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Review: LG C9 OLED

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LG C9 is the successor to C8 and the 2019 OLED generation from LG. It features the latest video processor, an upgraded version of webOS, a polished design, and not least HDMI 2.1 ports, including HDMI 2.1 features such as VRR (variable refresh rate), ALLM (auto low latency mode), and HFR (high frame rate). LG C9 is available in 55, 65, and 77-inch sizes.

So what does HDMI 2.1 bring to the table and has LG managed to improve OLED technology? Let us find out.


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First impressions

LG C9 looks like most C series that came before it. The company has tweaked the design of the stand to be more in line with the 2017 generation. It now appears more discreet, while still providing a solid foundation for the TV, and we think that many buyers will welcome the change.

Around back, the base of the stand takes up considerable space and the box has added weights to make sure that the TV stays in place. There is also the unsightly electronics box that hides everything from power supply and tuners to driving electronics and input/output ports. It is required and LG has made sure to give it rounded and soft edges to make it appear less dominating but we still look forward to the day when OLED TVs can get rid of the humps. May we suggest a single OLED TV model without tuners and analog circuits.

Most ports face to the side but one HDMI port along with two USB, Ethernet, antenna, and optical face out towards the back wall. This configuration will make it almost impossible to reach these ports if you are planning to wall mount the TV, and it is unfortunate that this, in 2019, remains an issue.

Besides that the TV looks mostly elegant and it continues to impress people around us who comment on how incredibly thin it is and how slim the frame is. As a TV reviewer you tend to forget such things because you see these TV all the time. Nevertheless, it is true and after having had a zone dimming LCD TV in the same room for some time, the difference is quite striking. One looks like a modern TV - save for the electronics box - while the other looks like a conventional, dusty TV design. It is not as dramatic as the shift from cathode ray to flat screen but we suspect that the next decade of more affordable "wallpaper" and rollable OLED TVs will make it so.

The anti-reflective filter is still glossy, which helps maintain contrast and color intensity in bright viewing environments but also acts as a mirror. LG says that it has improved the filter to subdue more reflection from ceiling lights (or windows). We do not have ceiling lights in our testing facility and based on our evaluation it is very hard to discern any actual improvements.




User experience & features

LG says that it remains committed to webOS, despite putting more marketing effort into terms such as "ThinQ" and "AI". We are not sure exactly what those fancy marketing terms mean so we will instead be focusing most of our energy on webOS that has reached version 4.5, up from version 4.0 last year.

Operating system & smart TV

webOS now has "AI Preview"
If this is your first TV in a while you may be surprised to learn that while TVs are sold as 'Smart TV', the platforms within are in fact rarely getting any updates - unlike modern smartphones. If this is your second or even third Smart TV you will have felt the pain on your own body. webOS 4.5 brings about new features, some of them useful and others gimmicky, but all of these features will be reserved for the 2019 TVs. The 2018 LG OLED TV that many people bought just a few months ago will be stuck on webOS 4.0.

That is unfortunate but it is a reality that you must learn to navigate. In the realm of Smart TVs, LG webOS, Samsung Tizen, and Panasonic Firefox OS (my home screen) are not getting updated to the next major software version. Android TVs, Roku TV, and FireTVs are getting updates. There are also streaming boxes such as Apple TV (tvOS), Roku, FireTV, and even game consoles. These are also getting updates.

Let us examine some of the new stuff in webOS 4.5. The most important new feature is perhaps "AI Preview" that adds a content row above some app icons in the bottom menu. If you move the cursor to Netflix, a content row will appear above to give you recommendations and let you continue watching whatever you are currently watching. It is a neat feature that can be useful but only a few content partners support it at launch (we spotted Netflix, YouTube, and LG's own apps). Of course, if LG was actually providing webOS updates to all of the millions of webOS-based TVs out there, app developers would be a lot more encouraged to add support for "AI Preview" and other new features. Not updating a TV operating system is not only user hostile but it is a problem that will come back to bite you as a manufacturer, as demonstrated here.

Later this year, Apple will be bringing AirPlay 2, HomeKit, and its 'TV' app to LG TVs. What is funny here, and what seems to have escaped most observers' attention, is the wording used. Apple is bringing these features to Roku and FireTV - TV platforms - along with "TVs from LG, Samsung, Sony, and Vizio". Imagine the same scenario in the smartphone or PC realm. Here, we would be talking about an app coming to Android, iOS, Windows etc. In the TV realm we talk mostly about manufacturers, despite all of these manufacturers using a TV operating system in some form - webOS, Tizen, Android TV, and SmartCast, respectively. The new Apple features are coming only to LG 2019 TVs - not webOS - this summer, and the Apple TV app is expected to arrive sometime later this year.

With that out of the picture, we want to emphasize that there is a lot to like about webOS. It offers a simple user interface that everyone can use. The main menu that slides up from the bottom has become so popular that Samsung and now Panasonic have copied the concept. This year, LG has tweaked the "cards", or app icon, to be slightly smaller, perhaps to make room for the new content rows on top. It has seemingly also removed the big ad in the left side of the screen - at least in our region.

You can move around all of the app icons as you please and LG has also implemented an 'intelligent mode' that automatically arranges the most frequently used apps leftmost. The Gallery mode that was introduced last year is still here, and you have a photo/video viewer along with most of the popular apps.

Speaking of apps, webOS offers the most popular ones, including Amazon Prime Video, HBO, Netflix, and YouTube. In the US and Korea, the selection is wide and appealing but in many other regions, access to less well-known services is lacking somewhat. In our region, LG has addressed the situation somewhat over the last year but the most popular streaming service - or second-most after Netflix, depending on who you ask - remains unavailable, along with many second-tier streaming services. LG is eager to address the situation and we have been given a sneak peek into LG's plans for adding regional apps this year and in early 2020. At least for our region, these launches should fill some of the obvious voids so we hope that LG can execute and make these apps available widely across webOS generations.

Speaking of, webOS apps must still be manually updated and these updates tend to always appear when you have the least patience and just want to relax and watch a Netflix show. LG tells us that they are looking into it but with the 2019 TV generation it is status quo, and LG is not ready to give any promises.

The situation with missing apps and services will actually be mitigated to degree by adding support for Apple AirPlay 2 that will make it possible to push video from almost any streaming service (except Netflix) on an iPhone or iPad wirelessly onto your LG TV. As such, you can open YouTube or another streaming service on your TV and enjoy it on your TV that establishes a streaming connection directly to the streaming server via the AirPlay 2 system. Since LG has yet to add support for AirPlay 2 we cannot comment on LG's implementation but one must assume that it will be largely similar to Samsung's implementation, which we had a chance to play with during our Samsung Q70R review that will be coming online very soon.

In addition, LG has this year implemented a new screen mirroring function (AirPlay 2 can also mirror an iPhone screen) that works by opening LG's smartphone app and mirroring the picture. It is not a substitute for AirPlay 2 or Chromecast but rather something that should be compared to Miracast. It works but screen mirroring is rarely ideal.

LG is also touting its "AI" - artificial intelligence - features. Now, we do not want to offend our future AI overlords but we sometimes look at this gold rush and wonder about the consequences. In the US, it seems as if people are sometimes jumping over each other to be the first to fit their entire home with listening devices that record their most intimate conversations. Meanwhile, people in many other regions are observing the situation from a perspective, mostly because they are hindered from using these voice assistants due to missing language or region support. While there are genuine advantages to having a voice assistant in a TV such as being able to quickly search for movies and TV shows, this whole idea about controlling video playback and TV features came and died almost a decade ago. Back then, some TV manufacturers were even equipping their TVs with cameras and gesture controls. All of this "AI" and voice assistant stuff nowadays feels like the second coming, and a more mature approach, but we will not be the ones who tell people to jump in head first and embrace it. If you want to know what is possible with Google Assistant in LG TVs, watch this video. LG TVs also support LG's own 'ThinQ AI Voice' system and built-in Amazon Alexa (coming through an update, which did not arrive in time for our review).




LG's new "AI" features also include 'AI Recommendations' that can give you tips for features such as 'AI sound' and even content. These tips are based on your viewing habits and will be personalized, LG says. It also ties in with 'quick actions' that allow you to assign for example Netflix to a long press on button 2 on the remote control. LG's AI system will automatically suggest this if you are using a particular feature or app a lot. It gave us a few good tips after a short time but it also some irrelevant tips. It can be turned off from the settings menu.

Lastly, there is the Home Dashboard that lets you connect and control ThinQ and OCR compatible smart home devices from your TV screen. Later this year, LG TVs will gain support for Apple HomeKit, which is another system for the connected home.

Another area that LG has worked hard to improve is interaction with connected devices. If you connect a streaming player or another external device, LG's TV will try to identify it and set up HDMI control to make it possible to control that device with LG's remote control. The system is quite effective and recognizes many external devices but it is not perfect, mainly because many external devices lack HDMI control or rely heavily on ageing infrared controls.

Overall, it works pretty well and as part of the system LG TVs automatically names HDMI devices so you know which device is connected to which HDMI ports. Connected devices can also be accessed from the Home Dashboard. The backside is that it probably gives LG a lot - perhaps too much - insight into how you are using your TV. TV manufacturers at large are known to use so-called ACR (automatic content recognition), which means that it is scanning the picture on-screen in real-time - including your vacation photos - to identify what you are doing at any time.

We have been focusing on the larger picture here because this is the sixth generation of webOS (LG has bumped up the version number by 0.5 instead of 1.0 two times now) and that calls for some reflection. webOS has taken a bigger step this year than in many of the past years and we like some of the new features, while others are a result of featuritis (look it up). But at the same time, we feel like webOS is lacking behind in some key areas and that LG's approach to developing a software platform is unhealthy for everyone involved - users, developers, and LG. If you have one foot in the old world of TV channels and expensive cable TV packages and another foot in the new reality of streaming TV, webOS is a good compromise and middle-ground. However, if you have both feet in the streaming camp we think you will be much better served by a solution such as Apple TV that offers a vibrant app ecosystem and is getting relevant updates on a regular basis.

Operation

LG has created a new and pretty remote control for its 'Signature' OLED TVs this year but C9 comes bundled with the standard black 'Magic Remote'. It is motion-enabled meaning that you can wave it around in the air to control a cursor on the TV screen. You can also use it like a regular remote by using left/right/up/down but the cursor will reappear if you move it a bit too much, which can be very annoying.

The remote is made from cheap, shiny plastic and is not something that is worthy of a high-end TV but then again LG's C series of OLED TVs probably cannot be characterized as high-end any longer. It one of the upper mainstream models that is meant to appeal to a wide buying group. As such, the remote control must also appeal a little bit to everyone, which is reflected in the button layout. Half of the buttons could be removed but LG tried a couple of years ago and quickly reversed course. What LG abandoned, Samsung has managed, and what is often forgotten when talking about TV remote controls is the fact that the TV user interface must be dramatically redesigned if you want to introduce a dramatically simpler remote control. LG did not go far enough back then and we now have a remote control that works but the remote is not very modern or inviting.


LG C9 review


The remote control relies on Bluetooth so you do not have to point it directly at the TV. As mentioned earlier, it can also control connected devices such as a game console. However, it sometimes relies on infrared to do that so there must be a direct line of sight to your connected devices.

LG has given Amazon Prime Video and Netflix dedicated buttons on the remote, which is a very unfortunate trend in the TV industry. In addition, there is a 'movies' button that, in our region, makes a text search for the query 'movies' and is completely useless! It may do something else in other regions. In our view, half of all the buttons on the remote control could be removed. We hope that LG will look at what Samsung and Apple are doing in this area and improve its TV remote in the coming years.

We briefly mentioned 'AI Sound' before and this system can at times help improve the audio experience. LG has redesigned the stand from last year's C8 that projected audio towards the viewers via a sort of slide. The new stand utilizes a similar concept and on top of this the 'AI Sound' system tries to adapt to the type of content and enhance audio in various ways, for example human voices.

We would prefer better actual speaker units and hardware but there are of course obvious limits to what can be achieved in a TV. The 'AI Sound' system managed to widen the sound space from a relatively limited and stuffy space to something much fuller. In action sequences and during dialog, we think that many people will like the effect. For some genres of music, it can also help "open up" sound but it sounds a little strange while listening to other genres of music. This is not something for everyone but in some areas we were actually positively surprised.

LG C9 also supports Dolby Atmos but there is not much to gain with the built-in speakers. If you want a good Atmos experience or a great audio experience in general, you should connect C9 to an external sound system.

LG's new OLED TVs are 'WiSA Ready', which means that you can connect a WiSA dongle to enable wireless audio output. Several manufacturers are already selling WiSA compatible speakers that can be connected to LG TVs in up to 5.1 surround. Unfortunately, we could not test the WiSA functionality as we did not have the required dongle or compatible speakers available for the review.


Calibration

LG TVs come with lots of different picture modes built-in - perhaps too many. On top, LG has this year added 'AI Picture' that works much in the same way as 'AI Sound' and if you value accurate picture quality that respects the creator's wishes, you should avoid it. On our sample, the default state for 'AI Picture' was off so we turned our focus to the built-in picture modes.

We have included measurements of pretty much all of the SDR and HDR modes below or in the box to the right. Starting with SDR, LG C9's Vivid, Standard and Game are not very accurate - and they are not designed to be. These modes push Rec.709 content into the panel's native color space, which produces inaccurate and often oversaturated colors, except Game mode that actually has subdued green and red primaries leading to desaturation in some sequences.

LG's 'ISF Expert' and 'Technicolor Expert' modes are very accurate and almost identical. We used the ISF mode as our starting point for SDR calibration and it is possible to squeeze out a few extra percentages of picture accuracy but as you can see we ended up also reducing RGB saturation somewhat, leading to Rec.709 coverage of 91%. This is because we only use the 2-point method for the calibration settings that we share in our reviews. If you use the more advanced color settings in LG's OLED TVs - or auto-calibration - you can reach better results but you need equipment.

Speaking of auto-calibration, LG 2019 OLED TVs feature a built-in pattern generator for CalMAN. This means that you no longer need an external - and expensive - pattern generator. SpectraCal has also launched a more affordable version of CalMAN specific for each manufacturer's TVs. We put our Videoforge Pro pattern generator aside and gave the new system a try. It worked well for SDR. You can see the result in the calibration box above. We could easily have gotten even more accurate colors if we had set the dE threshold lower but it would have taken a lot longer to complete and we were not trying to achieve studio reference results, just trying out the system. However, we encountered some crashed with HDR when trying to calibrate HDR Game mode. We were using a beta version of CalMAN so we are sure that the public version will include bug fixes. We had to reset the TV to make HDR auto-calibration with built-in patterns behave. A built-in pattern generation is an important step towards making calibration more accessible to the average user but you still need to invest in a meter such as an X-Rite i1 or and the CalMAN software. There is still no way to save auto-calibration results for use after a TV reset.

Switching our attention to HDR, we see very similar results. Avoid the Vivid and Standard HDR picture mode, if you want accurate pictures. The Cinema and Technicolor modes are quite good for HDR.

Our LG C9 sample hit 95% DCI-P3 (xy) / 69% Rec.2020 (xy), which is in line with all previous OLED TVs - give or take a few percentage points. We also measured peak brightness from a 1% window to 100% full-screen white. You can see the results in the measurements section below. You will notice that there are no significant improvements to be had in these areas but there are a couple of things that we would like to comment on in the picture quality section.




Measurements

In our "measurements" section we include all measurements and our suggested calibration settings. If you want to learn more about our test methodology click here.

Note: We include calibration settings only for SDR, not HDR. For our calibration we have deactivated the ambient light sensor that automatically adjusts the backlight setting according to your environment. You may prefer to have it enabled.



LG C9 review


Picture quality

In the beginning, LG's OLED technology seemed to evolve rapidly. LG introduced 4K OLED and then HDR OLED. It later managed to increase peak brightness. However, in the last few years, the panel has received only minor tweaks to sub-pixels and from a viewer perspective it is essentially the same panel with the same picture characteristics. This affects OLED TVs from all brands; LG, Sony, Philips, Panasonic etc.

This is still the case in 2019 and we want to emphasize this fact before we dig in. The important changes are instead found in video processing and HDMI, so we will be focusing more on these subjects this time around.

Starting with conventional SDR video (HD and 4K) and low-quality video (SD resolution), LG C9 is a good performer. The OLED panel's deep contrast and very accurate colors help improve the presentation of SDR pictures. It passed our various tests, including upscaling and de-interlacing. The second-generation 'Alpha 9' video processor also has quite effective decontouring / noise reduction, which is now a separate picture setting (Smooth gradation) that no longer results in loss of resolution (it was previously embedded with MPEG noise reduction). There is nothing inherently different about the second generation Alpha 9 so if you are comparing a 2018 LG OLED with a 2019, you will be very hard pressed to find any differences. For SDR, the most significant differences is probably the 'smooth gradation' menu option but it is not a big deal, in our opinion.




Another new feature that affects SDR video is LG's "AI Picture" setting that can be activated to have the TV analyze content on-screen and adapt its picture settings on the fly. LG explains that it is tied to a database with over 3 million samples of content and a machine learning system. This is basically next-generation picture enhancement and it is not something we can endorse. We do not agree with the sentiment that a TV's job is to enhance the picture. In our view, a TV's job is to respect the content (colors, frame rate etc) and present it in the most accurate way possible. Of course, there are inherent limitations in the different types of display technologies that force TV makers to make decisions. Likewise, there are significant limitations in terms of speaker systems built-in to TVs but display technology in modern TVs is after all far more advanced than speaker technology in modern TVs.

Switching our attention to HDR (High Dynamic Range), we measured 725 nits peak brightness on LG C9, which is actually around 100 nits lower than what we measured on last year's C8. The next milestone for OLED is hitting 1000 nits, and 100 nits difference is not too important in actual use but it is a curious development - or perhaps just variance in samples. As you can see in our measurements table, brightness starts to drop significantly at a 25% window, which means that 25% of the screen is white (while the rest is black). This is due to an embedded system called ABL (automatic brightness limiter) that regulates power consumption and driving intensity. With full-screen white (100% window), the TV manages to pump out 154 nits brightness. For HDR, LG - and LG Display - should be focused on increasing those 25-50% brightness levels. No one wants to be blinded by 500+ nits on a full-screen, so that number is less of a concern to us.

We reiterate this because it seems that many do not fully comprehend peak brightness for HDR. While 1% of a screen sounds like a small area, it is actually not very small (for example, the bright spots in the photo of the lady below are far smaller than 1%). A 1% window takes up 82944 pixels on a 4K panel. Many of the brightest elements in an HDR picture fall within such small segments. Stars, lamps, reflections in surfaces, subtitles etc. So while some LCD TVs today can theoretically hit 2000-4000 nits peak brightness, the limited luminance control of all commercial LCD panels mean that they often produce visibly lower peak brightness than OLED in actual HDR viewing, unless a much larger segment of the picture is bathed in light, for example a bright sky or a big explosion that takes up a considerable amount of screen estate. But then again, that bright sky is very unlikely to coded to 1000 or even 600 nits in the content. That is not healthy to look at and most organizations involved recommend that content creators reserve those peak brightness pops for specular highlights in the picture.

Having once again had some of the latest and greatest OLED and LCD TVs in our lab at the same time, we are once again reminded that the pixel-level luminance control of self-emitting display technologies such as OLED and microLED trump the higher, often theoretical, peak brightness of LCD TVs for HDR picture quality. We maintain that OLED TVs currently produce the best HDR picture quality, which is actually astounding when you consider that OLED panel development hit a roadblock 3 years ago. Apropos, Rec.2020 color coverage remains unchanged for OLED at around 69%.




Even though the HDR formats leave lots of room for improvement and even though the 'white OLED' panel loses some color saturation at the very brightest tones, HDR on OLED is a joy to behold. Those inky blacks create the perfect backdrop for bright and colorful pictures, with very accurate color and luminance due to pixel-level control. After having tested HDR TVs for years now, we continue to believe that true black and pixel-level control are two fundamental ingredients in creating beautiful HDR pictures. Of course, there are many other factors to consider but it is important to not get caught up in various benchmarks such as Rec.2020 coverage or color volume or peak brightness. No single measurement can explain why HDR video looks so beautiful on LG C9.

And just as importantly, HDR looks consistently great. Subtitles or small bright objects in movie screens will not ruin the experience with distracting blooming and other light issues. Stars on a night sky can shine with true intensity and movie scenes with high contrast can look almost magical. Colors also maintain accuracy even in very complex scenes that tend to confuse LCD TVs or force them to make compromises that affect contrast but also accuracy in color and luminance. Those cannot be measured with theoretical test patterns but if you know the exact color coordinate in an actual movie scene you will find by measuring that particular color on an LCD TV that it is often visibly inaccurate, even if you calibration report showed something else. With LCD TVs, it can be red herring trying to quantify color accuracy in HDR through theoretical test patterns because as soon as the dynamic backlight starts to employ, picture parameters will shift. That explains why movies studio gravitate towards OLED TVs for consumer reference displays, even if measurements suggest that LCD TVs are accurate and despite OLED TVs limitations in HDR brightness.

Of course, OLED technology will have to evolve as LCD TVs get more advanced backlight units, and microLED emerge but that is not relevant now.

To address the limited peak brightness levels in OLED, LG has employed dynamic tone-mapping, this year with a new, improved algorithm (LG calls it 'Dynamic Tone-mapping 2'). The purpose of dynamic tone-mapping is to try and maintain details in the brightest tones that go beyond the panel's brightness capabilities. This is done by adjusting the brightness curve (PQ EOTF) and how it rolls off at the top (brightest tones). This roll-off can actually also be adjusted manually this year as part of LG's new auto-cal features. Still, what dynamic tone-mapping is, is essentially a patch solution until the capabilities of the display technology improve. Hollywood argues in favor of a "hard clip", meaning that brightness is clipped at the TV's maximum brightness capabilities (around 700 nits for C9) and highlight details above disappear. On the other hand, parts of the gaming industry seem completely clueless as to what HDR is and often just max out their games at 10000 nits peaks even though they have not even checked how the game presents itself at those values (there are no reference monitors with 10000 nits peak brightness). As a side note; that is one of the reasons why Sony PlayStation and Microsoft Xbox are getting together to fix HDR in gaming.

We examined LG's new dynamic tone-mapping solution and it can effectively alter the brightness curve to resolve more highlight detail. With our 4000 nits test pattern, it resolved highlight details up to 4000 nits but of course these levels will not be accurate (you just see the altered details). You are free to select what compromise you prefer through LG's picture menus - or for more advanced users with the new auto-calibration features. We applaud that LG is giving users choice in this area. The system also ties in with LG's 'AI Brightness' feature that aims to adjust brightness in the TV according to your viewing environment (dark, bright, night day etc). Here, LG has actually implemented two solutions. One is from Dolby and works with Dolby Vision content, while the other is LG's that works with HDR10 and HLG content. We know that many have complained about HDR movies being too dark when watched in a bright living room and LG TVs can now more effectively adjust brightness by measuring your environment and feeding this back into the TV's dynamic tone-mapping system that will try to increase overall brightness by changing the brightness curve. Again, this feature is optional.




We are told that other small tweaks in the second-generation Alpha 9 include a modified saturation curve leading to less desaturation in colors at high luminance, and our measurements and viewing tests seem to support this but we cannot be sure without a 2018 LG OLED in side-by-side testing. In addition, LG has implemented a 'Peak brightness' setting that can turn off white boost (that starts from around 400 nits), if you like. The same setting option can be used to limit peak brightness if you feel that it is too high in a very dark viewing environment. Lastly, LG has fixed a bug in its look-up table that let to greenish tint on some skins colors.

In December 2018, we reported that the long-standing Dolby Vision "raised blacks" issue had been resolved on 2018 LG OLED TVs. Some owners responded that they still see the issues, although less frequently. We checked with all of the video sequences that we have noted down over the years and were not able to reproduce the issue of raised blacks on LG C9. Some scenes still look a little contrast-poor but this is inherent in the content, either a conscious decision or a mistake during mastering, but this is not what the issue was about. Based on our testing with this LG 2019 OLED, the issue has been addressed.




LG continues to shun Samsung's HDR10+ format, arguing that it can achieve the same results by analyzing HDR10 content and employing its dynamic tone-mapping system. LG TVs support the following HDR formats: HDR10, HLG, Dolby Vision, and the mostly irrelevant Advanced HDR by Technicolor.

Before we switch our attention to HDMI 2.1, we want to address the subject of brightness flashing and blocking issues. LG has released a solution for its existing TVs. We never had a chance to examine it on a 2018 LG OLED but based on what we have heard this solution seems to have been employed in 2019 LG OLED TVs as well. It works in the sense that we did not observe the issues with any of our real scene or pattern tests. But the solution bothers us. As you can see in the shot to the right, the panel now uses dithering to reproduce shades of grey. And no, it is not erotic in any way, in fact it appears to reduce resolution in the darkest tones, which can be observed on a black to white gradient that produces some banding. The same gradient looked smoother (at the dark end) and produced less banding on the Sony A9G standing next to LG C9 (more side-by-side comparisons will be included in our upcoming Sony A9G review). LG's smooth gradation setting did not resolve it. We hope that this is a temporary solution and that LG continues to explore a real fix.


LG C9 review


Now, let us talk about HDMI 2.1. We will not reiterate everything about HDMI 2.1 here so we suggest that you read this article to learn more about HDMI 2.1 in general as well as optional features such as eARC, VRR, QMS, and ALLM. We will be using these terms below and they are important if you are planning to buy a new TV now or in the coming years.

First of all, we do not have HDMI 2.1 compliant test equipment. Some of this equipment does not exist yet and the HDMI licensing group is not even certifying all elements of HDMI 2.1 at this point. In other words, we cannot test all the facets of HDMI 2.1. We cannot test 4K120 via HDMI but we can confirm that the TV can handle HFR (High Frame Rate) video via HEVC decoding and through its processing engine. This is hardly a surprise because last year's LG TVs already did that (just not inputs via HDMI). In terms of HDMI bandwidth, we can at this time confirm only that 4K60 and 1080p120 work.

As for the optional features, we were very eager to try out HDMI VRR (variable refresh rate), which is similar to FreeSync but not identical (confirmed by everyone involved, so don't conflate the two). To test this, we used the Xbox One X and it correctly identified LG C9 as VRR compatible. Unfortunately, enabling VRR on Xbox One X led to a black screen on LG C9 initially. We are not sure exactly what caused it but a full reset of the LG C9 fixed the problem and VRR engaged correctly, leading to a smoother gaming experience, with lower input lag, and no observed tearing or other artefacts. We do not have the tools to check full VRR range. We can read the EDID data of the HDMI feed but since Xbox One X is limited to HDMI 2.0 bandwith, it cannot go beyond 4K60 output. LG says that its 2019 OLED TVs has a VRR range of 40-120Hz at 4K resolution, which is not ideal (at the low end) but far higher than Samsung TVs's FreeSync range for 4K, which is effectively irrelevant in actual use. VRR will become far more relevant as we are transitioning to HDMI 2.1 capable game console and if you are planning on investing in a next-generation console, we think it would be wise to pick a TV with support for HDMI 2.1 and VRR.




Even if you have a game console without VRR support, LG C9 will deliver excellent results. We measured input lag to 13 ms in 1080p and 4K, with or without HDR. This is the lowest input lag we have measured on any TV to date, and LG inches past Samsung who has led the pack for years.

Another new feature this year is the option to turn on game mode with any picture mode in the TV, which means that you can now select either 'Game' picture mode (which is not very picture accurate) or you can chose to flip on a game switch when the TV is running in other picture modes. This will produce the same low input lag. This is very useful, if you do not have access to calibration equipment, which we assume that 99.99% of our readers do not have, but still want accurate picture quality in gaming.

Switching our attention back to HDMI 2.1, LG 2019 TVs also support HDMI ALLM, which simply means that the TV can automatically switch into game mode when it detects a console game. It works with Xbox One X that also supports ALLM. PlayStation 4 does not support ALLM.




One oft-forgotten HDMI 2.1 feature is QMS (Quick Media Switching). We can assure that we have not forgotten about it as we recognize how big an impact it can have together with frame rate matching devices such as Apple TV 4K. This is a long discussion but what you should know is that most playback devices in existence do in fact not have system-level frame rate switching, which means that you are either getting judder or that your TV has to do reverse pull-down, which some TVs manage effectively but others do not. The broadcast system has never respected native frame rate so movies broadcast on TV channels are converted in various ways but the issue is far more widespread, partly because HDMI involves a black screen when switching between frame rates. QMS can fix that (but does not fix HDR/SDR switching).

To use QMS you playback device must also be QMS-compatible and no playback device is (as a side-note QMS is a derivative of VRR so if a TV supports VRR it should technically also be capable of supporting QMS but please be aware that it is not a given). The HDMI licensing group is not certifying QMS yet, as far as we know. However, our source within LG tells us that LG together with AMD has built a custom solution to check QMS and that it seems to work with LG 2019 OLED TVs. At this time, we have no way of confirming this.

To sum up, it is too early to form conclusions about HDMI 2.1 in LG's TVs. Perhaps some limitations will be revealed once consumers get their hands on HDMI 2.1 game consoles and playback devices. Nevertheless, we applaud LG for carrying the torch. We think that it is a somewhat overlooked fact that LG is in fact the only TV manufacturer to have HDMI 2.1 in its 4K TVs this year.

Earlier this year, LG said that its 2019 OLED TVs would include an improved 'OLED Motion Pro' feature, or black frame insertion at 120Hz refresh and a 75/25/ BFI cycle. FlatpanelsHD saw it in action and it worked very well, greatly reducing flicker and maintaining brightness levels, while improving motion resolution. Unfortunately, it was pulled in the eleventh hour and as such LG 2019 OLED TVs feature the same 'OLED Motion' BFI system as last year's models, which is in our opinion not useable due to excessive flicker. What a shame.

As for motion in general, LG's TruMotion system took a big step last year with the introduction of the 'Alpha 9' processor. LG explains that it has made some tweaks to its motion compensation algorithm in the second generation of the processor found in LG C9, E9, W9, Z9, and R9. Last year, we had a chance to compare LG C8 and Sony A8F side-by-side and this year we had a chance to compare LG C9 and Sony A9G side-by-side. Last year, we concluded that LG had more or less caught up with Sony who has been leading the pack for years. The tweaks to TruMotion do not change our conclusion. LG's TruMotion system is much better than it used to be (years ago) but set it too high and you will still encounter the soap opera effect. This is intended behavior but since TruMotion is activated per default in many of the preconfigured picture modes, some less enthusiastic buyers who do not tweak picture settings may find this distracting. A little bit of motion system can help alleviate the results of ultra-low 24fps frame rate on very fast displays such as OLED during this transition where Hollywood has to overcome its belief that 24fps is the end goal and only true format - like silent film and black/white film that came before.

We did not observe retention or burn-in during our time with the TV but we do not carry out long-term testing to provoke burn-in either. LG has implemented some safeguards including a dimming function that in the past has led to some very dark movies scenes causing the TV to dim its picture. We checked and were not able to reproduce the dimming effect on LG C9 with some of the known scenes (that may also be known to LG) but we cannot decisively conclude that it will not happen. We welcome feedback from buyers.

One issue that continues to plague OLED panels is light homogeneity, especially in the darkest tones. Like dark greys, it is a hard nut to crack and we know from previous years that it can vary greatly from one sample to the next so our finding in this area may not be representative. As such, we cannot form any conclusions but nevertheless here are our usual evaluation of light homogeneity. As you can see, our sample has excellent homogeneity.




Viewing angles are very wide and everyone in the living can enjoy the great picture quality of OLED, regardless of their seating position. I am not sure why we continue to reiterate this in all of our OLED TV reviews. It is just a habit, I guess, after having suffered through a decade of poor LCD viewing angles.


Conclusion

LG has made a number of tweaks to its TV platform, webOS, this year, with the most useful being "AI Preview", which simply means that some apps pull content suggestions to the bottom menu. Apple's 'TV' app, AirPlay 2 and HomeKit will not arrive until later this year (and has not been considered in our review evaluation scores). There are more streaming apps than ever but some of the second-tier services remain unavailable on webOS. Still, this does not change the fundamentals of webOS, which feels limited in form and function compared to more advanced TV operating systems such as Apple tvOS and Google Android TV. More importantly, LG still refuses to provide major updates to previous TVs. As such, webOS 4.5 will be reserved for 2019 LG TVs, while previous years' TVs are stuck on whatever they came pre-installed with.

As for picture quality, LG's OLED panel continues to be largely unchanged after the company hit a roadblock a couple of years ago. Nevertheless, it still produces some of the best SDR and HDR picture quality available on the market right now. In many ways, C9 is a refinement of last year's C8, but in one area it represents and entirely new platform; HDMI. LG has addressed some issues but we are not entirely convinced about its solution for the flashing / macro-blocking issue. The speakers system now have special "AI" sauce that can, in some situations, widen the sound stage quite considerably. We think that many people will like the effect, mainly because speakers in TVs tend to be so bad.

There are still many unknowns about LG's implementation of HDMI 2.1 but the fact that LG is the only TV maker to offer a 4K TVs with HDMI 2.1 ports - actually a full line-up - is perhaps an overlooked strength. We believe that this is very significant. VRR already works with Xbox One X and has a much wider 4K VRR range (40-120Hz, according to LG, but we can't confirm) than Samsung TV's FreeSync, which essentially prepares C9 for next-generation game consoles, although it is limited somewhat at the low end of the range. C9 also has the lowest input lag we have measured to date, making it an excellent TV for gaming. Furthermore LG 2019 OLED TVs support HDMI 2.1's ALLM and eARC, and we even hear from an internal source that QMS works (although we can't confirm it). Lots of acronyms - we know - but we think it would be wise to read up on them if you have yet to do so.

Also read: HDMI 2.1 finalized - 8K/10K resolution, variable refresh rate, eARC, new cable

Again, in some ways LG C9 seems like a refined C8 but in terms of HDMI it represents a significant technical step forward. We have again seriously considered awarding it our Reference Award but ultimately we are disappointed that the OLED panel remains essentially unchanged again this year. We understand that LG is trying to expand mass production to take OLED into the mainstream but we hope that they will be able to chase both goals next year. Nevertheless, C9 is an excellent TV packed with HDMI 2.1 features that you can only get in an LG TV right now. And we know from previous years that LG OLED TVs tend to be considerably cheaper than competitor's OLED TVs, despite being as good or better. Only the 77" is prohibitively expensive. All in all, we have no doubts that LG C9 deserves our Highly Recommended Award.

!
Change in test parameters: Last year, we made a change to a test parameter that relates to the features score, following years of poor practice in the TV industry. Unless a manufacturer of a given "Smart TV" can provide FlatpanelsHD with assurance that the TV platform will be updated to the next major version, the feature score will be lowered by 10 points. We hope that our initiative can help highlight the problem, start a discussion, and change the practice.

LG has not been able to give us such a guarantee for webOS.


Price and retailers:

US retailer
UK retailer
DE retailer


Excellent HDR
Excellent HD & 4K
HDMI 2.1 ports, features
Lowest input lag
First 4K TV with proper VRR range


Rear-facing ports
Solution to flashing not ideal
webOS not receiving updates
77" still very expensive








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