LG’s new lineup of OLEDs are eagerly anticipated every year and for good reason. Unlike other TV makers, the South Korean brand doesn’t delineate the models based on image quality, so regardless of whether you buy the entry level BX, the mid-range CX, or the premium GX gallery series, you’re going to get the very same high-end OLED image quality, writes Krishan Sharma.
LG generally packs a lot of features into its OLEDs while keeping the price reasonable, and this year’s CX series is no different with the company dropping the starting prices on both the 65-inch and 77-inch models significantly when compared to last year’s C9.
The question is, is it still the king of the hill and were there corners cut to meet the more aggressive price point? Read on to find out.
Build quality and design
The CX is identical in design to last year’s C9 and the C8 before that, which isn’t a bad thing as they are generally very well built and boast both an extremely narrow bezel and frame that makes a statement in any living room. One change I would’ve liked to have seen in this year’s models is for all of the ports on the back to be moved to the side of the TV which would’ve made it easier to plug in your devices.
While most of the television is extremely thin, the lower half which houses all of the connections and processing expands slightly to 4.9cm in width just like past LG OLEDs.
For those who want an ultra-thin design all over, LG offers a new step-up model this year in the GX which is just 2cm deep, allowing it to sit completely flush on the wall. The GX is only a few hundred dollars extra in comparison to the CX for the 55-inch and 65-inch models, which is a very fair price considering you also get a few extras thrown such as hands-free voice control, ATSC 3.0 tuner (next-gen tv tuner capable of receiving over-the-air at 4K HDR channels at up to 120Hz whenever it becomes available) and a more powerful in-built audio.
The CX already has a head start when it comes to picture quality by virtue of using an OLED panel. Every pixel on screen is self-emissive, meaning that each one makes its own light and is controlled independently, so the darkest pixel can sit right alongside the brightest without either polluting the other, allowing dark scenes to appear more detailed without getting lost in the grey. This is why OLEDs effectively have an infinite contrast ratio since it can also turn off individual pixels to get pure black and it can also be viewed from any angle without colour or contrast taking a hit.
The black levels on LED LCD displays can’t go as deep since they rely on a backlight to illuminate pixels that selectively dim part of the image to achieve contrast between light and dark areas, leading to haloing or blooming around bright objects on a dark background. If you’re coming across from an LCD display for the first time, the differences can be quite stark.
The 2020 OLED panel on the CX remains mostly unchanged to last year’s C9, however, you do get a host of picture processing improvements afforded by the new A9 Gen3 chip.
What stood out immediately is how accurate the CX’s display looked out of the box. Normally with televisions that I get in for review, I need to play around with the settings to get colours and white balance looking the way they should but I didn’t need to do that at all with the CX. Even the pickiest of viewers would have a hard time justifying a professional calibration on a set like this.
Depending on the amount of lighting in your viewing area, I would recommend setting the CX to either ‘ISF dark room’ or ‘ISF bright room’ for SDR content and ‘Cinema’ mode for Dolby Vision and HDR content for the most accurate picture.
The other thing that struck me is how well the CX upscales lower resolution content, be it SD or HD with normally noisy free-to-air channels in particular looking exceptionally clean and sharp. This is something that most 4K televisions struggle with, however, the CX nails it and sets a new benchmark in this department, surpassing even the likes of Sony.
Motion handling appears to be improved, providing excellent clarity in fast motion content such as sports and videogames. Meanwhile, enabling the new ‘Cinema Clear’ option under TrueMotion does a very nice job of smoothing out slow panning shots from lower frame rate sources such as films and removing any visible signs of judder without making things look artificial and introducing the dreaded ‘soap opera effect’.
Other changes to the picture I noticed were more subtle but something videophiles will surely appreciate. This includes an uptick in dark detail and more natural looking skin tones which are likely down to the combination of an improved factory colour calibration and added picture processing chops on the CX.
I did notice some very faint vertical banding in near black scenes while viewing in a pitch-dark room, though this is something that can vary from panel to panel and can fade over time. The LG CX is the first television to support two new picture modes in Dolby Vision IQ and Filmmaker mode.
Created in collaboration with Hollywood studios, the Filmmaker mode effectively disables post processing such as motion smoothing and aims to give consumers the opportunity to view content in the way that the filmmakers intended, including with the original aspect ratio, colour and frame rates. That sounds good in theory but it’s a static preset that isn’t in any way tailored to the specific piece of content being played.
Content that carries the Filmmaker mode signal are on their way, but again all it will do is switch the TV’s picture preset for you. I also couldn’t discern any visible difference between the TV’s ‘Cinema’ picture preset and Filmmaker mode with both looking almost identical in both SDR and HDR content.
Dolby Vision IQ
If you do most of your TV viewing in a bright living room, then Dolby Vision IQ might be more useful though one could argue that this feature has been around for a while as it simply uses the TV’s built-in light sensor to determine the amount of ambient light in the room and adjust the picture accordingly. It’s a little more intelligent than that though as it combines the room light information with Dolby Vision’s scene by scene picture data to help bolster HDR content that would normally look too dark in rooms with high ambient light levels.
Interestingly, there’s no specific Dolby Vision IQ setting on the LG CX and instead it automatically is enabled when you set the TV to ‘Dolby Vision Cinema Home’ picture preset which correspondingly enables the CX’s ‘AI Brightness Control’ function. I tested Dolby Vision IQ on a range of Dolby Vision content with various levels of ambient light and found that overall it did a good job of brightening the picture while preserving detail in dark scenes. However, it does brighten the picture a bit too much when the room light is low or non-existent so I would recommend leaving this feature off (by switching the picture preset back to ‘Dolby Vision Cinema’) if you’re primarily watching in a dark room.
Speaking of Dolby Vision and HDR content, there is an issue with floating blacks which is noticeable in scenes when you have a white object on a black background, such as on the end credits of Netflix’s Mindhunters where the white text will glow to such a degree that it turns nearby pixels that should be black into grey. The issue occurs only in HDR and Dolby Vision mode though the effect is more pronounced in Dolby Vision. Turning the brightness down from 50 to 49 appears to fix it but it isn’t an ideal solution as you lose some detail in dark scenes. LG confirmed it is working on a fix which will be rolled out in the form of a future firmware update.
The ultimate TV for gamers
LG blew the competition out of the water last year with their C9 series of OLEDs being the first in the market to sport four HDMI 2.1 inputs enabling 4K at 120Hz with HDR, making it effectively future proof for next-gen consoles such as the Playstation 5 and Xbox Series X. It was also the first television to support Nvidia G-Sync for super smooth and tear free PC gaming.
This year’s models build on that gamer friendly reputation by adding AMD FreeSync as part of a firmware update for a total of three supported variable refresh rate systems (HDMI VRR, G-Sync, FreeSync). LG is also offering a smaller 48-inch OLED model of the CX, enticing PC users to replace their computer monitors and put an OLED on their desk instead.
The four HDMI 2.1 ports on the LG CX are just as much a selling point in 2020 when you consider that competing OLED models from the likes of Sony and Panasonic will be sticking to the older HDMI 2.0 ports, limiting gaming to 4K at 60Hz. On the LCD side, even Samsung’s new top of the line Samsung 8K and 4K QLED range only support one HDMI 2.1 input, preventing users from connecting two next-gen consoles.
It’s worth noting that the LG CX HDMI 2.1 ports aren’t quite full bandwidth as they max out at a data rate of 40Gbps which wasn’t the case with 2019’s C9. The CX can still handle 4K at 120fps with 10-bit colour, which is what next-gen consoles are supporting, but not at 12-bit. It isn’t really an issue though since all televisions use 10-bit panels anyway.
Variable refresh rate is a big deal for gamers as it synchronises the TV’s refresh rate to the PC or console’s frame rate in realtime to make gameplay look and feel smoother while at the same time reducing lag and eliminating tearing. Combine that with the peerless black levels, fast pixel response time and extremely low input lag inherent to OLED technology, the result is a gaming experience that no other television on the market can match.
I began my tests on the Xbox One X as it is the only current generation console that supports VRR and auto low latency mode (ALLM) and after enabling those options within the console’s settings, the CX immediately switched the picture preset to ‘Game’ mode. Games such as the recently released Saints Row The Third Remastered which previously felt like a choppy mess in it’s unlocked frame rate mode, transformed into a silky smooth experience with VRR.
On the PC side, I was able to push graphics settings higher on demanding titles without worrying about the impact on performance as G-Sync smoothed everything out to make it feel as though I was playing at a much higher frame rate.
That said, I did notice that the CX raises the gamma to incorrect levels when VRR is enabled in game mode, causing it to lose a little bit of detail in gameplay with near black scenes. The issue goes away entirely when VRR is disabled. I have raised this issue with LG and hopefully it will be fixed in a firmware update.
I also found a few teething issues with eARC on the CX. eARC, which is a higher bandwidth version of ARC, enables lossless HD audio to be transmitted from HDMI source devices connected to the TV and passed through to an eARC compatible external soundbar or AVR for decoding. So instead of being limited to the compressed Dolby Digital+ version of Dolby Atmos, you’ll get the uncompressed version based on DolbyTrueHD for better sound from your connected Xbox One X.
However, I found that the CX would default to compressed audio with the only way to get lossless HD audio was to disable eARC and re-engage it again within the TV’s audio settings, a procedure I needed to repeat every time I turned on the TV and HDMI source device.
LG is aware of the issue and I expect it to be ironed out as more eARC enabled devices hit the market.
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Software: webOS 5.0
LG’s webOS is one of the most intuitive smart TV interfaces around with the remote doubling as a Wii-style pointer for easy navigation and a huge selection of apps with all the major streaming services covered for. The remote has a built-in mic with support for both Google Voice Assistant and Amazon Alexa. LG’s own voice assistant has also been enhanced though like most digital assistants, it does have difficulty in understanding context. For instance, instead of switching to the Playstation 4 input as requested, it would show me results from YouTube that it found using the search term ‘input Playstation 4’.
There’s a revamped home dashboard which you can use to manage other ‘smart things’. Within a few clicks I was able to display all my Philips Hue light bulbs throughout the house along with my Wi-Fi connected air conditioner and control them using the TV remote.
Another new feature is ‘Sports Alert’ which lets you receive notifications about your favourite sports teams including live match updates and reminders of when live matches are about to be broadcast. With no live sport currently going on, I couldn’t test this feature but I would imagine it would be useful for sports fans. It is currently limited to the NBA, Premier League Football, NFL and NHL but LG says it is currently in talks with various Australian sporting codes such as the NRL and AFL as well.
The webOS interface is very snappy which makes accessing your favourite shows and movies among the myriad of streaming services a breeze. To stress test the system, I had six shows open on six different streaming services (Netflix, Amazon Prime Video, Disney+, Apple TV, YouTube and SBS On Demand) constantly switching between each one with playback resuming immediately and no sign of forced app closes.
The Apple TV app is a nice addition as it has the largest streaming library of 4K movies with Dolby Vision although the app currently lacks Dolby Atmos support. LG says that this will be added later this year.
The CX also supports both AirPlay 2 and Chromecast so you can beam content from your Android device or iPhone to the TV.
Sadly, LG has omitted support for both decoding and passthrough of DTS in this year’s models, joining the likes of Samsung in the process. This is mainly a problem for people who use their games consoles as a bluray player since movies encoded with a DTS audio track won’t play while the console is plugged directly into the TV. You will need to bypass the TV altogether and connect the console to your AVR or soundbar instead to get DTS playback but by doing so, you won’t be able to take advantage of HDMI 2.1 features. Thankfully, dedicated Blu-ray players are fairly inexpensive.
Feature packed and future-proof
While it may not be a big upgrade over last year’s C9, the CX offers a potent mix of class leading features and impeccable picture quality that is really unmatched at this price point. It might not go as bright as Samsung’s top of the line QLED TVs, but it doesn’t need to either since the contrast between dark and light is more dramatic, making for a more impactful image overall.
Aside from a few bugs with Dolby Vision and in VRR game mode, LG has tuned the CX’s OLED display to near perfection that should make it a firm favourite for both home cinema fans and gamers.