Today's 4K TVs come in a wide range of prices; from less than $500 to over ten grand. But how much difference does this make to the picture quality? In a bid to find out, we pitted Aldi's ultra-cheap 65-inch 4K TV against one of the most expensive 4K models on the market. We also asked "normal" people if they could tell the difference. Here are the results.
Aldi is best known for its affordable meat and surprisingly not-terrible wine - but it also occasionally sells 4K TVs from the discount manufacturer Brauhn. One of its best deals was the 65" 4K Ultra HD TV which sold for just $799. This is a ridiculously low price for a TV of that screen size and resolution (you can pick up its slightly smaller and even cheaper sibling at Aldi this Saturday.)
Unfortunately, 4K doesn't necessarily translate to awesome picture quality. So is the Bauhn a crap TV with a matching price tag, or a diamond in the rough? To find out, I decided to pit it against the LG EF950T, AKA once of the best TVs money can buy.
I've spent years looking at TVs and finding the tiny differences between them, and there is no denying that there is a large difference between the two. Being an OLED TV, the LG EF950T has perfect black levels, and a much wider colour gamut, and LG's excellent image processing that upscales lower quality content to near-4K levels with some fancy edge sharpening and interpolation and smoothing algorithms. Not to mention the fact that I've already calibrated it to a pretty close approximation of colour accuracy -- so Aldi's challenger from Bauhn was up against ridiculously strong competition; it was a welterweight in the ring against the heavyweight champion of the world.
The playing field was as even as possible, and representative of what most people will actually use both TVs for -- Netflix streaming of Star Wars: The Force Awakens, an action film with plenty of bright colours and explosions and beautiful visual effects. Note that this was an entirely unscientific test, too -- the LG screen was running its native Netflix app, and the Aldi screen was being fed a 1080p source over HDMI from a PlayStation 4 and upscaling it internally. For what it's worth, The Force Awakens is only a 1080p title on Netflix rather than native 4K, so the TVs were left to their own devices to upscale.
Straight out of the box, the difference was massive. "That looks shit" was probably the bluntest comment that the Bauhn 65-incher got, but there was a lot of talk about it looking washed out, with colour that didn't look as saturated as its much more expensive competitor. Fires on screen didn't look as bright, and the lack of the same smart internal processing meant that the picture overall was smoother without the same smart sharpening that the LG was running. The consensus, though, was that for the $799 price Aldi's screen was good enough: "You'll get used to this. And for the price, it'll be normal. It's adequate."
That said, the $9000 OLED TV wasn't getting complete and utter praise, either. A lot of viewers didn't like its TruMotion screen smoothing, which on Smooth mode makes cinematic flicks look excessively soap opera-like. But those black levels were winning people over left and right.
Then we mucked around with the Bauhn 65-inch 4K display's settings, throwing it into a custom mode and boosting saturation, raising contrast significantly and lowering the black levels slightly beyond the half-way threshold -- which on a LED/LCD TV, generally stops things looking grey and washed out. This all came at the cost of some overall brightness -- white backgrounds looked a little bit drab and grey -- but the overall picture got much closer to its OLED nemesis. Close enough that some of my guinea pig viewers changed their tunes completely and became very, very impressed with its performance.
The $799 Aldi underdog started to wow the same people who dismissed it before. "That's so much closer," they said. "Now I'd buy it." Black levels being lowered significantly -- at the cost of some peak luminance -- brings the Aldi telly much more in line with its OLED rival, as much as a $799 screen can compete with an OLED display more than 10 times the price. At the cost of some minor detail in fully saturated parts of the display, colours looked much better and more impressive. Sharpness was never equal between the two, as an artifact of the LG's far superior image upscaling processes, but it was enough, and more than enough for the sub-$1000 price tag.
You'll see a jump in quality when you go to a more expensive TV, sure. But price is the number one deciding factor in how Aussies buy their TVs, and a lower price is always more attractive than a higher one. That's why the $799 Bauhn 65-incher started to impress people after we optimised its picture for The Force Awakens -- because for the price, you get a lot of TV for your money. The big differences between the two TVs came down to the inescapable differences between LCD and OLED -- perfect black pixels versus LED backlighting zones, for the most part. I'm sure the Aldi would compare pretty well versus most other LCDs.
Of course, the significant differences between the screens -- the LG TV's integrated apps, and excellent motion-sensitive Magic Remote, and most importantly its support for high dynamic range -- isn't at all represented in this unscientific comparison. This is a straight demonstration of the fact that, with a bit of love and effort and the right movie, you can get a surprisingly good picture from a budget telly from your local grocery store. Aldi's Special Buys sometimes turn up some gems, and I happen to think that this Aldi TV is very much punching above its weight.
Sure, the Bauhn 65-inch TV is missing a lot of the features that screens even only slightly more expensive possess. It doesn't have any inbuilt apps -- there's no Netflix or Stan or Foxtel Play or YouTube for you to load up via the remote. But like I said, another $50 for a Chromecast gets you the best and most powerful Smart TV system you can buy right now, as long as you have a smartphone handy to throw content to it with. For $849 -- the real price of the Bauhn 65-inch 4K TV -- it's hard not to be very very tempted. Or, like one test viewer, you might now be eyeing off a $8999 LG EF950T. [Aldi / LG]
This story originally appeared on Gizmodo.