LG’s OLED TVs range continues to lead the market when it comes to showcasing the advantages of OLED panel technology. With truly impressive images, aided by deep blacks, vivid colors and an infinite contrast ratio, it’s little wonder that more and more people are choosing OLED.
The release of this year’s new LG C1 OLED (a successor to last year’s popular LG CX) and G1 Gallery Series OLED (which manages to up the brightness, thanks to a new OLED evo panel structure) is likely to only consolidate LG’s reputation as the forefront of OLED televisions too – while gaming overlays, low input lag, and extensive HDMI 2.1 support make it a great option for those planning to plug in new home consoles like the PS5.
There is one area where the LG OLED TV range appears to lag behind its competitors, though – and that’s audio.
Sound the alarms
The primary consideration for any TV purchase should be its picture. How crisp is the 4K resolution, how bright are the highlights, how smooth is the motion, how impactful is the HDR? A TV that excels in everything except the picture quality, after all, isn’t really a television anyone would recommend.
But we are getting to a point where several big-name TV manufacturers are offering exceptional picture quality in their sets, and they’re having to look to other, secondary considerations to really mark themselves out from the crowd.
This is something we mused on back in January, with TV makers seemingly focusing their 2021 ranges on gaming features (post-launch of the PS5 and Xbox Series X) as well as sound and ambiance, rather than upgrades to picture quality.
A representative for Panasonic went so far as to say that “We’ve got to a level where there’s really not very much more we can do [to the picture]. It’s so good, and it’s only going to be incremental improvements at this point – that's why we’ve shifted our focus to the feature set, say with gamers, and I think you’ll be surprised with how much that’s been improved.”
Panasonic’s OLED range has long stood out in the world of TV audio, largely offering similar picture quality across mid-price and high-end models but varying the total volume and complexity of the speaker system. Last year’s Panasonic HZ2000 offered 140W of Dolby Atmos audio and upward-firing speakers, while the HZ1000 made do with a less 30W. This year’s JZ2000 flagship takes things further with side-firing speakers for more dynamic, all-directions sound, even as it drops total audio output to 125W (though, let’s be honest, no one was going up to 140W anyway).
Samsung had a similar realization a couple of years back after a 2019 QLED TV range that skimped on its audio offering. The company went on to create its OTS (Object Tracking Sound) audio system, and its flagship QLED and Neo QLED sets now ship with OTS+ (a 10-driver speaker system with side-firing audio) that drastically ups the immersion and verticality of the system’s sound, while its mid-spec models make do with a more basic OTS system. Samsung's cheap QLEDs, like the Q60A, offer a software solution known as OTS Lite. These systems aren't perfect – they don't offer Dolby Atmos, for one, presumably because of the proprietary arrangement of Samsung's OTS drivers – but they do show evolution in the Samsung TV range.
Even if Sony’s Acoustic Surface Audio technology is somewhat divisive, literally shaking the panel of its screens to emit (often vague and muddied) sound, it certainly shows a TV maker looking to experiment in new technologies and offering something different from the rest of the market.
Suffice to say, though, that LG isn't taking the same route.
Resting on its laurels
The LG 2021 TV range shows that not much has changed in terms of built-in audio capability, with the same 40W Dolby Atmos speakers across the LG B1 OLED, LG C1 OLED, and LG G1 OLED – while the entry-level LG A1 makes do with 20W instead.
Given the hugely varying price points of these models – last year’s B Series model launched at $1,399 / £1,299 / AU$2,995 for a 55-inch size, while the new G Series costs $2,200 / £1,999 (around AU$3,000) for the same size – it’s surprising not to see any variation in the audio output. Our reviews for the LG C1 and LG G1 so far have also shown that one major complaint from LG’s 2020 models – namely, lack of clarity in the bass, which was also an issue with the company's high-end SN11RG soundbar – hasn’t been amended either.
That’s not to say LG hasn’t been hard at work on other things, such as its upgraded a9 Gen 4 AI processor, new Game Optimizer settings, and creation of its entry-level A1 OLED.
There is some headway being made on the software side, too, with LG's AI Sound Pro processing technique "identifies voices, effects and frequencies so it can then optimize the sound by genre for a more immersive experience". But the underlying hardware, output and arrangement is yet to see the kind of evolution seen at other TV brands.
We can't shake the feeling that built-in sound has become a second consideration for LG, meaning those looking for a well-rounded sensory experience or all-in-one home cinema screen won’t find it with the company at the moment.
There are ways around this, of course. A step-up soundbar or Dolby Atmos speaker would help matters, and broad support of eARC (enhanced audio return channel) on the best LG TVs means that lossless audio passthrough is much very possible. If you have an existing sound system you’re happy with, you’ll be well placed to upgrade your television with something from the LG OLED range.
Today’s televisions are increasingly beginning to offer entire home theater systems in and of themselves, though, or at least in one model in a TV maker’s premium range – on that front, LG could do more.
- Check out the best OLED TVs, from LG or otherwise
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Henry is a freelance technology journalist, and former News & Features Editor for TechRadar, where he specialized in home entertainment gadgets such as TVs, projectors, soundbars, and smart speakers. Other bylines include Edge, T3, iMore, GamesRadar, NBC News, Healthline, and The Times.