LG 88Z9 8K OLED TV review: If you've got the cash, this stunning TV delivers the goods Credit: LGIDG
Business Management

LG 88Z9 8K OLED TV review: If you've got the cash, this stunning TV delivers the goods

LG is the first company to introduce an 8K OLED TV to the consumer market. As its model number indicates, the 88Z9 is an 88-inch behemoth—way too big to ship to reviewers. So, LG brought reviewers to the TV, which was set up in the company’s facilities in Santa Clara, CA. I was among a few journalists who got to spend some quality time with this beautiful set, which presents a truly stunning image.

To be clear, as TechHive has pointed out many times, the terms “4K” and “8K” are misnomers when applied to most consumer displays. True 4K and 8K displays, which are found in professional settings, have resolutions of 4096 x 2160 and 8192 x 4320 pixels respectively. As applied to consumer displays, however, these terms refer to resolutions of 3840 x 2160 and 7680x4320 pixels respectively. Nevertheless, the consumer-display industry has adopted the terms 4K and 8K to mean 3840 x 2160 and 7680 x 4320, so that’s the nomenclature I’ll use here. (Interestingly, Sony’s 4K consumer projectors are actually 4096 x 2160, but they are the only ones in the consumer market with that resolution.)

Features

The 88Z9 is the largest OLED TV commercially available today, with a screen that measures 88 inches diagonally and consumer-grade 8K resolution (7680 x 4320). That’s just over 33 million pixels, four times the number in a 4K display. It cannot be mounted on a wall; instead, it comes with a stand that includes some of the electronics and also serves as an alcove for other equipment or knick-knacks. Together, the TV and stand weigh in at 229.2 pounds and occupy a space measuring 77.2 x 57.3 x 11.0 inches (WxHxD).

lg 88z9 lifestyle LG

If not for the couch to provide a sense of scale, the garganutan LG 88ZN would almost look small in this lifestyle shot.

Because there is virtually no native 8K content available to consumers, all 8K displays rely on sophisticated upscaling to display lower resolutions in 8K. In the 88Z9, that function is performed by LG’s second-generation alpha9 video processor. This AI processor uses machine-based deep learning and a database with millions of data points to perform upscaling and other video-processing chores.

The alpha9 Gen 2 processor is located in an outboard box that LG calls the 8K Upgrader. It supports 8K versions of the HEVC, AVI, and VP9 codecs, and it can be updated with new codecs as they become available. Currently, the only way to get native 8K content into the 88Z9 is via HDMI or USB. YouTube is the only streaming service that offers 8K content, but there is no app for the TV that supports it.

Speaking of HDMI, one of the most important features in this TV is its implementation of HDMI 2.1 at 48Gbps on all four HDMI inputs; in fact, it’s the first TV to be so equipped. Along with the ability to accept 8K content at up to 60 frames per second (whenever that becomes available), other new HDMI features include eARC (Enhanced Audio Return Channel), ALLM (Automatic Low Latency Mode), and VRR (Variable Refresh Rate).

Those last two are most important for gaming. In fact, representatives from Nvidia were on hand to demonstrate that LG’s implementation of VRR is compatible with Nvidia’s version called G-Sync. Video games can use different refresh rates depending on the amount of motion on the screen—still scenes use a lower rate, while fast action uses a faster rate to keep the image looking sharp. This prevents smearing and tearing of fast-moving objects while rendering smooth motion. The 88Z9 can vary its refresh rate from 40- to 120Hz, and the gaming demo looked nice and crisp no matter how much action was going on.

Of course, the 88Z9 is fully compatible with high dynamic-range (HDR) content. It supports four HDR formats: HDR10, Dolby Vision, HLG, and Technicolor. It does not support HDR10+, which differs from HDR10 only in its use of dynamic metadata. LG decided not to include HDR10+ because the TV offers a feature called Dynamic Tone Mapping, which ignores the HDR10 metadata and applies its own tone mapping based on its analysis of the content. According to LG, this looks indistinguishable from HDR10+. (You can disable Dynamic Tone Mapping, in which case the TV uses the static metadata in the content—correct or not, if it’s present at all—to render the image.)

lg 88z9 side LG

As with all OLED TVs, the 88Z9’s panel is very thin.

One important point about LG’s Dynamic Tone Mapping is that it generally lowers the “knee” point in the EOTF (electro-optical transfer function) curve, preserving more detail in the brightest parts of the image. In addition, using Portrait Display’s CalMan calibration software, you can specify up to three different knee points to use with content that was mastered at different peak-brightness levels. Again, this helps preserve more detail in high-brightness portions of the image.

All HDR TVs have at least one HDMI input capable of conveying the highest possible bitrate. In most cases today, that rate is 18Gbps. (As mentioned earlier, the 88Z9 can reach 48Gbps.) However, these TVs normally default to a lower rate—typically 10.2Gbps—in order to be as compatible as possible with older equipment. In most cases, you must dig deep into the menu system to manually enable high-speed HDMI, but LG TVs are the only ones to automatically switch to 18Gbps when they receive an HDR signal or certain other codes. The 88Z9 does not auto-switch to 8K/48Gbps; that must be done manually. Still, auto-switching from 10.2 to 18Gbps is a big step forward that I wish other TV manufacturers would take.

The onboard 4.2-channel audio system includes eight speaker drivers mounted on the back panel and a total of 80W of amplification. The system is compatible with Dolby Atmos immersive sound, and it claims to use AI to intelligently upmix two-channel audio to virtual 5.1. More interesting to me is the implementation of WiSA (Wireless Speaker and Audio), a wireless-audio format that conveys up to 5.1 channels of uncompressed 16-bit audio to compatible speakers, such as some models from Klipsch and others.

Of course, the 88Z9 provides all the “smart” functionality we’ve come to expect from modern TVs, using LG’s ThinQ AI interface to access lots of streaming apps within the webOS operating system. It also offers voice control with Amazon Alexa and Google Assistant built-in, and compatibility with outboard Echo and Google Home devices. In addition, it supports Apple AirPlay 2 with content up to 4K HDR, including Dolby Vision and Atmos.

User interface

The on-screen user interface will be familiar to anyone who has played with recent LG TVs. In general, the menus are well organized; I had no trouble finding my way around, though I am already very familiar with LG’s menu system.

lg 88z9 remote LG

LG’s Magic Remote provides the usual array of buttons, but I do not like its air-mouse approach to cursor navigation.

I’m less fond of the Magic Remote. When you press the Settings button (labeled with a gear-shaped icon), the main menu appears on the left side of the screen. Then, you move the cursor by waving the remote around like an air mouse and select what you want by pressing down on the scroll wheel in the center of the 4-way cursor cluster (which seems superfluous since you move the cursor on the screen by waving the remote). This has always felt unwieldy to me.

Otherwise, the remote is fine, with a numeric keypad, volume and channel up/down buttons, microphone button for voice commands, input-select button, direct-access buttons for Netflix and Amazon Video, and a few others.

Calibration

I started by selecting the Cinema picture mode and setting the Brightness and Contrast controls in SDR and HDR using the new Spears & Munsil UHD HDR Benchmark setup disc. They weren’t off by much in their default settings. Also, I verified that Sharpness should be set to 0; it’s set to 10 by default, but that introduces some ringing to the Sharpness pattern.

lg 88z9 sdr pre cal Scott Wilkinson / IDG

In the Cinema picture mode, the SDR pre-calibration measurements were pretty good, with dE2000 errors well below 5 for grayscale and color. If you want to geek out over the rest of the calibration results, click here to see a complete slideshow.

Next, I calibrated SDR mode using a Klein K10 colorimeter profiled for LG OLED TVs, a Murideo Six-G pattern generator, and CalMan software running on a Macbook Pro under Windows 10. After setting the OLED Light control so that the peak brightness measured about 100 nits (it had to be turned down quite a bit from its default setting), I took pre-calibration measurements. The results were pretty good, with grayscale and color deltaE 2000 (dE2000) values less than 5 for all brightness levels and colors.

I decided to take advantage of the Autocal feature that LG offers with CalMan. The grayscale calibration took less than two minutes to complete, and the resulting average dE2000 was 0.49—excellent!

The next step is calibrating the color; I decided to use the fastest Matrix LUT (look-up table) process. Unfortunately, CalMan crashed during this phase. After a couple of attempts with the same result, I talked about it with Neil Robinson, LG’s senior director of strategic partnerships and a very technically savvy fellow. He informed me that the 88Z9 was responding too slowly to CalMan—there had been no time to test the Autocal function with the brand-new 88Z9—and it would be an easy fix in a firmware update.

So, I did a 2-point manual grayscale calibration, which improved the measurements somewhat. But being a perfectionist, I tried to tweak it with a 10-point grayscale calibration. Unfortunately, I ran into another problem here—adjusting the controls had no effect on the measurements! The same thing happened with the 22-point calibration controls. Neil Robinson observed this and had no explanation.

lg 88z9 stand closeup LG

The included stand can act as an alcove for equipment or tchotchkes.

We brought in an engineer from Korea, who attempted to do a 22-point manual calibration. Amazingly, it worked perfectly for him! We have no idea why it worked for him and not for us. The average dE2000 was 0.34, an excellent result. I ended up not doing a color calibration, but the measurement was quite good without it: average dE was 1.5, and max dE2000 was 3.7.

By then, I had run out of time to calibrate the HDR mode. I did measure it, and the results were quite good. Peak brightness was about 700 nits, and without taking luminance error into account, the grayscale dE ICtCp (a different way to measure deviation from the target) was well below 2 at all brightness levels; taking the luminance error into account, only 5 and 10 percent brightness had a dE ICtCp above 2. The color had a dE ICtCp of no more than 4 at all brightness levels without taking luminance error into account; with the luminance error, brighter colors had greater dE ICtCp deviations, which is to be expected, since OLED can’t get as bright as the test signals represent.

Performance

To evaluate the 88Z9’s performance, I played a variety of discs on a Panasonic DP-UB9000 UHD Blu-ray player. I started with the montage on the Spears & Munsil UHD HDR Benchmark disc, which was shot at 8K and downsampled to 4K. Of course, the 88Z9 upscales it back to 8K.

The disc lets you specify the peak brightness and color gamut of your display; I selected 1,000 nits and P3D65|BT.2020. That’s a little higher than the 88Z9’s peak brightness (700 nits). I could have selected the next step down (600 nits), but I wanted to see at least a bit of the TV’s tone mapping.

The montage looked gorgeous, with rich, beautiful colors and superb detail in bird feathers, reptile scales, and animal hair. Bright detail looked excellent, with very little clipping, and dark detail was similarly superb. Just for grins, I tried setting the disc to 4,000 and 10,000 nits, and as expected, there was a lot more clipping.

Two clipping tests I often use are shots from Pan and Batman v Superman on UHD Blu-ray. At 0:18:52 of Pan, there’s a shot with the sun in the background, which can clip pretty badly. In this case, it did clip, but it didn’t seem all that bad. At 1:09:46 of Batman v Superman, however, Bruce Wayne is caught in some very bright flashes, and his white shirt clipped badly on the LG.

Next, I looked at some scenes from Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk on UHD Blu-ray. It looked amazing with excellent color and super-sharp detail thanks to its 60 fps frame rate. (I actually like the look of high frame rate in movies, though I know I’m in the minority on this point.) Also, the shadow detail in the limo on the way to the football game was superb.

lg 88z9 opener1 LG

If you can afford to spend $30K on a TV, LG will reward you accordingly. The 88ZN is a stunner.

Planet Earth II on UHD Blu-ray offers incredible nature scenes. I looked at the “Islands” episode, which looked spectacular in terms of color and detail. There was some clipping in the bright red lava at night, but there was no banding in subtle gradations in the ocean and sky.

The wonderfully deep blacks endemic to OLED technology were on full display in the opening starfield of Black Panther on UHD Blu-ray. Likewise, the shadow detail in the nighttime rescue scene was exceptional. Overall, the image was gorgeous, with sharp detail and beautiful colors.

The Black Panther UHD Blu-ray has an Atmos soundtrack, so I listened to a bit of it on the 88Z9. The sound quality was quite good for a TV, but I would still prefer an outboard audio system—which I expect most buyers will use at this price point. I didn’t get a sense of a virtual 5.1 soundfield; all the sound was in front of me.

To check out the 88Z9’s upscaling on lower-resolution content, I played the HQV Benchmark Blu-ray and DVD. (The Panasonic player has no Source Direct setting, so I had to set it to output 1080p and 480p, respectively, to test the TV’s upscaling at these resolutions.) On the Blu-ray, the video-resolution tests looked very good, with only slight jaggies on low-angle diagonal lines. Also, the film-resolution tests looked excellent with no moiré artifacts, and the processor locked onto the 3:2 cadence very fast.

The DVD version looked quite soft, which isn’t surprising—the TV was upscaling from roughly 300,000  pixels to over 33 million! The video-resolution tests looked pretty good, but they did exhibit some jaggies. In the film-resolution tests, the TV’s processor locked onto the 3:2 cadence fairly quickly, but the 2:2 cadence took a bit longer.

Finally, I took a look at the Spears & Munsil montage in 8K from a USB thumb drive. It was pretty highly compressed to a bit rate of 80Mbps, which is less than the bit rate from a UHD Blu-ray at 4K. Even so, the fine detail in things like butterfly wings and bird feathers looked slightly sharper than they did in 4K, though not tremendously so. I saw no clear evidence of compression artifacts.

lg 88z9 opener2 LG

You won’t encounter much in the way of 8K content, but upscaled 4K content looks fantastic on the LG 88ZN.

Then came the pièce de résistance—the same montage in uncompressed 8K. Each frame is 200MB in size, and the entire montage is 7 minutes 44 seconds long. At 24 fps, the file is over 2.2 terabytes in size, and the data rate is 4.8 gigabytes per second or 38.4 gigabits per second—still within HDMI 2.1’s maximum bitrate of 48Gbps. That’s nearly 400 times more than UHD Blu-ray’s 100 megabits per second!

Obviously, that requires some serious hardware to play. The source was a PC with Intel X-Series CPU and motherboard, Nvidia RTX GPU, HighPoint SSD RAID with four 1TB SSDs, and Blackmagic Design DeckLink 8K Pro output card. That was connected to four AJA Hi5-12G SDI-to-HDMI-2.0 converters, which were connected to an Astro Designs Quad HDMI-2.0 to-single- HDMI-2.1 converter. The file was played by DaVinci Resolve, a common software tool for post-production work. All in, the system carries a price tag of around $20,000.

The image was stunningly beautiful. The colors were breathtaking, and the fine detail was even better than the compressed 8K and 4K versions, though the difference was not dramatic. Overall, the uncompressed image looked a bit richer to my eyes.

Bottom line

Many people wonder if 8K is really necessary. After all, 4K is already super sharp, and it is highly unlikely that any native 8K content will be available to most consumers for years to come. Plus, to get the most benefit from 8K resolution, you must sit very close to the screen.

Those are all good arguments, but after seeing the LG 88Z9 in action at a distance of roughly one screen height, I believe that 8K does offer some benefit for large screens. In particular, the higher resolution means that upscaling artifacts are less visible, even at close seating distances that increase the immersiveness of the experience.

The 88Z9 really knocks it out of the park. In fact, this is the best consumer display I’ve ever seen. Color, detail, contrast, brightness, blacks, shadow detail, upscaling, and tone mapping are all exceptional. Yes, there are brighter 8K LCD TVs of similar size on the market—for example, the Sony XBR-85Z9G ($12,999.99) and the Samsung QN85Q900R ($14,999.99)—and they are much less expensive than the 88Z9. But none surpass or even match the overall picture quality of this beauty—that is, if you believe as I do that OLED is better than LCD in general. Other than the Magic Remote, which I’ve disliked ever since it was first introduced years ago, and the CalMan auto-calibration timing problem, which is easily fixed with a firmware update, I found nothing whatsoever to complain about.

At a penny less than $30,000, the LG 88Z9 is out of reach for most of us. But  for those who can afford it—and have the room for it—there is no better choice for a large-screen flat-panel TV on the market today. And with 48Gbps HDMI 2.1, it’s the only one ready for the day when native 8K content at frame rates greater than 24fps becomes widely available, making it virtually future-proof. I call that a worthwhile investment of your entertainment dollars.

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