Consumer Reports’ TV Lab, Deep Dive: Best Flagship Tv’s from 2016

Televisions are a part of the continuous test program at Consumer Reports. That means that we test-screen Tv’s in batches—usually around 10, in a time—and updates of our TV ratings with new models every few weeks. We go through hundreds of Tv’s per year, of which a large number of very good or even excellent image quality and perform well in a variety of other areas, such as viewing angle, motion blur, ease of setup and everyday practicality.

In the era of ubiquitous, low-cost, Ultra HD (UHD) Tvs, there are now plenty of options for every budget in a variety of sizes. And we have written many articles for users of different budgets and needs a TV that is suitable for them. For example, we have chosen for the top 4K Tv’s of 2016 and identified several large screen Tv’s that you might have overlooked because of mediocre or poor sound quality.

But this is not one of those articles.

At the end of the year, we have decided to ourselves and to all of the TV nerds out there with a comparison test of the absolute best Tv’s that have come through our labs, mainly based on the quality of the picture and UHD performance. This is a price-is-no-object comparison of the best technology the industry has to offer—a kind of a Lamborghini usa. Ferrari versus Porsche test for the TV world. It is an opportunity for us to break out all of the jargon that makes normal people’s eyes glaze over and leave the lovers to pore over the technical details and test analysis on a waist-deep level. For the rest of you who might just be curious, don’t worry, we will diligently explain the technology in plain English, where it occurs.

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For our shootout, we tested the three sets next to each other, using a battery of test patterns designed to reveal defects, as well as the use of real-world video clips from different movies played on a Ultra HD Blu-ray player. We tested each TV’s ability to produce full 4K-resolution and accurate colors and deep black levels. We have also measured any TV, and the brightness of the display to see whether it could produce the full effect of content with high dynamic range photos—more about that later. All Tv’s were calibrated for optimum performance.

The TV Contenders

Here is an overview of the three Tv’s in our shootout:

LG OLED65G6, $6,000
This is LG’s flagship OLED TV, from the Signature series. The TV, which has the fluctuations in the price of $6,000 to $ 8,000 and back over the past few weeks, is attractively decorated, with the “photo-on-glass” slim design and a sound bar-style speaker system, which can rotate for wall mounting, built in the stand.

The G6 is the only one of our three finalists who supports both the HDR10, and Dolby Vision high dynamic range (HDR) formats, we’re out of both formats in detail in this article in July. The model is equipped with LG’s webOS3.0 smart TV platform, and it is one of the few Tv’s that still supports 3D. (Remember when 3D was a thing?) It also has a very good sound, one of the best we’ve tested this year. And like all OLED Tv’s, has an unlimited viewing angle—the picture looks great, even if you do not have the central place in the bank.

Samsung UN65KS9800, $3,500
Samsung’s flagship SUHD model in 2016 is the UN65KS9800. It is a curved screen model of the company’s step-up line of SUHD sets. This was the only Samsung series this year for the use of a full-array LED backlight with local dimming. This allows the TV to achieve better black levels by dimming certain areas of the image while the other lit.

The TV supports the open HDR10 high dynamic range-standard and has quantum-dot technology, which uses nanocrystals to produce a very wide range of colors. Just as the other sets in our test, it is a 10-bit color processing. Although quantum dots are just one way for the LCD sets for the reach of a wider range of colours, a TV, the 10-bit color processing to produce a wider range of colors with smooth transitions between colors, without any visible links between the different colors. This year is the Samsung proposes the use of a slightly redesigned version of the manufacturer Tizen smart TV system.

Sony XBR-65Z9D, $5,500
Sony’s flagship 65-inch TV has a unique full-array LED backlight system Backlight Master Drive, which the TV sets each individual LED is off or independently. That has the potential to be a very dark portion of a scene sitting next to a very bright environment, without any light bleeding across the border. Almost all other LCD-based Tv’s divide the Leds in groups or zones.

This model supports the HDR10 high dynamic range format, and just like the other Sony XBR sets this year, the company has Triluminos technology, so that it can lead to a wider range of colors than conventional Tvs. The 65Z9D makes use of the Google Android TV smart TV platform, which offers access to Google Cast to stream to mobile devices and apps in Google Play, in addition to the various streaming services.

Despite the impressive picture quality, the Z9D score is not as high as in our overall TV ratings as the other two sets. One of the reasons was the quality of the sound, which was less than the LG and Samsung sets. But the other was what we felt was a non-intuitive process for the play of HDR-enabled 4K content.

Most Tv’s switch to HDR mode, as soon as that content is played back, but the Sony requires you to manually set the TV in this setting, and provides little information about how to do this. As a result, we suspect that many Sony owners will never see HDR displayed on this TV.

Shootout in the CR Corral

All three models deliver excellent all-round quality of the image whether you’re watching HD or UHD, including 4K titles mastered for high dynamic range. That means that you are generally accurate colors and deep black levels that are above the average brightness of the image, and the excellent rendering of fine details.

Whether it is the play of our test HDR videos or 4K Blu-ray’s, all three of the Tv’s delivered, excellent clarity and beautifully saturated colors. And, more often than not, the three Tv looked nearly indistinguishable from one another, especially when viewed from the road.

But we have a subtle and not so subtle differences. And we were able to choose a winner.

Benefits of OLED
Because OLED is an emissive display, each pixel produces its own light, so no separate backlight is needed—the brightness level of each individual pixel can be driven from real black of the specific brightness value required for the image. What this means for the LG is an excellent control of the brightness of the fine details, where the highlights can be made very light, with no impact on adjacent dark areas. This gives you an image that is displayed as intended. In bright scenes, the contrast will remain consistent, and the image depth and dimension never vary scenes change.

With Sony and Samsung, this is not the case—especially in the dark scenes. The local-dimming feature on both Tv’s, although very effective, can simply not match the OLED pixel-by-pixel control of the brightness levels. Both the Samsung and Sony sets exhibited degrees of haloing on the more challenging dark scenes, where a ring of brightness can show around the edges of objects. In a scene from the film “Sicario” that showed a police car’s roof lights in the night, the wreath became more and more clear. In other scenes, we saw the subtle lighting of the black horizontal black bars above and below the movie content.

As you can see in the images above are the biggest differences between LCD and OLED TV technologies appeared when we did the evaluation of the viewing angle. The OLED never revealed a noticeable loss of contrast, black level, or brightness, no matter in what angle we were viewing. And even the color looked fine, despite a subtle tonal shift in the color temperature.

With Sony and Samsung, in contrast, took a visible hit when we moved from the corner of the middle of the screen, such as black level, color accuracy and saturation. In short, the LCD Tvs’ viewing angle was no match for the OLED’s.

Brightness is measured in “nits”—is an important element for the production of a rich, dynamic, HDR experience. To analyze brightness, we run test patterns as in the real world video scenes. In our tests of these sets, we find that the comparative brightness of each SCREEN, depending on the type of test images that we threw in.

With scenes such as in the example below, we found all three of the Tv’s capable of delivering top-notch HDR performance. After optimizing the picture settings, the Sony Z9D, 770 nits, which is the highest brightness number with a full white field test pattern, with the Samsung KS9800 trailing at 600 nits. The LG was a distant third 139 nits.

With a 10% white window—a standard measurement of a small white square in the middle of the screen—the Samsung rose to 1250, and the Sony remained constant at 770 nits. The LG increased to 660 nits.

Although both of the LCD Tvs had a higher brightness measurements with our test patterns, we were surprised to find that the OLED set is consistently the highest level of the brightness of the highlights when watching movies. The Sony was second brightest with real-world content, and the Samsung was third.

On the other hand, for scenes that had high brightness over a larger part of the image, the Sony came out on top, followed by Samsung, then LG.

Because a full white field, not so much with real-world content (except, perhaps, in a documentary about Antarctica), the 10 percent window can even be a better indicator of a TV’s brightness during the TV shows and movies, especially with an OLED screen. It is a good stand-in for a number of HDR scenes, such as those with a glint of sun from a metallic object.

And that is an important point: test patterns can help you to understand, to a degree, how a TV is going to perform, but they don’t tell the whole story. That is why all of our TV assessments are made with both test patterns and real-world video. Brightness is a good example of this, because in our test of the TV with the lowest measured brightness actually looked the brightest on a number of movies and TV shows with HDR.

But the full white field pattern did lead us to believe that both the Sony and Samsung would be the defeat of the LG when it came to showing all the details in a very bright scene and that they did. For example, a test scene from ‘The Smurfs 2,” a 4K HDR movie, which we often use as a reference showed a ferris wheel with a white frame lined with lit bulbs.

On the LG, some parts of the frame appear almost flat white; on the Sony and Samsung sets, the individual lamps will remain clearly distinguishable from each other and a more natural look. We have even tried lowering the contrast on the LG, but that does not help to restore the missing data.

The Winner: LG G6

If you’ve stuck with us so far, it is probably no surprise to you that the LG G6 gets our nod for the best TV 2016. The best, most consistent image quality across a wide range of content, regardless of where we were. But that does not mean that it was the best at everything, or that there is no room for improvement.

For one, LG needs to fix his white-level clipping problem—the problem that we saw with the loss of detail in very bright scenes. And although the us consistently good clarity in movies with a mix of bright and dark content, it would be good to see that this TV larger white parts of the image brighter for better contrast and shadow in scenes with a lot of protein, such as large clouds against a sunny sky.

For the runner-up of the best TV 2016 shootout, then we would have seen the Sony Z9 TV has a very slight edge over the Samsung solely on the basis of the quality of the photo: It matches with the Samsung at almost every step, while providing more clarity, plus a slightly better control of the image contrast on brighter scenes. The black levels were also excellent, and this set was perhaps the best banding performance of all three of the Tvs-tested—which means that in the scenes with subtly shaded light-to-dark areas, such as a sky during sunset, excelled in producing a smooth transition without distinct, coarse bands.

However, Sony was really hurt by its flawed process for getting the TV to play HDR content.

For that reason, we tap the Samsung KS9800 as the better choice for most viewers. It also had the best HD-to-UHD upconversion of one of the sets, and even though it might be hard to consider a $3,500 TV is a bargain, it is considerably less expensive than either of the other two sets.

But none of these “Best TV 2016” candidates would be a good choice for almost everyone. When placed next to each other in a TV lab, we were able to discern subtle differences in performance that would probably go unnoticed by all but the most astute observer in the house. All three of these Tv’s display the current state of the art in TV technology for everyone who is looking for the absolute top-notch performance, and who can afford to buy it.

Copyright © 2005-2016 Consumers Union of U.S., Inc. No reproduction, in whole or in part, without written permission. Consumer Reports has no relationship with any advertisers on this site.

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