For what feels like an eternity now OLED screens have been touted as the next big thing in TV technology. AV fans the world over have cooed over the way every pixel in an OLED screen can deliver its own precise light level rather than having to share external light sources across multiple pixels as happens with LCD technology.
There’s one big problem with OLED screens, though: they’re seriously hard to make.
We’ve lost count of the number of OLED TV false dawns and broken promises we’ve witnessed over the years. But now, at long last, the first really big and affordable OLED TV is here. Well, we say affordable, though at £5,999 that's stretching the word's use a touch, but compared to previous OLEDs that's remarkably good value.
LG is the only company producing OLED panels at the moment and it's process is being refined more and more, so future OLED TVs will be cheaper to manufacture.
We’re pleased to say that LG’s 65EC970V underlines its cutting edge, borderline historic, credentials by fitting a 4K UHD pixel count into its 65-inch OLED screen too.
The 65EC970V sets its cutting edge stall out right away with a design that can only be described as dazzling.
For starters the screen is, incredibly, just a couple of millimetres deep at its edges, reminding us emphatically of the way OLED pixels need almost zero space to work in.
The screen’s gentle but distinct curve and the beautiful build quality of its glassy front and metallic rear further enhance the 65EC970V’s irresistibly futuristic, opulent feel.
The fact the 65EC970V’s screen is curved won’t endear it to everyone, but while curved screens don't suit rooms where members of your household have to watch from down the screen’s sides, they are less likely to cause offence when you get to the 65EC970V’s sort of size than they do on smaller screens.
You’d think a screen as insanely thin as the 65EC970V would have serious problems producing anything more than the most puny of audio performances.
However, LG has called in audio brand Harman Kardon to try and solve this problem, resulting somehow in a four-channel, 40W speaker system that will hopefully help the 65EC970V sound at least as potent as a typical LCD TV.
As you’d expect, given the LG branding, its smart system uses LG’s webOS platform.
Which is handy, as webOS remains the best smart TV system right now thanks to its combination of ease of use, efficient and friendly onscreen menus, and an uncanny ability to understand and focus on the sort of apps and features TV (as opposed to smartphone and tablet) users generally want to get to quickly.
Due to a quirk of timing the 65EC970V uses 2014’s version of webOS rather than this year’s. But actually, aside from it running a bit more sluggishly than the new version there’s not that much difference. The only serious problem is the lack of ITV Player and ALL4 catch-up TV support - though some might consider LG’s still-exclusive provision of the Now TV platform decent compensation.
The first reaction of almost anyone lucky enough to witness the 65EC970V in action is usually sheer awe.
Right out of the box it delivers a contrast performance that makes the efforts of even the best LCD and even old plasma TVs look half baked. Where parts of the picture should look black they really do look black, with no hint of greyness getting the way.
Even better, these unprecedentedly rich black colours sit just a single pixel away from rich colours or bright whites with no hint of cross contamination.
This immediately creates a sense of dynamism, naturalism and realism that starts to make you think TV perfection has finally arrived.
The precision of the 65EC970V’s lighting when the screen’s set up right (more on this later) is a great fit for its native 4K UHD resolution too, helping to create blistering detailing and textures with 4K UHD sources such as the Netflix and Amazon Prime 4K streams.
The prospect of how good the 65EC970V might look with Ultra HD Blu-rays when they come out later this year is mouthwatering.
While the 65EC970V is genuinely capable of setting new picture standards with the right content and right picture settings, though, it isn’t, after all, perfect.
While colours look bold and pure, for instance, they can also lack a little tonal subtlety, leaving skin tones looking a bit patchy and ‘blocky’.
The screen also quite regularly suddenly throws a rogue colour tone into the mix too, usually with a purple or pink flavour to it, and while its pictures are brighter than those of previous OLED generations they’re not on a par with the enormous light output of Samsung’s latest SUHD TVs.
With this in mind it’s perhaps not surprising that the 65EC970V - unlike rival Samsung and, via imminent firmware upgrades, Panasonic or Sony TVs - doesn’t support the playback of new high dynamic range (HDR) sources, with their expanded contrast and colour ranges.
The 65EC970V isn’t quite as assured as the best rival 4K UHD TVs, either, when it comes to converting HD sources to the screen’s UHD resolution, leaving things looking slightly softer and less detailed (though on the upside, source noise is suppressed quite well).
By far the weirdest issue with the 65EC970V, though, is the way that dreamy contrast performance takes a bath if you push the screen’s OLED light output much higher than its 50% level.
First you see an infusion of distinctly LCD-like greyness, and then you also notice that the screen seems to be illuminating unevenly, with clear ‘stripes’ of different levels of brightness running down the image.
Despite the self-emissive nature of each OLED pixel.
Mercifully these issues almost completely vanish (though bright scenes sometimes look slightly vignetted) if you slide the brightness back down.
But this does mean you’re pretty much forced to stick with a brightness level considerably lower than that you can enjoy from many LCD TVs these days.
There’s an issue, too, with the way dark scenes lose a little shadow detailing when you’ve got the OLED brightness setting positioned to a point where the greyness and striping issues have gone.
Shifting focus to the 65EC970V’s audio, the Harman Kardon speaker system really does sound pretty decent. There’s both more volume and more dynamic range than you’d think possible from a TV so mind-bogglingly skinny, and the speakers don’t distort even when pushed hard.
There are certainly TVs that sound better, but the 65EC970V at least sounds good enough to save you from having to rush out immediately for some sort of external audio upgrade.
The 65EC970V’s lack of HDR support means it’s not as future-proof as a few of its latest LCD rivals, and there are just enough limitations and issues with its pictures to remind you that OLED as a living room technology is still in its relative infancy, despite its long gestation period.
But the fact remains that there are times - many of them - when the 65EC970V produces the most gorgeous pictures seen on a TV to date, doing nothing to dent the widely held belief among AV enthusiasts that some day all TVs will be made the OLED way.