LG UB9800 series information: This review is based on our hands-on experience with the 79-inch 79UB9800 TV. However, our observations also apply to the 65-inch 65UB9800 and the 84-inch 84UB9800. According to LG, the two sets differ only in dimension and weight and offer identical features and performance.
This is a television that will elicit strong emotions before you even turn on “Game of Thrones.”
During the weeks it spent dominating the home-theater room at Digital Trends, LG’s UB9800 got some serious attention from an office full of techies usually immune to the glitz of a new TV. The flagship of LG’s 2014 TV lineup comes in three monstrous sizes (we reviewed the 79-incher), sports 4K resolution with excellent upscaling for 1080p content, and has one of the best smart interfaces (webOS) out there. There were lots of “oohs” and “aahs.”
Of course, upon mentioning the $10,000 tag, there were also a few gasps and cringes. That’s on par with Samsung’s flagship, but you get a flat screen instead of a curved one. Depending where you stand on gimmicks, that’s either a shortcoming or a bonus.
As we came to find out when we settled in for some serious viewing, edge lighting the TV’s gigantic screen turns out to be a step backward from last year’s full-array backlit model, but only upon close inspection. If you prize excellent sound, an enjoyable interface and a jaw-dropping stance more than the industry-leading image quality, LG’s UB9800 series is worth a closer look.
Out of the box
If you think a 79-inch TV sounds big, just wait until you see this box. We’ll do our best not to run through every synonym for the word “huge,” but know this: the box is massive, and if you plan to set this puppy up yourself, you’re gonna need to pick up a case of cold ones and call up your crew for a little set-up help. The good news is that fun times are just a few screws and HDMI cables away.
You’re gonna need to pick up a case of cold ones and call your crew for a little set-up help.
In the box with the television is a fancy black box with a bundle of accessories, including LG’s Magic Motion remote, some batteries, a few breakout cables for older video connections, and two pairs of passive 3D glasses. LG also provided us with some Alain Mikli designer 3D shades, which are far less nerdy looking than standard 3D glasses. The designer shades are listed for about $30 a pair at Amazon.
On the whole, the UB9800 is an attractive television, though not as sleek and striking as its competition at this level. The bezel is thin enough, the profile slim enough, and the stand chrome-y enough. Our only complaint is that the TV’s base is so extremely wide that we think folks will find very few entertainment stands can accommodate it. We just barely fit it on our 72-inch wide TV stand, with parts of the UB9800’s legs hanging over the edge. Still, if there’s to be a compromise between stability (and, therefore, safety) and aesthetics, we’ll take the stable option every time. And that’s one thing we can certainly credit LG for: This TV sits solid on its stand.
The UB9800 packs a few features that you will not find in any other manufacturer’s competing models, all of which have a tangible impact on the TV’s performance.
First, there’s LG’s webOS Smart TV platform, which in my opinion is a major selling point for any of LG’s TVs this year. LG also outfits the UB9800 series with its IPS (In-Plane Switching), which, in our experience, yields better off-axis performance than any other LCD panel on the market. LG also rightfully claims better out-box color accuracy than its competitors, and the UB9800 appears to be no exception.
Of course, the UB9800’s most notable features are those related to its Ultra HD 4K capabilities. The UB9800 has all the guts necessary to handle any source of 4K material you may throw at it, plus it will upscale any source signal to 4K resolution in an effort to keep things looking sharp at these big screen sizes. Netflix fans will appreciate that the UB9800 will stream Netflix in 4K, and a growing list of 4K content options at Netflix makes that a pretty fun proposition.
Finally, LG outfitted this series with scaled versions of what it considers to be a premium audio system. The 65-inch TV comes with a 4.2 speaker system, the rest of the line a 5.2 system. Smaller speakers line the silver bars on the left and right of the TV, while subwoofers are housed in the TV’s cabinet to reinforce bass response.
Now for some super tech-y bits: The UB9800 does support HDMI 2.0 for 4K resolutions up to 60hz. 10 or 12-bit color is also supported (with 4:2:2 signals or 4:2:0 signals), but only on the HDMI 3 input. HDCP 2.2 and MHL-compliant HDMI inputs are separate and clearly marked.
Aside from the daunting process of putting the UB9800 on its stand or (gulp) wall-mounting it, setting the TV up from there is a piece of cake, thanks entirely to LG’s webOS platform. An animated tutorial does a good job of making mundane tasks a little less boring. Setting up the Magic Motion remote, cable box control, network access, input labelling and picture setting adjustments are not only easy but almost kind of fun, thanks to friendly little icons, animations and messages along the way.
From there, you can customize your webOS home screen by ordering your inputs and apps any way you like. Watch Netflix a lot? Make it card number two, right next to your cable box input. It’s all totally up to you.
Getting the picture settings just right for your use may take a little time. You’ll want to decide how much local dimming of the backlights you want employed, how bright you want the picture during the daytime and how deep the blacks should appear when watching in a dark room. If these TV ends up in a common room with varying light levels, we’re going to recommend that you set up a daytime picture preset and a nighttime preset.
The best news about this TV is there’s plenty of good news. LG’s UB9800 offers some of the best color accuracy, off-angle viewing and 4K upscaling available on the market. It is capable of high brightness, high contrast and, under the right conditions, very good black levels.
LG’s UB9800 offers some of the best color accuracy, off-angle viewing and 4K upscaling available.
The UB9800’s upscaling of 1080p video sources was nearly flawless, absent of any telling artifacts, unintended grain or other errors. But as good as they looked, upscaled Blu-ray discs couldn’t hold a candle to native 4K content. We currently have access to a few 4K media servers used to demonstrate televisions in retail environments, which gave the UB9800 ample opportunity to shine, and it did. But even Netflix’s 4K streams were a fun watch. The higher resolution added a convincing level of clarity and detail to shows like House of Cards Season 2, and made fun demonstrations for passersby with some of Louie Schwartzberg’s nature documentaries.
For all of the good things the UB9800’s size can bring to the table, the massive screen tows with it a few drawbacks as well.
First, there’s the backlight bleeding that we mentioned before. This issue is common with edgelit televisions, but the larger the TV, the more obvious it becomes. With the UB9800 it was difficult not to notice the effect, especially with letterboxed movies and in scenes with particularly dark backgrounds.
The scale of the TV also makes the set’s local dimming feature more plainly obvious. Local dimming takes zones of backlights and dims them down to increase contrast and improve black levels overall. The problem is, these adjustments are made by a computer chip in real time, and the UB9800’s backlights sometimes take long enough to dim and brighten back up. Add all that up, and that you can clearly see a shifting in the backlight and a shift in the contrast along with it. The effect is a sort of shadowing effect where there should be no shadows.
Second, this television’s 4K upscaler does a great job, but you know what they say about processing: garbage in, garbage out. With that in mind, don’t expect the UB9800 to work any miracles with the horribly compressed digital cable or satellite signal you feed it. Fortunately, those blocky compression artifacts get upscaled, so they aren’t just massive blobs on the screen, but the screen is still huge, so they do appear larger than they would on, say, a 65-inch television, especially if you sit close (and you will be tempted to). Just bear in mind, this isn’t LG’s fault at all, it’s a byproduct of a really large television playing back a highly compressed signal.
Finally, the UB9800’s price is a little steep. The 65-incher will run you $5,000 and the 79-inch model goes for $8,000. Of course, Samsung is also charging the same price for its similarly-sized (albeit curved) Ultra HD televisions, so it is hard to see LG as the only bad guy for sticking to what appears to be a fixed pricing standard so that it can remain competitive. Besides, these prices will go down before the end of the year anyway – they always do.
In recent years, the race to build the thinnest television came with some collateral damage in the form of some of the worst-sounding televisions ever produced. In fact, things got so bad that we stopped reporting on television sound quality in our reviews since disappointing audio had become the status quo.
Thankfully, manufacturers like LG have come to realize that consumers expect quality on-board sound from their televisions, especially premium sets like the UB9800. To address this concern with its flagship Ultra HD 4K series, LG partnered with Harman Kardon to create a built-in sound system as brag-worthy as those the vaunted audio company designs for luxury cars.
In the case of the UB9800, the result is a speaker system that sounds as big as the display it’s attached to. This TV delivers poignant bass, intelligible dialog, and enough zing in the treble to make cinematic sound effects shine. Granted, the TV can’t compete with the likes of a premium sound bar with dedicated subwoofer, let alone a full-on home theater system, but it’s not meant to. LG’s aim was to deliver big-league audio with plenty of stereo separation that allows viewers to enjoy a movie or TV show without necessarily having to boot up a bunch of extra equipment, and it has succeeded.
I may have a tough time getting over the backlighting issues the UB9800 presents, but none of the casual viewers that spent any time with the TV so much as picked up on them. Instead, they were simply bowled over by the engulfing magnitude of the TV’s size and the dazzling nature of its rich colors, high brightness and solid video processing. I have a feeling most folks will the same too, but it is worth pointing out this is no videophile’s television.
Picture quality may be the most important consideration when purchasing a TV, but it isn’t the only consideration. A TV that’s frustrating to try to use is a no-go for most of the folks I know, no matter how excellent its picture might be. Thankfully, LG’s UB9800 is the most easy-to-use television I’ve ever come by. The webOS interface LG has developed makes everything from setup to daily operation not only easy, but fun. My kids will back me up on this — the UB9800 is their hands-down favorite for usability this year, and they’ve tried all the major brands for several weeks.
At the end of it all, LG’s turned out a solid Ultra HD 4K offering this year. If the company could kindly return to the full-array backlighting it used in its LA9700 series last year, it will be unstoppable.
- Engulfing screen size
- Top-notch 4K upscaling
- webOS makes daily use a joy
- Much-improved audio
- Backlight bleed is noticeable
- Local dimming easy to spot
- Priced too high