Craving the very best TV viewing experience? Willing to pay a premium for it - as a great gift to yourself and the family this holiday season?
Maybe you're a videophile (like moi) who plunked down $3,000 for a vaunted Pioneer Kuro 50-inch plasma screen, back in the early 2000s when "2K" (two million pixel elements) "full" high-definition TV was all the rage, and TV personalities suddenly developed porous skin and wrinkles.
Today, that same 3K in dollars can buy two shining examples of 4K (eight million pixel) Ultra High Definition TV that we've been testing from LG and Epson. Besides that higher picture element count, they're pushing the envelope with a richer, movie-grade range of colors, brightness, and contrast - enhancements cumulatively called High Dynamic Range (HDR).
Life is good. For a typical living/family room setup, the LG 65-inch B6-series OLED TV (special priced through Cyber Monday at $2,799.99) is the undisputable king of the flat-panel lot, a 4K/UHD TV set you'll live with happily ever after. Or you can opt for a pricier E6-series variant that edges LG's skinny OLED panel in glass, upgrades speakers, and has the skills to show 3D movie discs using the same passive 3D glasses you wear at the cineplex.
While not cranking as showroom bright as Sony and Samsung 4Ks, LG OLEDs deliver the widest range of F-stops, the only true blacks in TV land, and off-axis viewing that doesn't fade a bit.
The LG sets are also a delight to "steer" with a smart motion- or voice-controlled remote. Internet connectivity pulls in many video streaming services and websites. And while all 4K/UHD set makers handle the HDR10 variety of HDR, only LG (and Vizio) sets also decode the more complex Dolby Vision version available on some sites and coming to discs.
Bigger, bolder, better. As the centerpiece for a big-impact home theater, nothing else can touch the Epson Home Cinema 5040UB at anywhere near its $2,799 price (through Monday).
In shootouts with a $15,000 Sony "native 4K" projector, this observer was hard pressed to tell the difference, though the Epson uses a blazing-fast, pixel-shifting mechanism to achieve 4K resolution from what's actually a "native 2K" 3LCD panel.
The Epson 5040U is so bright (2,500 lumens) you can happily "throw" images as large as 200 inches (!) onto a wall in the daytime - though the thing certainly shows best in a darkened room with a "Cinema" picture mode engaged. (Also true with the LG OLEDs.)
HDR enhancements (like fiery explosions) encoded on UHD Blu-ray discs and streams don't "pop" as boldly as you'd see on LG OLED screens, and Epson's 3D performance (with optional active shutter glasses) isn't quite as intense. But the treats the Epson does provide - throwing a huge, consistently sharp and color-accurate image, helped along by a superior Japanese-made lens and a terrific 2K-to-4K upscaling chip - make a 5040U a buy.
TV placement 101. For some, the gotta-adjust-your-room-
decor part of an ultra-high-def upgrade might be a harder pill to swallow than forking over the bucks.
Remember how Mom used to whine, "Don't stand so close to the set!" Otherwise you'd see the scanning lines, maybe get a headache or wee dose of radiation.
With 4K/UHD, the opposite is true. There's no such thing as "too close for comfort." In fact, your eyes insist you linger near. Otherwise the extra detail embedded in a 4K show becomes a relative blur, and isn't worth the premium you paid for the set or the software. Like the $2 to $4 per month bump-up now being asked to get the 4K/UHD tier of Netflix originals. Or the $10 markup for the drop-dead gorgeous Ultra HD Blu-ray videodisc version of The Revenant or shot-for-IMAX documentaries like The Last Reef - Cities Beneath the Sea and Flight of the Butterflies. They're now my go-to demo discs, along with Chappie, The Amazing Spider-Man 2, Star Trek Beyond, and The Secret Life of Pets. (FYI - first-gen 4K disc players, on sale this weekend for under $200, are works in progress. The Philips BDP-7501 synchronizes sound and picture better with the Epson; the Samsung UBD-K8500 plays nicely with the LG.)
In testing a 65-inch LG OLED, its extra clarity delivered the tingles so long as I sat within 9.5 feet of the screen. With the Epson projecting onto a 108-inch Stewart Filmscreen, 4K's extra clarity could be appreciated from a sofa as far as 13 feet removed.
Another word of caution. In this era of shooting movies on video (rather than film), playing one back on a 4K/UHD TV can be a bit off-putting, especially if cameras of different quality were used, and you don't turn down (or off) the factory-set sharpness and motion compensation controls. Without such screen softening, The Hunger Games series looks like live TV shows.