LG Google TV Reviewby Jason Inofuentes on October 2, 2012 9:00 PM EST
- Posted in
- Google TV
- Media Streamer
- Media Player
- LG L9
- LG G2
We’ll start with an overview of the device itself, and a quick display analysis. LG Display, the conglomerate's panel making subsidiary, has had enormous success technologically and in sales. Their high density displays have been behind many of the “retina” displays that have crossed our bench, and their effectiveness in larger panels has panned out to include commercializing larger OLED panels and making the most of LED lighting in their more traditional TFT-LCD displays.
The LG Google TV features an edge-lit LED 1080p panel, that can do 120Hz and offers passive 3D with the included glasses. As always, thin is in, and there really is very little to this television that isn’t display. The LED’s around the screen's edges must take up almost no space, as the bezels are quite thin at around an inch and at its thickest the set is just 1.4 inches deep. The brushed silver bezels are matched to a brushed silver stand, which makes for a simple but attractive design. All that brushing is an effect, though; both bezel and stand are plastic, not aluminum.
Around back you’ll find four HDMI ports, one component, one RGB (VGA), three USB 2.0, one 100 Mbit ethernet port, an auxiliary audio port, and a port for an IR blaster. That’s plenty of connectivity for any setup, and the multiple USB ports means local storage can be attached alongside other accessories. Capacitive buttons make up the on device controls and run along the bottom right edge of the display, alongside a status LED.
I’m not an ISF certified display calibrator, like our man Chris, but I know my way around a CIE chart. So I took to characterizing the display. In broad strokes, there are two kinds of TV viewers; those that like them bright and blue, or those that prefer them accurate. Many are oblivious, certainly, but there is a preponderance of buyers that fall closer to the bright and blue. It isn’t their fault, really; it's a conditioned behavior. In an effort to draw our eyes to the dozens of TVs on display in a big electronics box store, manufacturers crank up the brightness and aim for vividness rather than accuracy in their colors. The effect is eye catching, but in the same way as a 10 foot Christmas tree. And like such a tree, once you get it in the house it might not look quite right. The two key standards that display calibrators live by are color temperature and gamut.
Color temperature refers to the balance of colors represented in a white screen. Since individual pixels are made up of red, green and blue subpixels, the white you see on your screen is actually made up of varying amounts of colors. Our eyes perceive colors differently, though, so it’s not simply a matter of turning the gain up on all three subpixels; rather, a balance is sought so that white doesn’t become vaguely blue nor slightly red or green.
Color gamut puts those subpixels to the test forming the rest of the colors, and, rainbows not withstanding, there are an awful lot of colors. Various charts are used to represent color gamut, but each has one thing in common, a reference frame. We’re providing two forms of CIE charts, and in each you’ll find a black triangle, this represents the sRGB color space. The white triangle is the actual measurements from the device being tested, and when we refer to color gamut, we’re referring to the percentage of the reference triangle that is overlapped by the test triangle. So how’d LG’s Google TV do?
When we took our measurements with the set in its default configuration the results weren’t surprising. The color temperature was off the charts above 12000K, and the brightness was an impressive 342 nits. The color gamut chart looked very good, a little askew of the reference green, and a little beyond the reference blue. That extra blue tone probably explains the excessive color temperature; lower temperatures are called “warmer” because they bring the white balance further towards the red reference. In use, the television isn’t assaulting, thanks in large part to the good color gamut, but whites do take on a curious hue.
Dig through the settings menus for a little while and you’ll come across another option. Alongside Vivid and Sports, lies the ‘ISF expert’ presets. LG takes the time to roughly characterize their sets and program a decent batch of settings that bring the display closer to the ISF standard. Characterizing the display yielded vastly different results, but it was almost uniformly good. The color temperature averages about 8000K and could be tweaked further, though it’s noticeable that where you’d most notice the color temperature (between 30% and100% brightness) the value hovers right around 7000k. The penalty for this configuration is a brightness that doesn’t break 100 nits. Watching a movie with the shades down and the lights off, this configuration really elevates this display to exceptional. Turn the lights on and open the shades on a sunny day and you might run into some washed out images.
A little more tweaking and we would probably be able to get the brightness closer to 200 nits without sacrificing color temperature. And a visit from a display calibrator could bring this set much closer to ISF standards, but all told, it’s enough to say that without much work at all, this set looks great. All the dynamic this and that is nothing if the images just look bad. Not something you’ll likely worry about with this set.
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EnzoFX - Tuesday, October 2, 2012 - linkNo these solutions aren't revolutions, but isn't it all we need?
A revue seems to be all I need. Skip the provider cable/sat boxes, and all you're left with is a pretty streamlined solution to stream online content. Sure it's all a lot of boxes due, but I like the fact that there's a much more direct support from Google themselves. It works. How often do some other boxes have issues with their own implementations of youtube or netflix, etc.
Is this not all we need? The app store is the real next hurdle, and it's bound to come, but until then, direct support for the basics, which even a power user must admit is 90% of what they would do with a TV is solid. This with the fact that it will trickle into your tv regardless is a nice icing on the cake for a sweet panel. Which if you think about the market, it's all about getting cheaper panels out.
Guspaz - Wednesday, October 3, 2012 - linkThe problem is that Google TV doesn't even seem to meet the existing requirements, let alone define anything revolutionary. Inability to play SD content properly? That's a pretty fundamental flaw. It sounds like, from the review, anything 16:9 should work fine in "full screen" mode, but anything 4:3 would not work with that (don't want it stretched out), so you end up with a tiny little 4:3 standard def window on a big screen... I don't understand how a media player can fail so utterly at something so basic.
You don't even need an option here. It's video playback. Whatever resolution or aspect ratio it is, stretch it up so that it takes up as much of the screen as possible without cutting anything of. It's what every single video player on the market does, except apparently for this one...
JasonInofuentes - Wednesday, October 3, 2012 - linkTo be clear, that flaw, the awkward stretching of non-16:9 content, is only a problem in the "Media Player" app, which plays local content. Content streamed from the internet is almost always handled by the browser, or a provider's app, and those don't exhibit this behavior.
jjj - Wednesday, October 3, 2012 - linkWeird to see a review for a TV here.
Anyway, the problem with TVs is that everybody thinks of them as TVs and not just screens. It shouldn't be about how we get media content or the UI or the remote or w/e other minor thing most think is the key,we'll manage when it comes to that and those are the easy things (that was me trying to make a point without giving away very specufic ideas ).
Google TV is just named wrong and missunderstood,it's about the internet on that screen,not about media content (even Google after a point went with the idea that it's about media).
JasonInofuentes - Wednesday, October 3, 2012 - linkThe thing is, if it were just about getting the internet on a TV then we should all have slim PC's hooked up to our TV's with wireless keyboards and mice. It's about changing the way content is found. Jeff provided a good description above of what an ideal for current content would be (instant streaming availability the moment a show airs) but that's only half the equation. For content creators and consumers alike, getting the right content to the right viewer is the holy grail. And if you have new content that appeals to people that like certain old content, or that meet some other demographic measure, then you could really score big by finding a way to connect the two. Google's solution was search as a user behavior and then related content as the connector. I search for content, and whether it's available or not, I am presented with a raft of other content that is available and relatable.
Impulses - Wednesday, October 3, 2012 - link" Too many cooks stir the pot in the US television industry; and until someone manages to pare that down to a scant few, we’re not likely to get the on-demand, always ready, universal experience that this pastime has been aching for. "
Could say the same for the mobile industry (and even the music industry), although it's greatly magnified with TV. I'm hardly a Jobs or Apple fan, but the impact that they had in wrestling some degree of control away from music studios and mobile carriers was huge, I'm not sure if anyone's ever gonna manage the same for TV & movies (Netflix's probably come closest before facing a ton of push back from studios).
Ten years from now we might remember those victories as Job's biggest impact, rather than the success of any one device... And we'll probably still be whining about cable/sat companies, studios, etc.
JasonInofuentes - Wednesday, October 3, 2012 - link+1
antef - Wednesday, October 3, 2012 - linkThanks for writing this great review. Too often "reviews" on tech sites nowadays are just a run-down of the features you could get from looking at the product sheet without any real investigation, totally missing obvious pain points that a real user would see after just a few minutes. I want to hear about the actual experience of using a device, in a person's own words, like an Amazon review, and this article was spot-on. I liked hearing about some of the finer details of the platform since I haven't used it myself but have been wondering for some time if it would be a good fit for me. What I'd like to see is Google upgrade this to Jelly Bean and release a Nexus Google TV device for $99. It could have the potential to be the ultimate connected TV experience.
JasonInofuentes - Wednesday, October 3, 2012 - linkThanks for the feedback.
We'd heard rumblings of a "Nexus Google TV" for a while, and even the possibility that LG might be a partner in such a device. I think what we'll instead see is the disseminated experience I laid out. No longer will there be a vanilla Google TV experience, simply, the tools that make Google TV good will be made available to partners, and they're responsible for building the UI and fleshing out the experience.
This is kind of a smart bet. The Samsungs, Sonys and LGs of the world have been building TV's and TV UI's for ages, and love them or hate them, they do have the most experience with them. So, for Google to do all the guess work and try to build a UI themselves is risky, especially when you consider that people have always seen TV's as a long cycle product. Six month UI refreshes work fine on phone's since people swap phones every two years, or less. Same with tablets and other CE products. To a certain extent, even PC's (look at Apple's slow tweaking of OS X). But TV's have glacially moved from dials, to remotes, to on-screen menus, to the Smart TV era. If Google makes a bad bet on a UI and a partner doesn't care to update their product with a newer, better UI, Google ends up with egg on their face (see Android phones). Now, the $99 media box changes that equation pretty radically, but that's not where partners want to be. Margins on TVs and media equipment have gotten crazy thin, and Google TV works best as a content discovery service when it's fully integrated into the experience. So, a $99 box is a compromise for OEMs (super slim margins) and the user (multiple UI's layered atop each other).
antef - Wednesday, October 3, 2012 - linkThanks for the response. I would be disappointed if it played out as you predict, with Google TV's core parts just being offered to partners to integrate into products and create their own experiences with. That's essentially how the Android market works, with the exception that Google does provide Nexus "Google experience" devices, which I prefer to use. It's nice that Android exists for OEMs to create their own ecosystems out of, but I personally don't trust most of their work and would rather use the pure experience straight from Google. Imagine if you had no choice but MotoBlur, Sense, or TouchWiz on phones? That would suck.
You give credit to Samsung's and LG's TV UI experience but I just don't see it. You pointed out yourself all the strangeness with LG's UI on this TV. Samsung just throws everything at the wall to see what sticks. Their TouchWiz UIs are the least elegant Android skin out there, and now with their new TVs they're trying voice, motion sensing, everything. An integrated experience from a company like this will always be a bad experience. Too much ads, and worse, too much of their own content and stores being shoved down our throat. It will never look like a cohesive solution, leaving the door wide open for Apple to come in and do it better.
The $99 box should be EXTREMELY appealing for Google, for the same reason Android is appealing to them: getting more people searching the web and seeing ads. TV is a huge untapped market with lots of people not currently in the smartphone-owning demographic. Google should get hardware into these people's hands as cheaply as possible to get them searching Google, using Chrome, etc. from their couches. The $99 box is also a win for consumers as it lets them swap it out whenever technology advances independently from their TV.
If a Nexus Google TV device doesn't happen I will probably seek out the closest to stock experience at the same price point from a partner.