Upconversion: The Most Important Word When Buying a UHD TV

– Newest Samsung Beats out Newest LG in UHD Video Quality
– First Published Comparison of New Samsung & LG UHD TV Sets

In addition to writing reports for The Online Reporter, we are also consumers.
By Charles Hall

I recently purchased and used the two newest UHD TV sets on the market: the brand new Samsung UN55HU6950 55-inch and the brand new LG Electronics 55UB8500 55-inch. Both started shipping only in the last few weeks and most analysts and the press don’t yet know about them.

The test videos were UHD and HD content from Netflix; a variety of TV channels, TV shows and commercials in varying video quality from a pay TV service — Cox in my case — delivered via a TiVo STB/DVR; Blu-ray discs such as “Stargate” and local TV channels that I get from a roof top antenna. Over-the-air PBS stations produce the very best 1080p video quality followed by the pay TV channels ESPN and The Weather Channel.

Here is a summary of the results:
– Samsung clearly has a better UHD picture. It’s brighter, clearer and shows more detail, both in the foreground and background. When it’s playing high-quality 1080p content, it’s nearly as good as the UHD demos you see in stores. 

– Upconversion makes good 1080p content look near-UHD, which is what all the UHD set makers promise but not all deliver. Upconversion on the Samsung works really well with the proviso that high video quality 1080p content looks great, poor quality 1080p video looks good and SD content is usually hardly improved. Upconversion on the LG barely improved the video quality.

– Content that has been shot in native UHD looks fantastic, almost like being there. Netflix’s four “UHD showoff documentariess, “Forests,” “Deserts,” Oceans” and “Flowers,” are boring but look spectacular. They really show UHD’s potential as a “must have.” “Breaking Bad” is also especially good, but older films such as “Ghostbusters” and Philadelphia” are not, despite Netflix calling them UHD. 

– On a scale of one to 10, with ten being the best, UHD is a 10, HD is a 7 and SD is a 2. UHD is clearly better than HD but not by as wide a margin as HD was better than SD. When HD sets first appeared, consumers immediately thought “I want one now to watch the next game.” With UHD, it’s more like “When I buy my next TV set I want a UHD model.”
There are other non-UHD related functions worth noting:

– The LG interface is slightly better than Samsung’s, to us at least, but LG’s on-screen cursor is a bit jumpier and harder to control than Samsung’s.

– Samsung’s UHD set allows simultaneous audio playback through both the TV set and a connected surround sound system, which the LG does not. That means that the user frequently has to go into the LG’s menus to change from the TV speakers to the surround system and vice versa. Oddly, my four-year old LG also worked like the Samsung, not like the LG UHD set.

– Both units were relatively easy to install and set-up. 
In summary, we did not keep the LG UHD set for which we paid $1,699 — it wasn’t that much better than my four-year old LG HD set that still produces beautiful 1080p HD. We are definitely keeping the Samsung UHD set that we bought for $1,999. The quality of upconverted videos and Netflix’s move to provide UHD content make it worthwhile to buy a UHD TV set now rather than later. If and when DirecTV launches a UHD channel, we will be tempted to sign up.

One recent night was spent flipping through all the pay TV channels. My conclusion was: Good 1080p is great when upconverted. Average or poor 1080p is OK when upconverted. SD is mostly not improved at all although a “Seinfeld” episode looked much better than on an HD set. It’s the old maxim: Garbage in, garbage out. That’s restated for UHD as: “Quality 1080p in, near UHD quality out.”

I am very much pro-LG — owning an LG refrigerator, Blu-ray player, LG Upgrader (LG’s version of Roku) and the LG HD set was the one I initially selected after researching the matter – but that was before Samsung started shipping its newest UHD sets. When I bought the LG UHD to see how well upconverting worked, I did not expect to…



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