Today is the first day of the annual Consumer Electronics Show, and while 2021 is obviously an irregular year, that hasn’t stopped the routine unveiling of new product refreshes from tech companies. That includes LG, which at this point may be best known for its OLED TVs and OLED panels it provides to other companies for their own devices.
LG’s updates to its OLED lineup are going to be modest for most buyers this year. The company is touting brighter HDR on its highest-end TVs, but most people won’t splurge for those devices, so we’re mostly looking at lightly expanded gaming features and response-time improvements, as well as new or ostensibly improved AI-driven picture optimizations. Generally, no one who bought an LG OLED last year is going to feel like they jumped the gun too soon here.
The bigger story, then, may be OLED making its way into smaller and smaller screen sizes. Last year, LG introduced its first 48-inch OLED TVs, which was a sizable drop from the previous floor of 55 inches. But the company seems to be going even smaller in late 2021, and we might even see LG’s panels finally venturing into desktop-monitor territory in the somewhat near future.
But before we get into that, let’s look at what to expect from LG’s larger-sized OLED TVs in 2021.
LG’s 2021 OLED lineup
To avoid confusion, let’s first clarify the naming convention here. The 2019 LG TVs carried the number nine—so C9, B9, etc.—and LG pulled an iPhone in 2020 by going to BX or CX. Now, the company has managed an overflow and wrapped all the way back around to 1.
As in 2020, the C-series (LG C1) is essentially the flagship; there are cheaper sets and more expensive ones, but the C1 is likely to be the one that attracts the most interest in terms of price-to-features ratio.
In contrast to the C1, the higher-end G1 has what LG says is the big story for its OLED TVs this year: higher HDR brightness. It has the new “OLED evo” branding LG has devised, and the company says it offers higher luminosity. Peak brightness is about the only major picture-quality assessment that competing non-OLED TVs ever beat LG at, but we don’t know exactly how high the new brightness ceiling is or whether it matches peak brightness from Samsung’s LED screens. And we likely won’t know until reviewers get their hands on the new sets—probably sometime in the summer, if recent years are any indication.
The 4K G1 will come in 55-, 65-, and 77-inch sizes, while the C1 (which is also 4K) will add 48- and 83-inch options. Additionally, LG is offering 8K variants with basically the C1 feature set at 77 and 88 inches. The 8K TVs are called the Z1.
Finally, some of LG’s marketing materials reference a B1 model. In recent years, the B series has offered the same panel as the C series and most of the same features but with a weaker processor. That impacts AI-based image-quality features and the snappiness of the user interface, among other things. Also, LG mentioned an A1 model. We’re not sure what that is, but it could be an even cheaper, entry-level alternative.
With the new PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series X consoles on the market (albeit still quite hard to find in stock), gaming is a clear emphasis for this iteration of LG’s TVs. LG already added HDMI 2.1, 4K@120Hz, and VRR (variable refresh rate) support in previous models, though VRR is semi-broken on 2020 LG TVs still. So the most important boxes had already been ticked. This time, LG has introduced a “Game Optimization” menu to all its TVs, letting you more easily access features like VRR in one place. The TVs also have multiple game-mode profiles tailored to specific genres like first-person shooter or role-playing game rather than a one-size-fits-all approach.
Further, LG claims that the new OLEDs will be the first TVs to come with Google’s Stadia game-streaming service built right in. Users will just need a Stadia controller and subscription to play games without a connected console. Nvidia’s competing GeForce Now service is also coming later in 2021.
LG hasn’t announced prices or release dates for any of these TVs yet, but that’s sure to come in the next few months.
The beginning of the OLED computer monitor invasion
TVs getting bigger and bigger often grab headlines, but for OLED, going smaller has proven to be the slower march. LG’s OLED panel-manufacturing capability has to date been focused on either smartphone sizes or large, living room-TV sizes. In between, you have smaller TVs more suitable for bedrooms or offices (or just people with smaller living rooms or who don’t want a TV to dominate their space) and desktop computer monitors.
Even the nicest PC monitors are notoriously… well, just completely awful, frankly, compared to the nicest TVs or smartphone displays in terms of picture quality by many metrics like contrast. Monitors have instead generally emphasized response time at the cost of picture quality, which admittedly makes sense for many use cases. Plus, it’s hard-to-impossible to cram thousands of local dimming zones into a 27-inch LCD display. All that leaves LG with an opportunity to take that space by storm with OLED, assuming consumers aren’t too concerned about image retention.
At CES this year, LG signaled that it is ready to make that move. The company says that it will introduce its first 42-inch OLED screens later this year, but it also says that it is poised to begin offering panels between 20 and 30 inches, both for itself and for other companies that use its panels in their own gadgets.
We’re not quite down to 30 inches yet, but LG did announce its first 31.5-inch OLED computer monitor—the 4K 32EP950, or “UltraFine OLED Pro,” which offers 99% coverage of both DCI-P3 and Adobe RGB. Ports will include one HDMI, two DisplayPort, and three USB with at least one of those USB ports being USB-C. There’s no information on pricing or release date yet (pricy, to be sure), but things are amping up: Samsung is the world’s other big OLED panel producer, and it is also planning to start rolling out OLED monitors at similar sizes.
LG makes LED TVs, too, we suppose
While LG does make non-OLED TVs, the company’s OLED lineup gets most of the attention every year—and for good reason, because LG’s LED TVs aren’t usually much to write home about. It’s not that they’re bad; they just don’t do much to differentiate themselves from similar TVs produced by other companies.
The biggest news on the non-OLED front from LG this year is the introduction of the new “QNED” lineup of TVs. These aren’t fundamentally different from other LCD TVs, but they have Mini LED backlighting like competing high-end LCD/LED TVs from Samsung and others this year. The “QNED” branding is just marketing speak, as it indicates that these TVs combine Mini LED tech with LG’s existing and essentially meaningless-as-compared-to-competitors “Quantum NanoCell” label.
Mini LED displays have backlights made up of multiple light points to better assist in isolating dark areas of the picture from bright ones—something LCD displays are notoriously bad at compared to increasingly popular OLED alternatives. All accounts indicate that the improvement can be noticeable, but it’s still no contest with OLED, which can isolate blacks or bright whites on a per-pixel basis.
LG will also ship modestly updated versions of its lower-end NanoCell brand LED TVs this year, but there’s again not much to distinguish those models from myriad similar TVs from other companies. Like models mentioned above, the NanoCell TVs will feature the new Game Optimizer feature.
Listing image by LG