LG, the purveyors of all things OLED, have been on a roll lately. While it is easy to be wowed by the company's latest flagship efforts, like rollable displays and gigantic 8K offerings, OLED isn't just for cover shoots and the one percent. While historically OLED displays have carried a more premium price compared to their LED counterparts, that is changing--and fast. Case in point: the 65-inch B9 OLED reviewed here, which carries an MSRP of $2,199.99, though if you shop around you can nab one for under $2,000. If you don't need a 65-inch model, the 55-inch variant is now selling below $1,500 via authorized resellers. Sub-$2,000 puts the B9 in Vizio-like territory from a value perspective, but does that savings mean you're going to have to make do with less?
The B9 looks every bit an LG OLED, which is to say that to the untrained eye, it likely will be impossible to differentiate the B9 from LG's costlier offerings. From the front, the B9 looks every bit a high-end product, though when you turn your attention to the rear of the display, it does lack the C Series' Metropolitan Museum of Art inspired curve. Minus that, the all-glass screen looks positively sexy and visually indistinguishable from its costlier brethren. The 65-inch B9 measures 57 inches wide by 33 inches tall and less than two inches deep at its thickest point, tipping the scales at 55 and a half pounds, which is more than some comparably sized LED LCDs, but it's not a heavyweight by any stretch.
As far as connectivity is concerned, the B9 features the HDMI inputs (HDCP 2.2), three USB 2.0 ports, one composite video input, one RS-232 port, one RF antenna port, an Ethernet port, as well as a single optical audio output. The B9 has a built-in ATSC and Clear QAM television tuner. Wireless connection options include WiFi 802.11ac and Bluetooth 5.0 compatibility. Amazon Alexa and Google Assistant support is also present, and the TV boasts AirPlay 2 connectivity.
The B9 sports a native resolution of 3,840 x 2,160 pixels. This means the B9 is a true, native UltraHD 4K display. Since it is an OLED display, every pixel is functionally its own local dimming zone, meaning you get absolutely uniform lighting edge-to-edge, with no hotspots, blooming, or what have you. The B9 is compatible with a variety of HDR formats, including Dolby Vision, HDR10, and HLG. An α7 Gen 2 Intelligent Processor powers the B9's visual engine as well as its smart TV operating system, which is LG's own webOS.
The B9 replaced the fantastic Hisense H8F in my current rig. While the H8F may have been one of the more impressive displays of 2019 (so far) in terms of price-to-performance ratio, there's no confusing an OLED display once it's up on your wall. With the B9 mounted, I configured the built-in apps to my liking, including installing a few that don't come pre-loaded as standard.
I'm not wholly sure why LG doesn't use AndroidTV, instead opting for webOS, which if I'm being honest is like 90 percent AndroidTV. Google-based apps work great on webOS, same as they do on AndroidTV, and the same can be said for Netflix and Amazon. It's just that webOS doesn't really have a home screen, but rather a home bar that appears along the lower third of the screen. So, if you are one who relies on built-in streaming apps like me, you're limited to a lower-third experience laid over a black screen opposed to a full-screen entertainment landscape à la AndroidTV. But I digress.
Moving on, I set about measuring the B9's out of the box performance to see which, if any, of its picture modes are closest to accurate straight away. The B9 ships with its APS Energy picture mode engaged as standard, which is less than stellar. The APS picture mode is very biased towards blue both in white balance and color on the whole. Maximum brightness in this mode measured just over 800 Nits, so not exactly a barn burner.
Switching to Standard things didn't improve much with respect to white balance or color accuracy, though brightness did improve a bit. It wasn't until I switched to the Cinema picture mode that things became respectable. While not calibrated out of the box, Cinema was closest to "right" compared to all of the other options. The grayscale in the Cinema profile had a warm or red bias, but it wasn't too bad and carried a margin of error or Delta E of four throughout. Anything below three could be considered calibrated, so an average error of four isn't too shabby. Colors on the other hand were more or less perfect, all possessing Delta Es far below the threshold of human perception.
Max brightness in the Cinema mode measured 690 Nits. It should be noted these brightness figures are not HDR measurements, but rather what you can expect watching SD and HD content. When being fed an HDR signal, I measured the B9's maximum brightness to be around 1,400 Nits. So, not as bright as say Vizio's P-Series Quantum X, but enough to enjoy HDR content properly. I went ahead and measured all of the other picture profiles and found them to be less accurate than the Cinema profile--even the Technicolor Day and Night professional modes [[Editor's Note: According to Technicolor, the Technicolor Day and Night modes have a white point that is different (x = .300, y = .327) than the widely accepted white point in LG's movie mode (x = .3127, y = .329), because they believe that their white point most closely matches their reference monitor]]. My advice to potential new customers who don't own calibration tools: if you buy the B9, put it in its Cinema picture profile straight away and turn off all the dynamic adjustment options and enjoy. It's that simple.
For those who want to go to the extreme, you can calibrate the B9 to absolute perfection. Better still, if you use CalMAN, you can do it automatically, as you can connect the software directly to the B9 itself and have its complete calibration while you sip coffee, provided you have a compatible colorimeter and pattern generator as well, of course. The entire auto calibration process takes a bit of time (I think it took about 30 minutes start to stop for me), but when done, the B9 is essentially pixel perfect from a measurement standpoint. While I've seen LG, displays measure a little better out of the box, in the end, there is nothing that really separates the less expensive B9 from its costlier siblings in terms of achievable performance.
I kicked off my evaluation of the B9 with some YouTube TV content, beginning with some run of the mill cable news. Let's face it: we don't watch Ultra HD or HDR content 24/7; in fact, we don't even watch it 75 percent of the time. So, first and foremost, it was important for me to gauge how well the B9 handles more common video content.
While my YouTube TV subscription tops out at 1080p, I know that not every broadcast or remote camera uplink on the news is in 1080p. Many are 720p or, worse, 480. Thankfully, the B9's internal scaling engine is up to the task, and while lesser HD signals (720p and lower) did look softer compared to the 1080p studio feeds, it wasn't too bad. Skin tones on one notable three-letter networks looked natural in their color and rendering, with a surprising amount of realistic texture still present on the anchors' faces despite the image being upsampled to UHD. Upsampling HD to UHD can sometimes result in a bit of digital smoothening, which the B9 did a good job of keeping in check. Edge fidelity and sharpness were good and felt realistic, with only a few visible artifacts present. Tinkering with the B9's sharpness setting a little further all but eliminated any edge-related artifacting. While macroblocking could be seen in some of the on-location shots or during whip-pans, on a whole the morning broadcasts I chose to have on while eating breakfast were very pleasing indeed.
Moving on, I watched the Netflix-original movie In the Shadow of the Moon (Netflix), which was presented in Ultra HD HDR. I love the way dark scenes are rendered via an OLED display. There's just nothing like it. And while certain scenes did appear brighter via the LED LCD display that I also have in the house, none felt as true to life as when viewed through the B9. The richness to the low-light contrast of the B9's image is just so tasty.
The B9's low-light prowess also allows for its high-light performance to really shine, so while the display may not be the brightest on the market today, it's overall dynamic range goes a long way in making it appear brighter in the highlights than it likely is. Highlights were always well composed, nicely delineated, and never bloomy, which is to be expected for a display technology that lacks backlighting. Skin tones again were pixel perfect in both their color rendering as well as texture retrieval, though if I'm honest, HDR content on a whole tends to make people look a bit glossier than natural. The image on a whole was very dimensional, and given the B9's inherent sharpness and contrast, certain scenes bordered on feeling 3D.
Lastly, fast motion sequences were largely free of any judder or motion related artifacts; any and all artifacts present were due to the transfer or compression of the signal itself, and not the fault of the B9. Though experimenting with a few of the B9's compression adjustments in the menu did lessen some compression artifacts, though it did result in some detail smoothing.
I ended my evaluation of the B9 with the Luc Besson action flick Anna on Vudu in Dolby Vision UHD. This was the best overall demo of the B9 that I cued up, as the film had everything I look for when testing a display--everything except for being a good film, that is. Again, the B9's contrast, both in terms of grayscale and color, was just brilliant. It can be easy to overlook color contrast, as too often we look at contrast as being merely the difference between light and dark, black and white, and yet it's so much more than that. Color contrast, especially during the film's fashion-inspired sequences, looked brilliant, and the B9's handling of the gradations within each shade is something few displays at any price point can match.
Likewise, when it came time to sink my teeth into the film's grittier scenes, the low-light detail and texture rendering was up there with the very best. Skin tones looked, again, natural and true to life, likely more so in this film than my previous demos, as Besson didn't use a lot of super creative coloring, opting instead for a mostly natural pallet. Motion was smooth and artifact-free.
On a whole, I really found little if any fault with the B9's presentation of HD and Ultra HD content. I did not test it as a gaming monitor, as I am not a gamer, so I cannot speak to its input lag. But suffice to say that if you watch a lot of TV, sports broadcasts included, or movies, the B9 shouldn't disappoint. Lastly, we only have review units for so long, so I cannot comment on potential burn-in issues that many complain as being a drawback to OLED. If you're the type to fear burn-in, know that the B9 (as well as other LG OLED displays) have settings in the menu to combat this and make burn-in all but a non-issue.
The B9 is a great display, and when you consider its lower price compared to other LG OLED displays, it's hard to fault. Therefor the downsides I'm about to rattle off are extremely nitpicky and likely personal to me, as your feelings may differ.
For starters, I don't like webOS. I just don't. I wish LG would adopt AndroidTV, or, at the very least, extend their webOS app dashboard to full screen rather than as a lower third.
Second, every LG display (that I'm aware of) comes with the same remote, which I simply do not like. Its gesture based, meaning you often use it like a laser pointer, moving a cutesy cursor around your screen. Moreover, none of the keys are backlit and important functions such as volume or channel selection don't even have arrow buttons, but rather plus and minus soft keys that are near impossible to discern by touch. It's just a remote that I think is too tricky for its own good. I'm sure it won a lot of design awards for its shape, size, and unique appearance, but functionally, I'd rather have just about anything else.
Lastly, if you're one who only watches HDR content, you may find the B9's max brightness of about 1,400 Nits to be too dim for your liking. I don't feel that way, but with a few displays on the market today hitting 2,000 to 3,000 Nits of max brightness, you'll notice the difference between them and the B9. It's up to you whether or not that is important. For me, the B9's limited brightness was a non-issue, and I'm willing to bet for the majority of users, it's likely going to be a non-issue too.
Competition and Comparisons
There are only two companies that offer OLED displays on the market today: LG and Sony. Sony's OLED panels are built by LG, so really, the only direct competition the B9 has is with its costlier siblings. I tested the C9 earlier this year and found it to be an exemplary. Where it counts--picture quality--there really isn't much difference between the C9 and B9 models after calibration, so unless you want a display that is physically just a touch more beautiful than the B9, or perhaps five percent more accurate out of the box, I don't see a reason (now) to spring for the C9 over the B9. But then again, the C9 is a slightly better display on a whole and it's no longer that much more expensive, so it's going to be up to you in the end.
Granted, I may still choose a Sony OLED over an LG at times if for no other reason than Sony's adoption of AndroidTV, which I absolutely love. Other than that, there is going to be no difference in performance (really) between a Sony or comparably priced LG OLED display.
As for non-OLED displays, I still think the Sony X950G (reviewed here) may just be the best all-around display currently available, and its roughly the same price or cheaper than the B9 reviewed here. It's brighter, equally accurate, and has a better overall user experience in my opinion. But, I will go out on a limb and say that the reason why I think I still gravitate towards OLED over LED-backlit LCD, is that glass. There is something about looking at an image through glass rather than plastic that results in a certain unquantifiable something. I say unquantifiable because both sets measure and/or can be made to measure perfectly, and yet the visual experience from either is demonstrably not the same. So, you have to decide for yourself: Are you team OLED or do you prefer LED-backlit LCD?
With a suggested retail price of just under $2,200, the 65-inch B9 OLED Ultra HD display from LG is another home run for the brand. While OLED does still command a bit of a premium over it LED LCD brethren, that delta is quickly vanishing, and as a result the reasons for choosing one over the other is largely coming down to personal choice.
I think I will always side with OLED, as there is just something about viewing Ultra HD imagery through glass and without backlighting that even the best LED backlit displays still can't quite replicate. I know this is a non-scientific observation, but nevertheless it's how I see things. So, in that regard, the B9 is the OLED to beat, since it gives you the roughly the same overall experience as LG's costlier OLED displays (save for its new 8K models) but at a more approachable price.
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• LG OLED65C8PUA 4K HDR Smart OLED TV Reviewed at HomeTheaterReview.com.