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.

How Did We Get Here? Performance and Playback
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  • JasonInofuentes - Wednesday, October 03, 2012 - link

    I'll agree across the board on this, though some of it isn't Google's fault. Google doesn't want to be on the hook for providing every aspect of the experience, and one piece they've always left to partners is the DLNA/UPNP component. I'm pretty sure all their devices are capable, but they leave it to the partners to provide an app to handle this content, and most do, eagerly, so that they can rebrand it and confuse the market. By calling it AllPlay or some such, they create FUD that their device will only work with similarly branded devices.

    And you're definitely right, the Play Store does have a lot more potential and loosening a few of the filters could go a long way. But then again, look at how many apps these days rely on portrait mode. Or have a very touch centric UI (I'm thinking particularly of touch and drag gestures). It could get really messy. Instead, simply green flagging apps could work, but then you need testers.

    Thanks for the comments.
    Reply
  • GotThumbs - Wednesday, October 03, 2012 - link

    Even Though this is a break from the norm, it is based on current and upcoming technology. Down the road, I see the TV as the main interface for accessing phone, web, and home digital content. Every house will have its own server and devices will link to it for content or management. Items such as coffee makers will be wireless and link to your server for software updates as well as programming.

    I have an LG 5700 Smart TV. Even Though it does not use the same Google TV skin, I've found it very easy to watch the movies stored on my server. While the web browsing is sluggish and limited, I think this is a good start and look forward to the next generations of smart TV's that will be more powerful. Adding a touch screen capability for smaller tv's in kitchens would be cool as well.

    Overall, I think the concept is good and now it's just a matter of getting up to speed for those of us who will put the technology to use sooner than the general public.
    Reply
  • prophet001 - Wednesday, October 03, 2012 - link

    I know next to nothing about color spaces or monitor calibration.

    However, based on your definition of color gamut shouldn't the screen perform better? It looks to me like barely half of the color space is reproduced by this television.

    How is that a "good" color gamut?
    Reply
  • cheinonen - Wednesday, October 03, 2012 - link

    On the CIELUV chart that Jason uses (which is more accurate than the more common CIE xy chart), the goal isn't to cover the entire gamut, but to correctly align the color points of the TV with the points on the inner triangle (the black lines with + symbols on the points that you can see in the chart).

    While the TV might have a larger native color gamut than the HDTV/sRGB target, HDTV content doesn't support that larger gamut, so if it were to use it, you would actually be seeing colors that are incorrect and distorted from the intended targets. This is what you can actually see with some OLED screens on phones, as they produce a much larger gamut than the sRGB standard, but don't have the capability to correctly map sRGB content to their correct locations.

    So in an ideal world, we would cover the entire NTSC gamut (which is what the full CIELUV color area represents), but we don't have content that can use that, or display technology that can display all of it, so we use a subset of it. The important thing is to map to that subset correctly, as otherwise colors appear distorted and unnaturally bright and vivid.
    Reply
  • JasonInofuentes - Wednesday, October 03, 2012 - link

    +1 to Chris, our resident displays expert. Thanks. Reply
  • prophet001 - Wednesday, October 03, 2012 - link

    Great explanation. Thank you very much :) Reply
  • org - Wednesday, October 03, 2012 - link

    I have despaired of getting a capable, polished local media/streaming box that I just have to plug. I have now an HTPC but it is not satisfactory for all the things I want.
    I preordered the OUYA, that should get close to want I want once I install XBMC on it.A controller will probably not be as good as a good remote control, but it will be definitely better than a bad one. And as an extra, I can play games on it. Not that into Android games, but a SNES emulator would be awesome. I can even play PC games with a desktop streaming solution like Splashtop. Maybe install a tv tuner on my file server and use Plex Server + XBMC...
    I'm actually pretty excited!
    Reply
  • JasonInofuentes - Wednesday, October 03, 2012 - link

    This, though, is why things like Google TV are such risky ventures. They need to make it truly plug and play so that it gets wide acceptance. But if it requires lots of tweaks on the user's part then it'll never spread. Plex and XBMC and even Windows Media Center are all great products, that require quite a bit from their users to work perfectly. It's the list of necessary user behaviors that has to be pared down for success. Good luck with the OUYA, though; let us know how it works out.

    Jason
    Reply
  • cjs150 - Wednesday, October 03, 2012 - link

    The end result should be a system (whether standalone or as part of a TV I do not care) which plays everything whether stored on a NAS, streamed from the internet, DVD/Blu-ray or just ordinary TV - ideally you would throw cable into this as well but I have given up on cable companies ever seeing any sense.

    My perfect end result connects through high end AV equipment to deliver 5:1 surround sound and has one remote control for all.

    Google TV is a long, long way from that but I have to accept that what I, as a geek, am willing to accept and what the average person wants are likely to be different. I can put up with separate boxes, funny file naming conventions etc. The average person wants something that just works - if it looks pretty as well that is a bonus.

    Apart from any optical drive, it is already relatively easy to build a system that is completely silent, capable of ripping all CD/DVD and Blu-ray on to storage, will transmit 1 or 2 HD streams that are very nearly identical to watching directly from a Blu-ray player. Sound quality is good, TV capture (apart from cable) has been pretty good for years.

    The problems with such a system are (a) software and (b) remote control.

    The software issue revolve around lack of compatability with file formats, the ability to play blu-rays, file naming conventions to name just the big areas. I like both XBMC and WMC, both have strengths and weaknesses but neither are ideal because neither really take into account how we will consume media in the future. Simple example, I want to watch a movie: it might be on a blu ray disc, it might be stored locally on a hard drive or on NAS or I might stream from Netflix, Amazon or one of several other providers or I might simply want to browse the web. I should be able to effortless move through the various options. Currently that is not easy unless you want to spent some time setting up the system and coding.

    Remote controls are interesting. Both Sony and now LG have come up with something that has a lot of potential to act both as a traditional RC as well as a keyboard for web browsing etc. To really become very useful they need to look at the Logitech Harmony range of RC with the "Activities" where one button starts a macro to do a whole series of things - but improve on the Logitech software so that there is real intelligence (i.e. remember that the TV is on so do not try and switch it on when moving from one activity to another). Ultimately (and this is already in development but still very early days) we need to move to using an Ipad or Android tablet as a remote where lots more information can be presented.

    Long winded post I know. I like what Google and LG are trying to do, but this is barely even a beta product and far too immature to adopt now
    Reply
  • JasonInofuentes - Wednesday, October 03, 2012 - link

    Great points, though I take issue with the tablet-as-remote concept. That's a lot of baggage and the technology exists to make a smart remote that is aware of device states. If all your components (source, display, receiver) are connected via HDMI 1.4 and use CEC for command and status, and Bluetooth is used as the protocol for communicating with the remote, then you could have a Logitech-like remote with macros that can modify the macro on the fly to reflect current states. Trouble is, not everyone implements CEC.
    I entirely agree that the ideal would be for a single interface to be able to query the full range of possible content options, and I think Google has a great first step towards that. Though it's a clunky affair, their access to EPG's and ability to adjust cable set-top boxes through IR blasters (and someday, hopefully, CEC) means that from their search you can do this with cable content along side streaming video options. That local storage component is still missing, and though it's a big one for those of us that have terabytes of storage devoted to movies, we are the most minor of minorities. The vast television audience mostly watches . . . television. So, for Google to put up the effort to implement a protocol for indexing and searching your media server (and to do so in a the many countless ways that your server may be configured) is not really worth it. Sad, though.

    Jason
    Reply

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