LG 15EL9500 £1700
9th Aug 2010 | 13:54
The largest consumer OLED TV is stylish and exciting, but so very expensive
LG 15EL9500: Overview and features
The UK's second OLED television has finally arrived. Although at a mere fifteen inches across and an extraordinary 3.2mm deep the LG 15EL9500 is barely here at all.
Decked out in ineffably chic gunmetal grey and resting on a neat triangular stand, this one the most radical departures from flatscreen orthodoxy in years.
What few features there are have been crammed into the elongated A-frame stand to keep the panel itself so implausibly slight.
Unsurprisingly, the roll call is fairly short, with a Freeview tuner supplying the main point of interest. The resolution is merely HD ready, at 1,366 x 768 pixels, with the most exciting piece of processing coming in the form of LG's standard-issue TruMotion 100Hz scanning.
The connections are sparse to say the least, with a mini-HDMI requiring a - supplied - adaptor cable handling the audio visual requirements, an irritatingly fiddly power lead/RF that also requires adapting (two stages of it, this time) and a USB port.
Aside from that, there's precious little, unless you count the surprisingly deep image and audio calibration options (the former including two ISF-approved presets).
LG 15EL9500: Ease of use
LG sets usually cake-walk this section, with the company's exemplary (and increasingly widely imitated) tablet-style system routinely putting other operating systems to shame.
And the graphical element of it, at least, is still as marvellously intuitive and attractively rendered as ever, but is let down on this particular model by a frustratingly sluggish remote.
Which is a shame and a surprise, not least because the handheld control appears at first to be a class above the sort of zapper you'd expect to find partnering a set of this size.
It's almost the size of 'normal' (32in or larger) remote, the buttons are large, thoughtfully laid out and clearly labelled and many of the impeccably useful functions, such as the 'Q-menu' have been retained from the manufacturer's grown-up range.
Lithium-ion batteries enable an aesthetically and ergonomically pleasing slenderness and everything is generally where it ought to be, but the bubble bursts almost as soon as you start using the thing, with a frustratingly vague relationship between the unit and the set itself causing multiple button-jabs, fruitless 'aiming' of the zapper at the telly and frequent selection of the wrong thing.
We're inclined to cut LG some slack on the grounds that its sets are normally a dream to operate, the menu system still delights and on the off-chance that we might have reviewed a mildly duff sample, but we are (provisionally) disappointed to have witnessed this minor slip in an area in which LG could previously do no wrong.
LG 15EL9500: Picture
The rumble of expectation for OLED TVs has been building for some time now, with the potential of the technology's effectively self-illuminating backlight suggesting exciting possibilities for contrast and black levels, while whisperings of hitherto unheard of colour potential marked it out as a potential long term heir to plasma's naturalism crown.
Happily, the 15EL9500 sets about confirming most of these high hope in short order.
Blacks, for a start, are exceptional. Watch a conventional (CCFL) LCD screen in blackout conditions and you won't fail to notice the screen's inherent luminosity; whatever's onscreen, evidence of the backlight might be suppressed without ever being eradicated.
This OLED, though, achieves almost total darkness, to the extent that the outline of the screen is hardly discernible during cuts to absolute black.
While difficult to appreciate fully on such a little screen, there is also a good sense of separation between shades of darkness and the unprecedented depths to which this display can reach provide an impressively solid foundation for every other aspect of the picture.
Right at the other end of the scale, peak whites are blisteringly bright. Whether or not you take that ten-million-to-one claimed contrast ratio with a pinch of salt, the set is certainly capable of searing intensity.
Colours are generally solid, with decent saturation when necessary and no evidence of bleeding or banding
Flesh-tones are spot-on and the LG can handle a down to earth palette, such as that of the real-world sequences of Where the Wild Things Are or the garish, martian hues of Australia without breaking stride.
Some flesh tones occasionally look a little waxy, but this is forgivable when you consider how small a canvas the various shades are being crammed into.
It's hard to asses detail fidelity accurately on a set this small, as it doesn't take a particularly sophisticated 15incher to make DVD or Blu-ray look passable at the very least. Still, it's a clear and well-disciplined watch that barely breaks down when viewed from only inches away.
The same applies to motion, but as far as we can tell, the 15EL9500 keeps up with the action without much in the way of judder.
LG 15EL9500: Sound and value
No-one in their right mind will be anticipating an audio masterclass from a minuscule, practically two-dimensional set with apparently non-existent speakers and the 15El9500 lives more or less exactly up to expectation, perhaps even managing to fall a little short.
Sound, whatever you do to it, is tinny with a cramped soundstage and barely any bass. The volume range is minimal and harshness creeps in some distance from the maximum setting. And it hardly needs adding that the options for expanding the audio into a forced semblance of surround aren't worth bothering with.
Still, it's extremely unlikely that anyone with £1,700 to burn on a centrepiece for their home cinema set is gong to spend it on a 15in set when there are 42in plasmas to be had for less.
Which brings us neatly round to the question of value.
The LG 15EL9500 isn't, we think it's fair to say, a flat-out bargain. The picture is highly impressive, it looks fabulous and we're all jolly excited about the OLED-illuminated future that is surely now just a technological corner or two away.
None of which constitutes a totally persuasive argument to buy one when set against that astronomically high price.
As admirable as this TV is, we just can't envisage any normal person frittering more than a grand and a half on a bedroom-size set on the grounds that it's a bit thinner than other perfectly decent tellies that sell for a couple of hundred quid.
OLED might well supplant conventional LCD, with screens getting larger and prices smaller in due course, and in that sense the 15EL9500 is an exciting harbinger of things to come.
As a commercial proposition, though, it is little more than a hopelessly exotic curio for those to whom novelty is all and money no object.
LG 15EL9500: Verdict
We were thrilled by the sense of technological breakthrough embodied by this set and were excited at the potential for OLED hinted at by the mostly excellent picture performance.
It is extremely difficult to discern exactly who the 15LE9500 is aimed at though; too small for home cinema and far too expensive to stick away on second-set duty in a bedroom or kitchen, it feels more like an interesting prototype than something that ought to be on the shelves.
Colours are accurate, movement is impressively fluid and black levels leave conventional LCD sets for dead, however they might be backlit.
We also loved the futuristic styling and the dependably sound operating system.
There's just no escaping the fact that £1,700 or so is a ridiculous amount of money to ask for a set that can't command anything bigger than a bedroom.
We are also slightly disappointed by a remote control that promises much but fails to deliver where it counts and audio is a crushingly predictable minus.
An intriguing glimpse ahead to the next stage of flatscreen evolution, but one that comes at a preposterously prohibitive price.
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