The logistics of reviewing an 84-inch, $20,000 TV like the 84LM9600 can be tricky. Supply of the 84LM9600 is slim, and the folks at LG aren’t exactly excited about letting UPS or FedEx chuck its expensive new baby across the nation, especially during the holiday shipping rush (can you blame them?).
Thankfully, LG figured it out: If you can’t send the TV to the reviewer, bring the reviewer to the TV.
Until now, we’ve had to settle for admiring LG’s 4K effort from afar, since both of the private viewings LG held for the press were both strictly hands-off events. But after a trip to Chicago where we had four hours alone in a dark room with it to do as we pleased, we have a verdict. That might sound like a lot of fun – and it was – but the time allotted for testing was pretty tight. Still, we managed to give the 84-incher quite a workout – enough, in fact, to perform a pretty comprehensive evaluation.
If you want the quick and dirty version – or just want to see up-close video of the TV in action – you can watch our hands-on video below. Otherwise, we encourage you to press on with this full review, as you might be surprised by what we have to say about this $20,000 TV.
Hands on video
Out of the box
LG had the TV set up for us when we arrived, so we didn’t get to take in the full out-of-box experience like we normally do. However, we did see the box. And having seen it, we can tell you it’s big. Big enough, in fact, that no one person should ever consider trying to handle it on their own. Dealing with this TV is, at minimum, a two-man proposition at all times.
The package includes LG’s Magic Motion remote, along with a standard remote control and U-shaped stand. We imagine there is some product literature in the box and probably a handful of batteries, too. $20,0000 should get you a few batteries, for sure.
Features and design
If you haven’t had a chance to read up on what 4K and Ultra HD is all about, you might want to take a moment to check out this explainer, but the CliffNotes version is this: 4K Ultra HD TVs are displays that put out four times the resolution of 1080p “Full HD” TV sets.
You may have seen a graphic like this one depicting four 42-inch 1080p TVs stacked together. This does lend some context to the dimensions of a TV this size, but most people still have trouble wrapping their brains around the subject of pixel density.
Next time you’re around an HDTV, walk up really close to it and notice how you can see little individual squares in the screen – pixels. Now imagine you took the space that just one of those pixels occupies and split it into four. That’s the big advantage of 4K: much finer, more detailed images. Remember that, because it’s going to be a big part of an argument we make later in this review.
Aside from eye-popping resolution, the 84LM9600 is loaded with almost every feature LG has in its TV-engineering arsenal. The set offers passive 3D, 2D-to-3D conversion, built-in Wi-Fi, a full suite of Internet apps with a Web browser, a Magic Motion remote, voice recognition, local dimming of its LED edge lights, ISF-level calibration controls, four HDMI inputs, three USB inputs, and a three-way, 10-speaker, 50-watt audio system.
But while the 84LM9600 has all of the same innards as LG’s top-of-the-line 1080p HDTVs, it does not feature the same nearly bezel-free, ultra-thin cabinet. We didn’t really expect it to; there’s too much hardware to cram in the cabinet to make it super thin, and a larger bezel is necessary for adequately concealing all of the LED edge lights. Still, as you can see from the photos, the TV is plenty handsome with its reasonably slim (less than 1-inch), dark charcoal bezel.
This TV’s most important trick, though, is its ability to upscale content up to 4K. Since 4K content isn’t commercially available yet, everything the public watches on this TV will be 1080p programming from Blu-ray discs (at best), standard-def cable programming (at worst), with HD gaming consoles and HD cable content somewhere in the middle.
LG had the 84LM9600 set up and running when we arrived. A 4K generator (basically a DVR playing a loop of 4K-native video) and LG’s BP620 Blu-ray player were both connected via HDMI.
When we arrived, the TV had already been calibrated by someone else, so we had to make only minor adjustments in order to get the set’s performance to our standard. The biggest adjustment we made was to the TV’s backlight setting, which we reduced by 15 percent. We engaged the TV’s local dimming feature to get acceptable performance – more on that shortly.
For audition material, we used a Blu-ray copy of Brave, JJ Abrams’ Star Trek and The Amazing Spiderman as well as streaming HD content from Netflix and Vudu.
Our analysis of this TV is entirely subjective. You can learn more about how we test televisions here. With that said, we think there will be a stark difference between the observations made by the average consumer and those made by people with training and experience in display evaluation. For that reason, we divided our thoughts below. Let’s dig in.
To the casual observer
It’s difficult not to be dazzled by 4K’s superior resolution on a screen of this size. Sure, we’ve seen 70-, 80- and 90-inch displays before, but those TVs were limited to 1080p resolution. The difference between 1080p and 4K above 70 inches is both substantial and easily discernible.
While 1080p HD images look very good on screen sizes 70-inches and larger, 4K Ultra HD images are better described as spectacular. The level of detail that can be seen is something nearly anyone can appreciate. The improvement trickles down to other performance points that casual viewers may not be cognizant of, such as shadow detail and fine-line detail.
Bottom line: Higher pixel density makes images on the screen look more like reality than TV. Scenes of the bright blue Mediterranean looked so convincing, it was hard not to want to jump right in. The stars in night skies looked much more like stars – tiny pinpoints of light – than a smattering of blurry white spots.
Upscaled Blu-ray content pleasantly surprised us. It would seem LG has made some improvements to its upscaling system since we last laid eyes on a prototype, because what we saw during our evaluation was much more impressive. We witnessed little to no noise in the picture. While watching Brave, Merida’s wild red locks were beautifully reproduced with each messy strand crisply set apart from the others. While watching Star Trek, the 84LM9600 maintained the almost grainy, film-like nature of the movie without the introduction of any unwanted artifacts.
Shadow detail was also very good on this TV, thanks to decent contrast performance. The scene in Brave when Merida visits the witch’s hut is chock full of details in the shadows – details which can only be seen well on a high-quality set that is properly adjusted. We were able to see objects in even the darkest shadows in our totally dark room.
In summary, we think most viewers will be dazzled by the 84LM9600’s picture quality, even if the best they’ll get for the next few years is upscaled Blu-ray content. The huge screen, bright picture, eye-popping color and fine detail are hard not to fall in love with. And all of that is fine, but it doesn’t tell the whole story about this TV.
To the discerning videophile
The 84LM9600 pulls off some really cool tricks, but it is impossible for us not to hold a TV with a price tag on par with some automobiles up to a high standard. When we did, we found that this TV, when it comes to certain metrics, doesn’t perform quite as well as LG’s own high-end LM8600 series.
The 84LM9600’s biggest issue is with its backlighting. LG made this an edge-lit set and, as such, it is prone to edgelight bleeding problems. And, boy, does it have problems. When local dimming isn’t turned on, it looks as if a halo surrounds the entire edge of the screen. To show you what we mean, we shot this short video that shows the difference between a dark test pattern displayed with local dimming on, then turned off, and ultimately turned back on again:
As you can see, there is a stark difference. The good news is that the local dimming feature does a great job of toning down the edge lights. The bad news is that, with local dimming turned on, we were able to detect more screen uniformity problems than we did with local dimming turned off. For videophiles, this can be frustrating.
The other issue we noticed was some very faint vertical banding which seemed to stretch across the entire screen. It was most obvious in scenes where pale colors dominated the screen. You could see 2.5 to 3-inch segments if you looked closely enough. Will everyone notice this quirk? We don’t think so, but we think there are many out there who would expect a TV at this level not to display those problems.
Let’s be fair
This is the most expensive TV LG makes, and, generally, the most expensive model is expected to be the top-of-the-line model. When most folks think “top-of-the-line” they think “best possible performance.” That’s generally a fair expectation, but not for this TV. Allow us to explain:
This is a first-generation model. A TV of this type has never been made before. Remember the first LCD TV sets? In terms of performance, they were pretty terrible when compared to plasma TVs. Compact fluorescent back lights were slow to reach full brightness, screen uniformity was poor, and black levels were downright terrible. Yet, because they were slimmer, lighter and more energy efficient, people wanted them. Manufacturers knew that, and the technology was priced accordingly – in 2004, a 40-inch LCD would cost you about $7,000, even though it couldn’t hold a candle to plasma in performance. Speaking of plasma TVs, the earliest models ran about $15,000 – taking into account the time frame, that’s not a far cry from what we’re looking at with the 84LM9600.
LG faces a big challenge by trying to illuminate such a large screen area using edge lighting. That’s a whole lot of screen area for a tiny LED bulb to illuminate from so far away. The fact is, in order to get better performance, LG would have had to employ full-array, locally dimmed LED backlighting – a technology that would probably add another $5,000 to $6,000.
There are TVs made to please videophiles, and there are TVs made to please consumers. The LG 84LM9600 is designed to make consumers – very wealthy consumers, that is – happy. Is it the best-performing TV we’ve ever seen in action? No. Is it one of the most impressive TVs we’ve seen? Absolutely.
The LG84LM9600 is a carnival ride for the eyes. It is purely fun and highly engaging. Yes, it is priced out of reach for most of us. But, eventually, this technology will trickle down to a more accessible level; and by the time that it does, it will have been further improved. This is a TV for early adopters, and we say: “Let ‘em have it.” It may be an extravagant toy, but it’s a really cool one.
Rating this TV is a challenge. We haven’t formally evaluated any others like it and, as such, it is impossible to say how well it stacks up against its competition. This is a first-generation model with what we think is an expectedly high price tag. It performs well enough that we think most people will be dazzled by it. On the other hand, it fails to deliver the sort of pristine quality we’ve come to expect from premium products. With all of that considered, we’ve settled on an 8: a very respectable score with a bit of room for improvement.
- Stunning 4K resolution
- Very good 1080p upscaling
- Eye-popping color
- Solid contrast
- Excellent detail
- Excellent sound
- Severe edgelight bleeding without local dimming
- Some screen uniformity issues
- Vertical banding anomaly