Posted Thu Jun 13, 2019 at 05:25 PM PDT by Steven Cohen
Four 4K HDR TVs enter, but only one can leave victorious. Yes, it's that time of year again. The time to get holed up in a dark room for hours on end in order to watch the ultimate Ultra HD TV cage match.
As part of CE Week at the Jacob K. Javits Convention Center in NYC, Value Electronics recently held its 15th Annual TV Shootout. The event pitted the year's top displays against each other in a side-by-side competition in order to choose the new "King of TV."
The lineup of opposing displays in 2019's Shootout included four flagship premium 4K HDR TVs:
In order to evaluate the displays, the competition placed the four TVs side-by-side as test patterns and demo content from a variety of films were used to judge various picture quality attributes, including dynamic range, color accuracy, color saturation, and motion resolution. A panel of professional video colorists, finishers, TV reviewers, and video scientists then scored all of the attributes from 1 to 10 to determine winners across four categories. Likewise, the display with the most overall total points was then named the "King of TV."
All of the TVs were visually matched to and evaluated against a Sony BMV-X300 30-inch OLED Reference Monitor used for professional color grading applications. Demo material and calibration patterns were sourced from test generators, 4K Ultra HD Blu-rays, Kaleidescape digital downloads, and Spears and Muncil's new 4K HDR Demo Disc. Content was played from a Panasonic DP-UB9000 Ultra HD Blu-ray Player and a Kaleidescape Strato S 4K HDR Media Player. Switching, distribution, HDMI cables, and test equipment were supplied by AVProStore and Metra Home Theater.
The Shootout was presented by Value Electronics' owner Robert Zohn. Scott Wilkinson served as moderator for the event, and the evaluation was guided by Joel Silver of the Imaging Science Foundation and Kevin Miller of ISFTV.
And now that the dust has settled, here's a rundown of the winners in each category based on all the judges' scores:
Below, I'll offer details on the tests conducted in each category, along with my own impressions on how each TV fared during the competition and my general feelings on the winners. Let the shootout begin!
For this category, the focus was on which display had the best SDR reference performance in a dark room. All of the TVs were calibrated for a home theater environment and all of the lights were turned off. A mixture of movie clips and test patterns were used for judging, and the TVs were evaluated based on how well they matched the professional BMV-X300 Reference Monitor.
Key testing material included clips from The Art of Flight and Aquaman, along with color bars, ANSI checkerboards, pluges, and other calibration material. Right off the bat, it was clear that both OLEDs matched the colors and contrast of the Reference Monitor just a tad better than the LCDs. The Samsung Q90R LCD, in particular, carried a slightly magenta push compared to the other sets. Likewise, the reds looked just a hair washed out on the Samsung in the color bar pattern.
Comparing colors and contrast between the two OLEDs, however, proved to be quite challenging as they were so incredibly close. Overall, I'd say the Sony OLED was a tad cooler than the LG. In some instances, this made it look a bit closer to the Reference Monitor, but in others, I actually think the LG had a closer resemblance. Both OLEDs also offered very similar black level and contrast performance in SDR mode, providing genuine blacks that disappeared into the room. With that said, the LG did offer a small, but still noticeable uptick in brightness over the Sony, giving it just a bit more luminance in brighter portions of the image.
On the other hand, while both LCDs did look brighter, their contrast was comparatively washed out compared to the OLEDs. The Samsung Q90R did maintain impressive black levels, though, thanks to its full array local dimming. The Sony Z9F's local dimming was also solid, but light bleed into the letterbox bars was more visible.
TV Shootout Winner - Sony XBR-65A9G OLED TV
My Winner – LG OLED65C9PUA OLED TV
Final Thoughts – This one was really tough and I can't really argue with the Sony OLED winning. To be honest, both OLED models were nearly identical during a lot of the material, but I thought that the LG's slightly superior brightness gave it just a bit more dimension which better matched the Reference Monitor's capabilities.
This category was designed to determine which display had the best overall SDR daytime viewing in a bright living room setting with a lot of ambient light. All of the TVs were set to their brightest calibrated SDR mode with motion interpolation activated. Likewise, all of the lights were turned on in the room. Unlike most of the other tests, however, the Reference Monitor was not used for comparison here since it's not designed for bright room viewing.
For testing purposes, several calibration patterns were displayed on all the TVs, including ANSI Checkerboards, brightness pluges, and color bars, along with demo clips from movies like The Art of Flight, which featured footage of skiers on a snowy mountain. While the ANSI Checkerboards were up, light readings were also taken from the white boxes on each TV to give the judges an idea of their luminance capabilities. Here's a rundown of the results:
As one might expect based on the numbers above, I found that the LCDs did indeed offer a perceivably brighter image that gave them an edge for standard dynamic range under daytime conditions. The Sony Z9F LCD, in particular, set itself apart from the rest with a punchier image. Meanwhile, motion remained superior on the Sony A9G OLED, offering a smoother look during pans and quick moves during the skiing clips. Likewise, colors appeared just a hair more accurate on both OLED sets. Meanwhile, all of the TVs struggled a bit to show darker shades of black with the lights on, but the Sony LCD managed to keep shadows visible at a step or two below the competition.
TV Shootout Winner - Sony XBR-65A9G OLED TV
My Choice - Sony XBR-65Z9F LCD/LED TV
Final Thoughts - Though the OLEDs and Samsung's Q90R LCD all did quite admirably, I thought that the Sony Z9F LCD maintained a better overall picture with the lights on thanks in large part to its superior brightness and shadow detail. Motion and color were indeed a bit better on the A9F OLED, but considering the Day Mode designation of this category, the added luminance of the Sony LCD made a larger impression on me.
This category focused on which display had the best reference 4K HDR10 performance in a home theater environment. All of the TVs were calibrated for a dark room and all of the lights were once again turned off. Likewise, the professional BMV-X300 Monitor was used as an evaluation reference for the majority of the tests. With that said, the BMV-X300 is only capable of 1,000 nits and does not include tone-mapping support for scaling content beyond that. In other words, it completely clips out anything that's graded to be brighter. As a result, it was not used as a reference for specular highlights beyond 1,000 nits.
For testing purposes, 4K HDR10 clips from Mad Max: Fury Road, The Revenant, Aquaman, 2001: A Space Odyssey, Planet Earth II, Baby Driver, and Mission: Impossible – Fallout were used, along with various calibration patterns. As a whole, all of the TVs really shined here, fully demonstrating why they're considered flagship models. But while the competition was very close, certain key quirks and limitations did arise in some material.
As a whole, both OLED sets matched the Reference Monitor the best during the majority of the testing material with deep blacks and very similar colors. There were times, however, when the Sony OLED looked just a hair undersaturated compared to the LG OLED and the Reference Monitor. On the other hand, though, certain colors on the Reference Monitor, like the red used in a field of roses, ended up appearing much more in line with the Sony OLED. Meanwhile, green on the Sony LCD looked a bit washed out compared to the other sets, and blue on both LCDs veered more toward violet compared to the Reference Monitor and OLEDs.
As one would expect, overall contrast and black levels were superior on the OLEDs. The LCDs and their full array local dimming backlights were also capable of achieving very deep blacks, but not at the same level of precision as the OLEDs. The Samsung LCD was actually able to get a bit deeper than the Sony LCD and produced far less booming. One test pattern that featured a small scrolling white square across a completely black background resulted in a lot of light bleeding to the surrounding areas on the Sony Z9F LCD. But while the square pulsated in intensity as it moved from zone to zone on the Samsung Q90R LCD, there was virtually no blooming.
Unfortunately, the Samsung LCD was prone to its own troublesome local dimming quirk, this time related to crushed shadow detail. One clip of a starfield was darkened too much on the Samsung compared to the other TVs causing many stars to disappear. Likewise, a test pattern used for setting brightness levels was almost completely invisible on the Q90R as a result of its dimming process. The moderators actually had to pump up the brightness all the way to get it to show up. Of course, it should be noted that extreme local dimming issues like this did not occur during the demo material from real-world content.
And though the OLEDs were nearly perfect performers when it came to black levels, the LG model did crush shadows a bit more than the Sony. The stargate scene from 2001 offered a perfect example of this. The black levels are actually intentionally elevated just a hair on the 4K HDR transfer during this scene, and the Sony OLED and Sony LCD both managed to match the Reference Monitor in this regard. The LG OLED and Samsung LCD, however, both crushed the blacks.
Finally, HDR brightness performance was quite impressive across the entire lineup, though the Sony Z9F LCD definitely had the punchiest and most intense specular highlights. With that said, the Sony LCD's method of tone-mapping did result in more detail being lost in very bright objects. As calibrated here, however, the Samsung Q90R LCD didn't look quite as bright but usually ended up preserving more detail in highlights. Meanwhile, both OLEDs were a little less intense than the LCDs, but the LG had a small but noticeable edge over the Sony OLED in peak brightness.
One shot of the sun peeking out behind a mountain ended up being one of the most telling images for HDR performance. The Sony OLED and LCD both came very close to matching the color tone, detail, and intensity of the highlight on the Reference Monitor. For whatever reason, however, both the Samsung LCD and LG OLED rendered the sun too red and less bright compared to the Reference Monitor.
TV Shootout Winner - Sony XBR-65A9G OLED TV
Final Thoughts – Wow, this one was really hard to determine. To be honest, the differences between the sets were often incredibly small and all of the TVs ended up displaying their own key strengths. But while the LCDs had a bit more kick in their highlights, the pixel-level contrast of the OLEDs once again won me over. Picking between the two models, however, ended up being a bit of a wash. The LG OLED could get a little brighter for a bit more intensity but it also crushed blacks a tad. Meanwhile, the Sony OLED's colors seemed to match the Reference monitor just a bit better in some scenes, but looked a little undersaturated in others. As a whole, I'd call this one a tie.
For the final category, all of the TVs played back streaming clips from Netflix's Lucifer and Our Planet through their internal smart TV apps. The shows were played in HDR10 on the Samsung LCD, and in Dolby Vision via the LG OLED, Sony OLED, and Sony LCD. Since the Professional Monitor does not have streaming apps it was not used as a reference here.
This one was incredibly close as well, and all of the TVs did a very similar job of streaming the material with no major discrepancies outside of the picture performance quirks already revealed in the other testing categories. With that said, the Sony Z9F LCD's superior brightness capabilities seemed to be more readily apparent here, producing noticeably richer highlights in the Lucifer clip while maintaining better detail than the Samsung LCD (perhaps thanks to the Dolby Vision encode here). The Samsung could get a little darker, however. Meanwhile, the OLEDs were similarly great, with better blacks and overall contrast but less intense highlights than the Sony LCD.
Final Thoughts – At the end of the day, I don't really think any of the TVs did a demonstrably better or worse job streaming the content played. Instead, they were all still prone to the same strengths and weaknesses found in the HDR Reference section. As such, this one was still an OLED tie for me.
I've been covering the Value Electronics TV Shootout every year since 2016, and this is by far the closest competition I've seen. In fact, I think it's important to stress just how close the picture performance was on all four of these displays. There were several shots and scenes that looked nearly identical across the entire lineup, with only extremely minor differences that would never be noticeable outside of a side-by-side comparison like this.
Of course, that's what makes the TV Shootout so special. Getting to see the same content played back on four TVs right next to each other is the only way to truly judge which one is superior. And while picking a winner for different picture attributes was often like splitting hairs, some key strengths and weaknesses did arise.
In the end, I agree with most of the judges' selections. Though I think the LG C9 OLED is pretty much tied for the overall top spot, the Sony A9G OLED definitely deserves recognition as the "King of TV" for 2019.
We'd like to extend a big thanks to Robert Zohn (President of Value Electronics) and the rest of the Shootout's dedicated team for hosting the event and for setting up all of the tests!
And for those interested in seeing a more detailed breakdown of the judges' scores, CLICK HERE to see the full results chart.
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