Four 4K TVs. But which is best?
Has your best mate suddenly become an expert in Slovakia’s centre-back conundrum? Perhaps they’ve announced themselves as the world’s foremost authority on water polo tactics?
Fear not, they won’t be this insufferable for long. Once the Olympics and Euro 2016 are over, you’ll want to own at least one triumphant memento from the ‘summer of sport’. Should Harry Kane, Jess Ennis-Hill and co fail to deliver the goods, then a 4K TV will do the job just fine.
There’s never been a better moment to invest in an Ultra High-Def tellybox. Even if the only ‘shock exit’ you’re interested in is the next grizzly death in Game Of Thrones. With every major streaming service now offering its wares in 4K, UHD Blu-rays having finally arrived and a fancy new PlayStation 4 on the way, we’ve collated four of the best new TVs that (quite a lot of) money can buy.
And if you don’t happen to have a spare grand or so lying around? We’ve picked out four more affordable alternatives as well, because this is a bandwagon you’re going to want to jump on.
LG OLED55C6V (£3000)
The LG 55C6V is the TV your overdraft was made for
This 55in set is the real McCoy, the genuine article – or so its ‘UHD Premium’ certification would have you believe. Sounds fancy, right? Well, all this industry tag really tells you is that the LG we have here meets the must-have ‘premium’ specs for resplendent TV viewing. It’s our job to let you know whether it comes good on that promise. Thankfully, that task is even easier than Germany’s group at the Euros.
With HDR support and a 10-bit panel capable of producing more colours than the costume department on a Wes Anderson movie, LG’s C6 is truly stunning. Unlike the other models here it uses an OLED panel instead of the LED ones that Samsung, Philips and Panasonic usually favour. The benefits? This set can go blacker than King Joffrey’s heart and will dazzle your senses with a 540-nit minimum peak brightness, which in TV terms is a whole lot of nits.
It also boasts support for both HDR standards: HDR10 and Dolby Vision. This means you’ll be able to watch compatible content from Amazon, Netflix and Ultra HD Blu-rays regardless of which format wins out in the future. Because if you’re planning to spend £3K on a TV, the last thing you want is for it to offer worse picture quality in a few years’ time.
Packed full of tech and with jaw-dropping performance, this LG does plenty to justify its prohibitive asking price. It’s the TV your overdraft was made for.
The LG's picture is superb
Mad Max’s eyeball-exploding colours are a visceral assault in 4K Blu-ray, while this LG’s HDR chops ensure George Miller’s feast of dust and fire takes place on a supremely natural-looking palette.
The clean picture is a real stickler for detail, too – sharply etched and unshakeably stable. And its excellent viewing angles won’t punish anyone who’s ceded their central spot on the sofa to get the nachos either. HD upscaling is perfectly watchable with everything we throw at it – yes, even an ’80s Only Fools And Horses episode.
LG has paired up with audio specialists Harman-Kardon to make the C6 sound fuller-bodied than its profile suggests. While you’re still best off adding a soundbar or surround setup, there’s no shortage of clarity, detail or volume here.
The LG is curved and beautiful
You know how everyone wouldn’t stop gushing about Breaking Bad two years ago? Meeting anyone with a 4K OLED TV is a bit like that, minus the plot spoilers. Aside from their great picture quality, these sets are impossibly thin. The C6’s svelte frame is slimmer than some smartphones, while even its protruding power pack is slimline to an extent that Schweppes would be proud of.
Compared to the era of boxy CRT TVs, this LG may as well be a Picasso. And it’s curved too, which further adds to its overall je ne sais quoi.
OS and apps
LG’s new WebOS 3.0 is just as slick as before, and adds some handy new features. Magic Zoom allows you to magnify anything on the screen, while Magic Mobile Connection lets you beam content to the TV from a smartphone.
There’s a greater focus on recommended content in version 3.0 too, with plenty to entertain you, including BBC iPlayer, Demand5, Amazon, Netflix and Google Play. All of which makes it rather like the class boffin who’s returned to school after spending the summer at an academic camp: it’s evolved into an even bigger smarty-pants.
Philips 65PUS8901 (£4000)
The Philips' Ambilux tech is a joy to behold
You know how a TV works, right? It’s got a big screen with speakers around its frame and a giant projector rig on its backside. No, wait. That’s only what you get with Philips’ ingenious Ambilux tech, and we’ve got the brand new 65in model right here.
A 4K extravaganza with HDR compatibility, this is a seriously premium screen that you’ll find selling at Harrod’s for a cool £4000. But if you’ve spotted one of Philips’ Ambilight TVs over the last decade then you’ll know the deal and how gurn-inducingly brilliant it is.
The idea here is to create a more immersive experience by extending the picture, and Ambilux turns the concept up way past 11 with nine tiny projectors that display the actual image of the screen on the wall behind the TV. The effect can be distracting at first, but you’ll quickly fall head over heels for its immersive knack for motion and detail.
Alas, not everything about the 65PUS8901 is as enthralling as its Ambilux abilities. It’s a good screen, but its motion, backlighting and subtlety issues mark it down, especially when rival screens offer a far more detailed and accurate picture.
It’s also worth noting that HDR is only being added to the set as an update later this year, which is disappointing for such an expensive piece of kit. So while the 65PUS8901 boasts an undeniably brilliant gimmick in Ambilux, its fundamentals aren’t up to the same deliriously fun standard.
Ambilux is great, but...
The 65PUS8901’s picture is chock-full of colour. The Lego Movie is a juvenile joy, with bold yellows, vivid oranges and deep blues wondrously illustrating Emmet and the gang as they take on President Business. This clarity is even more evident during the searingly bright Mad Max in 4K Blu-ray. Upscaling is also impressive: it was only a couple of years ago that Freeview or satellite channels looked dismal on a 4K screen, but the 8901’s upscaling from standard def telly is perfectly watchable.
Despite this, the 8901 does struggle with slow pans and fast-paced action sequences. Look hard and you’ll see faint judders and hiccups around outlines, while dark scenes on the Philips don’t have the same intensity as its rivals in this test.
OS and apps
Philips’ smart portal is powered by the simple if underwhelming Android TV. While its homepage is easy to zip around, it’s far from dynamic. That said, Google Cast compatibility does at least allow you to fire video to it from your smartphone, while Philips’ remotes get a QWERTY keyboard at the back that makes typing in passwords and YouTube searches infinitely easier. The 8901’s is so big you could fend off a burglar with it.
You're gonna need a bigger room...
For a TV that’s guaranteed to dominate whichever room you place it in, the Philips is rather minimal in design. Nothing about this slim, well-built set should distract you from its 65in picture and accompanying Ambilux experience.
Speaking of which, you’re going to need to move some furniture. Not only does the 8901 require a hefty bench to stand on, but also a large, blank wall behind to ensure its Ambilux lighting operates at full wow factor. Ideal placement is 24cm from the wall to ensure optimal focus and detail.
Sound is one of this Philips’ strong suits. Dialogue is clearly heard, and there are no tinny or harsh edges to set you on edge either. While this is all fine for watching Countdown, you’ll want a meatier, more expansive sound to go with movies.
Samsung UE55KS7000 (£1500)
The Samsung UE55KS7000 is cheaper than its rivals
Samsung has teetered on the brink of going OLED for the past few years, but its 2016 TVs remain #teamLCD through and through. But, as per your average episode of Mr Robot, the KS7000 comes with a whopping plot twist. You see, this set sprinkles a little extra stardust on top of its 4K and HDR brilliance in the form of ‘Quantum Dot’ technology.
An evolution of the nonsensical-sounding Nano Crystal tech we first saw last year, this innovation claims to offer over a billion colours to point your peepers at. Apparently, that’s more than 64 times what ‘conventional rivals’ (aka non-OLEDs) offer, although we didn’t take the time to count them all ourselves.
The upshot is that the KS7000 qualifies for a ‘UHD Premium’ sticker, so you won’t have to upgrade again until at least the Qatar World Cup in 2022. Assuming it happens.
What’ll impress most about the Samsung is its subtlety. There’s enough definition when watching Netflix in 4K to count raindrops on a windscreen, plus the clarity to make out the accompanying condensation. For a TV that’s the junior member of Samsung’s elite SUHD squad, this is some achievement.
The KS7000 offers you top tech for significantly less than its 4K competition. With LG’s entry-level OLED set priced at a whopping two grand, this set feels like a comparative bargain. Fidelity experts will notice the difference, but most of us will get by just fine.
The Samsung deals superbly with colour
While the KS7000 doesn’t have the bombastic impact of the LG C6, what you get is remarkable subtlety. Instead of retina-searing brightness and cosmic blacks, incremental shades of colour reign supreme.
This finesse even stretches to the contours of chins and cheekbones, making Spacey’s tilts to the camera in House Of Cards even more imposing. And when you’re without the 4K and HDR, this Samsung still proves to be an excellent upscaler. Fargo’s austere snowscapes retain contrast and colour on HD Blu-ray. The only minor complaint is that Samsung’s decided to kill off the 3D Blu-ray feature in the KS7000, so there’ll be nothing leaping out at you from this screen.
While it’s not quite as stunning as the LG, this Samsung is still a real looker. That’s largely thanks to its screw-less visage and ‘Boundless’ frame, which wraps a minuscule bezel around the TV’s edge-lit LCD panel so that there’s barely anything to distract you when looking at the screen.
Adding to the set’s svelte appeal is its lack of HDMI and USB inputs – they live separately in an external One Connect box. Oh, and be warned if you don’t have a huge bench for the Samsung: its feet don’t allow you to adjust their wide positioning.
OS and apps
Samsung's remotes have been redesigned
Last year, Samsung’s Tizen-based OS was the distant cousin of LG’s WebOS. Thankfully, 2016’s incarnation is much more intuitive – thanks to a nice layout and handy shortcuts – and noticeably faster to boot. Samsung’s latest smart remote control has been redesigned, but still retains its traditional shortcoming of being a little on the simplistic side.
Just as The Punisher is a fine superhero let down by one bad habit (of murdering people), this Samsung’s one obvious shortcoming is its sound. Even for a slim TV, it’s not particularly substantial, leaving blockbuster viewing in need of oomph.
Panasonic TX-65DX750 (£2000)
The Panasonic is not a UHD Premium set
A few years ago, Panasonic was the TV kingpin. Its plasma tech swatted the competition aside like incompetent underlings against an SUV door, for it was mighty. But then plasma production halted and Panasonic focused on LCD TVs, losing its mojo in the process.
But that wasn’t the end, and Panasonic has been working hard, regaining momentum and working on a big comeback. Is this the year that sees it back at the top? Time for a training montage…
On paper, it certainly looks like Panasonic has what it takes. The TX-65DX750 sits near the bottom of its top tier, where you get some of the fancy features without paying fancy money. You get 4K resolution (3840x2160), so that means about 8.3 million pixels with HDR for extra brightness, contrast and dynamism.
Alas, not all 4K HDR TVs are created equal, and this one has not been deemed worthy of UHD Premium certification. In culinary terms, this is a bit like settling for sirloin steak instead of a fillet cut. You’re still going to be treated to a visual feast, even though the DX750 falls short of the supercharged levels of peak brightness and colour bit depth that you’ll find elsewhere.
Crucially, this Panasonic will handle all your current 4K needs without breaking a sweat. If you want a big UHD telly that won’t decimate your savings, then this 65-incher is a tempting option. And for such a gargantuan set, its design is really rather fetching.
The Panasonic goes dark but loses some detail
The main reason everyone used to (and continues to) bang on about plasma is its ability to go properly dark. After all, it’s hard to take Batman seriously when he’s as grey as a pavement. Here, the dark bits of every scene offer a genuine absence of light. It goes nicely with rich colours and a natural sharpness that doesn’t look processed.
Sadly, in chasing the deepest blacks, Panasonic has sacrificed the fine increments of shade needed to make out what lurks in the shadows. In scenes that juggle bright lights with shadow, you lose out on detail.
OS and apps
Panasonic uses Firefox OS for its interface. It’s an intuitive layout, split into three sections: Live TV, Apps and Devices. This main page also lets you pin favourites for easy access. It’s a joy to use, although not as slick as LG’s multitasking WebOS.
The DX750 also boasts 3D (if you can still call it a boast), so your compatible Blu-rays can find refuge in this set. You’ll still have to pay extra for those silly specs, mind.
The TX-65DX750 has a clever stand design
Panasonic has come up with the snappily named ‘Switch Design’. This means the feet can be moved so they’re wide apart or close together. In this way, Panasonic caters for those with showroom-style TV benches, and normal people too. It’s one of the best things that Sony did in 2015, and it’s a good thing for Panasonic to, er, be inspired by.
In either configuration, the TV is reasonably stable. This 65in model has straight feet but the smaller models in the range stand on what appear to be tiny scythes.
TVs tend to sound worse the slimmer they get, but the DX750 fares well. It has no problems getting loud, the top end isn’t harsh, and the midrange is open. There’s little bass to speak of, but there’s just enough to do for occasional movie viewing.