Surprise Upgrade Makes LG OLED TVs Even Better

Keeping Up with the High-End LCD Joneses

After years of hype and hope, LG’s 4K UHD OLED TVs are finally here. Initially, though, the excitement of AV fans at the long-awaited arrival of these revolutionary OLED screens was slightly blunted by their apparent inability to play the new HDR picture format (a full explanation of HDR can be found here).

Now, however, in a shock announcement that contradicts everything the company has said before, LG has revealed that its current generation of 4K OLED TVs actually will be able to play HDR after all.

Eventually.

Here is the full LG statement: “OLED TV technology is perfectly suited to display HDR content based on its ability to deliver perfect black levels and infinite contrast. Once technical specifications for HDR are finalized, LG plans to provide a firmware upgrade for the LG EG9600 series which will support HDR content. This network update will enable consumers to enjoy HDR content streamed through LG’s Smart TV partner apps or delivered via other devices through the TV’s IP interface.”

Reading Between the Lines

This unexpected development is, of course, great news for OLED fans. But if you read between the statement’s lines it does raise a few questions. First, it seems strange that the firmware upgrade only includes specifically the EG9600 TV series. LG has confirmed to me that owners of the EC9300 HD OLED TVs and, even more surprisingly, the LG EC9700 4K OLED TVs will not benefit from the HDR upgrade.

Also, the rather specific language of the statement’s last line raises serious doubts over whether upgraded EG9600s will be able to play HDR from suitable UHD Blu-ray discs. The statement only talks about HDR compatibility via streaming apps built into the TV and external devices through an ‘IP interface’.

It pointedly makes no mention of the TV’s HDMI inputs being able to handle HDR, which would exclude UHD Blu-ray from the EG9600’s HDR party.

I’ve sought clarification on this from LG, but perhaps pointedly, despite numerous requests, my questions on the UHD Blu-ray subject have met with a deathly silence. The oddest thing about this situation is that other manufacturers have stated that they believe it’s an easy job to upgrade current HDMI 2.0 sockets to the HDMI 2.0a standards likely to be needed for HDR UHD Blu-ray.

Why Wait?

With some HDR-supporting LCD TVs (like the recently reviewed Samsung UN65JS9500) already on the market it’s also a bit odd, perhaps, that LG has declared that it’s going to wait until all HDR industry standards are fully completed before it rolls its EG9600 firmware update out. To be fair to LG on this point, though, at the time of writing in May 2015 there is no native HDR content available for consumers to watch, so there doesn’t seem many points LG rushing things. Maybe it is actually better to wait and be sure the firmware update when it emerges at least gets things spot on. 

There is one other concern about the EG9600 HDR update, though: namely, whether this generation of LG OLED TVs can deliver enough brightness to do the high dynamic range format justice.

Dolby’s (admittedly unrealistic) take on HDR playback, for instance, is built around a screen capable of pumping out a huge 4000 Lumens of brightness, while Samsung has completely redesigned its LCD TVs for HDR to enable them to deliver a peak brightness of 1000 Lumens.

Yet the EG9600s won’t hit even half the Samsung’s brightness levels. Hmm. On the other hand, the EG9600 TVs’ OLED technology should help them serve up a peerless contrast performance, so maybe this will provide enough HDR compensation for the lack of brightness.

Look out for a review of the EG9600 OLED series soon.

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