For decades, manufacturers have sold thinness as a positive metric for measuring the advance of a product. When Apple launched the iPhone 4, it made thinness (and Retina displays) central to the device’s supposed appeal. Apple has carved off feature after feature in the name of thinness, slashing the MacBook Pro to the point that it requires multiple dongles to restore previous capabilities, treating the iPhone 7 in the same fashion (courage!) and generally annoying people with the relentless push to make devices thinner as opposed to “more useful” or “easier to handle.” Now LG has jumped on the bandwagon with a frankly beautiful OLED television that ought to win some kind of award for uselessness.
First things first. The new LG W-series is a gorgeous screen according to all reports. It’s ridiculously thin at 2.6mm, yet the company claims this causes no issues with picture quality. It’s impressive that LG managed to shove decent hardware into a frame that small, even if the sheer size of the panels (65-inch and 77-inch) means the company does still have a fair bit of real estate to play with. The fact that the 65-inch screen weighs in at just 17 pounds (the 77-inch is 27 pounds) is impressive, no matter what.
The downside is, these panels are so thin, you can’t actually fit any ports on them. Instead, the panel is connected to an LG speaker via proprietary connector. LG is actually referring to this as a 4K speaker based on the ridiculous idea that because the device can play 24-bit/96Hz audio, and because the bitrate on that audio works out to 4000Kbps, they could call out the speaker as being “4K” as well. LG’s spec sheet on the television actually refers to the soundbar as offering “OLED Surround,” as if the screen had some particular pixel configuration that necessitated an entirely different audio format. The new SJ9 is LGs first soundbar to support Dolby Atmos, and it offers an array of seven speakers with a wireless subwoofer. Ridiculous marketing aside, the SJ9 itself looks like a nice piece of equipment.
Thinner doesn’t equate to better anymore
So why am I calling LG’s new televisions stupidly thin? Simple — we’ve reached the point where removing thickness from hardware is actively compromising that hardware’s performance and function. LG’s new television is so thin, you can’t mount it on a stand. It connects to its speaker system via a proprietary cable and all of the ports and connectivity are accessed via that cable. Presumably the SJ9 soundbar can still use standard HDMI to connect to different televisions, but the proprietary connection to the LG W means you’d best hope nothing happens to that speaker once it’s out of warranty.
Once upon a time, being thinner did make products more useful. LCD televisions can fit into spaces CRTs never could. This cuts down on shipping costs, makes them easier to install, and easier to move around. My parents actually had one of the last HD CRTs ever produced, and let me promise you this — carting around a 34-inch CRT that weighed in at 190 pounds was not my idea of a good time. But the central argument for thinness as a useful metric hinges on it providing benefits.
This LG OLED TV can’t be mounted to a stand. It can’t be mounted to a curved wall. It requires a proprietary cable and if something goes wrong with your soundbar, the TV becomes a paperweight until you get another or get the first one RMA’d. LG’s product page states that the proprietary cable for the TV – SJ9 pairup isn’t rated for in-wall installation, and since the cabling doesn’t seem to be particularly long, you’ll need to have a table underneath the TV to hold the soundbar. There are obviously people with the right type of homes and plenty of cash to burn who might be interested in this product, but I’d argue that there are other OLED TVs with equally gorgeous screens and far fewer restrictions to choose from.
Removing capabilities and limiting practical usefulness in the name of thinness is neither courageous nor helpful. It’s long past time we focus on other aspects of electronics, without sacrificing basic concepts of what makes a product useful.
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This article was originally posted on ExtremeTech
By Joel Hruska