Until this year there were two things I thought I knew about OLED TV technology. First, that it was notoriously difficult to mass produce and so would likely always be prohibitively expensive. Second, that while it’s consistently stunning when it comes to delivering rich, deep, even black colors, its brightness limitations would likely mean it was always going to struggle to do the latest high dynamic range (HDR) picture format justice.
The second of these assumptions has already been unceremoniously knocked on the head by the dazzling, brightness-enhanced performance of first LG’s incredibly designed W7 ‘Wallpaper’ TVs (reviewed here), and then the OLED65E7 (reviewed here). Now I’m looking at not one but two LG OLED TVs that take on the price ‘thing’ too: the OLED55B7 and OLED55C7.
At the time of writing these two 55-inch OLED TVs are available for $1,700 (£1,500). This makes them the cheapest 4K OLED TVs we’ve ever seen, and injects them right into the very heart of what’s previously only been mid-range to high-end LCD TV territory.
Seeing 4K, HDR OLED TVs hit such prices is pretty extraordinary in itself. But it becomes even more mind-boggling when you realize that essentially both the B7 and C7 TVs deliver the same picture quality as their (much) more expensive LG OLED siblings. This is because LG’s 2017 OLED TVs follow the same policy the brand adopted with its 2016 range, whereby every TV in the range gets essentially the same panel and picture technology, with different series being defined along purely design and audio quality lines.
How come they’re so cheap?
This unique approach to TV ranging does mean that neither the OLED55B7 nor OLED55C7 feature the jaw-dropping ‘pixels on glass’ design of the $3,500 OLED65E7. Nor do either of them carry the built-in soundbars of LG’s E7, G7 and W7 OLED TVs. But as I’ll discuss later, their picture quality is basically identically brilliant to that of LG’s much more expensive OLED sets.
It’s important to stress, too, that despite not having their OLED pixels attached directly to sheets of glass like LG’s premium models, neither the OLED55B7 nor OLED55C7 have been within a thousand miles of the ugly stick. They’re both incredibly slim in a way that LCD TVs – which have to use external backlights to light their pixels – just can’t manage.
The frames around their screens are both ultra-thin too, and since they’re black they tend to meld seamlessly into the stunning black level response their OLED panels are capable of. Both TVs’ different stand designs look and feel premium too, with their gleaming metallic finishes and comfortingly meaty weight.
Personally I prefer the wider ‘sheet’ stand design of the OLED55C7, and also its uniformly black bezel (the B7 introduces a sliver of silver trim that slightly spoils the ‘bezel-free’ look). In truth, though, either set will cut a stunning dash in any room it may find itself in.
The sound situation relative to LG’s step-up OLED sets is more of a concern. For while both the C7 and B7 models I tested benefit from built-in Dolby Atmos decoding, their lack of any soundbar technology makes them even less equipped than the E7 and, to a lesser degree, the G7 and W7 to do the scale and multi-channel precision of Atmos sound justice.
But then really it’s hard to imagine any built-in TV sound system doing Atmos justice. What’s more important is that neither the C7 nor B7 sounds nearly as rubbish as you might have expected given a) how insanely thin their bodywork is, and b) how you can’t see any visible speakers when you’re watching them from the front.
I’d argue that pictures as good as those produced by the OLED55C7 and OLED55B7 probably justify being partnered with at least a soundbar at some point. But the key point is that they both sound more than functional right out of the box.
LG has recently added a variation of the OLED55B7 to its range that takes OLED even cheaper. At the time of writing, in fact, the 55B7A sneaks under that magic $1500 barrier – something it achieves by ditching Dolby Atmos audio decoding (no great loss) and reconfiguring its speakers to a rather less precise and bass-rich set up (something of a loss).
I haven’t been able to test this new model for myself, but LG claims that it still delivers the same picture quality as the ‘original’ B7. And given the truth of this statement across the rest of LG’s 2017 OLED range, I have no reason to doubt that it holds true with the B7A too.
So far I’ve only danced around the main attraction of the OLED55B7 and OLED555C7: their picture quality. So let’s get into more detail on that now.
Well, sort of. The thing is, there’s no point going to go into my usual level of detail here, since both models perform in picture terms pretty much exactly the same as the previously reviewed OLED65E7. For those of you can’t be bothered to pop over to that review, though, the key details are as follows.
First and most important from my HDR-loving perspective, the B7 and C7 OLEDs really do deliver a substantial boost in HDR brightness compared with 2016’s 6-series models (reviewed here). I measured the maximum brightness from both screens for smallish high dynamic range light peaks at around 740 nits – an increase of around 15-20%.
Putting the HDR in HDR
This might not sound a lot on paper, but it has a transformative effect. No longer does HDR feel slightly dull in its upper brightness and color registers. On the contrary, since the extra brightness has been achieved without compromising the stunningly profound black levels that OLED is famed for, extreme contrast content such as lit windows against a night sky glow with an intensity that actually seems to go beyond even the brightest LCD TV.