LG 65LA970W £5499
14th Nov 2013 | 11:18
LG's debut 65-inch Ultra HD TV costs £500 more than key rivals from Sony and Samsung, but might just get away with it.
While the 65LA970W isn't LG's first UHD/4K TV, it's the first one us 'normal' folk have half a hope of being able to afford and house.
For while LG's UHD debutante was an 84in model costing £17,000, the 65LA970W is a relatively manageable 65 inches - and currently on sale for around £5,500.
Obviously this is hardly peanuts. It costs £500 more than two of its biggest UHD/4K rivals, the Sony 65X9005A and Samsung UE65F9000.
But LG has a pretty significant excuse for its higher price in the shape of a direct LED lighting engine.
We'll go into this in more detail in the features section, but briefly with direct LED TVs their LED lights are positioned directly behind the screen rather than around its edges - a configuration that consistently results in better contrast and light uniformity than the more common (and cheaper to make) edge LED approach.
The 65LA970W also enjoys 3D playback using LG's passive system, while Smart features are prodigious in quantity and well handled by LG's brilliant Magic Remote innovation.
LG has even gone to town with the set's audio, including a 4.1 speaker 'bar' that can retract into the TV's bodywork when the set's switched off.
LG also makes a 55in UHD sibling for the 65LA970W, the 55LA970W, and its 84in UHD option, the 84LM960V, is still available too for people lucky enough to be able to handle its size and cost.
Other alternatives to consider are the already mentioned 65in UHD/4K rival models from Sony and Samsung, while if you like the cut of LG's jib but can't run to this UHD model, LG's top-end normal HD models are the LA860Ws, available in 60in, 55in, 47in and 42in sizes.
Today, though, it's all about 4K. So let's find out if LG's new UHD beast lives up to the 4K hype.
Design and features
LG understands very well that looks sell televisions. So for its new UHD flag-waver it's really gone to town, wrapping the huge screen in an unfeasibly slim frame and sitting it atop a striking, 'industrial chic' stand that runs almost the full width of the screen.
It's a nice touch, too, to find the mostly black bezel being offset tastefully by a silver metallic outer trim.
So slim is the 65LA970W that it's hard to imagine how LG could have fitted any speakers at all into its frame. As soon as you turn the TV on, though, the answer to this conundrum becomes clear, as a silver speaker bar glides smoothly out from the TV's bottom edge.
This bar is almost as wide as the TV, and remarkably carries no less than four front-firing drivers, slightly angled to boost the scale of the soundstage. The speakers in the slide-down bar are underpinned, moreover, by a bass speaker positioned on the set's rear.
Aside from the magnetic fluid speakers in Sony's 65X9005A, we're struggling to think of any other mainstream TV in recent memory that's gone as far as the 65LA970W to accompany pictures with some decent audio. Let's just hope the retractable speaker bar turns out to be more than just a show pony.
The speaker bar isn't actually the only retractable thing tucked into the 65LA970W either. For at the centre of its top edge can be found a pop-up camera, to support Skyping or LG's motion control system.
This motion control system isn't as well developed as Samsung's, but it can occasionally come in handy if you've lost the TV's remotes. There's a voice recognition system too, which again isn't as sophisticated as Samsung's but again has its uses, not least when it comes to inputting text into search fields.
One thing the 65LA970W has that no other Smart TV brands do, though, is a 'magic remote'. This inspired device enables you to select options in the screen menus by just pointing the remote directly at the relevant part of the screen.
Making this alternative control system all the more useful is the exceptionally rich array of content available from LG's prettily designed but densely populated Smart TV onscreen menus. There are literally scores of apps to explore here, from video streaming services through to games and information apps.
The quality of many of these apps is questionable, it must be said. But even if you only use the video streaming services you'll find a decently long list of options, including the BBC iPlayer, LoveFilm, Netflix, BlinkBox, KnowHow Movies, YouTube, BBC Sport, and Sky's NowTV platform.
LG is currently the only brand able to offer NowTV via a TV interface, which is quite a coup. Though before we get too carried away, LG doesn't offer the ITV Player, 4OD or Demand 5 catch-up services that Samsung's current TVs do.
It's important to add here that LG's attractive Smart Hub also handles access to video, photo and music files stored on USB devices or networked computers.
Impressive though the 65LA970W's design and smart features are, though, its true highlight features are reserved for its screen specification. Kicking off, of course, with the UHD resolution of 3840x2160 pixels – a pixel count that delivers four times the resolution of a normal HD screen.
Potentially almost as significant is the 65LA970W's use of a direct LED lighting system. This uses LEDs positioned directly behind the screen rather than the more common approach of ranging the LEDs around the screen's edge – an approach which usually delivers a markedly better black level response/contrast performance than the edge LED system.
Even better, LG uses a local dimming system on the 65LA970W, meaning it can control the light output of separate sections of the LED lighting array to give a further – potentially spectacular – contrast boost.
The set also employs a 1000Hz-like motion handling engine delivered through a combination of a 100Hz native panel and a scanning backlight, while a new Tru-Ultra HD processing engine is on hand to tackle the extremely difficult task of upscaling today's HD and even standard definition pictures to the screen's UHD resolution.
The set inevitably carries 3D support despite this technology currently being out of fashion, and since this is an LG set this 3D support is of the passive variety. LG's name on the TV also means it uses an IPS panel, meaning it should hopefully support wider viewing angles than most LCD TVs.
There are a couple of concerning notes about the 65LA970W's specification, though. First, the set uses LG's 'Nano' technology that enables it to employ a direct LED system while keeping the set exceptionally slim. The problem with this from experience with previous Nano sets is that it can diffuse the light so much that it takes away much of the contrast advantage usually associated with direct LED lighting.
Concern two finds the 65LA970W only carrying three HDMIs when surely such a cutting edge TV should have four. And our final concern is also to do with the HDMIs. For they're only built to the v1.4 specification, not the new UHD-friendly HDMI 2.0 configuration currently supported exclusively by Panasonic's L65WT600.
What this means in practical terms is that the set can't currently accept 4K feeds at a higher frame rate than 30fps. Other manufacturers of 4K TVs with v1.4 HDMIs have gone on record to say that they will be able to upgrade their sockets to accept 4k at 60fps – albeit with reduced colour information. LG, though, has felt unable to categorically offer the same confirmation, despite being asked to do so for more than two weeks prior to the publication of this review. It did at least seem to indicate that 60Hz 4K would be possible from other sources though, including USB and the set's built-in tuner.
We still tend to get a bit giddy at the thought of watching 4K. So not surprisingly we immediately fired a selection of native 4K content – restricted at the moment to long demo reels run from LG USB drives and a Sony 4K server we've managed to cling onto - into the 65LA970W to see what LG's set could do.
And the short answer was that it could do a heck of a lot. In fact, for much of the time we felt that the 65LA970W was producing the most jaw-dropping UHD pictures we'd seen to date – and that's saying something.
The sense of clarity, detail, purity and depth the set delivers with native UHD footage is utterly mesmerising, especially as it's underpinned by an incredibly rich and subtle colour response and some very adept motion handling that means you don't have to put up with the gorgeous 4k clarity being severely undermined by LCD's common blurring problem.
The 65in size of the 65LA970W is ample, too, to reveal the lovely sense of pixel density you get from a UHD/4k screen, delivering a visual effect akin to the way your eye interprets the real world versus the simple feeling that you're 'watching a TV'.
Given how spectacular native 4K looks on the 65LA970W, it's obviously a damn shame there's so little native 4K content currently available to normal consumers. It is coming, though - and our prediction is that it will get here faster than you might think. And when it does – assuming it's not had all the quality compressed out of it at source – the 65LA970W will be on hand to make it look as good as it possibly could.
The only slight rider to all this happy talk is that while bright UHD footage on our demo reels looks pretty much flawless, dark scenes reveal some issues with the 65LA970W's handling of black. Though crucially, as we'll see a bit later, it's possible to work round the majority of these issues.
With native 4K content so hard to come by, you're initially at least going to be relying on the 65LA970W's upscaling processing. So it's good to find this working reasonably well – albeit not as brilliantly as the upscaling systems found on the Samsung UE65F9000 and Sony 65X9005A.
LG's upscaling approach seems to be a fairly straightforward one of just sharpening everything. This works well enough to give HD pictures a sensation of being higher in resolution than they look on a normal HD TV, and you do get that all-important sense of extra pixel density. However, by not seemingly not being able to manipulate the sharpening effect on as localised (within each frame) a level as Sony and Samsung's upscaling engines do, you don't get quite so effective a sense of depth in the upscaled image, and can also see slightly more low-level noise.
Reducing the 65LA970W's sharpness setting can reduce the sense of noise, but still we only managed to get an HD upscaling effect we'd describe as good rather than great. The 65LA970W's tendency to focus on general sharpness can inevitably leave standard definition sources looking a bit messy at times too - though hopefully most users now won't often have to resort to such low-quality source content.
Moving to other aspects of the 65LA970W's pictures not directly related to its UHD resolution, it registers a palpable hit with the extreme punch but also extreme subtlety of its colours, and also startles with its eye-popping brightness.
The third dimension
The 65LA970W is in its element with 3D, meanwhile. Passive 3D technology really comes into its own with UHD/4K TVs thanks to the way having twice as many lines of pixels down the picture enables passive technology to deliver a true 'lossless' 3D image from 3D Blu-rays. As well, of course, as delivering passive 3D's advantages of no flicker, minimal fatigue, greater brightness, richer colours and practically no crosstalk.
Though please note that the crosstalk point only applies if you keep your vertical viewing angle under 13 degrees above or below the screen.
We've purposely left a discussion of the 65LA970W's contrast and black level performance till last, on account of it all being a bit complicated.
The complications arise from the fact that the 65LA970W's native contrast performance isn't very impressive, in line with other Nano-type direct LED TVs we've seen. However, unlike previous Nano sets, if you're careful with the set's dynamic contrast and local dimming features you really can get a very good contrast performance out of the 65LA970W.
For us the best setting combination entailed choosing the 'Low' settings for the dynamic contrast and local dimming options, and sliding down the backlight to as low as its mid-40s setting for dark room viewing – though you can go a bit higher for viewing in a bright room.
With these basic steps taken the TV's black level response shifts dramatically from being average to being excellent. And the fact that these deep blacks are able to appear alongside bright, rich colours and punchy whites without compromising them perfectly demonstrates the benefits of direct LED lighting with local dimming.
Previous LG Nano TVs have tended to make rather a mess of local dimming, though, thanks to the so-called haloing effect, where you can see blocks of light around bright objects thanks to the direct lighting not being able to work on a local enough level. However, while this problem hasn't been wholly eradicated by the 65LA970W, it's way less overt and distracting than it has been previously, only showing up in quite extreme circumstances. For instance, when you've got white credits against a black backdrop.
We should have said, actually, that the haloing issue only crops up very occasionally if you're watching from directly opposite the screen. Unfortunately if you move even slightly – as little as 20 degrees – off axis, the light blocking/haloing issue suddenly becomes obvious and consistent. So much so that if you or members of your family routinely have to watch TV from any sort of angle, the 65LA970W is not for you, despite its 4K glories.
For the most part the 65LA970W is a very intuitive and straightforward TV to use, thanks to the high level of presentation employed in its menus, and the brilliantly direct feeling you get from using the Magic Remote.
There are a few concerns too, though. One is the work you have to put in to hide a few issues with the set's backlight. Another is that LG would be well advised to apply more quality control to the apps it allows onto its online platform, rather than continuing with its apparent obsession with quantity, so that users can find the good stuff more quickly.
Finally if LG is going to offer gesture and voice control options, it could do with making these systems a bit more sophisticated than they are now to reduce the potential for frustration as you use them.
The speaker bar that slides elegantly out of the 65LA970W's bottom edge is thankfully much more than just a showboating gimmick. The four angled, front-firing tweeters ranged across it deliver much more power, detail and dynamism than the vast majority of normal flat TV speaker arrays, and they're able to retain this combination of power and precision even under duress thanks to the way a rear-mounted woofer speaker frees them from onerous bass duties.
The angling of the speakers also helps the 65LA970W produce an unusually wide soundstage, which joins the large screen in helping the TV deliver an exceptionally immersive experience when you're watching a film.
It's a pity for sure that the 65LA970W is £500 dearer than its Sony and Samsung 65in 4K rivals. Especially as there are areas – upscaling, contrast consistency - where both of those cheaper TVs do better than this LG. However, the LG's use of expensive-to-make direct LED technology enables it to boast some unique strengths of its own, and its reproduction of native 4K material is second to none.
Overall, though, there are just enough concerns with the 65LA970W's performance to make us wish the set was £500 cheaper.
LG has boldly decided not to just make its debut 65in UHD TV as cheaply as possible. Rather it's tried to sell UHD's association with high-end quality by allying the 3840x2160 pixel count to such premium features as direct LED lighting, an ultra-slim design and a unique mechanised speaker bar.
This premium approach has led to the 65LA970W costing more than some key rivals, but when you're talking about prices of £5,000 and above, maybe the LG's extra £500 isn't that big a deal?
The 65LA970W also enjoys full-resolution 3D Blu-ray playback, and LG's latest, content-rich Smart TV platform, accessed via LG's unique and excellent Magic Remote 'point and click' interface.
The 65LA970W's pictures excel in many ways too. Native UHD images look astonishing, upscaled pictures look good, colours are explosive, and contrast is surprisingly impressive if you set the TV up right. Just bear in mind that pictures go fairly nastily pear-shaped if you have to watch the TV from any sort of angle.
The 65LA970W looks every inch the cutting edge TV with its super-slim design and the groovy way its speakers slide gracefully out of its bottom edge. These speakers pump out a great audio performance too, which accompanies arguably the cleanest, richest UHD pictures we've seen so far.
While LG's Smart TV system is packed to bursting point with content, it could do with adding the ITV Player, 4OD and Demand 5 to its catch-up TV roster. It's also a shame the screen doesn't boast a better native contrast performance, since you have to be very careful with some of the TV's settings to work round this fundamental problem. The biggest concern, though, is the way the picture becomes almost unwatchable from any sort of off-axis viewing angle.
After suffering a pretty disappointing year overall with its HD TVs, it's good to see LG bringing its A game to the burgeoning world of UHD. Its handling of native UHD sources is second to none, its sound quality is streets ahead of most skinny TV rivals thanks to an innovative dropdown speaker bar, and the use of direct LED lighting delivers some tangible advantages.
Admittedly it also causes some tangible disadvantages – including, most troublingly, a very limited effective viewing angle.
So long as you can work within this limitation, though, and can stand its £500 price hike over Sony and Samsung's rival 65in UHD/4K TVs, then the LG 65LA970W is another spectacular example of what UHD is capable of.
Despite UHD/4K being a new TV technology, there are already four rivals for the LG 65LA970W.
Panasonic's £5500 TX-L65WT600 scores a major coup over all its rivals by sporting a true HDMI 2.0 input for higher quality carriage of 50/60Hz 4K material. We rate its picture quality highly too. Its online service isn't as content-rich as LG's, though.
Samsung has the £5000 UE65F9000 (we reviewed the UE55F9000). This combines terrific UHD image playback with strong, detail-rich upscaling and the richest online video streaming platform in town. Its use of edge LED lighting with no local dimming means its pictures sometimes lack some of the punch you get from the LG, though.
Sony, meanwhile, offers the 65X9005A. This £5000 model is an extremely large bit of kit thanks to the addition of a pair of 'wings' containing powerful magnetic fluid speakers, and we guess its size could put some people off. Its picture quality is terrific, though, with Triluminos technology on hand to enhance the extra colour resolution you get with UHD, and local dimming to bolster the contrast of its edge LED array. Those magnetic fluid speakers really deliver the goods too.
Finally there's Toshiba's £5,500 65L9363. This again impresses with its native UHD playback, but feels a little soft with upscaled material and is let down by a sluggish operating system and content-challenged Smart TV platform.