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LG E8 2018 OLED TV hands-on review: The best of the best?

Posted: 9 May 2018 12:13 pm
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LG's E8 2018 OLED is an exceptional TV for the money, although it's tough not to consider the 2017 model as an equally good buy.

Bigger is better, and most authorities say that OLED TVs represent the current pinnacle of TV technology. Although Samsung, with its massive microLED "Wall" TV, begs to differ.

LG is the premier name in OLED TVs, having produced them for many years as well as being the source for panels used by other late OLED adopters such as Sony and Panasonic.

LG recently announced the pricing for its 2018 range of OLED and SUHD TVs in Australia. Recently, I had the opportunity to spend some time with the new panels to put them through their paces.

Full disclaimer: As with my recent Samsung TV review, I only had access to LG's E8 2018 OLED for a few hours in a hotel room. I also consumed a burger on LG's dime. You may judge me (or my dining choices) as you see fit.

Dubious dining choices aside, this also means that it's a hands-on review rather than a review where I've had many days to test, compare and contrast.

There are differences between the two models, but they're subtle.

LG did provide last year's entry-level LG C7 OLED right next to the mid-range $7,699 LG E8 2018 OLED for comparison purposes. LG also made its 2018 SUHD and 2017 SUHD LED TVs available in a separate room so that I could compare those.

Like the recently reviewed Samsung Q9F QLED TV, this was a pre-installed panel, so I can't speak to the set-up routine for these TVs.

One note if you're pondering LG's OLED range is that it doesn't hold back in technology terms if you opt for the entry level or mid-range TVs compared to its paper-thin W-series OLED models.

They're the same panels underneath with different framing and speaker arrangements. The W-Series remains, as it was last year, as much about showing off how much money you've got as picture quality. Or how much you had, given that the 77-inch model will sting you to the tune of $19,990.

The big change in this year's set of TVs comes in the integration of a voice assistant to guide your choices as well as the new Alpha 9 processor that LG claims offers faster and smoother image processing.

Quality isn't just comparative

The E8 OLED can intelligently pick your local viewing choices. Here I've only got a few.

Comparing the 2017 C7 and 2018 LG E8 2018 OLEDs side by side, I'm at first struck by how good both panels are in real terms. LG's argument is that the Alpha 9 processor gives the LG E8 2018 OLED an edge, but you've got to pick your material carefully and look closely to pick it up.

That does create something of a challenge for LG because it's done so well with last year's OLED panels. If you're keen on a new OLED, there's a certain argument for saving a few bucks and buying one of last year's models at discounted prices.

It's not that the LG E8 2018 OLED isn't better, but simply that the differences, even with 4K HDR material, aren't going to be that noticeable. This is especially true if you don't happen to have two panels running side by side.

If you are rich enough that you rather casually have multiple OLEDs scattered all over the place, I'd like to put myself up for adoption. You've always wanted an opinionated heir, right?

Dialling down the quality

Give the E8 2018 OLED good quality content, and you get a great result.

4K OLED screens are fine for HDR-ready content, including Dolby Vision content as supplied by Netflix; I tested that with an episode of Lost In Space, finding scenes vivid and well-defined throughout. There's a definite joy in watching material that's presented in tip-top quality, and without a doubt that's what the LG E8 2018 OLED can deliver.

The challenge is that while there is some 4K HDR content available, a lot of what you're actually going to end up watching will be HD or SD content. Much of what you're likely to see is going to be quite low quality.

Unfortunately, I couldn't test the LG E8 2018 OLED TVs with Australian free-to-air TV because I was stuck in a hotel room and a 65-inch TV isn't exactly something you can sneak out under a jacket in search of an antennae.

LG's WebOS platform does support all the major catch-up services, complete with their much-less-than-HD streaming support, which gave me my test platform to work with.

Gruen shouldn't look this good at iview's lousy bit rates.

This is where it's vital to play around with the picture mode since LG's default "Vivid" setting gives a lot of catch-up TV services a rather smeared, crayon-style look due to over-processing.

It's no shock that this is the default for in-store demonstrations because it does make the endlessly looped 4K HDR footage pop out of the screen, but it's not a good way to watch regular TV content.

Back to the future

Is it a waste to throw SNES-era visuals at a panel this fine? I'd like to think not.

I only found one picture source where Vivid was my visual setting of choice, and that was by going deliberately retro and plugging in the Super Nintendo Mini for a little 90s gaming action.

The vibrant colour schemes of 90s pixelated glory match up well with LG's default vivid tones. However, nobody is going to claim that this is realistic viewing or indeed the kind of viewing that most regular folks (myself excluded) will do all that often.

The LG E8 2018 OLED's cinema mode is a lot kinder to human skin tones. It's also kinder to the blocky nature of lower quality content thanks to its upscaling of such content. You can only push this so far depending on your source material, but as an example, it upscaled the blocky visuals of the ABC iview version of The Gruen Transfer quite well. The LG E8 2018 OLED also has a dedicated sports mode. Amusingly, LG changes the name of this mode by region. In Australia, it's "Cricket" mode. Lacking baggy greens (or access to live sports thanks to the lack of any antenna) I couldn't put that to the test.

What I could test with was a range of 1080p and 720p material, where the 2018 model did a solid job interpreting and upscaling material for the most part.

Until Disney releases 4K HDR Muppet Show episodes, this is as good as it's going to get. If anyone from Disney is listening, that was a not-too-subtle hint.

You're definitely going to want to play around with the default visual settings depending on your room's lighting and the material you're watching to get the best possible picture out of the LG E8 2018 OLED TV

I settled on the cinema mode for its handling of skin tones in my lighting situation. This gave the most realistic skin tones for more muted scenes, while still allowing more punchy content such as the notably neon Guardians of the Galaxy Vol 2 to stand out.

It's all about the game, and how you play it

Not enough 4K HDR content? Gaming has no such restrictions.

One area where you can push more 4K content is in gaming as long as you're using a PlayStation 4 Pro, an Xbox One X or a 4K-capable gaming PC. I tested with a range of titles on the Xbox One X to see how well the LG E8 2018 OLED handled fast action using its dedicated gaming mode, and came away quite addicted.

The argument for upgrading your console to a 4K capable model has never entirely made that much sense to me as long as my existing consoles were still up and humming, but if I had an LG E8 2018 OLED in my living room, I might just consider it because this TV handles gaming action very well.

The Normandy assault in Call of Duty: World War II is still rather jingoistic nonsense in a historically accurate sense, but it's one that gets the full pomp when viewed in 4K HDR mode, and it's very hard not to get drawn into its spectacle.

I might need a few more hours of "testing time". Come back in a while and I'll tell you if I'm done yet.

Remote in the palm of your hand

All your Matt Damon needs, only a voice search away.

LG's remote approach uses WebOS (at one time, part of the long-defunct Palm if you've been around tech for a while) as the primary interface, and there's not much changed here.

Catch-up applications are front and centre, although you can re-arrange the display any way you like for your most frequently-accessed applications, including the slightly clunky web browser.

Compare everything and save on the big screen. Sure, why not?

The positive factor is that there really doesn't need to be much change there because it's an easy interface to work your way around using the remote.

LG's particular party trick this year is voice control. Later in the year, it will do so via Google Assistant, which also means that your LG OLED or Super UHD TV will also be able to control your smart home appliances. As part of its ThinQ push, it uses LG's own ThinQ AI for very simple voice commands.

Unlike a smart speaker, ThinQ isn't always listening, instead awaiting for a specific button press on the remote control. That means that some functions are better handled with the remote itself. There's not much point in asking it to change the volume when there's a button right there that will handle it for you!

Aside from content searches, you can also ask ThinQ a limited range of questions about outside details such as the weather. LG isn't reinventing the assistant wheel here, instead LG is offering a rudimentary service that acts as a stopgap until it can integrate Google Assistant.

In other markets, LG will also offer Amazon Alexa integration. At CES 2018 this year, LG representatives told me that there were no plans for Alexa integration in Australia in 2018. Those plans might change over time, but with only Google Assistant announced, that's likely to be all you're going to get.

Verdict: Is the LG E8 2018 OLED worth the money?

An exceptional TV at a premium price that might be too high for many.

This was only a hands-on test, and that's always tricky for TV watching because that takes time and the ability to compare beyond just one manufacturer.

LG is the name in OLED, and the 2018 E8 2018 OLED is a very fine TV in most respects. Given its price point, that should automatically be true.

Paying this much for any TV panel is a serious investment in your entertainment choices for years to come. Most of us (outside my hopefully-newly-adopted-billionaire family) don't buy a new TV every single year.

That raises the issue of how much more cheaply you could score last year's OLED panels. The 2018 models are improved, as they should be, but last year's panels aren't slouches either.

If OLED appeals to you but you find the general price point off-putting, that might be the smarter option.

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