Thursday, 11 April, 2019: The Darling Hotel, Sydney. I’m dragging my eyes away from Spider-man: Into the Spider-verse as it (largely) fills the screen of LG’s newest TV. Reluctantly. I must commit these words to computer screen. I’d rather just sit back, though, and bask in the LG OLED65C9 TV.
First up, a confession. I own an ancestor of this model, the LG OLED65C7, so I’ve very familiar with it operationally. That made it easy for me to use. Nonetheless, I will continue to argue that LG’s WebOS (now up to v4.5), combined with the Magic Remote remains the most intuitive system yet developed for controlling a smart TV. You just move the arrow on the screen by pointing the remote. Simple.
(Note: this review is appearing on 15 April because LG sought an embargo until 8am that day.)
OLED vs the others
But let’s back up a bit.
First, OLED is LG’s premium TV technology. OLED stands for Organic Light Emitting Diode. It has a significant advantage of LCD, the only other currently viable display technology: it can provide pure blacks. LCD TVs work by selectively blocking the output of a backlight (or backlights). Fancy designations like “LED TV” and “QLED” and whatnot are all referring to the backlight technology. They provide very useful advantages over other LCD backlights, but overall they remain LCD TVs.
OLED, however, generates reds, greens, blues and (in the case of LG) whites within each pixel. Furthermore, unlike the now largely defunct plasma technology, each pixel can ramp smoothly all the way down to zero output and back up again. It’s that which delivers such excellent black levels.
And really deep, inky, there-ain’t-no-light-there-at-all blacks provide a solid foundation for first class colour performance.
Because there are no backlights, the TV only needs be as thick as the panel, plus whatever additional mechanical support is required. Much of the LG OLED65C9 – perhaps the top sixty per cent, looks as though it is just a sheet of glass.
As the model number suggests, the TV I was using was the 65-inch version. It’s also available in 55 inches ($3,899) and 77 inches ($15,999). There are more expensive variants in the new 2019 LG OLED TV lineup. These employ essentially the same technology, but offer different frills.
The budget-conscious purchaser may want to consider last year’s OLED65C8. It uses an older version of WebOS and a slightly less powerful picture processor, but it remains a killer model. And I see that it has been reduced from the original $6,399 to $5,299. Perhaps as a run out it can be gotten for even fewer dollars.
LG OLED65C9 TV, how thin?
How thick would that be?
One of the problems with reviewing a product at a site organised by the vendor, rather than in my own office, is that I didn’t have all my tools to hand. So, I couldn’t measure the panel thickness. Nonetheless, I’d be surprised if it were any thicker than the 3.6mm of the OLED65C8 which I measured last year. The bottom part swells out because it contains the necessary electronics, TV receiver and processing technology. It’s around 50mm thick.
Around the edges of the active portion of the screen is the bezel. This is pretty much just an extension of the glass screen and is around a centimetre wide.
The panel of the LG 65OLEDC9 TV has, of course, the full UltraHD resolution of 3,840 by 2,160 pixels. Blacks are the strength of OLED, rather than maximum brightness. LG doesn’t seem to publish the actual brightness level. But I have been told that previous models have a a peak brightness of around 1,000 nits. What does that mean for contrast ratio? Well, if this TV can go all the way down to 0 nits and the contrast ratio is the maximum divided by the minimum, well … Mathematical purists say that infinity isn’t a number, but just a placeholder for a concept called “undefined”. For our purposes, an infinite contrast ratio will do.
The LG OLED65C9 TV supports HDR, Hybrid Log Gamma and Dolby Vision colour and grey scale profiles. The panel itself is 10 bits, so it can discriminate between four times as many levels as an 8-bit panel. Sixty-five inches translates to 165.1 centimetres.
Last year LG introduced its Alpha9 picture processor. This year it has a second generation, the Alpha9 Gen 2 picture processor. This is the engine for all the heavy-duty scaling and preparation of the signal for display. Amongst other things, it performs motion smoothing. That involves creating new frames in the sequence of video. These frames are sort of interpolations of existing frames. Inserting them between the signal frames makes motion smoother. There are two levels of this, along with a “User” setting, which allows one to set both “Judder” reduction and “de-blurring”.
LG says that the Alpha9 Gen 2 “uses AI Deep Learning to analyse what you’re watching and listening to, from whatever source, and optimise it for your viewing pleasure”. I’m not sure how AI helps here. TVs have been doing some of this stuff without the benefit of AI for more than two decades. Perhaps the LG OLED65C9 TV does it better.
I know that the TV has a 165.1cm diagonal because the LG OLED65C9 TV includes some so-called AI features. In particular, there’s LG’s own ThinQ AI functionality, and Google Assistant. I just held down the microphone button on the remote control and said “how many centimetres is 65 inches”. The answer popped up on the screen. I won’t go into that too much because I wrote about it here in some depth a few months ago. Go check it out.
LG says that it is also bringing Amazon Alexa control capabilities to the TV around the middle of the year.
The LG smart stuff works well. WebOS is a real operating system, based on the Linux kernel. Its first version was originally intended for portable smart devices then being developed by Palm. Remember that? The Palm Pilot? Anyway, LG first launched TVs using WebOS back in 2014. It was pretty good at the start and has improved since.
There are useful apps built in, including Netflix and Amazon Prime (each with a dedicated key on the remote), a Stan app and the ability to stream audio, video and photo material from DLNA. The LG OLED65C9 TV’s up there with the best of them with all this, except for Chromecast, which it doesn’t support. That shouldn’t be a worry for most Android phone owners, which use Miracast. Or for most Windows notebooks, which also work with Miracast. With those, you can “cast” their screen and sound directly to the TV. But if you have a Google Pixel phone, tough. Google only implements Chromecast on its phones, and blocks the use of Miracast so thoroughly, you have to root the phone to use a Miracast app.
The LG OLED65C9 TV has four HDMI inputs. All four support the current highest UltraHD standards. Plus, there are USB sockets from which media can be played, dual band Wi-Fi and Ethernet. One of the USB sockets is USB3.0. You can plug a hard drive into that and use it as a PVR or pause live TV. I wasn’t in a position to test any of those, except for a HDMI input. LG had the TV connected to a Telstra Wi-Fi dongle so that I could check out Netflix. Unfortunately, the 4GX speed was only 3.0Mbps, so 4K Netflix was out of the question.
LG also had the TV connected to its latest and greatest soundbar, the LG SL10YG. That’s a Dolby Atmos unit, with upwards-firing speakers in addition to the front-firing ones, along with a wirelessly-connected subwoofer. Since the connection was via HDMI, the TV and soundbar were using an Audio Return Channel (ARC) connection. This worked quite well. The only real wrinkle was the usual one: input selection.
You see, I’d brought my own UltraHD Blu-ray player along so that I could test the TV with some specific discs for various aspects of picture performance. I plugged this into HDMI 1 on the soundbar. It was in turn plugged into HDMI 2 on the TV (in my experience, LG always uses HDMI 2 as its ARC connection). Whenever I did something like hit the Netflix button on the remote, the soundbar would change to receiving audio from the TV. But then, to go back to the Blu-ray player, I’d have to fiddle with remotes for both devices.
Initially, that was. Then I worked out the routine. The WebOS 4.5 interface has improved things. As usual, hitting the “Home” key brings up a ribbon of options across the bottom of the screen, easily selected using the pointer. (They can also be rearranged to suit your preferences.) One of the left-most ones is “Recents”. Hover the arrow over that and a new ribbon appears above it, showing thumbnails of things you’ve recently done. I could choose HDMI 2 and return to the Blu-ray player. But even this only worked some of the time. It seemed that the soundbar was reluctant to return from ARC mode.
Then there was the AI stuff. I could tell the TV to change inputs, and it would do so promptly. Or to bring up picture settings. And it would do it. That’s the ThinQ part of it rather than the Google Assistant part of it. But when I’d tell it to mute the sound, it would respond “The function is not available on the device connected to HDMI ARC”. Likewise, for changing the volume.
That’s the problem with ARC. If something goes wrong, you don’t know which end is the problem.
Feed this TV with a good signal, and you will get stunningly good results. For example, LG had a 4K clip of a section of a Newcastle vs Penrith NRL match on a USB stick. Seriously, the picture was shockingly good. The colour was bold, and the clarity incapable of being surpassed. It wasn’t clear whether the video was 2160p or 2160i (at 50 hertz, either way), but there was no trouble in following the movement of the ball.
Black levels and scenes the UltraHD Blu-rays I took with me? At least as good as anything I’ve seen, and perhaps a little better. I turned down the room lights to zero and dwelt in the glorious colour and blackness that was presented by the LG OLED65C9. And winced a little at the relative brightness of the highlights. If these TVs ever do make it to the 10,000 nits envisaged by HDR and Dolby Vision, we might need sunglasses to watch movies.
Look, there are certain models of TV that will go significantly brighter than an LG OLED. If you do all your viewing in a well-lit room, you won’t find this TV deficient in any way, but you might find some of those others able to deliver something bolder and brighter.
But if you do your critical viewing, as I do, with the lights turned out so that there are no distractions, nor reflections on the screen, few LCD TVs can come close, and none can match it.
Image processing of the LG OLED65C9 TV
All that said, some aspects of the picture processing were not exactly class leading. I use some specific clips to test things like a TV’s handling of Australian DVDs delivered in interlaced format, as well as HDTV similarly delivered. Plus, to determine how much damage the motion smoothing processes do to the picture. I had high hopes, given LG’s spruiking of the Alpha9 Gen 2’s merit’s.
With 576i50 content from DVD, it did an adequate job. It delivered a fairly sharp image, but the TV was too often confused by the picture content into choosing the wrong progressive scan conversion mode. That resulted in unnecessary and distracting on-screen distortion. That said, when it did properly detect the correct mode to use, it switched rapidly and effectively.
With 1080i50 content, which is on some Australian Blu-ray discs and of course just about all free-to-air HDTV, the TV seemed a little more solid. It was tricked by only the most difficult sections of video. Those are the ones that routinely trick just about all processors.
As for motion smoothing, there were two modes: Clear and Smooth. Both did a good job of eliminating the judder in the scenes requiring it. But both also introduced some ancillary distortion into the image. In one scene, for example, the rivets on a railway bridge fuzzed briefly out of existence as the train passed over the tracks above. But only with motion smoothing on. With it off, the rivets remained in their proper place.
I imagine the Alpha9 Gen 2 processor does some stuff better than other processors. But on these functions? Well, when I got back home I reran the same tests again on my two year old LG OLED65C7, and the performance was identical. And that one was pretty much in the middle of the pack.
I deal with that by leaving the motion smoothing switched off and using the high quality picture processing in my Blu-ray player for picture scaling and progressive scan conversion.
But when I do feel that the picture is irritatingly jumpy and I want a bit of motion smoothing, I use the “User” setting with “De-judder” set to around 4 on the 10-point scale. That seems to smooth things noticeably, if less than the fixed settings, while keeping that distortion down to a minimum.
It looks like I finished, there, on a negative note. But take that in context. If you want a TV that delivers the best picture on the planet, well I’d suggest you strongly consider the LG OLED65C9 TV.