Every time LG has shown off its 2019 OLED TVs over the past few months, they’ve just looked better and better.
Even though the panels from LG Display aren’t radically altered from those used in last year’s LG OLED TVs, it’s consistently looked as if the Korean brand’s picture quality engineers have honed in with uncanny accuracy on pretty much every part of their 2018 models’ picture and sound performance that could most benefit from a tweak.
Having now finally had the chance to live with a finished 65-inch LG OLED65C9 for more than a week, I’m happy to say that it delivers on all that early promise – and then some. Especially as, aside from a single frustrating flaw, it combines its extraordinary performance with a plethora of excellent new smart features.
Let’s start simple, though, with the OLED65C9’s design. This is a fairly subtle refinement on LG’s 2019 C series, sitting a little lower on a less showy but arguably more elegant and certainly beautifully finished metallic stand.
This stand is seriously heavy too. So much so that it makes attaching it to the screen a real heart in mouth moment.
The rear of the stand has been extended out versus 2018’s design, making the screen feel more stable and providing space for a central channel with a removable cover into which you can tidily feed all your cables.
While the stand might stick out more round the back, though, the screen is, as usual with today’s OLED TVs, incredibly thin. The fact that something so slim can produce bright, colorful and refined pictures is as mind-blowing as ever.
The OLED65C9 ships with one of LG’s ‘Magic’ remotes. These cunningly let you just point at the part of the screen containing an option you want to select, as well as providing a scrolling wheel to help you move through menu options more quickly.
Most people find this approach to TV control far more intuitive than the more common remote control approach of having to use buttons to move a cursor about. Though you can go the cursor option route on LG’s handset, too, if you lack the fine motor control to point the remote accurately – or you’re just old school.
The OLED65C9’s remote also boasts direct access buttons for the Netflix and Amazon video streaming apps, while a new white and red Movies button fires up the Rakuten app in Europe. (If someone could let me know what the Movies button does in the US, I will update this review accordingly!)
Heading into the LG OLED65C9’s menus reveals further significant improvements to the brand’s already impressive webOS platform. The launcher bar along the bottom of the screen, for instance, introduces a new ‘preview’ layer, where a second deck of contextualized direct content link icons emerges based on the app you’ve got highlighted in the main, bottom deck.
For instance, highlight Netflix, and a row of icons linking directly to Netflix shows will appear.
The sophistication of the options shown in the contextual second deck varies from app to app. For instance, while Prime Video just shows you a list of Popular Content options, with Netflix you get the icon for the current account user so that you can easily switch to another member of your family; a link to the last show or film you were watching; and a list of trending shows so you can keep up with what all the cool kids are into.
The second deck of contextual preview features depend to a degree on support from each particular app provider; at the time of writing in the UK, YouTube, Netflix, Amazon Video, BBC iPlayer, ITV Hub, All 4 all produced a second tier of options, but Rakuten TV, Now TV and Demand 5 did not.
It’s worth adding that LG’s own ‘AI’ system also provides a recommendations system for the TV tuner. This, along with other tuner-related features, can be accessed simply by moving the pointer to the left side of the screen and hitting the Select button.
Also very useful is the launcher bar’s new Intelligent Edit feature. Switch this on and the TV will automatically order the Launcher bar icons in order of use, with the most regularly used appearing first. This saves a lot of manual tinkering and reduces the frustrations that can arise when the Launcher bar starts to get longer as you add more apps to it.
Elsewhere on the new home screen, an excellent “Recent” tab calls up in the second deck links to all of your most recently used sources – including apps, the tuner, and AV inputs.
A separate TV icon calls up links to your most recently watched channels; a magnifying glass icon calls up LG’s exceptionally sophisticated content search options; yet another icon calls up LG’s onscreen gallery of digitized artworks; and finally, there’s a link to a new Home Dashboard.
This welcome and forward-thinking new screen provides an at a glance guide and instant access to any mobile or Bluetooth audio devices you’ve got connected; all of your AV inputs; and even any Internet of Things devices – dishwashers, fridges, etc – you may have on your home network. This IoT section is compatible with both LG’s own ThinQ inter-connectivity platform, and Open Connectivity Foundation devices.
All the AV inputs are now automatically labeled when you add a new device – provided the TV can recognize what it is. All the external kit I tried during my tests was correctly IDed, apart from Panasonic’s UB820 4K Blu-ray player (Samsung’s TVs also traditionally struggle to recognize Panasonic 4K Blu-ray players).
As well as being very useful in helping you quickly find and access all the myriad sources that can end up connected to your TV these days, the Home Dashboard reaffirms the growing idea that far from being ever less important in modern households, the TV actually has the potential to become a key control as well as the entertainment hub for the next generation of homes.
The OLED65C9’s outstanding smarts continue to impress with its voice recognition support. Uniquely, as well as carrying LG’s own ThinQ voice recognition system, it also supports both Amazon Alexa and Google Home. What’s more, this support is built into the TV; you don’t have to have external Amazon Echo or Google Home devices like you do with most other TV brands that claim Alexa and Google Home support. Excellent.
LG has even gone to the trouble of including much more on-screen information than before to help you find your way around its menus. This can come in the form of pop up description windows whenever you highlight a feature, or separate pop up advice windows to advise you of what to do next, or how you might get a better experience.
Some of this explanatory text surprisingly uses poorly translated English, but I guess this will probably only upset fellow grammar pedants.
One last crucial OLED65C9 feature to point out before finally getting into its picture quality is its connectivity. Specifically, its carriage of no less than four full-bore HDMI 2.1 ports. LG is the only brand we know of so far that’s offering such extensive support for the very latest high bandwidth digital connection on its 4K TVs.
Rivals might argue that there isn’t much reason to support HDMI 2.1 on a 4K TV, as its 48Gbps capability is more for 8K rather than 4K content. But forward-thinking gamers and even, potentially, video fans will likely appreciate the peace of mind of getting connectivity that supports high frame rates and color resolution. Let’s not forget, either, that HDMI 2.1 can provide other practical features – such as eARC, for shipping lossless object-based audio tracks (DTS:X, Dolby Atmos) out via the TV’s HDMI to connected receivers or soundbars.
And so we come, finally, to the main event: the OLED65C9’s picture quality, driven by the second generation of LG’s Alpha 9 processor.
Given that I was already generally a fan of the pictures of LG’s 2018 models, probably the simplest way to explain the successes of the 2019 model is to focus on the areas where the new set makes things even better.
The single most important enhancement for me is the way the OLED65C9 delivers what look like significantly brighter light peaks when playing HDR. This has a transformative effect on how truly dynamic and lifelike HDR pictures look. Especially when, as in the OLED65C9’s case, these much-enhanced light peaks are often delivered right alongside – as in, just a pixel away – from the sort of beautifully rich, deep and above all consistent black tones that have long been OLED’s trademark.
In case you’ve forgotten, the key feature of OLED TVs is that every single pixel in their screens produces its own light and color. There’s no need for external backlighting shared across clusters of pixels – or even the whole screen – as happens with current LCD technology.
The luminous intensity this benefit can give to small bright areas in dark pictures has long being a joy to behold on good OLED TVs. But on the OLED65C9 it’s taken to a whole new level. Star fields, night-time city scapes, torch-lit processions, light glinting on metal or glass and the like all look simply exquisite.
The OLED65C9 doesn’t just improve peak brightness versus last year’s models, though. Its new and improved Dynamic Tone Mapping feature also delivers a significantly higher baseline brightness level with HDR sources. This again addresses one of my most long-held reservations about OLED technology and HDR, making the HDR experience feel much more consistently impactful and ‘true’.
I should pause here to stress that LG has achieved both these HDR improvements without substantially improving measurable peak brightness; I recorded peak light output on a 10% white HDR window of 820 nits in Standard mode. Which drops to around 780-790 nits in Cinema Home mode, and around 740-750 nits in Cinema home. All numbers which are pretty much in line with last year’s C8s.
Seeing is believing, however, and the higher brightness of small HDR peaks and higher average brightness levels with HDR content makes the OLED65C9’s HDR performance regularly (and literally!) feel like night and day compared with the C8s. Even though those 2018 models themselves greatly improved on LG’s previous HDR handling.
I should also add that we’re not talking about either peak or typical brightness levels on the OLED65C9 to rival those possible with the best LED TVs. In the context of OLED’s beautiful pixel by pixel light and color control, though, the impact of HDR on the OLED65C9 improved contrast is still dazzling. Especially in a fairly dark room.
Also important to note – though in this respect we’re not really talking about an improvement over the 2018 LG OLEDs – is the stability of the OLED65C9’s dark scenes. There are none of the subtle backlight adjustments, either localized or full screen, you get with even the best LCD TVs. Nor is there so much as a hint of the light blooming you get (especially during off axis viewing) with the vast majority of LCD TVs – even those with excellent local dimming.
Black level response has long been OLED’s star attraction, of course. So it’s not surprising to find the OLED65C9 consistently delivering incredibly inky, convincing black tones. Where the OLED65C9 does clearly improve on any previous LG OLED TV, though, is with its handling of near-black image content.
During Chapter 7 of Exodus: Gods And Kings on 4K Blu-ray (a torture test for TVs of all technologies), I noted substantially less noise in the scene’s very darkest areas than I’ve ever seen on an LG OLED TV before. In fact, aside from some exceptionally low-level grey macroblocking over the back of Nun’s head for a couple of fleeting shots (which you’ll likely not even notice unless you’re expressly looking for it), the scene looks pretty much immaculate.
This actually represents a big jump forward for LG, and joins the much-improved HDR tone mapping in helping the OLED65C9 frequently paint dark scenes that leave you in awe of their sheer beauty. There are a couple of near-black niggles remaining, though, that I’ll come back to later.
The OLED65C9 delivers yet another compelling improvement with its colors. There’s a more neutral and therefore natural look to bright hues, for instance, that leaves those of (uncalibrated, anyway) 2018 LG OLEDs looking over-warm by comparison. Reds, in particular, look richer and less orange than they have tended to with previous LG OLED generations.
The new Alpha 9 processing engine also significantly reduces banding in tricky HDR images such as the dusk sky as Moses wonders how he’s going to cross the Red Sea in Exodus: Gods And Kings.
Skin tones are significantly improved as well, with more natural and more subtly delineated hues that avoid that slightly plasticky look occasionally evident (at least with upscaled images) on 2018 models.
Finally, the set’s improved brightness with HDR sources joins forces with new found color mapping precision to deliver a gorgeous combination of sumptuously vivid but also beautifully subtle tones that frequently delivers breathtaking results with any high quality source.
Note, too, that the color richness usually remains intact in dark areas; there’s none of the loss of brightness and intensity, or infusion of greyness, that you get with LCD technology. And side by side comparisons also reveal that the OLED65C9 retains tonal consistency across the screen more successfully than its predecessors.
The reduction in picture noise was actually the single most surprising thing about my time with the OLED65C9, given that viewings of pre-production sets had revealed challenging titles – such as the 4K Blu-ray of Mad Max: Fury Road – and areas of deep color or subtle color blends continuing to look a little too grainy for comfort. Clearly in recent months LG has found a way of calming this long-running issue with its OLED sets even with all the noise reduction circuitry turned off. Excellent.
LG has apparently worked hard on improving its motion handling for the OLED65C9, too. With no motion processing in play judder looks more natural and less labored than it has tended to previously. What’s more, if you do still find the remaining judder too prominent, then for the first time ever you can get away with using the TruMotion ‘Clear’ setting, rather than having to faff around in the Custom motion setting menu.
This latest Clear incarnation gently reduces judder (taking care not to leave movies looking like soap operas) while suffering scarcely any of the haloing or shimmering issues associated with it previously.
Now that I’ve started talking about presets, the LG OLED65C9 is the first LG OLED TV I’ve tested where I felt satisfied by the Cinema Home and Cinema presets. Previously I’ve found those picture modes too dark to feel like they’re doing real justice to HDR, leaving me relying on Standard as my preset starting point.
As ever with LG OLED TVs nowadays, the OLED65C9 supports the Dolby Vision HDR system, which provides dynamic, scene by scene metadata to help TVs deliver better HDR pictures. While LG’s new dynamic tone-mapping system has arguably made the general difference in quality between HDR10 and Dolby Vision sources slightly less dramatic, DV still delivers palpable color and brightness advantages. Especially with relatively extreme sources such as the stunning 2001: A Space Odyssey 4K Blu-ray.
There’s yet more great news for gamers. As well as delivering a remarkably low input lag reading of barely 13ms in its Game picture preset, the OLED65C9 delivers variable frame rate support and automatic low latency game mode switching with compatible consoles.
Game pictures are also significantly brighter than they used to be with LG OLEDs, and dimming issues caused by static logos seem much less aggressive. Barely noticeable for the vast majority of the time, in fact. Though I would recommend having the Logo Luminance adjustment in the OLED panel settings menu set to at least Low. This reduces the likelihood of static gaming HUD elements causing image retention, but is done so subtly that with most games you’ll struggle to see any visible difference in the picture.
I should say at this point that all the outstanding (non-gaming) picture results I’ve described so far have being achieved without using LG’s new AI picture engine.
This picture setting option draws on a huge and ever-expanding database of picture knowledge to accurately recognize the characteristics of myriad different types of picture source so that the TV can play them more effectively in real time. In particular, it focuses on optimizing noise reduction, sharpness and detail enhancement.
The extent of AI Picture’s impact is at its greatest with sub-4K content. In fact, the grubbier your source, the more effective AI Picture is.
My personal preference was to turn it off for 4K HDR playback, but leave it on for everything else. But by all means give it a try with 4K Blu-ray, too, as you might like it and it’s certainly clever enough not to really screw such content up.
Separate to the AI Picture setting is an AI Brightness mode. This essentially adjusts the picture to optimize it for the lighting conditions in your room. But, as you would expect from the AI part of its name, it does it more intelligently than typical such systems. In particular, it’s very good in bright conditions at subtly elevating black levels and shadow detail without simultaneously ramping up brightness and color saturations.
For all the OLED65C9’s magnificence, it isn’t perfect. For starters, despite previously claiming it would, LG hasn’t fully fixed the exaggerated macro-blocking problem with certain standard dynamic range streamed content that became an issue on 2018’s TVs (as reported here).
Notoriously difficult content such as 35:27-36:33 in Season 5, Part 2 Episode 12 of Vikings on Amazon Prime Video, for instance, causes so much blocking and grey “masking” when using the Standard picture setting I’d normally recommend for SDR TV viewing that it’s actually pretty much unwatchable. And before you ask, activating the new AI Picture mode doesn’t help. In fact, it arguably makes things worse.
Switching to the Cinema picture preset does, mercifully, greatly reduce the blocking noise’s impact. And from what I’ve seen so far, the blocking issues now seem pretty much restricted to Amazon Video rather than creeping into other sources too. However, the Cinema mode takes a pretty big chunk of brightness and some shadow detail out of the picture, so isn’t necessarily an ideal solution. Especially if you’re watching in a fairly bright room.
The flashing problem as the set transitions between subtle dark color shifts seen on 2018 models is also still there, albeit in reduced and rarer form. It can be seen, for instance, in the fade in of the picture in Netflix’s The Last Kingdom at around 21 minutes 30 seconds in episode eight of season three. Or, more subtly, during the opening moments of Interstellar on 4K Blu-ray.
It is also clearly apparent when using the Standard preset on some of the nine fluctuating dark color squares in an SDR test signal (viewable here) specifically designed to spot the problem.
Switching to the Cinema preset removes the flashing from all but the center (brightest) square of this test sequence. However, this also sees the darkest levels of at least a couple of the colored squares to be almost completely crushed out of the picture. Nudging the OLED Light setting up 2-4 points from the Cinema mode’s 80 default level at least reduces the crushing issue of the Cinema preset with this test pattern. But every single step you move up from the default level makes the flashing slightly more obvious.
Oddly, my review sample had some issues syncing properly with my resident Xbox One S and X consoles when using the Game preset. The picture often flickered and refused to settle unless I switched to one of the non-Game presets.
Given that I had no such issues with a PS4 Pro, I can only assume that the Xbox issues have something to do with the new auto game mode/variable refresh rate features introduced by the OLED65C9’s HDMI 2.1 support. Though the flickering still occurred even with the new auto fast response and VRR features turned off on both the TV and my Xbox consoles.
It’s possible that these game issues are just down to a fault with my particular LG review sample. But in any case LG is investigating the situation, and I’ll update this review when it’s either confirmed that my sample was at fault, or a fix has been found.
Next up is an omission rather than a performance issue: support for the HDR10+ picture format. This is an alternative to Dolby Vision that also adds scene by scene metadata.
To be fair to LG, it has so far tended to work much harder to support multiple HDR formats than other brands (including Samsung). And HDR10+ still lags far behind Dolby Vision in terms of the amount of content available in it.
However, Universal Studios recently joined Warner Bros in announcing that they intend to start releasing content in HDR10+ (as reported here). Also, IMAX Enhanced and 20th Century Fox have recently released 4K Blu-rays that support HDR10+ but not Dolby Vision, while all of Amazon’s HDR shows use HDR10+ (or a version of it, at least…). So it’s becoming ever harder to remain sanguine about LG’s TVs not supporting HDR10+.
Finally, since this is an OLED TV, I guess you should at least spare a thought for screen burn (permanent image retention). This seems to be much less of an issue than it used to be, though, so, between LG’s provided anti-retention measures and a little care on your part, you’ll likely be OK. For more on this, check out this in-depth article on the subject.
In pretty much every way that matters, LG has worked wonders with the OLED65C9. It delivers a much more substantial picture and sound upgrade over 2018 models than I’d have thought possible, fixing in the process pretty much every issue that’s previously given me even the slightest hesitation about wholeheartedly backing the OLED cause.
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