LG SK85 review: A somewhat intelligent TV (with great picture and sound)

by Peter Griffin / 07 July, 2018
LG's SK85 delivers great sound and picture, but its AI functionality is patchy. Photo / Supplied.

LG's SK85 delivers great sound and picture, but its AI functionality is patchy. Photo / Supplied.

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Let’s face it, if you are in the market for a new TV and head to a showroom to check out what’s on offer, you’ll likely want to leave with an OLED TV – but the LG SK85 is a solid alternative at a decent price. 

OLED technology is delivering fantastic picture quality across the TV brands that are using it deep blacks, vibrant colours and natural looking motions thanks to high refresh rates. But OLED (organic light-emitting diodeis expensive because it is a totally different technology to the bog standard LCD (liquid-crystal display) that has dominated for years.

You are looking at $5,500 for the new 55-inch, entry-level OLED model from the LG range; the super-thin, 65-inch wallpaper TV at the top of the range costs $12,000. Other TV makers have similarly priced OLED TVs.

LG’s answer for those of us on a budget but wanting as good image quality as we can afford is its sister ‘SK’ Super UHD range, priced from $2,800 to $8,000. You don’t get the fancy organic light-emitting diodes but you do get a lot of technology that squeezes the best out of an ultra high-definition screen.

I‘ve been watching a lot of movies, Netflix shows and the odd FIFA World Cup match on the SK85 ($3,400), a 55-inch UHD screen that comes in a simple, almost bezel-less design, with a curved stand. It’s not as thin as I expected another virtue of OLED is a skinny panel.

Dim the lights

The reason for the SK85’s chunkiness, relative even to other LCD screens, is the incorporation of ‘full array local dimming’. This technology includes hundreds of little lights across the panel that allow really precise changes in lighting on the screen. It is the current best answer to achieving impressive contrast and colours without having to employ more expensive panel technology like OLED.

Full array local dimming is a winning feature here, as it is also going to help you make the most of another technology known as HDR (high dynamic range), which optimises the visual characteristics of content that supports it. A growing number of video streaming services have shows and movies in HDR and it really does make a difference.

You won’t experience HDR with regular TV broadcasts or a lot of shows. Still, LG’s support of several HDR formats (yes, annoyingly, there’s no one standard across the TV industry), covers the bases for this newish and effective technology, including Dolby Vision, which Amazon and Netflix use for HDR content.

Another odd-sounding piece of tech, “nano cells”, are included in the screen. The equivalent of the “quantum dots”, employed by other TV makers, they filter out unwanted light in clever ways, the main advantage being you’ll get a good picture at varying viewing angles. That’s a factor if you aren’t likely to be positioned directly in front of the TV, which is the reality in many lounge rooms.

I had to keep pushing the question ‘what would this look like on an OLED?’ out of my mind while watching the SK85, but the picture quality is impressive all the same. UHD videos from Youtube and Netflix (you need a premium account to get the best picture quality), really do look great – crisp, accurate colours, smooth motion and even at 55 inches, plenty of screen real estate to behold.

It is a really jarring experience switching to plain old HD broadcast to watch shows on free to air TV this TV needs to be fed quality content to deliver the goods, so bear that in mind if you are mainly interested in watching plain old HD Freeview or Sky.

Somewhat intelligent

LG’s ThinkQ intelligence is built into the SK85, which is an artificial intelligence that will let you pull up content or control the TV more easily. Unfortunately, the fully-fledged version that also supports Google Assistant, isn’t available here yet.

Instead, what you get are a series of hot commands you can use. You press the microphone button on the TV’s Magic Remote and say “turn off the TV”, “change to channel 3” or “mute”. The voice recognition is pretty good and the TV responds quickly. Its most promising feature allows you to search for content with voice commands, say “kids movies”. The TV will then display all the kids movies drawn from various sources, such as Youtube and Netflix.

I love the idea of the TV compiling all the viewing options across the various apps and TV sources available. But it didn’t quite work that way. A request for “Handmaid’s Tale” didn’t pull in the shows from Lightbox and nothing from Sky was featured. More work needs to be done to integrate a greater range of content sources to make this useful and hopefully the fully-fledged AI features will soon let you instantly pull up weather or news reports from the web with a voice command.

Ultimately, the Magic Remote, with its digital on-screen pointer that lets you use it as a sort of virtual mouse, is so quick it beats voice commands for the time being. It even has dedicated buttons for Netflix and Amazon Prime.

The TV web

LG’s TV interface is colourful and tile-based, a little over the top maybe, but fairly easy to navigate.

Moving between apps and sources is fast and smooth very little loading time involved. There’s an app gallery, web browser, screen sharing for connecting to your smartphone and the usual picture and video display options you’d expect. LG has also included the feature of OLED TVs that lets you display a fancy image on the screen, turning it into an artwork when the screen is off.

That’s not quite as impressive here without the TV being flush mounted on the wall like a super-thin OLED, but it is a nice touch to remove the black mirror from your living room.

The SK85’s inbuilt speakers deserve special mention. They deliver the best sound I’ve come across in standard speakers, perhaps thanks to the inclusion of Dolby Atmos, which delivers a sort of 3D sound effect for more immersive audio. You’ll likely want to invest in a soundbar and possibly some surround speakers, which should be Dolby Atmos compatible too.

Bottom line

The SK85 is a great option if you value picture quality but can’t shell out for a top-end OLED or one of Samsung’s rival QLEDs. You’ll get most of LG’s functionality built into its more expensive TVs and the presence of full array local dimming and several flavours of HDR make a measurable difference over similarly priced screens.

The undercooked AI features should improve with future software updates and the TV’s interface won’t be to everyone’s taste. Worry not though, this TV is all about packing in as much viewing technology as can be justified for the price and on that front LG really delivers.

Pros

Great picture quality

Full array local dimming

Magic Remote

Decent speakers 

Cons

AI functionality patchy

Price: $3,400

Rating: 8/10

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