LG 65″ C9 OLED Hands-On Review

LG’s C9 Series OLEDs offer impeccable picture quality thanks to amazing native contrast with the deepest blacks and the power of AI ThinQ processing. For 2019, the company focused on refining its already impressive OLED offerings with improvements that explicitly address picture quality, such as custom tone-mapping for HDR that’s tuned to the viewer’s taste, and black-frame insertion for better motion. Moreover, these TVs are ready for HDMI 2.1, as soon as that standard is finalized the hardware is ready for it.


If you seek the best picture quality and understand what it takes to get it, OLED will deliver. In 2019, there’s only one technology delivering on the promise of emissive TV technology and that’s OLED. For the uninitiated, with emissive TVs, each pixel is self-illuminating. That means that part of the screen that are supposed to be black, are completely black. It also means that bright areas do not suffer from any halos or clouding effect, unlike transmissive TV technologies that rely on a backlight, like LED-lit LCDs.


Features and Specifications

This 65″ 4K OLED is packed with state-of-the-art TV features. It includes LG’s AI ThinQ AI smart TV technologies (first introduced in 2018) that include the ability to control it—and perform advanced content searches—with Google assistant as well as Amazon Alexa.

The appeal of the LG C9 series is that it delivers LG’s best picture quality at an approachable price. These are 4K TVs that sport HDMI 2.1-ready inputs, so you can feed them a 120 Hz 4K signal—an amazing capability if you are able to obtain a gaming rig that can deliver it—the main barrier at the moment is waiting for HDMI 2.1 to become official.

The α9 Gen 2 Intelligent Processor is a key component to next-level picture quality. I’ve seen how it can handle difficult motion processing tasks like fast-moving horizontal pans. It also allows for advanced tone mapping, which can be a custom curve created by the user, if so desired. Upscaling, noise reduction, and banding reduction are all improved as a consequence of the more powerful processor.

The physical connections include four HDMI inputs, three USB ports, antenna/cable RF input, legacy AV input, optical digital-audio output, and Ethernet port. Of course Wi-Fi is supported.

LG OLED TVs support four HDR formats: HDR10, Dolby Vision, HLG, and Technicolor and are able to apply dynamic tone mapping to HDR10 and HLG. Furthermore, this TV features black-frame insertion for clearer motion rendering without any soap opera effect.

This TV includes picture modes that are useful to enthusiasts seeking an accurate image right out of the box. Whether you go with Cinema (User), Technicolor Expert, ISF Expert (Bright Room) or ISF Expert (Dark Room) you get a picture that looks realistic yet “pops” when it’s called for.

If you seek the most faithful replication of well-mastered content, a professional calibration is the ticket. The C9 supports CalMan AutoCal calibration, which works with all the HDR modes as well as SDR.

The TV comes with LG’s motion sensitive Magic Remote, which includes direct access to Netflix and Amazon Prime Video with dedicated buttons. With just a few minutes practice, using this remote to navigate the menus is second nature. The remote includes a large button near the center for activating the microphone, that’s easy to find by feel alone—a nice ergonomic touch.

For the full scoop on features and specifications, check out LG’s website by clicking here.


Setup and Use

OLED offers the explicit advantage of “perfect” blacks, which is why I opted to put the C9 in my basement AV room—I can make it perfectly dark any time a day by just turning out the lights.

I paired the TV with LG’s SL9YG 4.1.2-channel soundbar, which provides and integrated, aesthetically matched plug-and-play immersive sound solution featuring Meridian Audio technology that provides high fidelity from a soundbar form factor.

As with all TVs that I reviewed, I quickly switched from the default Standard picture mode to ISF Expert (Dark Room) for SDR viewing, which looks and measures quite accurate. From there… well, if you’ve read OLED TV reviews before, you know where this is headed: It’s an absolute pleasure to witness the gorgeous imagery the LG C9 OLED renders on screen.

When it comes to optimal picture modes and settings, My advice is simple: Check out the built-in picture modes, if you’re happy with one of them, stick with it and be happy. If not, spend the money to hire a pro and get your TV calibrated. Don’t spend time on the Internet looking for magic setting. If you want a happy medium, Get some test patterns that allow you to tweak parameters (like sharpness as well as contrast/brightness) that don’t require a meter to adjust accurately.

Basically, stay away from the color management, gamma and grayscale controls unless you have a meter and you know how to use it. Because the reality is that premium TVs in 2019 are surprisingly accurate right out of the box.

Most of the SDR I watch is TV, either sports or one of a few shows, namely South Park and It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia. Therefore, sports makes up the majority of my SDR viewing and I rely on YouTube TV for that, which streams sports like the NBA playoffs at up to 1080p. Subjectively, I found the C9 made the players look very realistic (almost 3 dimensional) thanks to the crisp contrast.

Not only does SDR look fantastic thanks to the intrinsic contrast of OLED, 4K HDR looks quite amazing on this TV. Here, I took a hint from rtings.com and used the Cinema mode as the default for HDR viewing through my UHD Blu-ray player.

When watching movies, the most profound impact came with content that features space scenes. Whether it’s science fiction or a documentary, nothing shows off what OLED does best quite like star fields and imagery of brightly lit spaceships (or the international space station) juxtaposed over the infinite blackness. It’s quite a pleasure to re-watch Star Trek movies on this TV, and it does real justice to the 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray re-release of Alien—you can count me as being surprised that the movie had so much more to offer visually than HD SDR could deliver.

To be honest, the C9 flattered whatever content I put upon it. For example, the Black and Chrome edition of Mad Max: Fury Road is a striking-looking black and white version of the movie that looks extraordinary when shown on OLED. With black and white, contrast is the entire name of the game and I can only conclude that the artist’s intent here is that the viewer experience the movie on a high-performance emissive display. It’s worth sitting close to the screen and appreciating it as pure art in 4K, no movie theater can match the visual fidelity you will experience seated about six feet from this screen, watching a modern 4K movie.

The Lego Movie: The Second Part provides the colorful counterpoint to Mad Max. The movie is filled with hyper-detailed CGI animation that practically jumps out of the screen, not just because of the contrast, but in this case thanks to the wide color gamut (WCG) that OLED delivers.

For me, the most impactful OLED viewing experience was the new Apollo 11 documentary. Compiled from real, cinematic quality footage of the actual events leading up to and including the moon landing, the sense of witnessing history through a window is quite visceral. There’s no feeling that this is a 50-year-old film your watching, and I have to credit the video fidelity of the C9 for delivering that experience.


Gaming and PC

Unsurprisingly, the same qualities that make movies and sports and TV look fantastic on the C9 OLED provided a benefit for gaming and using the TV as a giant PC monitor. It begins with the fact that SDR games look amazing, again thanks to the exceptional contrast offered by emissive OLED. Moreover, when using a 65 inch TV as a 4K “mega-monitor” you’re going to be closer to it than you would be if you were, for example, sitting on the couch in a living room.

The wide viewing angles of OLED are an advantage here, preserving picture fidelity from edge to edge. As a longtime Photoshop user, I appreciated being able to connect a laptop via HDMI and work on an image on such a glorious canvas. If you calibrate the C9, you’ll be able to dial in “perfect” color with confidence and ease and the same goes for grading video.

Of course 4K HDR games have a lot to offer on a TV like this. The current generation of consoles provide shockingly realistic graphics, and a “maxed out” PC can look hyper-real with high frame rate 4K. My old standby favorite Grand Theft Auto 5 looks as good as it ever has on the C9 with a GTX1080 equipped PC feeding it.

Spending on an OLED for gaming may seem extravagant but when you see the results, it’s self explanatory—the C9 offer a graphics upgrade to every single game you connect to it, thanks to the intrinsically high fidelity of 4K emissive displays.


Usage Scenarios

Anecdotally, I did not have any issues with burn-in at all, and I can’t even say that I had problems with image retention, either. Certainly not to the extent that I did with the plasma TVs that I owned in years past. It remains true that OLED owners need to exercise at least a bit of caution because it’s been shown that you can cause burn-in if you try hard enough. But, at least in the context of my review, it’s a non-issue. And I would expect that to be the case for most usage scenarios.

Anyhow, the C9 is a particularly great TV for gaming as well as will be watching. So what’s the catch? Basically, it’s a better TV when the lights are out than when the lights are on. And that’s not really an issue of brightness, because I found this OLED was plenty bright for the sort of lighting you find in most homes, even during the daytime with windows open and no shades. The issue is actually screen reflections. Namely, the screen is a bit mirrorlike, and it is a black mirror. What this means is that when you have a bright room, if the content you’re watching is bright, and there’s no issue.

But, if you were to watch one of the space movies I mentioned earlier, you can easily see the room itself reflecting off the screen in the dark areas. It’s fair to say that this negates any advantage of having absolute perfect blacks. So, my advice is simple, to get the full benefit of what OLED has to offer, dim the lights.


Calibration and Measurements

This is pretty simple. Check out rtings.com For a thorough, excellent selection of measurements that you can use to judge TV performance, and to compare the C9 to other TVs. The site has proven itself the best resource for this kind of information, and since it purchases the TVs at retail, you are assured that you are seeing results from a random sample.

Having said that, the C9 is a TV that, if calibrated by someone sufficiently skilled, will get you into the realm of “reference” quality color. I also recommend having a look at the recommended settings offered by rtings.com, they are not calibration settings, rather they are optimizations, so they are applicable to all C9 OLEDs. There is no one-size-fits-all formula for getting the absolute best picture, due to variables in room conditions, content, and viewer preference. But there is a path to getting there, and optimization is an important part of it.


Conclusion

OLED TV technology is sufficiently mature that the kinks have been worked out. What’s left is jaw-dropping picture quality that is sure to please any cinephile, 4K TV “binge watcher” or avid gamer. The LG C9 OLED is the smart choice if you want LG’s best OLED technologies in the most affordable package. I reviewed the 65″ model but 55″ and 77″ options are available and you can expect fundamentally the same performance from any of them.

This 2019 C9 is assuredly a technological tour de force. Its full potential will not even be realized until HDMI 2.1 becomes official, at which point its ability to handle 120 Hz 4K HDR will introduce a whole new world of visual experiences that have yet to be experienced. This is assuredly an extremely exciting TV that won’t be obsoleted anytime soon. It is, therefore, an obvious “Top Choice” selection.


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