- Stunning sound quality
- Arguably the best 3D picture quality ever
- 2D pictures look good too if you set the TV up right
- IPS Panel means native contrast isn’t the best
- Local dimming & dynamic backlight tools sometimes look too obvious
- Input lag a bit high for serious gaming
Key Features: 65-inch LCD TV with edge LED lighting; Native UHD/4K resolution; Passive 3D playback (2 pairs of glasses included); Smart Plus OS powered by webOS; Multimedia playback via DLNA or USB
WHAT IS THE LG 65UB980V?
The UB980V series is LG’s flagship LCD TV range for 2014. This means it enjoys a native Ultra High Definition (UHD) resolution, with chief distinctions from the step-down UB950V series being a much more powerful Harman/Kardon-designed audio system and a superior picture processing chipset. LG hasn’t had a great time of things recently, but it looks like it has found some form again with this top-end TV.
DESIGN AND FEATURES
The 65UB980V is an absolute beast of a TV. Built incredibly robustly around the already substantial 65 inches of screen is a slightly larger bezel than we typically see these days, with attractively rounded left and right edges. Unlike most TVs, though, this is far from the end of the 65UB980V’s bodywork. For beyond the main bezel is a substantial outer frame featuring angled back ‘wings’ to left and right, and a full-width shiny metal desktop stand (if you’re not wall hanging the set).
Not surprisingly the wings aren’t there because the 65UB980V can fly. Rather they house a startlingly ambitious speaker system designed by renowned audio brand Harman/Kardon that delivers a claimed 70W 4.2-channel surround sound effect. The two larger (79-inch and 98-inch) models in the UB980V series are even more powerful, featuring 90W and 120W 5.2-channel speaker systems respectively.
This all underlines LG’s status as one of the most innovative brands in town where TV audio is concerned – though we can but hope that the 65UB980V’s sound quality ends up justifying the extra size the speakers add to the TV.
Two last things to note about the 65UB980V’s extravagant design are the provision of a built-in pop-up camera, and the way its full-width stand means the TV needs to sit on a piece of furniture as wide as the TV screen if you don’t want it to fall over – something which could present quite a challenge to typical living rooms.
The 65UB980V’s design and audio system both mark clear points of difference between it and the UB950V range that sits beneath it. But there’s also a potentially significant difference when it comes to picture technology in the shape of the uncatchily named Tru-ULTRA HD Engine Pro processing engine.
This ‘Pro’ version of the engine exclusive to the UB980V series is claimed to deliver improvements in two key areas. First, it works in tandem with an upgraded Super Resolution Algorithm to provide more detailed upscaling of HD sources with less errors. Second, it introduces something catchily called the 4K Motion Estimation Motion Compensation [sic] circuit, designed to eliminate the LCD blurring issues over moving objects that can be so disruptive when watching 4K content.
Connected with this latter processing improvement, the 65UB980V boasts a ‘1300MCI’ system versus the 1250MCI system of the UB950Vs, essentially meaning you get a 1300Hz-emulating system rather than a 1250Hz-emulating system.
Continuing the UHD theme, it’s great news to find that the 65UB980V carries an HEVC 60p decoder, meaning it can handle Netflix’s 4K streams and, we presume (though can’t guarantee!), the upcoming 4K streams from other services like Amazon Instant.
Also present and correct are HDMIs built to the v2.0 standard, meaning the set is able to play our newly acquired 60p 4K source content – including some rather lovely footage (mercifully free of England’s matches) from the summer’s World Cup footie tournament.
There are four HDMIs, joined by three USBs (for multimedia playback or recording from the Freeview HD and HD satellite tuners to USB HDDs), and both LAN and integrated Wi-Fi network options. It’s through these network options, of course, that you’ll enjoy 4K streaming and access to LG’s extensive range of other Smart TV apps – as well as being able to stream in photo, music and movie multimedia from networked devices.
Somehow we’ve managed to avoid mentioning so far LG’s brilliant new powered-by-webOS smart TV interface. So let’s put that right now. As noted in our dedicated review of it, this interface feels like a huge step in the right direction for smart TV systems with its intuitive, friendly, multi-tasking menu design and cute ‘bean bird’ character to help guide you through everything.
LG has a strong heritage of giving users pretty much every possible tool for calibrating its TVs, so it’s not surprising to find extensive colour, gamma and white balance management facilities on the 65UB980V, along with plenty of control over all the most significant parts of its picture processing engine.
The TV’s calibration options are sufficiently flexible to have earned the 65UB980V the backing of the independent Imaging Science Foundation (ISF), with two picture presets provided for an ISF engineer to store settings for day and night viewing if you pay to call one in.
It’s interesting given LG’s long relationship with THX (with its plasma TVs) that the 65UB980V hasn’t got a THX endorsement when Panasonic and Sharp have both secured THX badges for their latest high-end 4K TVs. We can only speculate on why this is so, though, and speculation never really did anyone much good, so we’ll move on.
The last key feature of the 65UB980V to mention is its 3D playback. This is, inevitably given the LG branding, of the passive variety. Which is fine in principal, as we’ve so far found the passive approach really coming into its own with 4K TVs since these have a high-enough resolution that the passive format’s reduction in picture resolution due to its polarised line structure is far less noticeable. Naturally this set also retains passive’s advantages of no flickering, minimal brightness reduction and, hopefully, no crosstalk ghosting noise.
The only concern about the 65UB980V’s 3D is that the passive system on the LG 65UB950V was, to be frank, pretty awful.
Getting the best out of the 65UB980V is quite a complex process, but we’ll try and keep it as straightforward as possible.
First, since the set uses an IPS panel (known for struggling to deliver deep black colours) you need to try and work out the best mix of settings for the features that can affect contrast. The single most important tip is that if you want to watch a film on the TV in a darkened room, you’ll need to bash the backlight way down to below its 40 level. We’d also suggest leaving the Dynamic Contrast setting on Low; reducing contrast to around its late 70s level; and activating local dimming on its Low setting. We’ll talk about all this more in the picture quality section.
Where other adjustments are concerned, we’d strongly suggest turning all the noise reduction systems off when watching native 4K sources (we don’t really understand why any UHD TV would default to leaving NR on with native UHD content). Personally we also preferred to turn NR off when watching upscaled HD too.
A more surprising discovery was that we didn’t always get on with the Super Resolution option. With upscaled content on all but its lowest setting it causes areas of fine detail in upscaled HD pictures to fizz quite distractingly. Still, as we’ll discuss later, the 65UB980V’s upscaling is otherwise extremely impressive, and the Super Resolution feature can slightly sharpen the appearance of UHD content without making things look noisy or forced.
It’s immediately obvious that thankfully the 65UB980V’s pictures are miles better than those of the disappointing 65UB950V.
The most surprising and considerable improvement in the 65UB980V’s pictures comes in the contrast department. Not only can this set resolve deeper black colours than the UB950V while suffering hardly at all with the backlight clouding ‘hotspots’ that blighted that screen, but it also manages to hit deeper blacks without causing such overt backlight distractions.
The sort of distractions we’re talking about chiefly comprise obvious ‘jumping’ in the picture’s underlying brightness level caused by the dynamic backlight and, worse, obvious rectangles of light running down the image around bright objects that appear against dark backdrops – a situation which can crop up surprisingly regularly when watching films especially.
We’re not suggesting, to be clear, that the 65UB980V is immune to these sorts of backlight flaws. You can sometimes spot them, especially if you’re watching an ultra-wide aspect ratio film with black bars above and below the picture. But the obviousness and aggressiveness of the flaws is greatly reduced – so long, anyway, as you’ve reduced the backlight to the sub-40 level suggested earlier.
In fact, the best compliment we can give the 65UB980V is that there are times when its handling of dark scenes is good enough to make you forget you’re watching an IPS panel. There are times, indeed, where dark shots could even be called beautiful.
However, while we are impressed by what LG has managed to do with an IPS panel here, there’s a reason we used the word ‘shots’ rather than ‘scenes’ in the previous sentence. The thing is, wherever there’s much activity in a dark sequence, where the lighter elements of the images are shifting position, you do sometimes spot the backlight adjustments and blocks popping in and out of the picture. You spot them far less often than you do on the 950V series, and they’re subtler when you do see them. But they are there.
And before you think about just turning off the dynamic contrast and local dimming options that cause these little backlight distractions, unfortunately the lack of native contrast in the panel means you HAVE to use them, otherwise dark scenes are infused with much more greyness than you’d see on good quality rival screens that don’t use IPS panels.
In most other ways the 65UB980V’s pictures are excellent. The screen’s capable of pumping out some spectacular levels of brightness, yet it does so with enough discipline to ensure that peak white picture areas don’t suffer with obvious clipping while the boldest colours don’t look forced or unbalanced.
Even more importantly, the fact that somehow the 65UB980V can, if carefully calibrated, deliver a pretty convincing black colour despite its high brightness helps it produce far more shadow detail in dark scenes than we’ve seen from any other IPS panel this year. In fact, with images set up well dark scenes don’t have any of low-contrast hollowness about them at all.
The amount of brightness in play also helps colours look bright and bold, and native UHD pictures look really clean and vibrant. It’s noticeable during 4K 60p football coverage, too, that the 65UB950V delivers easily the most effective motion reproduction we’ve seen from an LG LCD TV to date, as the lowest setting of LG’s motion processing ensures that moving objects and camera pans remain largely free of blurring over moving objects while also avoiding the haloing and twitching side effects that can be caused by less clever motion processing.
Another of the 65UB980V’s biggest and most welcome strengths is its upscaling of HD content to UHD. Thanks to the Pro processing engine, upscaled images look less noisy and more evenly balanced in terms of contrast and colour than they did on the UB950V – while also looking distinctly more high-res than they would on an HD set. Given the shortage of native UHD content right now, the ability of the 65UB980V to upscale even relatively noisy HD sources so excellently is a major draw.
You can watch the 65UB950V – at least during bright scenes – from a slightly wider angle than you can non-IPS panels too. Though this benefit isn’t as big a deal as it used to be due to recent viewing angle improvements in some rival VA panels.
There are a couple of areas, though, besides the occasional backlight handling ‘artefact’, where the 65UB980V could do better. The strangest problem – though it’s not the first time we’ve noticed it with an LG TV – is that some upscaled HD skin tones sometimes take on a rather plasticky, mannequin-like look, as if the screen hasn’t quite got the colour finesse to resolve subtle shifts in skin tone.
The other issue is that native UHD pictures don’t look quite as phenomenally sharp and detailed as they do on the best UHD/4K competition. Though to be fair, some might like the restraint of the 65UB950V’s approach – and anyway, if you do feel like you want to boost the apparent sharpness of the picture you can try the upper settings of the Super Resolution option without images starting to look excessively noisy.
3D PICTURE QUALITY
Here’s a word we really didn’t expect to be using with respect to the 65UB980V’s 3D picture performance: ‘wow’. In all seriousness, it might well be the single best 3D picture we’ve ever seen.
There’s so much good stuff to report about the 65UB980V’s 3D, in fact, that it’s hard to know where to start. Though perhaps, with the UB950V’s disastrous localised crosstalk ghosting issues still giving us headaches, a great first point to make would be that the 65UB980V doesn’t suffer with these problems at all. In fact, we didn’t feel aware of so much as a single incidence of crosstalk throughout our 3D testing, even during scenes with particularly extreme depths of field and contrast ranges. This is the first time we’ve ever had a completely crosstalk-free 3D experience, and there’s no overstating what a stunning impact this has on the 3D experience.
The 65UB980V’s 3D pictures also stand out against those of any other brand too thanks to their spectacular levels of brightness and colour richness. There’s none of the dullness and colour compression you get with some active 3D solutions.
Detail levels are surprisingly good too. The way passive 3D technology works normally leads to at least a slight reduction in resolution, however much some may try to argue it doesn’t. But the extra lines or resolution in 4K screens negate this issue with today’s 3D 1080p Blu-rays, and so you get to see an image on the 65UB980V that’s at the very least totally 1080p in resolution.
It’s also free of the jagged edges and slight horizontal line structure issues you get with passive 3D on full HD screens. Add to this detail and smoothness the previously mentioned brightness, colour intensity and freedom from crosstalk and you’ve got a 3D image so clean and precise that we actually saw things in some familiar 3D shots we hadn’t noticed before.
LG’s much-improved motion processing plays a big part in its stellar 3D efforts too, doing a terrific job of removing the judder and blurring issues typically associated with 3D on an LCD TV.
The only issues we could find with 3D playback are that during very dark scenes some of the backlight manipulations can still slightly be seen, and that skin tones still sometimes look just a tiny bit plasticky. But such moments are rare enough not to put up any significant opposition to all the 3D goodness on show.
So stunning is the 65UB980V’s 3D picture, in fact, that we can’t help but think that if more 3D TVs could look as good as this then maybe 3D wouldn’t have become such an AV dodo.
Thankfully those striking speaker ‘wings’ really do justify the bulk they add to the 65UB980V’s bodywork. The sound they produce is so good, in fact, that it even challenges the efforts of the magnetic fluid speaker system built into Sony’s X9005B series – and you really can’t ask for more than that.
For starters the soundstage is huge, as the angling of the speaker drivers casts the sound way clear of the TV screen. In fact, we even occasionally detected hints of audio information appearing behind our seating position – and when we did hear this, it actually sounded quite accurately positioned too.
Despite the size of the soundstage, though, it always holds together beautifully, with no ‘holes’ in the audio ‘wall’ and no sense of any part of the mix dipping out or standing out too starkly. It’s also a very pleasant surprise to find that dialogue remains locked to the screen where it’s supposed to be. In fact, we’d go further than that and say that dialogue seems to appear from exactly the right PART of the screen. Excellent stuff.
As if all this wasn’t already enough, the 65UB980V’s sound can hit awesomely extreme volumes without so much as a trace of distortion or compression, and also without sounding harsh or short of treble detail. Best of all, though, the built-in speakers deliver levels of bass response that turn the sound into a genuine home cinema experience. Phenomenal.
OTHER THINGS TO CONSIDER
There’s good news and bad news for this section. The good news concerns LG’s Magic Remote. This cute little alternative to the standard LG remote turns out to be almost as revolutionary as the webOS interface when it comes to simplifying your use of a TV. Its killer tricks are the way it lets you point at the part of the screen containing an option you want to choose, and a beautifully tactile wheel for rapidly spinning up and down the onscreen menus. Once you’ve used the Magic Remote for an hour or two, going back to a typical TV remote feels like you’ve stepped back in time.
The bad news concerns the 65UB980V’s input lag. Our tests – even with as much picture processing as we could find turned off and using the TV’s Game preset – measure lag at 100ms. This is a really high figure by modern TV standards that will undoubtedly hamper your performance in fast reaction games. Shotgun wielders in Destiny, for instance, will definitely not fare well.
SHOULD I BUY AN LG 65UB980V?
If you’re especially drawn to LG’s webOS smart interface, then the 65UB980V is comfortably the best-performing TV you can currently buy it on. There are times when the 65UB980V’s pictures with UHD and HD content can look nothing short of stunning, it’s quite simply the best 3D performer we’ve ever seen, and it’s also streets ahead of nearly all the competition (bar Sony’s X9005B series) with its audio.
It’s also by far the best IPS panel we’ve seen this year in terms of its contrast potential, meaning that its images are much more consistently gorgeous than they have been on any previous 2014 LG set.
There’s still no getting around the fact that key rivals like the Sony 65X9005B, Samsung 65HU8500 and Panasonic 65AX802 deliver dark scenes with still better consistency. When we first wrote this review, the Sony and Panasonic models were also considerably cheaper than this LG. However, we’re now updating this part of the review (on October 6 2014) as the TV has just enjoyed a huge price cut that brings it down to around £3,000 from some major retailers. This puts it much closer in price terms to its Panasonic and Sony rivals, and means it warrants an extra mark for Value.
One thing that hasn’t changed is the way all three of the Sony, Samsung and Panasonic rivals suffer less with input lag and so would serve as more satisfying monitors for gaming. But with LG’s backlight problems here only proving bothersome under very specific conditions (with particular sorts of image in particularly low lighting), if you’re not a heavy gamer you might very well feel tempted by the 65UB980V given its spectacular 3D, Smart TV and audio prowess.
The 65UB980V is a staggeringly ambitious TV that for the most part we love. It’s already tough to choose between the best 4K TVs this year, and we’re afraid to say this LG is good enough to make your choice even more difficult!