If you want the best-looking TV image that money can buy, choose an OLED TV. With perfect blacks, superior viewing angles, infinite contrast ratios, and fewer image artifacts than other TVs, OLED displays outperform even the best LCD options—but they cost hundreds more. We recommend the LG C9 because it offers the same excellent video performance as 4K OLED TVs that cost a lot more.
The LG C9 4K OLED TV offers superb image quality with both HD and 4K sources, and it supports the leading HDR standards so you’ll get the best picture possible from HDR sources. The WebOS smart-TV platform is easy to use and provides all the major video and audio streaming services, including 4K video streaming from Netflix and Amazon. The C9 has an extremely thin and attractive design, and it’s one of the few TVs in 2019 to offer full HDMI 2.1 support, which makes it as future-proof as a TV can be today. Videophiles will like that the C9 gives them more control over the image than competing Sony OLED TVs. Paying more for one of LG’s higher-end OLED TVs, such as the E9 or W9, doesn’t buy you better image quality at all, which makes the C9 an excellent value. (But if you like the design upgrades and can afford the premium, the E9 and W9 are solid upgrade options.)
The LG B9 4K OLED TV’s video performance is very similar to that of the C9, and it costs a little less. The B9’s peak brightness is a bit lower than that of the C9 (which matters only with HDR video), and it lacks some of the C9’s advanced video-processing functions, though most people would be hard-pressed to see the C9’s improvements in motion and image noise without doing a direct side-by-side comparison. Plus, the image-calibration options aren’t quite as precise, which we think is an important consideration for the performance-minded shopper. But if you want to save a little money and you don’t plan to have the TV professionally calibrated, the B9 is a great option.
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Why you should trust us
I’ve been reviewing TVs and home theater equipment since 2008. I am an ISF Level II Certified Calibrator, so I am aware of what makes for a good TV image and how to get those things out of a TV. I have all of the necessary test equipment and software to provide objective measurements to back up my subjective opinions.
Who this is for
You can find two kinds of TV display technology today: LCD and OLED. An OLED TV is best suited for a videophile who wants the best possible image quality and is willing to pay a premium to get it. OLED TVs use a display technology that consists of organic light-emitting diodes. The main advantage of OLED displays is that the pixels emit their own light and thus require no backlighting to create a vivid and bright image. Because each pixel can turn completely off or on between frames, OLED TVs are capable of displaying truly black blacks on the screen, which allows the TV to produce noticeably better contrast than even the best LCD TVs. However, OLED technology is still prohibitively expensive for most people: You can expect to pay at least $500 more for an OLED TV compared with a high-performance LCD TV of similar size, and you can find a wider selection of affordable LCD options that look good and support 4K HDR standards.
OLED isn’t a good value if you’re looking for a really big TV. OLED TVs currently top out at 77 inches (that should increase to 88 inches by the end of 2019), but the price increase of a 77-inch OLED over a 65-inch OLED is substantial—whereas more affordable 75-inch LCD TVs are widely available. If you want to go bigger, a high-end 4K home theater projector capable of producing a 120-inch image costs about half the price of a 77-inch OLED TV. The downside to projectors is that they need space for a screen and you have to be able to control the light levels in your viewing area, so they’re not the best option for living rooms.
Higher-end LCD TVs can often be brighter than OLED TVs, so if you have a room with lots of windows that don’t have curtains, you might want to look at an LCD instead of an OLED. During my latest round of testing, the OLEDs looked fantastic in a living room when it was nighttime or cloudy, but on bright, sunny days a reflection from a skylight made it hard to watch the OLEDs compared with LCDs in the same location.
For additional details, read more about the difference between OLED and LCD.
How we picked and tested
The only major-brand OLED TVs you can buy in the US right now are from LG and Sony. Panasonic has OLED models that are available in the EU and Canada, as do Philips and Loewe. B&O sells a model in the US as well, but it costs $10,000 for a 55-inch screen.
LG’s 2019 OLED TV line consists of the B9, C9, E9, and W9 series. Most of the 2019 models offer similar video performance, but the lower-priced B9 has a lesser SoC (system on a chip, consisting of a CPU, GPU, and networking card built into one chip) and loses some of the image-processing features of the C9, E9, and W9 versions. The differences among the three higher-end series are cosmetic or audio-related, so we chose to test the lower-priced C9. The C9 TV comes in 55-inch, 65-inch, and 77-inch sizes; for our testing, we used the 65-inch version.
Sony’s 2019 OLED TVs include the A8G line (which is comparable in price to the LG C9 line) and the premium Master Series A9G, a follow-up to our previous upgrade pick, the A9F. We tested the A8G for this update and plan to test the A9G as a possible upgrade pick.
I took objective measurements of the OLED displays using Portrait Displays’s CalMAN software, along with i1Pro2 and C6 HDR meters and a Murideo Six-G pattern generator. I also watched a large selection of content from streaming services, 4K and standard Blu-ray discs, and USB flash drives. And I talked to other expert reviewers, including David Katzmaier of CNET and Vincent Teoh of HDTVTest, about their experiences with both the LG and Sony displays.
Our pick: LG C9
The LG C9 4K OLED TV offers a superb image and the most future-proof array of features at a lower price than competing OLED TVs. The C9 has the same image quality as LG’s higher-end E9 and W9 TVs and differs only in audio and styling options, which makes it the best overall value in the company’s OLED lineup. It supports all the leading HDR standards, and it also looks great with 1080p and SD content. It has a thin, attractive design, although it’s not as stylish as the E9 or the Signature W9. It also has superior calibration options, a better streaming-TV interface, and more future-proof connections than Sony’s comparable OLED TV. The C9 improves upon the 2018 C8 by offering full HDMI 2.1 compatibility, as well as support for AirPlay 2 and Apple HomeKit.
In our video quality tests, in both the ISF Expert and Technicolor picture modes, the C9 produced the best pictures of any TV we tested, showing bright, detailed images—with true-to-life color for HDR and SDR content—that looked fantastic. After calibration, the C9’s image quality was even more accurate, making the content on screen a faithful replica of what the creators intended. Placed side by side with our favorite LCD TVs, all of the OLEDs offered a clear performance benefit that even casual viewers were able to notice.
Black areas of the picture looked perfectly black, without the shadow crushing we saw on some older OLED TVs. (Shadow crushing is where dark details that should vary in darkness appear instead as a solid black block.) In addition, 4K material appeared crisp and lifelike, and HDR content looked terrific, with highlights that jumped off the screen. The C9’s true wide-color-gamut support allows it to display colors that other TVs aren’t capable of creating. The end result is a stunning, true-to-life image that’s a noticeable step above what even the best-performing LCD TVs are capable of producing.
LG currently supports the Dolby Vision, HDR10, Technicolor, and HLG HDR standards. The only format it doesn’t support is HDR10+ (there isn’t an OLED available in the US that offers support for both Dolby Vision and HDR10+). But HDR10+ support isn’t essential, since all HDR10+ content is available in HDR10 or Dolby Vision too, and HDR10+ offers the most performance gains on TVs below 500 nits instead of higher-end OLED displays. LG also uses a more common Dolby Vision profile than Sony does on its OLED TVs; as a result, some Dolby Vision source devices work only with LG models and not Sony models.
The C9 has a 120 Hz refresh rate. For SDR content, the C9 includes an optional black-frame insertion mode to eliminate ghosting or judder in motion. This mode lowers the overall light output of the TV by putting black frames between the frames of content. When we watched sports, the mode worked wonderfully, and the image remained bright enough for us to easily enjoy; however, some people might find that the effect makes the image too dim, and they may want to leave it turned off. And it can’t work with HDR content, where you need all the light output you can get from the TV.
LG has done a good job of continually improving its video processing. In the images below you can see how well the C9’s Smooth Gradation processing removes visible banding in lower-bit-rate streaming content. When Smooth Gradation is off, the uneven steps in the gradient are easy to see, but when it’s set to low, the TV renders a smooth gradient without much loss, if any, in fine details.
What sets this LG model apart from Sony’s comparably priced A8G OLED TV is its full HDMI 2.1 compatibility, as well as its superior user interface and calibration controls. HDMI 2.1 offers a number of improvements over HDMI 2.0: eARC lets you send higher-quality lossless audio from the TV to a soundbar or receiver, automatic low-latency mode allows the TV to automatically enable game mode to attain lower input lag, variable refresh rate can lead to less stuttering from supported game consoles, and the full 48 Gbps bandwidth allows support for future 8K sources.
The C9’s WebOS streaming system offers easy access to the most popular audio and video services and is faster and more responsive than the Android TV interface on the Sony A8G.It doesn’t have as wide a selection of content as some other streaming platforms, but it does support all the major services, including Amazon, Google Play Movies, Hulu, Netflix, Vudu, and YouTube. (If you regularly use services that WebOS doesn’t support, you can always get an inexpensive standalone media streaming device.) The WebOS interface makes it easy to set your favorites for quick access, and the integrated Google Assistant, combined with LG’s ThinQ AI technology, lets you search for content and adjust control settings with your voice by speaking into the remote’s microphone.
LG has also included effective calibration controls for the HDR and SDR picture modes. The default ISF Expert picture modes are very accurate, so if you don’t plan to spend money on calibration, just leave the TV set to ISF Expert or Technicolor. If you do opt for calibration, the C9 lets you calibrate for SDR, HDR, and Dolby Vision and store different settings for each. In contrast, the Sony OLED models share settings across SDR and HDR, and they don’t offer the same level of access to calibration controls that LG’s models do. The 2019 LG OLED TVs also include direct LUT calibration; this feature, which I’ve written about in detail, can produce calibration results that are more accurate than those of a standard calibration. In addition, LG’s TVs offer the option for a calibrator to do custom tone curves, which allow you to squeeze every last bit of performance out of your OLED. You can also set up the game mode to be accurate; most other TVs still have a game mode that is tinted noticeably blue, forcing you to choose between image quality and responsiveness.
Current LG OLED models offer a clean, thin design, and they’re easier to wall-mount than LG’s prior models because they use standard VESA mounting holes instead of a custom bracket. If you are using the included stand, LG makes it easy to hide the cables so your setup will look nice and clean.
Finally, we like that LG supports its TVs with firmware updates that add new features and wider support for new formats. In 2017, for example, LG continually updated its firmware to improve motion quality and color accuracy as the year went on. A company providing this sort of support to improve its TVs even after their release is good to see.
The LG E9 and W9 models offer the same image quality and features as the C9 but have different styling and audio quality. The E9 has LG’s picture-on-glass design, which looks more impressive than the C9’s frame, and an integrated slim soundbar for improved audio. The W9 is an even more impressive wall-mount design that is as thin as a stack of two or three coins, and it comes with a matching Dolby Atmos soundbar. Both TVs look great, and if you want their improved design or audio quality, they are worth considering, but getting a C9 along with a soundbar or an AV receiver and speakers, which offer even better audio quality, can cost you the same or less.
Flaws but not dealbreakers
The sound quality of the LG C9 OLED TV could be better. In our experience the overall volume output was quite low compared with that of other TVs we tested this year. (The higher-end LG E9 and W9 TVs offer better sound.) But we expect most people will pair a TV in this price range with an AV receiver and surround-sound combo or at least a good soundbar. The C9’s support for eARC means you can send lossless audio, including Dolby Atmos and DTS:X, through the HDMI ARC port to a compatible receiver or soundbar.
Sony TVs still offer slightly better video processing, especially when it comes to motion. In our tests, some panning shots looked a bit jumpy on the LG C9 compared with the Sony A8G, but you’d be unlikely to notice such a difference often, if ever.
Runner-up: LG B9
If the LG C9 is out of stock, or if you just want to save a little money, the LG B9 offers similar performance for a slightly lower price. Aside from some external styling variations, the main difference between the C9 and B9 is the SoC (system on a chip) that each TV uses: The C9 uses a more advanced chip that allows for better color accuracy (because of a larger LUT) and improved video processing, which results in cleaner transitions between colors, smoother motion, and other minor improvements. The difference isn’t huge, though.
Other reviewers have found that the C9 produces brighter HDR highlights than the B9. This really matters only in cases involving HDR highlights above 600 nits, which might occur just a few times during a movie, but it means the B9 doesn’t pop quite as much as the C9 with that specific HDR content. Since the price difference between these two displays is under 10 percent, we believe getting the improvements in the C9 is worth paying the extra cash, but our opinion would change if the price difference were larger.
Overall the B9 and C9 are almost identical, and both are fantastic OLED displays.
First impressions of 2020 TVs
LG’s new GX Series: This TV should offer picture quality identical to that of the lower-priced CX model, the newer version of our current top pick and the one we think most people will choose. (We’re currently testing the CX and will be updating this guide very soon.) Replacing the former E-Series, the GX has a gallery design that is only 20 mm to 22 mm thick, depending on screen size, and sits flush with the wall. It includes a built-in wall mount but doesn’t come with feet to sit on a tabletop; those cost extra.
The upgrades over the 2019 line are fairly minor. You get the new Filmmaker Mode, which allows the TV to automatically switch into a picture mode that “preserves the filmmaker’s intent” by (among other things) turning off functions like motion smoothing. There’s also an ATSC 3.0 tuner to support the future over-the-air Ultra HD broadcast standard, as well as improvements in image processing and AI smart features. It has been noted that the HDMI 2.1 inputs are only 40 gigabits per second instead of 48 gigabits per second, but that should make no real-world difference. The starting price this year is lower than in previous years.
In our testing, we found that the GX’s performance was mostly the same as or better than that of the 2019 models. It produces some small improvements in shadow details, as well as lower input lag for gaming; you can also customize the black-frame insertion so that it isn’t as dark and has less flicker.
Sony A8H: This OLED TV comes in 55- and 65-inch sizes and offers a very accurate image in the Custom picture mode, with great video processing. However, this TV lacks some of the more advanced features found on the new LG models and costs more than the LG CX. The only HDMI 2.1 feature is eARC, so the HDMI ports are only 18 gigabits per second and don’t support automatic low latency mode (ALLM), variable refresh rates (VRR), or 4K with high frame rates (which the new game consoles coming out later in 2020 will support). Our unit also measured over 100 nits dimmer in peak brightness than the LG, and that can impact how good HDR looks.
Sony’s interface puts a number of notifications, which are actually ads for services that Sony likely gets paid for when you sign up, on the home screen. You can probably disable them in the settings, but you shouldn’t have to—especially on a TV that costs this much.
Overall, the Sony A8H might look better than the LG CX in certain situations due to its video processing, but since the CX is cheaper and has features that we think are important, such as ALLM, we would recommend the LG.
OLED vs. LCD
The key difference between LCD (liquid crystal display) TVs and OLED (organic light-emitting diode) TVs is in how they each create an image. LCD TVs work by shining a light through an LCD panel. Because LCD pixels can never completely close, they always let some light through, even when the screen image is intended to be black. Some LCD TVs produce darker blacks than others thanks to local dimming and other technologies, but they are never perfectly black. On an OLED TV, however, each pixel emits its own light, so when a pixel is meant to be black, it is perfectly black.
The difference between pure black and near black can look small on paper, but in real life it’s huge. The quality of black that a TV is capable of reproducing makes everything else on the screen appear brighter with more visual pop, and it produces more distinction between objects. With HDR (high dynamic range) content, where absolute brightness can be the most important element, OLEDs can look better than LCDs because the highlights look brighter against a pure black.
You can view OLED TVs from wider angles than you can almost all LCD TVs. Most LCDs show significant color and brightness shifts by the time you move 20 degrees off-angle from the center, while an OLED still looks almost the same from there as if you were viewing it head on. If you’re watching the TV by yourself and you’re always in the center seat, you won’t see a difference, but if you have a larger group of people watching from many angles, an OLED will look better to most of the viewers.
Whereas LCD TVs can suffer from motion blur, when the pixels take time to change from one color to another, OLED pixels change almost instantly. If you’re watching sports or other fast-action content, you’ll see clearer images and more detail. An OLED still isn’t perfect for all motion because it uses sample-and-hold technology, but it performs better than an LCD.
OLED TVs can be much thinner than LCDs because they don’t need an additional layer of fluorescent or LED backlighting to make images appear.
An OLED TV is brighter than a plasma display, but it can’t compete with LCD for overall brightness in very bright rooms. If you have a room with lots of open windows that let in bright sunlight all the time, an OLED TV might not be your best option. Current OLED models can output 700-nit highlights, but their full-screen white brightness is around only 135 to 150 nits. LCD TVs can emit over 500 nits of brightness no matter what content they’re displaying (and the best ones can deliver over 2,000 nits for HDR highlights), so they can more easily overpower reflections and direct light in the room.
Although the risk of image burn-in is low, you can still potentially damage an OLED screen by displaying static content on it for long periods of time—which is not a concern with LCD. If you leave your TV on the same station with a logo for hours a day, for example, or if you play the same video game with static on-screen elements every day, there’s a chance your OLED TV will suffer some image retention. OLEDs have pixel orbiters and screen-refresh mechanisms designed to prevent this effect, but they aren’t perfect. For most people who watch a variety of content, burn-in isn’t an issue, but there will always be exceptions, and the results can eventually be permanent. Rtings.com is running long-term testing of this effect right now, and some burn-in has developed in the worst-case scenarios, such as showing content with static elements on the screen 20 hours a day.
In theory, the lifespan of an OLED TV isn’t as long as that of an LCD TV. In reality, if you watch a TV for maybe a few hours a day, any LCD or OLED TV you buy is likely to be technologically outdated before the image becomes too dark to enjoy. LG lists the lifespan of its OLED panels at 100,000 hours, or 10 hours a day for 30 years.
Some OLED panels have uniformity issues with near-black (5 percent brightness) content where you can see vertical bands, but often this effect is visible only on test patterns, not in real content. Although it isn’t something we’ve seen in person while watching a movie, some OLED owners have noticed it on their TVs, and some people find it more bothersome than others do.
TV features, defined
Following are some of the most common features we talk about, and why they’re important to look for on a TV.
HDMI 2.1: The newest version of the HDMI specification, HDMI 2.1 uses the same connector and cables as previous versions but can support higher-resolution 8K images at faster frame rates, with more colors and greater dynamic range. HDMI 2.1 also adds support for variable refresh rate, automatic low-latency mode for video gaming, enhanced Audio Return Channel (eARC), dynamic metadata, and fast input switching. HDMI 2.1 is just starting to appear in new TVs, AV receivers, and other AV devices. A TV that supports full-bandwidth HDMI 2.1 and all of its features is more future-proof than one that doesn’t.
HDCP 2.3: This is the most recent version of the copy-protection standard used over HDMI. Support for HDCP 2.2 or higher is necessary for a TV or other HDMI device (soundbar, receiver) to transmit or display Ultra HD content. All of our picks support HDCP 2.3.
High dynamic range (HDR): High dynamic range lets a TV display much brighter highlights while retaining deep blacks, although only with special HDR content. In the past, content had a peak brightness around 100 cd/m2, but high-end HDR sets can have highlights that exceed 1,500 cd/m2. This feature drastically improves contrast ratios and provides a more dynamic image where bright objects (the sun, fire, a photon torpedo) really jump off the screen.
Wide color gamut (WCG): Wide color gamut allows a TV to display more colors than most current TVs can. With Ultra HD Blu-ray and streaming content, WCG TVs can display colors that the human eye can see that hadn’t been possible on TV before. The technology leads to a more realistic image that more closely matches what’s possible in many current movie theaters.
24p: With few exceptions, movies in the theater display at 24 frames per second (abbreviated as 24p), which gives movies that “cinematic” look. All TVs now support 24p content, but some TVs maintain that look better than others.
Judder: This term refers to a slightly jerky motion that can occur when 24p film content appears on a TV with a 60 Hz refresh rate. To make 24 frames match up to the 60 Hz display, such TVs make half of the frames appear two times and the other half appear three times. This display technique causes judder, which is most noticeable on panning shots. Some 120 Hz displays avoid this effect by repeating each film frame five times, while some 60 Hz panels run at 48 Hz to show each frame twice.
Nit: Also called candela per square meter (cd/m2), this unit of luminance measures how much light a TV can produce. Previously TVs could output 200 to 300 nits, and SDR content was graded and mastered with 100 nits as the standard. With HDR, content is mastered with 1,000, 4,000, or 10,000 nits as the standard; so, the more nits an HDR TV can display, the more accurately it can display the highlights in HDR material without having to reduce the brightness of the highlights or to clip them.
What to look forward to
Sony will update its Master Series OLED lineup to the A9S, which includes a 48-inch model. Sony said its Acoustic Surface Audio technology has been improved, with better vocal clarity thanks to an upgraded crossover design.
Vizio is entering the OLED arena for the first time with the 55-inch OLED55-H1 ($1,300) and the 65-inch OLED65-H1 ($2,000). These new TVs include the updated IQ Ultra processor that Vizio is using for its higher-end TVs in 2020, which gives it support for HDMI 2.1 features like FreeSync and 4K 120 Hz playback. It should also offer improved video processing over previous Vizio models.
Konka is coming to the US market with an OLED TV. The X11 OLED will be available in 55- and 65-inch sizes in the second half of 2020, but not many details are known right now.
The Sony A8G looks fantastic, and you’d be hard-pressed to see a performance difference between it and the LG models in most cases. Unfortunately, its Android TV interface is cumbersome and slow, which is surprising since Sony’s X950G LCD TV uses a faster, updated Android TV interface this year. This OLED also typically costs more than the LG C9, and it doesn’t offer all of the HDMI 2.1 features that LG’s model does; it supports only eARC.
Although the A8G replaces Sony’s A1E and A8F 2018 models, you might still be able to find them online. The A1E is a former runner-up pick that offers superb video processing and accurate images, but it lacks the advanced calibration controls and dynamic tone mapping of the Sony Master Series and LG OLED TVs. It also has a lean-back stand design that some people might not like as much. The A8F performs almost identically to the A1E and offers a more traditional stand design.
The Sony A9F, our previous upgrade pick, offers a remarkably accurate image and very good audio for a TV but costs too much compared with the new LG C9. Pre-calibration, its image is more accurate than that of the LG models, but the LG sets offer superior quality post-calibration. You can use the Sony model as a center-channel speaker, which might make it a good option for certain systems. But overall, in light of the A9F’s high price and lack of HDMI 2.1 support, the new LG C9 is a better option.
The LG E9 has better speakers to deliver improved audio quality, and its “picture-on-glass” look makes for a more attractive TV than the B9 and C9 models. Overall, though, you’re paying more for the design of the TV, not the image quality.
The LG W9 is the company’s second “wallpaper” OLED, which means it sits completely flat against a wall, no thicker than two or three stacked coins. It looks amazing, but you have to pay a premium for it. The electronics and power supply are contained in an included soundbar that provides Dolby Atmos sound but is quite large. The TV-soundbar combo also uses a short ribbon cable that you need to run through the wall, so you can’t place the soundbar far away from the OLED panel. Although the W9 makes a statement in looks, you can get the same video performance from lower-priced models and add your own speaker system for much less.
The Panasonic GZ2000 OLED TV is likely the best OLED available, but you can’t buy it in the US. It offers support for the HDR10, Dolby Vision, HDR10+, and HLG formats, it has a custom power supply that can drive the panel to even higher peak brightness levels than the LG and Sony models can achieve, and it’s more color accurate than any other OLED out there (based on test data I’ve seen). It’s also more expensive than every other OLED model in the same sizes, it doesn’t come in a 77-inch size, and it lacks HDMI 2.1. Plus, driving the panel to such high brightness levels might make it age faster or have a higher risk of burn-in, and can introduce some banding in HDR highlights. But if you’re in Canada or the EU, the GZ2000 might be worth looking into.
Also available only in Canada and the EU, the Panasonic EZ1000 OLED offers one primary advantage: An experienced calibrator can directly adjust the internal calibration tables to deliver the most accurate image. Doing so requires a copy of the CalMAN software and calibration equipment, but it results in the most accurate image you can get from a home TV right now. (It’s accurate enough that some Hollywood studios are using this TV for grading their films, which normally doesn’t happen with a device for the home.) Even though this TV is not available in the US, I did get a chance to see it in person, and the image was impressive. But this TV is very expensive, at C$8,000 for a 65-inch model, and it lacks support for Dolby Vision.
About your guide
Chris Heinonen is a senior staff writer reporting on TVs, projectors, and sometimes audio gear at Wirecutter. He has been covering AV since 2008 for a number of online publications and is an ISF-certified video calibrator. He used to write computer software and hopes to never do that again, and he also loves to run and test gear for running guides.