It’s been a year since we saw LG Display’s 65-inch rollable TV prototype at CES, and now LG Electronics is bringing it to market as the company’s flagship 4K OLED TV for 2019. The finished Signature OLED TV R that consumers will be able to buy sometime this spring — for an astronomical, premium price — is quite similar to that prototype, but LG has refined the base station and added a 100-watt Dolby Atmos speaker for powerful built-in audio.
This is a TV that’s there when you want it and disappears when you don’t. Not everyone loves having a big, black rectangle as the focal point of their living room, and plenty of people don’t own a TV at all. TV makers are starting to realize that, for some, it comes down to aesthetics, so they’re designing products that blend better into the home. Samsung has The Frame, which can pass as a hanging piece of art on your wall when not in use. It switches between pieces by van Gogh and other museum-sourced content. Samsung also makes the Serif, which resembles a piece of furniture, thanks to its built-in shelving unit on top. But those are still very much TVs in that they’re always just kind of there — even if they look nicer.
LG is going several steps further by making the TV go away completely whenever you’re not watching. It drops slowly and very steadily into the base and, with the push of a button, will rise back up in 10 seconds or so. It all happens rather quietly, too. You can’t see the actual “roll” when the TV is closed in, sadly; a transparent base would’ve been great for us nerds to see what's happening inside the base as the TV comes in or unfurls, but the white is certainly a little more stylish. Functionally, LG tells me it hasn’t made many changes to the way the LG Display prototype worked aside from enhancing the base. I didn’t get to ask about durability testing — how many times the OLED TV R has been tested to go up and down, for example — but that’s something I’m hoping to get an answer to.
There’s also a mode — LG calls it “Line Mode” — where the display will drop down so that only about one-fourth of the panel is showing. You’ll still have on-screen music controls and the option to control your smart home gadgets in this mode. LG also includes some mood-setters like a crackling fireplace or rain sounds. I’m not sure how much use those will get in the real world, but it’s a thing you can do with your futuristic rollable TV.
Support for Alexa voice controls are being added this year in addition to the existing Google Assistant integration in LG’s webOS software; you just hold down the Prime Video button on the remote to bring up Alexa. And LG is also one of the companies that’s adding Apple’s AirPlay 2 for easy media playback or device mirroring. You can play music on the Atmos speaker system even when the TV is fully rolled up, which is great. Port selection is on par with other premium LG sets, and they’re all located at the back of the base. LG is making the move to HDMI 2.1 with its 2019 series, so that’s a big plus in terms of future proofing this very expensive TV.
LG insists that customers don’t lose or sacrifice anything in terms of picture quality by picking a rollable display over one of the rigid, standard OLED sets; this is supposed to be up there with the company’s very best when it comes to brightness, contrast, and features the same second-generation Alpha 9 processing chip as LG’s other 2019 TVs. You get all of the OLED hallmarks like perfect blacks, great viewing angles, and a wide mix of vivid HDR color. But we’ll have to wait for a direct comparison to see if there are any slight performance trade-offs.
But this TV has a secondary purpose beyond delivering a fantastic viewing experience: it can drop out of view whenever it’s not in use. The ugly black rectangle can be gone in seconds, leaving you to enjoy everything else about your living room. LG has been teasing bending, rollable displays for years at CES, but now it’s got a very real product that’s nearly ready for consumers.
And damn, will it be expensive.
Remember that the company’s “wallpaper” OLED TV started at $8,000. This is significantly more impressive, so I’m expecting it will be significantly pricier than that. For now, LG is only saying that it will be priced at a premium level when it hits retail in the spring — probably around March. So it’ll be a few years before many people can afford a rollable 4K TV. But at least you’ll get to admire its engineering at your local Best Buy in the meantime.