Kogan Agora 4K Smart 3D LED TV: Australian Review

Do you need an expensive 4K TV? Probably not. Unless you're running a high-end PC gaming rig, you'll be watching upscaled Blu-ray and DVD content anyway, which makes spending a fortune on a 4K TV pointless. Kogan's 4K TV, though, is only $1500, and it's surprisingly good for the price.

What Is It?

Ignore the streaks; the TV's screen is perfectly normal. You might need to give it a clean when it arrives from the warehouse, though.

The Kogan Agora 4K Smart 3D LED TV (or "Agora", to save a few words) is an LED edge-lit LCD TV, with a 55-inch panel with a native resolution of 3840x2160 pixels. Being an LED TV, the Agora is reasonably thin and light -- not as much so as Sony or Samsung's latest LED panels, but a lot thinner than any plasma.

Kogan initially promised the Agora 4K TV as a $999 panel; it may have been that price when you preordered it during the first production run, but if you buy one now you'll be paying $1500 -- still a pretty good price for a 55-inch 4K panel, but a 50 per cent premium on the original asking price.

The Australian-run online store sources its LED displays from China, so the Agora doesn't use any bespoke Kogan technology. The Agora runs a variant of Android 4.2 Jelly Bean with an onscreen interface designed for smart TVs, and comes with a regular candybar remote control (although a combination keyboard-mouse controller can be purchased for a small premium).

Assembling the Kogan Agora TV is pretty straightforward. There are three components that arrive disassembled; the TV itself, the base, and the neck that connects the two -- five short screws connect the neck to the TV, and four long screws hold the base to the stem. The four long screws are coarsely threaded and cut their way into the plastic of the stem, so you'll need to use a fair bit of strength to put the TV together.

What Is It Good At?

For a $1500 TV made in China, the Kogan Agora is pretty well designed and put together. The glass base is a little tacky, and the plastics aren't especially high quality, but there's almost no flex and wobble when you swivel the TV on its stand. The screen has a semi-matte finish that does a reasonably good job of diffusing bright lights and direct reflections without hugely impacting the amount of visible on-screen contrast.

The backlighting on the Agora 4K Smart 3D LED TV is lightyears ahead of previous TVs I've seen from Kogan, too. On the Agora I tested, backlight bleed was minimal and straight out of the box the TV's picture settings were a close approximation of the best possible setup for watching movies and regular TV. A few tweaks to lower overall brightness, raise contrast slightly and lower sharpness were all that was needed to get Kogan's top TV to produce a surprisingly good picture.

This is an artist's impression of the Android interface; straight out of the box, the Kogan TV includes widgets for YouTube and Facebook and a few other fripperies you'll want to remove.

When you're displaying 4K content on it, the Kogan Agora TV actually displays plenty of detail -- that's something that's possible irrespective of any deficiencies in any TV's contrast or backlighting or colour accuracy. If you want to use the Agora as a giant PC monitor, and play games like Titanfall at Ultra HD resolutions, it actually works perfectly well.

Similarly, upscaling 1080p content to the screen's native resolution doesn't do too bad a job; there's a small amount of pixel interpolation visible especially on long diagonal edges and in high contrast areas of the display, but for the most part displaying 1080p Blu-ray and downloaded video produces good results.

Running on Android 4.2, you can install and run a huge number of apps from the Google Play Store -- you can load up a media player like VLC or MX Player Pro, for example, and play video from a connected USB flash drive or hard drive or a networked storage drive. Similarly, you can run the usual suite of Google apps like Maps and Drive and Hangouts, although the remote control doesn't make for particularly easy typing.

What Is It Not Good At?

When the Kogan Agora TV's high native resolution starts to become a problem is when you display lower resolution video, like YouTube and other streaming Web video services, on the Agora's Smart TV interface. There's a lot of interpolation and visible macroblocking when you're watching video on the Agora's built-in YouTube app, for example, and the TV's internal image processing tends towards excessively sharp and crisp rather than smooth -- this is great when you're working with high-res video but not so good for streaming.

3D is not an excellent aspect of the Kogan Agora 4K TV. The included active 3D glasses are cheap -- a single pair is bundled -- and they do a decent job -- but even with a native 3D Blu-ray the stereoscopic effect isn't as pronounced as I've seen on other more expensive TVs and even similarly priced LEDs and plasmas from brands like Panasonic and Sony. If you're looking for great 3D Ultra HD, you'll need to spend a lot more before you'll be happy.

Everything about the Agora TV straight out of the box has to be necessarily mediated through the fact that the Android on-screen interface, when you're using the standard remote, is not excellent. You really need a keyboard and wireless mouse, or at least the Kogan wireless trackpad accessory, to navigate the interface to its fullest. Even then, Android is designed primarily for touchscreen control, and it's a little clunky to use.

After being set up initially -- adding a Wi-Fi or wired Internet connection and signing into your Google account on the device -- you're able to access the Google Play Store through the Agora, and download most Google and third-party apps. There are quite a few apps that aren't compatible with the TV for a variety of reasons, including not working in landscape mode, or not being made for touchscreenless control. With a fair bit of customisation, which any Android geek would enjoy but which similarly might annoy a regular buyer, you can get the Agora 4K TV into a state where it works nearly as well as an Android phone.

Should You Buy It?

If you have a pressing need to run an Android app on your TV, and you're happy to use an external keyboard and mouse, the Agora TV's Google-derived interface works pretty well once it's set up and adjusted. Straight out of the box, it needs a fair bit of work. I actually preferred using the Kogan as an entirely dumb TV, using its 4K panel to directly display the desktop of a PC or a 4K-capable Blu-ray and media player like my Oppo BDP-103.

For $1500, the Kogan Agora 4K Smart 3D LED TV doesn't have to do a lot to be good value. And even if you're using it as a simple high-res 55-inch monitor, or bypassing the Smart interface entirely, it does a surprisingly good job. The Android Smart-ness of the Agora isn't a big selling point, but apart of that it's a decent choice for a cheap 4K TV.