy an excellent view even from extreme angles. For once, the armrest seat at the end of the couch doesn't come with terrible picture quality: Black levels remain very dark, bright highlights remain luminous, and colors remain crisp and clear.
Before wrapping up, I should mention the one slight drawback to OLED TVs: Like plasmas, OLEDs automatically limit light output based on how much of the screen is bright. For instance, white areas in a very bright scene (like the Hoth battle in Star Wars) will be dimmer than white areas in a mostly dark scene. This light-limiting behavior isn't damning to the overall picture quality, but it does mean that very light scenes will look brighter on an LED display. Of course, that isn't a bad tradeoff: Those same LED TVs often have terrible, washed-out black levels.
For my final calibration settings, as well as the full lab results and charts, head over to the Science Page.
We calibrate each TV so that its performance meets ideal standards for a dark, home theater viewing environment. This usually requires reducing the maximum luminance and adjusting the TV's gamma so that it adheres to an ideal of 2.4. We also correct any measurable discrepancies in color production, grayscale error (via white balance controls), and black and white clipping points.
The EA8800 is quite the premium TV, offering a generous host of picture controls: gamma, 2- and 20-point white balance, and also luminance, saturation, and hue of the primary and secondary color points.
Most TVs wield an RGB (red, green, and blue) sub-pixel structure, which uses red, green, and blue color filters to create the colors you see on screen. The EA8800 uses a RGB+W (red, green, blue, and white) sub-pixel structure, however, so calibrating certain elements was tricky and took repeated passes to improve things. On the other hand, nothing was horribly off in the first place, so it could have been a lot worse.
Below, you'll find my final calibration settings alongside LG's pre-sets for the ISF Expert 1 picture mode. Notably, I reduced the OLED Light setting from 50 to 36, I altered the gamma pre-set from 2.2 to 2.4, and I raised the Brightness setting from 50 to 51.
Editor's note: Be sure to check back in a week. We have plans to post pro calibration settings for a partially lit room, as well.
Contrast ratio is a measure of a display's 100 IRE (peak) luminance divided by its 0 IRE (minimum) luminance. The resulting number, expressed as "X:1", is a telling sign of how immersive a TV looks. Essentially, a wide differentiation in luminance between the darkest and brightest elements on screen looks more like real life and less like the 2D plane you're actually watching.
Like the OLEDs before it (the KN55S9C and the 55EA8800), the 55EA8800 is a stellar performer in this area. While it did test as ever-so-slightly less dark than the other OLEDs we compared it to, it's such a minute difference that you'd have to be nuts to worry about it. Using an ANSI checkerboard contrast pattern, I measured a black level of 0.002 cd/m2 and a peak brightness around 184 cd/m2, giving the EA8800 a huge contrast ratio of 92,000:1.
Let me put it this way: Most TVs, especially LCDs, will light up a black room even when they're displaying an entirely black screen. The EA8800 just disappears.
Truly unique, possibly inconvenient
The 55-inch EA8800 sets itself apart from every other TV on the market with two singular design choices: It's the thinnest panel we've ever seen and it sits within a stylish matted frame, just like a painting.
First things first: You have no choice but to wall mount this television. There is no stand. Do yourself a huge, huge favor and hire someone to install this TV. Mounting it did not make for a joyous afternoon, thanks to a combination of poorly written directions, drywall, and the sheer terror that accompanies mounting an $8,499 TV.
Installation aside, the 55EA8800 really is unique. The panel itself is shockingly thin, about the width of a pencil—just a smooth, unassuming black pane.
The surrounding frame is minimal and tasteful, topped with a dark metallic finish to suit a variety of rooms. A Gallery mode curates a rotating batch of paintings by artists like Toulouse-Lautrec, Monet, and van Gogh. Hanging on the wall, the assembled display simply blends into a modern room, almost as if there's no TV at all. I say "almost" because LG stubbornly included its commercial red logo on the TV's bottom bezel, which flies in the face of tasteful interior design. LG clearly needs a premium version of its signature for certain high-end products like this one.
Notably, the frame isn't just an aesthetic flourish. There's an entire speaker system hidden inside, consisting of a three-way, 10-train speaker set that outputs a whopping 100 watts. Compared to the usual 2-speaker, 20-watt setup of most TVs, it's a massive improvement in both volume and clarity of high and low frequencies. Quite frankly, unless you have an absolutely enormous living room, these speakers are probably all you need. I cranked the volume on a James Bond movie and the floor literally shook.
Last but not least, before you mount this beauty on your wall, you'll want to have a good idea where all of the video connections and ports are located.
As you might expect on a TV this thin, the connections are all located on the back of the TV in a recessed cutout. Side-oriented ports include four HDMI and three USB, making it easy to switch high-definition devices and USB peripherals. Further back, you'll find options for coaxial, component/composite hookups, digital audio out, LAN (ethernet) in, and (weirdly) a headphone jack.
The EA8800 again knocks things out of the park in classic OLED fashion. Basically, you can sit anywhere but behind it and get a clear, solid picture. OLED TVs rely on organic cells that emit their own light, unlike LCD TVs (which rely on backlights); therefore, since the organic light emitting diodes sit right up to the glass panel, light has less distance to travel before it reaches your eyes—and that makes for superb viewing angles.
The result is a full 178° viewing angle where contrast remains at least or above 50% of its head-on value. Even the best LCDs only offer about 90° of viewing, for example, before the picture starts to degrade notably at obtuse off-angles. With the EA8800, you can sit almost anywhere in the room (except behind it) and you'll be able to observe the same quality of black levels, luminance, and color saturation as if you were watching from directly in front.
The least exciting part of this TV is still damn sophisticated
If you're going to buy the EA8800 Gallery OLED, do it for the impressive design and stellar picture quality. You won't find LG's snappy new webOS platform here—on the other hand, this was one of the best smart platforms available last year, so it's not too shabby.
You'll still find plenty of apps, like Netflix and Facebook, and a huge slew of picture customization and audio options.
A color gamut is essentially a map of a TV's primary and secondary colors——red, green, blue, cyan, magenta, yellow, and white. These elements are then mixed to create varying gradations and hues, basically reproducing any color you've seen on modern TV or at the movies. When we test a television's color, we score it against the Rec. 709 HD TV ideal, the international standard for exactly which color points a TV should produce.
Like last year's EA9800 from LG, the 55EA8800 produces mostly accurate colors, but tends to oversaturate green slightly. This causes a small but appreciable loss in detail in areas with highly-saturated clusters of green, such as fields of grass or clusters of summer leaves.
The EA8800 is also capable of a wider, more saturated, expanded color gamut which doesn't currently have a standard to dictate its exact positioning within the color space. In the Picture menu, you can select the Expanded gamut to increase the vivacity of reds, greens, blues, and their secondary and tertiary colors. This can look a little unnatural at times, but it can also beautify certain kinds of content, like a nature documentary.
A continuing testament to the power of OLED
Last year's curvy OLEDs seemed to come out of nowhere, taking the TV industry by storm with an unheard of combination of inky, shadowy black levels, blistering brightness, and rich, vivid colors. The 55EA8800 continues that tradition of amazing picture quality while also introducing terrific sound and beautiful design. So, what's the catch?
The only reason not to buy this TV is its price—$8,499 is a ton of money. Even if you find it online for today's price of $4,500, that's not chump change either.
All the same, this is the best TV technology that the market has ever seen, and 100 watts of speaker power and the most stylish design presentation we've ever seen doesn't hurt either.
A TV's grayscale is the spectrum of neutral shades it produces from black (0 IRE) to white (100 IRE), and all of the shades of gray in-between. All grayscale steps should adhere to the D65 white point, which is x=0.313, y=0.329 on the 1931 CIE color space.
When they don't, this results in error. This collective error is expressed in a DeltaE number, and is often the result of imbalances within the sub-pixel emphasis. Ideally, a TV will have a grayscale DeltaE of 3 or less.
Prior to calibration, the EA8800 tested with a DeltaE of 5.34—not bad, but a little higher than we like to see. Primary error (deviation from the D65 white point standard) occurred at 80, 90, and 100 IRE. After calibrating the TV using built-in 2- and 20-point grayscale controls, the DeltaE was reduced to 2.69.
Error within the grayscale like what we outlined above is often the result of an imbalance in the TV's RGB (red, green, and blue) sub-pixel emphasis. Over-emphasizing any one sub-pixel imbalances the neutrality of the black, gray, and white shades in the grayscale, rendering them with a reddish, blueish, or greenish tint.
Prior to calibration, the EA8800 overemphasized the green sub-pixel, resulting in a greenish hue that negatively impacted the purity of the neutral shades of the grayscale. Using the TV's 2- and 20-point white balance controls, I was able to reduce the green emphasis and shore up red and blue, in order to achieve a more neutral white balance across the input spectrum.
Gamma refers to the amount of luminance a display adds to each step of the grayscale from black to white. If the display adds a lot of luminance out of black, and tapers off towards white, it's better for a brighter room. If the display adds a small amount of luminance out of black, and increases less gradually towards white, it's better for a darker room. These gamma sums are often expressed in numbers like 1.8, 2.0, 2.2, or 2.4, with lower numbers being more appropriate for a brighter room.
Prior to calibration, the EA8800 tested with a gamma sum of 2.25—pretty good for a room with a moderate amount of lighting. Despite correcting the grayscale and setting the gamma pre-set value to 2.4, the TV's final gamma was still a fairly "bright" sum of 2.27.
This means that steps above black (0 IRE) are not as dark as they would be at a gamma of 2.4. The difference is very slight, and it may be that it's difficult for the TV to approximate the exact brightness at each step simply because 0 IRE is itself such a small (essentially non-existent) amount of luminance. This doesn't detract from viewing in any appreciable manner, but it does mean that the EA8800 is slightly better-suited to a partially lit room than an entirely black room.
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