MacBook Air 2012 - Samsung vs LG display Review

Discussion in 'MacBook Air' started by Update, Nov 30, 2012.

  1. Update, Nov 30, 2012
    Last edited: Nov 30, 2012

    Update macrumors newbie

    Nov 21, 2012
    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.

  2. Johnny Alien macrumors member

    Nov 17, 2012
    WOW. The gradient thing is very obvious. As an owner of an LG display this makes me feel good. :)

    Honestly I have never had an issues with the LG. I fixed the profile a bit and now I find it to be very accurate.
  3. Update thread starter macrumors newbie

    Nov 21, 2012
    Thanks Johnny.

    After reading the threads on MacRumors I really felt that the whole debate was totally misrepresented by people who were simply regurgitating other people's opinion without having first hand experience with the displays.

    I wanted to take the time to do a reality-check review. Both displays are really good but the LG definitely has the edge in my opinion. Of course, it's just my opinion but the photos help back up my points. I am aware, however, that some users would rather have a bit of extra contrast and saturation over accuracy. This is totally fine too.

    Be happy :)
  4. Dick Whitman macrumors 6502

    Dick Whitman

    Oct 16, 2012
    Wow excellent comparison, thanks! I'm starting to wonder if I should just keep the MBA I received 2 days ago. I was going to exchange it because of a very small chip in the aluminum casing near the back but now I'm wondering if I shouldn't.
  5. SWPROX macrumors member

    Oct 19, 2012
    Great work , and yes as an owner of an Air 2012 with LG screen,I too am absolutely happy with my screen.
  6. Haifisch macrumors regular

    Nov 19, 2012
  7. JoelBC macrumors 6502a

    Jun 16, 2012
    I am going to be cracking open my MBA later in the day and would appreciate help with the following:

    1. What is the string does one need to enter in terminal to determine which screen they have [i.e. SM512E for Samsung or LP133WP1-TJA7 for LG]?

    2. To be clear, am I understanding your post correctly in that that the ShengRuihk display (LP133WP1-TJA7) is the LG display and, on this point, are there other LG displays?

    Thanks so much,

  8. NutsNGum macrumors 68030


    Jul 30, 2010
    Glasgow, Scotland
    Nice post, Update. Nice to see genuinely helpful people posting.
  9. johto macrumors 6502


    Jan 15, 2008
    Interesting observations. It's quite obvious that samsungs default profile has more red in the lower IRE values.

    What would the results be, after good hardware calibration on both displays?
    Could you then even notice the difference? Just wondering...
  10. Mrbobb macrumors 601

    Aug 27, 2012
    I like to see this on Wiki and see how the editors rate it.
  11. Update, Dec 1, 2012
    Last edited: Dec 1, 2012

    Update thread starter macrumors newbie

    Nov 21, 2012
    Thanks for all the feedback.

    The terminal string for the display manufacturer is:

    I based my review on standard out-of-the-box configurations and profiles so that it was useful for the average user. Not many people know how to calibrate LCDs properly so I thought that this was the best approach so that everyone could benefit from my findings.

    I actually calibrated both displays but the gradient/banding issue was still prevalent on the Samsung. Calibration didn't make it any better (or worse). I didn't want to overly-complicate the review by bringing custom profiles into the mix.

    Additional Observation

    I wanted to add one final observation during my testing. The Samsung display exhibited a subtle horizontal ghosting issue with light and dark areas of the screen. This caused a horizontal (slightly darker) ghosted band to spill out from light windows on darker backgrounds.

    In my test I set the desktop background color to Apple's default solid dark grey. I then opened a TextEdit window. I could see a very subtle darker band (the height of the window) spill horizontally left and right of the window to the edge of the display. If I resized the window the ghosting followed.

    The LG didn't exhibit this issue at all.

    I've uploaded a video of the issue. Video compression artifacts introduce a bit of radial banding but if you look closely you should be able to see what I'm referring to.

    Another reason for LG owners to be happy.
  12. mfa39 macrumors newbie

    Sep 1, 2012
    Very helpful post!

    Just wondering (because I'm comparing the two), would you know if these issues exist as well with the Macbook Pro (non-retina)? Would you know how gradients look on them?
  13. Update thread starter macrumors newbie

    Nov 21, 2012
    Sorry I don't, but the best option would be to visit an Apple store and run the tests on the display unit. As far as I'm aware, most professional Apple in-store products come installed with Photoshop, Illustrator etc.

    Hope that helps.
  14. MR1324 macrumors 6502

    Nov 22, 2010
    can you do a comparison after properly calibrating the displays?
  15. Update thread starter macrumors newbie

    Nov 21, 2012
    I retuned the Samsung unit so can't post any comparison photos however, in my calibrated tests the gradient issue was still visible but the reds were definitely less pronounced. Apart from that the rest of my observations stand.

    Hope that helps a little.
  16. Seamaster macrumors 65816


    Feb 24, 2003
    Excellent post, should be stickied.

    I've been saying from day one that properly calibrated the LG screen is better than the Samsung. Out of the box, pre-ML, there was slightly more to choose between them. Post-ML, there's nothing in it, although I continue to prefer the LG.
  17. Jobsian macrumors 6502a


    Jul 30, 2009
    Wow. Having looked at the 2 myself I can't tell any difference which'd make me feel upset at getting one over the other (disclaimer: i'm not a graphics professional).

    Upvote for the sheer effort in that post and actually following through the impressions with photos. Great post.
  18. cedwhatev macrumors 6502


    Oct 22, 2011
    Nice post.. hopefully people will stop making such a big deal over the Samsung vs LG comparisons. My last MBA had an LG, and my current one has a Samsung, and I love both. I also own an LG LED TV as well as a Samsung LED, and they're both awesome. The differences are minimal, and you can't go wrong with either. The same goes for the whole Toshiba vs Samsung SSD... just silly nitpicking is all it is. MacBook Airs, no matter what display or SSD, are all excellent. I'm not just saying this.. I've owned all configurations (Samsung/Samsung; LG/Toshiba; Samsung/Toshiba) and the difference is nil. Just people being TOO ANAL. :D
  19. Bigserver1 macrumors regular

    Sep 26, 2012
    This is a great post. I have a 13" 2012 with an LG screen, and with a custom profile that I found in the calibration thread in this forum, it's a really awesome display. The colors are accurate, and it looks great from low brightness all the way up to full brightness.

    I feel like once you get a setting that you like on the LG, it's a great display.
  20. slumpey326 macrumors 6502

    Jun 18, 2010
    where is the calibration thread that you are talking about. I want to find the custom profile to apply to my macbook air.
  21. Kafka macrumors 6502

    Mar 10, 2011
    I think I downloaded them all back then, been keeping them in my dropbox just in case. Here's the link:

    The one called "CustomMacRumors.icc" seemed to be the best one for many people including me (it is labeled like a default profile when you install it), however since Mountain Lion the new default profile is perfectly fine for me.
  22. slumpey326 macrumors 6502

    Jun 18, 2010
    great, thanks Kafka. will try tonight and keep you posted.
  23. 53x12 macrumors 68000


    Feb 16, 2009
  24. slumpey326 macrumors 6502

    Jun 18, 2010
  25. iTundra macrumors member


    Oct 12, 2011
    Displays within a mfr vary from one to the next and the same panel will vary over time. There's a reason photo and video editors re-calibrate weekly (and have different profiles for different ambient lighting in the room). Some folks may subjectively, and based on a statistical anomaly of the 20 or 100 units they tested, perceive a difference in LG vs Samsung. In my experience they both calibrate up fairly well.

    If this is important to someone then relying on ANY pre-made profile is probably of limited use unless they happen to get a panel that happens to be identical to the one used to create the profile - at a certain point in time. :)

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