The first 4K TV was 84″ in size and the price tag was just as big as the picture. Since then, all the TV manufactures making 4K TVs have fallen into recognized sizes, such as 55″ and 65″. So by making a third-generation 79″ 4K, LG automatically pokes its head above the crowd. But LG did more than just change the screen size; they took the opportunity to 1) enhance the hardware, 2) change the operating system and 3) lower the price relative to the 84″ model.
So as I stared at LG’s 79″ 4K Ultra HD TV during its launch at the Video & Audio Center’s Santa Monica store, the first thing I noticed was #3 from my list above, that the price tag of $9,999.00 had been lowered by $2000. The second thing was that nobody else had this model — VAC having been sent the entire first production run to sell exclusively. So if I wanted to check it out I would need their approval, which was no issue since the whole idea of a launch party is to let people look at what is being offered — of course I planned to take a more hands-on approach than just staring at the image playing across the screen.
So lets start with the image on that screen. I was watching Netflix’s “House of Cards” being streamed in 4K resolution, not up-converted but true 4K as in 3840 x 2160 pixels. The picture looked good, heck make that amazing as it was like staring through a window to see what Kevin Spacey was up to. What was also good was that there wasn’t a need for any set-top box in order to view this: the HEVC (high efficiency video codec) decoder has been built right into the set. True the picture had to buffer a few times and a glitch occurred now and then, but that was due to the “pipeline” delivering the content from the Internet to the LG.
I got my hand on the Magic remote (gesture-based) and brought up the menu — the idea being to see other things and then return to Netflix before the other guests (or LG staff populating the launch) got perturbed. I found to my surprise that palm’s webOS was now the driving force behind the user interface. HP had bought Palm and LG had bought webOS and the 79″ now worked through a series of “tabs” at screen’s bottom. These “tabs” danced and created a mild 3D effect when the remote’s pointer went over them, making for a much easier navigation than having side-mounted text or icons, followed by sub-menus. This “launcher” menu system was pulling in all of the options and organizing such things as the channel guide, recent viewing history and what was playing live at the moment (i.e., “Live TV”). webOS almost seemed to be a ribbon of piano keys that reacted quickly to commands, such as my returning to Netflix. I also found that the TV hadn’t quit Netflix and so didn’t require reloading— instead I was back in “House of Cards” where I had left off and it continued immediately. Considering that streaming 4K requires heavy lifting, this is more impressive than it might seem on the surface. Obviously the chip-set has enough processing power for working in the background even as images are being displayed. So I then went through a few of the “Smart TV” functions (streaming websites, browser screens, etc.) and did find that webOS made the navigation easier to use than many of the other TV interfaces I had tried in the past. And there was no slowdown in selecting choices from the interface either.
Putting the remote down, I walked around the set — the panel’s lighting was very even from edge to edge and it had a wide angle of view with very little color loss even when I was at the extreme edge (I suspect the In-Plane Switching contributed to this). The 79” also didn’t seem as massive looking as the 84″ did (granted there was a 5” difference). I also noticed a small nub at the back topside center of the LG. This turned out to be an 8 megapixel camera that manually pops up when a tab is depressed. The camera works in conjunction with online applications, such as Skype, but can also be used as a stand-alone for recording photos and/or video in HD; onscreen icons controlling zooming and audio volume commands. The camera functions in real-time and whatever is saved goes first into a built-in memory bank. LG didn’t hold back here either, as this consists of 4 1/2 GB of storage. 3D imaging can also be brought up to view (photos and/or video). Since the LG has such a high resolution, the passive 3D doesn’t degrade the resolution as it would on a 1080p HDTV. This also means dual screens can be viewed simultaneously by two players in video games (each wearing a left only or right only polarized pair of glasses).
A question that kept coming up from guests at the launch dealt with “where’s the 4K content?” Well, from Netflix for one, but obviously a lot of existing HD content would be played on LG after being up-converted. I watched a DirecTV feed that was in HD on the set and was impressed with the level of detail that played across the screen. Pretty much anything being displayed on the LG looked exceedingly good, whether it was native 4K (which looked absolutely splendid) or not.
LG also provided the 79″ with a better-than-decent sound system — they worked in coordination with Harman Kardon. The 5.2 system is able to transmit true stereo or simulated surround, powered by 90 watts of amplification. I asked if I could hear what the speaker-set sounded like, and Tim Alessi, LG”s Director, New Product Development HE Division, obliged by turning up the volume to nearly 3/4th, which was more than loud enough to cut through the chatter. So yes I can say you don’t need a sound bar with this LG 4K model, or even a stand-alone an audio system (unless you want true surround).
At the end of the evening, I turned to listen to Tom Campbell, VAC’s Corporate Director. He had been keeping up a running commentary on people’s reactions to the 79″ and his last proclamation as the event wound down was the most telling: 8 of the LG 79″ 4K Ultra HD TVs had been sold.
Marshal Rosenthal is a Los Angeles-based freelance writer and journalist specializing in technology, consumer electronics and pop culture.