Hands on: LG Signature Series OLED TV R (65R9) review

A promising start to LG's potential R-Series

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Early Verdict

Vegas was the perfect backdrop to show off this magical, rollable 65-inch OLED TV.

For

  • OLED picture performance
  • Good for 50,000 unfurlings
  • 2nd-Gen Alpha a9 Processor
  • WebOS 4.5 with Alexa

Against

  • One stand option
  • 800-nit peak brightness
  • Same panel as other OLEDs

At one time, seeing a TV appear out of thin air would’ve been something straight out of a magic act. But LG’s new rollable Signature Series OLED TV R isn’t magic, it’s engineering and display technology risen to the nth degree. 

And while it certainly has a magical, sci-fi quality about it - how many TVs have you seen collapse in on themselves without being destroyed? - given its second-half 2019 release date, it’ll soon be more fact than fiction.

We got a chance to see the OLED TV R (or, R-Series, if you want to keep with LG’s regular naming scheme) for ourselves ahead of the show and walked away mesmerized by the South Korean electronics maker’s latest innovation.

Price and availability

According to LG, the Signature Series R9 will be available in the second-half of 2019 and exclusively in a 65-inch version, though that could change by next year.

LG also couldn't provide a price for the 65R9... which actually isn't that uncommon at CES - rarely do manufacturers announce a price and release date the day they announce a new product. Given the fact that it's a 65-inch OLED that uses a mechanical system never used before by any other manufacturer, however, chances are it's not going to be cheap.

Design

What LG has done with the R-Series is harness OLED’s natural flexibility and built a base that acts both as a storage facility, unfurling mechanism and, also, a sound system all in one. 

The base is slightly longer than 60 inches across but half that size vertically. That’s enough storage space for the screen, apparently, as well as the 4.2 Atmos sound system. 

The housing unit, which has all the inputs and outputs built into the back, sits on top of a plain white stand that comes with every 65R9 OLED. The base and the stand are all you're going to see when the TV is turned off... which is fine as long as you like the white stand and base. If not, you're out of luck: the stand only comes in one color and there's no swapping bases. 

While the single color option is a disappointment, the stand itself is a minimalist’s dream: it’s low to the ground, open at the bottom to allow for storage and fairly innocuous. 

The magic of the unfurling (the term we’ve given to the TV unrolling itself from the stand) remains a bit of a mystery, a short instructional video LG put together shows the TV being rolled up on a spindle inside the base. 

The TV unfurls itself silently and engineers have told LG executives that the TV can be furled and unfurled around 50,000 times - which means if you turned it off and on twice a day, you wouldn’t hit the upper limit for about 34 years. 

In practice, when you turn the TV on, a small portion of the top surface slides back and the TV unrolls itself into an upright position. The TV can either extend to its full 65-inch form - what LG is calling Full View - or display just a small part of the screen in Line View. The former is used when you're watching TV while the latter might be used when you want to play music or use Mood Mode which displays small visual effects to match a nature-themed audio soundtrack like Rain, Stars or Snow.

According to LG, the 65-inch screen is held it in place with brackets at the base that prevents it from wobbling when upright. That doesn’t mean that the TV could survive a direct strike from a flying object like, say, a CRT could when they were popular a decade ago, but it certainly shouldn’t wilt over time, either. 

Around the back, you’ll find HDMI 2.1 ports which will support 4K120 playback once it’s available via an update later this year. HDMI 2.1 also includes support for HFR content when that arrives sometime down the road.

Performance

When the TV is fully exposed, you're treated to a 4K HDR OLED TV set. It's just as beautiful as LG's screens from last year, even if there hasn't been a massive change in technology - the panel itself hasn't undergone a massive revision, unfortunately.

Still, what we saw was particularly impressive. OLED picture quality is still at the top of the table compared to standard LED-LCD. Sure, the latter can get brighter - and that certainly makes LED-LCD look better in a brighter room - but when it comes to cinema-quality black levels OLED is still the absolute best.

Inside the 65R9 is the next-generation of Alpha a9 processors that allow for deep learning picture quality and an ambient light detection feature that can actually adjust the PQ curve of a TV depending on the ambient brightness in the room - i.e. when it's daytime the TV will recognize the additional light and raise its max brightness to compensate, and reverse that process at night. 

In terms of sound quality, LG has implemented a new AI Sound mode that really upgrades the forward-firing speaker's audio performance by virtualizing it for a larger space. The speakers, despite no having an upfiring component, sounded very similar to some of the lower-end Atmos systems I've heard - and that was without the TV playing any Atmos-compatible content.

The last feature is all part of LG's new WebOS 4.5 smart platform, which makes its debut on all of the 2019 LG UHD TVs. The big change this year is that the Amazon button on the remote doubles as a way to access Alexa - a short press brings up Amazon Prime Video while a long press brings up Amazon's virtual assistant. That doesn't mean Google Assistant or LG's own ThinQ smart platform are out of a job, however, those smart platforms still exist and can be accessed by pressing the press-to-talk button (microphone button) on the LG Smart Remote.

Lastly, not to be outdone by Samsung's announcement that its 2019 TVs will support iTunes on its Tizen smart TV platform, LG says that it will support AirPlay 2... just stopping short of creating an iTunes app on the LG TV Store. 

Early verdict

While OLED still isn't hitting the brightest highlights that LED-LCD and MicroLED are hitting, it's still one of the best display technologies on the market. Combine OLED's superb picture performance with the novel, nearly magical ability for OLED to roll up into a base stand when you're not watching it and, well, this is easily one of the coolest, most noteworthy TVs we've ever seen at CES.

  • Want more CES 2019 highlights? TechRadar is hands-on with 8K TVs and foldable, rollable displays, along with new laptops and Alexa-enabled smart gadgets. Check out everything we've seen, live from Las Vegas! 

What is a hands on review?

Hands on reviews' are a journalist's first impressions of a piece of kit based on spending some time with it. It may be just a few moments, or a few hours. The important thing is we have been able to play with it ourselves and can give you some sense of what it's like to use, even if it's only an embryonic view. For more information, see TechRadar's Reviews Guarantee.