LG C9 OLED 4K HDR TV Review: Second best
“The LG C9 OLED, like its predecessor, is close to perfect.”
- Class-leading picture quality
- Gorgeous design
- Excellent user interface
- Alexa, Google Assistant, AirPlay2 compatible
- Future-proofed ports
- Low risk of burn-in
- More expensive than prior year’s model
LG and Sony went toe-to-toe on image quality this year, and in a minor upset, Sony won. The Sony Master Series A9G 4K managed to nudge out the LG C9 OLED.
Don’t cut the LG C9 OLED out of consideration yet, though. It doesn’t win in picture quality, but it’s still a visual treat, and it has other virtues that might make it the best choice for you. I appreciate its broad standards support, and there’s no denying the LG is a real looker even when the TV is turned off.
Thinner than your phone, and way sexier
Unboxing an OLED TV never gets old. Even after five years I’m still amazed a TV can be this thin. In the case of the LG C9 OLED, there’s a little more to love than the TV’s slender profile. For 2019, LG has upgraded the TV’s stand considerably to provide more stability and a more premium feel, thanks to all-metal design.
The increased stability comes from a hefty chunk of ballast built into the back of the stand. While the metal chassis now looks and feels better, it also has a smaller footprint and better assists with the TVs sound quality – more on that last point later.
Riley Young/Digital Trends
You won’t find much in the box besides the TV. In addition to the stand, which comes in three parts accompanied by eight Philips-head screws, you get LG’s Magic Motion remote control, a couple of AA batteries, and a breakout cable for older A/V components. Like that VCR you can’t wait to see upscaled on a 4K screen.
Assembling the TV’s stand is a piece of cake, but you’ll want to have some help when attaching the stand to the TV. Invite a friend or five over. The extra hands and muscle come in handy, and the more eyes you have on hand to ogle the TV, the more compliments you’ll get when you turn it on.
What’s new and what does it do?
LG touts a laundry list of new features and upgrades for the C9. A couple are a big deal, while the rest are more subtle.
For my money, the single most significant new feature is HDMI 2.1 certification for all four of the C9’s HDMI ports. With HDMI 2.1, the C9 can offer 4K resolution at up to 120 frames per second (FPS), support for enhanced audio return channel (eARC), variable refresh rate (VRR), and auto low latency mode.
Unfortunately for early adopters, none of those features are any use just yet. Still, having HDMI 2.1 on board means the TV is as future-proof as a TV can get these days. When 4K/120 content is a reality, the C9 will be able to handle it. When soundbars and A/V receivers equipped to handle eARC come along, they’ll work together with the C9 to deliver totally uncompressed audio, including full-on Dolby Atmos and DTS:X.
When graphics cards for PCs and next-gen game consoles with HDMI 2.1 arrive, gamers will see the C9 automatically switching into low-latency mode and automatically adapting refresh rates to match the needs of the games they play.
To be clear, a certain flavor of VRR using AMD’s FreeSync technology is already available in the Xbox One X and with various PC graphics cards, but the LG C9 doesn’t work with FreeSync. Instead, it relies on HDMI 2.1 to make VRR work, hence the requirement that the source device also support HDMI 2.1 We’ve deeper info on HDMI 2.1 here if you’d like to learn more.
Another potential game changer for home theater enthusiasts is the C9 OLED’s WiSA compatibility. WiSA is a wireless audio standard that lets users set up home theater speaker systems that have amplifiers built right in and connect them directly to their TVs or some other source component. With the C9’s WiSA compatibility and a set of, say, Klipsch’s Reference Premiere Wireless speakers, you’d only have to plug the speakers into the wall and, voila, instant home theater, no speaker wires or A/V receivers required.
The last major advance is LG’s Alpha 9 Gen-2 processor, which sees incremental yet important advances over last year’s top-tier processor. TV processing, as we have discussed at length in the past, has everything to do with how good a TV’s picture quality is – two TVs with the same display panel can look drastically different based on processing alone. LG’s processing game has never been stronger, and this year LG is leaning heavily on its ThinQ AI to deliver better picture quality over its similarly equipped 2018 TV.
By using what LG describes as a vast database of images and image information along with machine learning, the Alpha 9 Gen-2 processor attempts to improve image quality no matter the source. Upscaling 1080p to 4K is tough enough, but upscaling the 720p content most of us get from cable and satellite TV is even harder. The LG C9 tries to make these less pixel-dense sources look like the 4K HDR content we see from Amazon, Netflix, and YouTube. It also cleans up low-bitrate content to reduce artifacts like banding and macroblocking, which is often visible in highly compressed streaming content like HBO’s Game of Thrones.
The Gen-2 processor is programmed to increase peak luminance time for SDR. In other words, when not in an HDR mode, the TV will sustain high-brightness areas for longer before dimming pixels to prevent them from getting too hot or wearing out prematurely. This helped keep the contrast looking impressive when watching during the day with sun pouring into our testing room, but wasn’t necessary with the blinds drawn or when the room was otherwise dim.
The LG C9 is a visual feast for the eyes. Bring your appetite, and it will satisfy.
LG even added a new AI brightness adjustment that alters brightness based on the readings it takes of your room’s light levels. That may sound like a familiar feature I often advise folks to turn off in their TV’s settings menu, but it’s much better.
Unlike earlier versions of auto-brightness, LG’s new AI-powered system adjusts the tone curve as it brightens to keep colors looking accurate. I tested the feature and didn’t notice a thing. The TV looked great any time of day, under any conditions.
WebOS, Alexa, the Google Assistant, and Apple AirPlay 2
One of the reasons I enjoy using LG’s OLED TVs so much is because of WebOS, and this year I love it just that much more. The user interface has improved in a few ways. First, I didn’t see any advertisements on the TV by default like I did in the 2018 OLED TVs – that’s a big one right there. Second, LG made the WebOS ribbon at the bottom of the TV a little shorter, so it takes up less of the screen when pulled up. I also noticed that suggested content from the apps I use pops up above the ribbon much faster. Finally, LG added a dashboard for managing connected smart home devices.
You might tie this TV into any smart home ecosystem you are building because it supports both Google Assistant and Alexa. In either case, the TV allows basic voice control of connected devices along with deeper integration, like displaying a Nest camera’s video feed on-screen. It’s one of the smartest smart TVs I’ve tested.
While it isn’t available yet, the C9 will soon support Apple AirPlay2 and HomeKit. You’ll soon be able to use Siri on their mobile devices or HomePod speakers, find content, and cast it to the C9. We’ve not been able to test this feature yet, however, since it wasn’t available at the time of this review.
That picture quality!
The LG C9 is close to perfect. Blacks are insanely deep, color accuracy is outstanding out of the box (and even better when professionally calibrated), and brightness for both SDR and HDR content is the best I’ve seen from LG yet. The picture is clean and highly detailed in both bright highlights and shadows, and color is maintained in dark areas better than I’ve ever seen. The HDR performance of this TV – be it HDR10, Dolby Vision, or HLG content – was beautiful to behold.
The C9 is a visual feast for the eyes. Bring your appetite, and it will satisfy.
By reader and viewer request, I used Season 5 Episode 3 of Game of Thrones – the now infamous “The Long Night” episode – as a stress test for the C9 and compared its handling of the beautifully shot but poorly delivered show to that of a Samsung Q90 and a 2018 LG C8 OLED. The C9 outperformed the Q90 in the darkest scenes by a handy margin thanks to its perfect black levels and contrast maintenance.
Though there are moments in this show where an artistic decision was made to reveal no detail in the shadows, when there was something to see, the C9 made sure we could see it. The C9 also did the best job of reducing the banding artifacts that make this episode all but unwatchable on lesser TVs. This happened to be the one area where I felt the C9’s superiority over the C8 was pronounced.
LG’s C9 OLED is one of the finest TVs you can buy.
My only complaints about the C9? Its picture performance improvements over the much less expensive C8 are minor – the 55-inch C8 at $1900 is $600 less than the $2500 C9 while the 65-inch C8 at $2800 is $700 less than the $3500 C9.
Also, the C9 continues to have the faintest wisp of green cast to its image compared to other OLED TVs, and most certainly to premium LED/LCD TVs. That isn’t something most people notice without directly comparing a TV head-to-head against another, but since I did exactly that, it’s hard to get out of my head.
No matter. I’ll take the C9 OLED any day. It’s a stellar TV.
LG offers a 1-year limited parts and labor warranty. This warranty does not cover image retention, also known as burn-in.
LG’s C9 OLED is one of the finest TVs you can buy, made even more compelling by its future-proofing features such as HDMI 2.1 and WiSA compatibility.
Is there a better alternative?
Sony’s Master Series A9G 4K HDR is the better alternative if you’re seeking the best image quality of the money. It loses out on a few minor details, but image quality is the single most important trait of a high-end television. And the Sony wins.
I will add that if you are a hard-core gamer who plays the same game for many hours at a time for days or even months on end, or if you are the type who watches the same news or weather channel for several hours at a time, day after day, then an OLED TV is not for you, regardless of whether it is made by LG or another brand. Burn-in can be a factor. However, it does take many hours of static content to really cause concern.
How long will it last?
With the addition of HDMI 2.1 and outstanding processing, the C9 is poised to serve one’s needs for many years to come. It’s my prediction this TV will last a good six to seven years before any new TV makes a compelling argument to spend money replacing it.
Should you buy it?
Yes. If you want the best picture quality money can buy and an outstanding user experience, the LG C9 OLED is the best TV purchase you can make.