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It is becoming difficult to improve the image quality of OLED TVs. LG, which supplies the panels to the entire market, has achieved this with small and subtle changes. Year after year, OLED TVs continue to deliver the best image quality of their generation, and the OLED C9 (Check on Amazon.com) exemplifies LG’s efforts to further refine a technology that has little left to offer.
Admittedly, the differences in image quality between the new LG OLED C9 and last year’s TVs are minimal (better HDR, more efficient processing and a few milliseconds lower latency) but still sufficient to give it a slight technical superiority. For most buyers, however, these differences will not justify the higher price of C9 compared to the 2018 model, and this is also our opinion.
In our side-by-side comparisons, the LG OLED C9, C8, and B8 all, unsurprisingly, outperformed the best LCD TVs, while OLEDs from major manufacturers remain very close in terms of performance so the competition is less about pure image quality than functionality.
LG OLED C9 – Design
There is little evolution in design between the C8 and C9, but this is not necessarily a bad thing. The screen itself is still very thin when viewed in profile, with the typical bulge in the lower part to house the inputs, the power supply, the speakers and other components. The back does not change and remains particularly well finished. Nothing to add here, the build is premium as always.
At the front, the borders are very thin and there is no silver finish or logo. This is a TV in its most minimalist form. We found the stand more seductive than last year’s, with a more premium finish. It is heavier at the back, presumably to better withstand the risk of tipping forward.
LG OLED C9 – Specifications
The biggest news is that we finally have full HDMI 2.1 ports (48 Gbps), specifically 4 of them. 3 on the side, next to a USB 2.0 port and one in the back next to 2 USB 2.0 plus, the optical output, the Ethernet port, an antenna socket for DTT/DVB-T2 and one for satellite (DVB-S2). The new HDMI 2.1 ports are still compatible with the UHD Alliance standard, 4K resolution, HDR10 (plus HLG and Dolby Vision but no trace of HDR10+), BT 2020 color space and 10 bits of color depth. Apart from the UHD Alliance standard, this TV also supports some amazing new protocols:
ALLM: It’s a new low latency protocol (LG calls it Instant Gaming). It is designed for consoles so that when you turn them on and start a game the TV will switch itself to Game mode. When you are done playing, the TV will return to the previous image mode.
VRR: Variable Refresh Rate. It is a technology that allows you to adapt the TV’s Hz with the FPS. Again it is terribly useful for gamers, as this eliminates the need for V-Sync and other technologies. Unfortunately, this technology is not compatible with Freesync (AMD) nor with G-Sync (Nvidia), so right now it is only compatible with the Xbox One X console. By the way, the VRR has a range of 42 to 120Hz in which it works.
HFR: High Frame Rate. This allows you to reproduce video recorded at a higher rate (FPS) than normal, for example, you could watch a 4K HDR broadcast at 120 fps (synchronized at 120Hz, native Hz of the panel).
48Gbps: The added bandwidth of the HDMI 2.1 protocol opens up a world of possibilities, for now, reserved almost exclusively for gamers.
e-ARC: Until now (with ARC) when we used the TV as a media player (or via apps like Netflix, Amazon Prime, etc.) the audio going to our amplifier or soundbar would be limited to DD/DD+ or DTS. With the e-ARC, we can skip this limitation and take advantage of DTS HD MA, TrueHD, Atmos Lossless and DTS: X.
QFT: Quick Frame Transport. It reduces the time it takes to see the TV “react” when pressing a button on the remote control or console controller. Thus its purpose is to reduce input lag. We have measured just 13ms.
QMS: Quick Media Switching. No more black screen for a couple of seconds when you switch between inputs, just a quick little flicker.
LG OLED C9 – Remote control
The remote is also almost the same as last year’s. The navigation is always done by pointing the remote control where you want on the screen, Nintendo “Wii mote” style, and click. In addition, it facilitates the use of virtual keyboards compared to the traditional method. The scroll wheel is also convenient for moving around the apps.
As with most major manufacturers, the microphone button activates the voice control, and LG is the first TV manufacturer to integrate Amazon Alexa in addition to Google Assistant.
Also, Apple’s AirPlay 2 support, allows the TV to function as a screen for viewing TV shows, movies, photos and other web pages from an iPhone, iPad or Mac. HomeKit will allow you to control the TV using the Apple Home app or by speaking with Siri, Apple’s assistant. In doing so, LG’s 2019 OLED range will offer full support for all the main assistants of the market.
LG OLED C9 – webOS
Here we find palpable differences with last year’s OS. In fact, the new webOS comes with several interesting new features. The row of apps still shows up like a carousel, however this year the tiles are shorter. Why is that? Basically because on top of this row, we will have a second row that will show us content based on the bottom tile. For example, if we select Netflix (without launching the app) we will see a second row above with Continue watching, recommendations, etc., without having to access the app directly.
Another novelty is the connect Hub that includes HDMI, DLNA, AVR, live TV, and IoT (Internet of Things) and is integrated with Google Assistant and Amazon Alexa. Via the Hub, we can turn on the washing machine, turn off the bathroom light or turn on our Nvidia Shield TV, all from the same panel. Good job LG!
LG OLED C9 – Image
Once again, the C9 OLED panel has the same basic features as in previous years, including brightness output and color gamut, so the main evolution is in image processing. There is a new A9 Gen 2 chip with a “deep learning algorithm” that better adjusts the image to the room lighting and optimizes the quality of the source media. The system starts by analyzing the displayed content to detect noise and sharpness levels of the image and then applies a correction in real-time.
With HD SDR or 4K HDR sources, the LG OLED C9 has provided the best picture of the moment. The TV still displays perfect black levels, the best contrast ratio on the market, unmatched uniformity, and excellent viewing angles. As a bonus, the video processing is slightly better than the LG OLED TVs of 2018.
On the other hand, the premium LCD screens provide a little more punch in HDR and are superior in a bright room.
On the controversial issue of image retention and burn-in, we have noticed a substantial improvement. The Logo Brightness Adjustment option works really well, creating a gray “cloud” right where it detects a logo, in addition to significantly lowering the brightness to more than half… only for the logo, not the whole image in general.
To control the image quality we set the LG OLED C9 next to a Sony Master Series A9F (Check on Amazon.com). I expected that Sony would be better in image scaling, movement handling, and colorimetry. And it was, but not much, just enough for the trained eye to notice; Despite this, the scaling of the LG OLED C9 has improved considerably compared to last year’s model. It is now sharper and especially better in low-quality sources (the Smooth Gradation helps a lot), the macroblocks that show up in compressed sources are very similar to those shown in the A9F, which says a lot about this year’s LG.
And if the scaling has improved a lot, the interpolation has improved much more. LG is using a new BFI (Black Frame Insertion) that improves pixel persistence more than 60%, without losing brightness or introducing flickering. Again it is not perfect like Sony’s, but it has improved a lot. Artifacts around moving objects and people have almost completely disappeared. If we set the interpolation at very low values we can enjoy a totally cinematic sensation, without any soap opera effect.
The colorimetry in SDR is excellent, to the point that if we select the Cinema, Technicolor mode or any of the two ISF modes, the TV comes almost perfectly calibrated from the factory, both in gamma and color saturation. In HDR, on the other hand, we noticed skin tones that were too saturated, nothing that cannot be fixed, but Sony was also a little better. Speaking of HDR and Dolby Vision, here is where the LG clearly wins. Dynamic image, saturation, brightness, and ABL are superb for an OLED panel.
LG OLED C9 – Gaming
This is a TV designed for the gamers, thanks to the HDMI 2.1 port and the possibility of sending the data flow without compressing the chroma (1080p/4K can be sent at 60/120Hz and 4:4:4, uncompressed, unlike last year’s TV that could only receive chroma 4:2:0). Of course, you will need an HDMI 2.1 cable and a console or PC with that same port, something that unfortunately is not yet on the market.
The other big difference is the input lag (the time it takes for the TV to react when we press a button on the remote). The LG OLED C9 offers an impressive 13.3 ms in game mode (for 1080p, 4K and 4K HDR sources at 60 Hz), but more surprising it can lower that input lag even further to an incredible 6.8ms and 6.6ms if we use a customized resolution of 1080p@120Hz and 1440p@120Hz respectively. Add to that the ability to vary the refresh rate of the panel depending on the framerate (VRR) and you have the perfect gaming TV.
In HDR games the tone mapping manages to retain even the most minute detail of the highlights but without lowering the general brightness. Thus the resulting image is very striking and very dynamic, without appearing washed or with white blots in the clouds, sun rays, mirror reflections, etc.
Yes, the Sony A9F (Check on Amazon.com) is slightly better, but the LG has some clear advantages: lower APL, more brightness, better design, much more impressive Dolby Vision, HDMI 2.1, lower input lag, etc. With the OLED C9, LG has made a leap forward (twilight, noise, macroblocks, and banding) and landed on par with the best Sony, something that I sincerely did not expect. The truth is that if we compare them side by side, it is likely that the difference is due to the individual panel differences that may exist between units, which means that LG has done a magnificent job. The scaling is also really good, with an almost total absence of ringing, banding, and compression.
In the field of 4K HDR, colorimetry has improved, although it isn’t perfect, the tone mapping is now able to solve details above 4000 nits. And I cannot forget the excellent implementation of Dolby Vision. All this grants us an absolutely impressive result in the world of 4K HDR.
LG is also clearly better for video games. HDMI 2.1, input lag, VRR, and other functions make it the best gaming TV we have ever tested and almost future proof.
All in all, the C9 (Check on Amazon.com) is an excellent TV that still refines OLED technology, offers the lowest latency on the market (perfect for video games), premium connectivity with HDMI 2.1, and improves image processing. However, the purchase of a C8 (Check on Amazon.com) or even a B8 (Check on Amazon.com) is still the most financially attractive option in our opinion, as their image is already sublime.
Read more: LG OLED B8 review: best bang for your buck