08 LG OLED a (1)When you’re feeling down in the dumps don’t despair, your life could be much worse. You could be selling televisions.

This was once a steady job. Australians would buy about a million televisions a year and keep them until they broke down – 20 years wasn’t at all unusual. But then plasmas and LCDs came along and over the first decade of the new century as sizes grew, prices tumbled and the technology got better, pretty much everyone bought a new flat panel and put their perfectly good cathode ray tube telly on the verge.

These were halcyon days for salespeople. They sold everything they could get their hands on and while the margins were slim, the volumes doubled. Since then they have been dreaming about something, anything, to bring back a time when consumers will happily throw out a good television to get a sexier one.

They told people LCD televisions were better than plasmas. They tried super slim LEDs. They touted high definition, then full high definition, then ultra-high definition, or 4K. They yelled 3D from the rooftops. Curved screens, they assured us, gave an ‘immersive’ viewing experience more than justifying their higher prices. LG released a curved screen OLED as the ultimate television.

Throughout the barrage we consumers exercised remarkable restraint.

But a telly has now arrived that seriously tempts me to move my eight-year-old Pioneer plasma from the living room to the man cave. The Pioneer is a beautiful screen. The definition, colour balance, speed and picture depth still blow me away, but the thing that any LED can’t match is its contrast. This is because all LEDs, and LCDs as well, have back-lighting behind the pixels. Plasmas don’t.

08 LG OLED bWhen true black is required a plasma simply turns the relevant pixels off so no light comes from them at all. Black is black. In LEDs and LCDs the back-lighting behind the pixels is always on and even when a pixel is turned off there’s light seepage around it. Black is very dark grey. Watch a dark movie, or even a dark scene, with the lights off and you’ll appreciate how much better a good plasma is, especially when the bad guys are hiding in the shadows.

The attraction of OLED screens is that just like plasmas they have no backlighting and that’s why they’re so slim, their depth determined pretty much by whatever surface they have been applied to. In the LG’s case it’s a sheet of glass. This means they are the first screens that have come along since plasmas that can equal their contrast ratios. Black is once again black.

But LG’s 4K OLEDs have been slow sellers. They’re expensive but it’s also about the screen sizes; 165 cm is as big as they get. That’s okay at my place, and I would suggest at the great bulk of homes. Measure the distance from your chair to the television. Halve it. That’s the maximum screen size for you.

LG has now announced a couple of new OLEDs (in 140 cm and 165 cm) with high dynamic range, or HDR. HDR increases the colour palette available, meaning better colour accuracy and balance, but it also improves the already high contrast ratio by enhancing both bright and dark parts of the scene for greater detail.

Example: if you’ve ever wondered why a face you can see clearly, despite bright sunlight behind, is nothing but a black blob in a photograph it’s because your eyes (and your brain processes) have far higher dynamic range than your camera. HDR photography, that counters this, has been around almost as long as cameras but electronics have brought it out of the darkroom and into a chip for an instant result, and it’s being embraced by several content suppliers, notably Netflix.

Here’s the bonus; the LGs are now available as flat panels as well as curved, so your screen can remain flat against the wall rather than warping out at the sides. In 140 cm both curved and flat cost $5499, in 165 cm they’re both $8999 (I spotted them for $5175 and $7995 respectively). You’ll need external speakers.

So the salespeople now have to convince us that flat screens should cost as much as curved ones. Good luck with that.

Published March 2016


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