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Old Nov 30, 2012, 08:30 PM   #1
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Join Date: Nov 2012
MacBook Air 2012 - Samsung vs LG display Review

I thought I'd try to put an end to this LG vs Samsung display nonsense once and for all. I recently decided to get a portable Mac and settled on a beautiful top of the line 2012 MacBook Air. 2.0GHz i7, 8GB RAM and a 512GB SSD etc.

Before my purchase I spent weeks reading all of the reviews (Anandtech, Ars Technica, Engadget etc.) as well as all of the paranoia-laced threads on MacRumors with the usual component manufacturer worries and inconsistencies.

Based on the general Anandtech and MacRumors consensus I knew I wanted a unit with a Samsung SSD and display. They're the best after all - right?

My first order (roll of the dice) came with a 512GB Samsung SSD (SM512E) and LG/ShengRuihk display (LP133WP1-TJA7). Yes, ShengRuihk manufacture panels for LG.

When I switched it on I noticed it was very bright and fresh looking. Before I ran the terminal 'display manufacturer' command I could have sworn it was a Samsung. Colors were very natural, the stock color profile was very good. This was a winner.

Nope, it was an LG. From everything I had read on MacRumors and Anandtech I really thought that the display would have looked pretty bad, but it looked great. Some could potentially argue that it looked a little bright and thus washed out - but the reality was that the colors were very natural and not overly-saturated. Next to my 2011 iMac the colors looked almost identical. Most importantly, the greys of the Mac OS X interface looked fantastic.

I was really happy with the display, but at the same time I was also gutted that I didn't get a Samsung. Could the Samsung really be better than this with deeper blacks etc?

The scenario played over and over in my mind and the OCD buried inside me finally won. I decided to roll the dice once more and order a second unit.

My second order arrived. This time it came with a 512GB Samsung SSD (SM512E) and a Samsung display (LSN133BT01A02).

Jackpot! - or so I thought (keep reading).

I powered it up and could instantly tell that the contrast was a little higher. Everything looked really great. I could see what everyone was on about over at Anandtech and MacRumors. Once I got over my initial elation, I settled down and spent some time with it before powering up my LG unit for comparison.

The first thing I noticed was that the greys of the Mac OS X interface seemed a little 'hot'. There was definitely an incredibly subtle red hue in the grey mix. This bothered me a little. It definitely wasn't as neutral as you'd expect from a r50,g50,b50 value. It felt more like a warm grey. The other thing I noticed was that window drop shadows were more noticeable than usual and stood out when on top of other white windows. I could clearly see a defining edge. I couldn't remember seeing this with the LG.

My initial impression was still great. The general contrast of the display felt really good. A subtle improvement on the LG. I was sure I could fix the slightly 'warmish' tones of the UI with a bit of color calibration.

Before I go any further I want to point out that I'm using the stock Color LED profiles for each unit. Another important thing to note is that both stock profiles are actually subtly different.

LG: Color LCD-00000610-0000-9CDF-0000-0000042737C0.icc
Samsung: Color LCD-00000610-0000-9CF0-0000-000004273C00.icc

With this difference I assume that Apple do indeed have separate profiles for each manufacturer. I tried interchanging the profiles and they're definitely different. The LG profile on the Samsung display looked terrible and visa-versa.

It was now time to power up both units and do some some real-world side by side comparisons to work out if the Samsung display really was as good as it seemed.

I powered on my LG and instantly noticed that it was a little brighter than the Samsung. I was right, the greys of the Mac OS X interface looked much better on the LG. Totally neutral with no red tint. I also noticed that the window drop shadows looked less pronounced on the LG - possibly due to the greyness of the gradient compared to the slightly warmer Samsung display.

I started thinking about this whole LG 'washed out' thing that's been thrown about at MacRumors. These things are always subjective but to me, I think this comment is a result of the slightly brighter LG display and more accurate greys making the display feel brighter and less saturated. The Samsung display has a touch more contrast resulting in slightly darker blacks but it's also more saturated too. This is probably why most casual users think that the Samsung display is better than the LG.

More contrast and more saturation = better. Right? Maybe not...


At first glance, most would assume that the Samsung is the better display. If you use your MacBook Air for reading, browsing, coding and other non-design related work then the extra contrast and saturation might be perfect for you and probably the best rationale for the Samsung praise here at MacRumors.

However, the the Samsung display has once huge caveat that a lot of people have overlooked in their testing - how it deals with gradients.

Let's get one thing straight before I continue. Both displays aren't great with gradients. There's no such thing as a perfectly smooth non-banded gradient on a non-IPS LED display but the LG is much better at rendering gradients than the Samsung. To put it simply. Gradients look ok on the LG and terrible on the Samsung. For some strange reason the Samsung display cannot render consistently toned gradients.

For years I've always used a pixel and vector based gradient test as the benchmark for display quality. For testing, I used monochromatic gradients from 100% black to 0% (white). I tried linear and radial gradients as well as colored tests too and the results were the same. The LG has a consistent and natural tone to the gradients. Banding is visible but the steps are more natural/even and the tone is consistent throughout.

The Samsung display is really bad. Banding is heavily pronounced and wildly inconsistent producing uneven tones with a variety of red, green and blue banded hues creeping into monochromatic gradients. It's the same for radial gradients.

Of course, the majority of users don't spend their time working with pure gradients so the test is a little extreme - but, for me, a great example of the quality of the display.

This test has real-world implications. For example, set your background to the dark grey solid color and log-out. The log-in screen has a dark vignette (dark surrounding) that highlights the gradient issue. Of course, if you don't have an LG or Samsung display to compare it to, it really doesn't matter but it's clear from my testing that the LG display is much better.

The Samsung has all the praise on MacRumors and Anandtech but (as usual) a lot of these opinions come from one or two simple/early observations that end up turning into assumed fact. The Samsung display generally looks great and has good contrast. However, the default profile makes greys look a little red and there's no getting away from the quality of gradients. They look really bad with inconsistent banding. One last observation with the Samsung is that there's a weird hard-to-describe texture behind the display that can sometimes make solid colors look blotchy.

The LG display is very bright and natural. Greys look grey - not warm/red grey. For this reason, some may think that it's 'washed out'. Saturation and contrast is really good with the default profile and gradients render much better than the Samsung display - possibly a true test of the display quality. The display is also really flat with none of the slightly blotchy texture of the Samsung (admittedly, very hard to see).

Final Words
Both displays are really good. If you've got a Samsung - be happy. It's a great vibrant display for everyday use. If you've got an LG - be happy, especially if you're a designer. You can value it's color accuracy and gradient rendering quality.

I ended up returning the Air with the Samsung display. I personally believe the LG is better quality and much more natural with accurate color for print and screen design.

Hope this helps with your own units and any purchasing decisions.

Last edited by Update; Nov 30, 2012 at 08:54 PM. Reason: Spelling
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