Spring and Summer is typically when the new displays announced at the end of the previous year -- specifically at CES -- tend to begin shipping. 2020 is no different, except of course for the presence of COVID-19 and the massive disruptor it has been, not only in our everyday lives but in manufacturing as well. Sheltering at home does have its advantages, though, especially if you're a TV manufacturer, as people have a fair amount of time on their hands and they're filling it with watching their favorite television shows or movies. In fact, television viewing is up across the board in US households, regardless of what folks choose to tune into. So with TVs very much in demand, the question becomes: can manufacturers get a new 2020-model TV into your shopping cart given all the logistical delays? If you're LG, the answer would appear to be "yes."
The LG NanoCell 90 Series, specifically the 65NANO90UNA reviewed here, is available in store but more importantly online through authorized retailers like Walmart. The 90 Series comes in four sizes: 55-, 65-, 75-, and 86-inch. LG sent along a 65-inch model for the purposes of this review, which carries a suggested retail price of $1,499.99.
The 90 Series is LG's flagship 4K Nanocell LED backlit LCD display. NanoCell is similar to QLED or quantum dot technology, in that a layer or filter is used between on top of the LCD stack in order to filter out impurities between colors for better color. The filter also absorbs ambient light and reduces reflectivity, which helps with contrast performance. This type of technology is used to sort of bridge the gap between LED backlit displays and OLED. Now, it should be noted that the 90 Series utilizes a IPS panel instead of the non-IPS panels found in, say, Samsung displays.
NanoCell or quantum dot-based displays can be brighter than their OLED counterparts, which is good for HDR viewing, all the while improving contrast and, in some cases, black level detail -- two hallmarks of OLED's performance. NanoCell coupled with the 90 Series' full array local dimming does help it to achieve OLED like performance, but let's not mince words here: no LED-based anything is going to beat OLED... yet. But if you're wondering whether or not you should consider an LG display with or without the NanoCell tech, it doesn't hurt, it just costs a little more at the register.
Back to the 90 Series itself. Like most all LG displays released in the past few years, the 90 Series is an absolute stunner. For a sub $1,500 display its build quality, industrial design, and overall attention to detail rivals that of LG's own OLED displays as well as Samsung's flagship QLED models, both of which cost considerably more. While the front of any modern TV is a decidedly spartan affair -- the 90 Series is no different -- it is around back where things get very sexy.
The back of any TV has always been an afterthought for good reason. After all, how many of us look at the back of our TVs? The rear facade of the 90 Series is as well-finished and appointed as its front, though, making the 90 Series one of the few displays I would be open to showcasing in an open space. The smooth, brushed aluminum-like finish of the rear of the TV is marred only by its minimally invasive I/O panel.
Speaking of I/O, the 90 Series has a complete set of input/output options available to users. All inputs and outputs are located along the same asymmetrical cut-out on the TV's back panel, with some facing down and others facing out to the right side (when viewing the TV from behind). Starting with the downward facing I/O panel, you'll find an RS-232C port, an analog audio/video in (3.5mm jack), antenna/cable in, digital audio out (optical), Ethernet jack, and USB input. Along the side panel you'll find two additional USB inputs, and four HDMI (HDCP 2.2) inputs. HDMI input 3 is equipped with eARC/ARC. Throw in a detachable power cord and you have the 90 Series all sewn up in terms of its wired connectivity. It should be noted that while not a physical connection, the 90 Series can also connect to peripherals and/or stream content via Bluetooth and WiFi.
Under the hood, the 90 Series employs an α7 Gen 3 Processor 4K, which handles all of the heavy lifting the TV does with respect to its AI picture, upscaling, and sound capabilities. Because the 90 Series is a UHD native display, that is to say it has a native resolution of 3,840 pixels across by 2,160 pixels high, all non-4K signals are automatically upscaled to 4K/Ultra HD. The 90 Series is compatible with three different flavors of HDR: Dolby Vision, HDR10 and HLG. Dolby Vision IQ as well as HDR Dynamic Tone Mapping functionality is also present on the 90 Series. LG states that the refresh rate of the 90 Series is 120Hz native -- not to be confused with its TruMotion 240 claims.
Refresh rates are of critical importance to gamers, so along with a native refresh rate of 120Hz, the 90 Series also boasts AMD's FreeSync technology, as well as ALLM, VRR, and HGiG support. I am not a gamer, so I cannot comment on just how the 90 Series' Auto Low Latency Modes, Variable Refresh Rates, HgiG, and FreeSync tech perform during actual gameplay, but suffice to say, these are welcomed additions to anyone who may choose to game on a display as large as the 90 Series reviewed here.
The 90 Series is a Smart TV through and through, and employs LG's venerable webOS. It features Alexa and Google Assistant built in, and supports Apple's AirPlay 2 and Homekit ecosystems. I love Smart TVs, as they allow me to cut out source components almost entirely, and the full suite of included apps offered pre-installed or through LG's own app store means I am in streaming video and music heaven. If you want to know more about the 90 Series' webOS interface or any of its higher specifications I would encourage you to visit the 90 Series' product page.
The 90 Series replaced my personal reference display, Hisense's H8G which is a quantum dot-based, full array LED backlit LED. The Hisense is a great budget performer so I was keen to see how the LG compared.
With the LG on the wall, I took a full minute to admire the fact that it's a truly beautiful looking display even when powered off. It likely is the most "OLED looking" LED display I've seen to date. Once powered up, I was treated to many of the same easy-to-follow prompts designed to get first-time users up and running with their new 90 Series in short order. With all my account info entered and the display connected to my home network I sat down for a calibration session. The only hang-up here was the remote, the one aspect of any new LG display that I keep hoping will be updated. If you've read any of my previous LG display reviews you know I am not a fan of the company's gesture-based control and the new 90 Series uses the same remote LG has had now for two years. I'm not going to harp on it. It is what it is. It's just not for me.
Out of the box, the LG ships in an "eco friendly" picture preset that is pure garbage. Typically, on LG displays, the Cinema preset is the most accurate out of the box, so I went ahead and skipped ahead to measuring that preset first above all others.
From the factory, the Cinema preset has a slight blue bias to its white balance which is only (really) noticeable in brighter white PLUGE patterns. Still, colors from the factory in the Cinema preset are basically calibrated, which is to say their margin of error falls below that of human perception. So, like with other LG panels I've tested in the past, the 2020 90 Series is nearly calibrated out of the box in its Cinema preset. In all honesty, I'd say the Cinema preset is 95 percent calibrated without any tinkering, so if you don't have the additional money for professional calibration, users should use this picture preset and disable any and all dynamic viewing aides, including all dynamic backlighting, contrast, and motion interpolation controls, and just enjoy the show.
There are other, more "calibration friendly" picture profiles present, such as ISF Day and Night modes, but honestly, these measured differently from of the box compared to the Cinema preset, which is why I recommend the latter as a jumping or starting off point. (In our last few LG display reviews, the company let us know that Technicolor uses a white point (x = .300, y = .327) that is different than the widely accepted white point used in the Cinema preset (x = .3127, y = .329). One assumes this still accounts for the differences.)
New for 2020 is the presence of a Filmmaker Mode, which was developed in partnership with the UHD Alliance, Inc. Filmmaker Mode is a picture preset that seeks to give users the most accurate picture straightaway, or one that is most in line with the filmmaker's intent. Out of the box, this mode measures almost identical to that of Cinema with one key difference, which is light output. In its Cinema mode, the 90 Series measures roughly 650 Nits when fed a 100 percent brightness PLUGE pattern. In its Filmmaker Mode, this same pattern measures a meager 275 Nits. The difference in light output with non-HDR content from Cinema to Filmmaker Mode is noticeable. Yes, you can adjust the brightness/backlighting of Filmmaker Mode to taste or to match that of Cinema, but in doing so are you (the user) defeating the purpose of the mode itself? I don't pretend to know, but should you choose to use Filmmaker Mode. you will be treated to an accurate image with very good black rendering, you just may find the image overall to be rather lacking in terms of brightness. But in Filmmaker Mode you don't have to worry about which extraneous features to disable, as they are all disabled automatically. When viewing HDR content, the change in brightness between Cinema and Filmmaker Mode is non-existent, as the TV pushes things to 11 in order to wring the most brightness from the display.
Post calibration and still using the Cinema mode as a starting-off point, I was able to make the LG "perfect" with respect to its white point and color accuracy with little additional effort. I was even able to improve its overall light output a bit, while still retaining the presence of absolute black. Like with prior LG LEDs, the largest errors I found came when measuring dark, dark grey PLUGE patterns, specifically those between say 20 to 40 percent. While these patterns measured well enough -- arguably below the threshold of human perception -- the greatest errors were found here.
Starting with 1080p content, I cued up the restored John Hughes classic, Ferris Bueller's Day Off (Paramount) on Netflix. This is one of the best remasters I've seen in a long time, which is fitting for one of the 80s' most iconic comedies. Straight away, the image delivered by the 90 Series display looked positively brilliant.
I was pleased to see the team charged with updating the film's visuals didn't try to turn it into something it's not -- digital. Likewise, I liked that the upscaling present inside the 90 Series also didn't rob the movie of its film roots. Present was all of the organic grain structure of the original print. The same held true of its Eastman color film stock, which resulted in subtlety enhanced colors and contrast throughout, without too much editorialization. Despite being a nearly 35-year-old film, the image looked positively three-dimensional at times, with terrific natural edge fidelity, sharpness, and texture throughout. Motion was smooth. though admittedly I only watched with all of the 90 Series' motion enhancements turned off, as I cannot stand motion interpolation. Between my calibrated Cinema setting and the stock Filmmaker Mode preset, I did prefer my calibrated profile, as I found it to be more engaging from a backlighting standpoint, one that resulted in a far more dimensional image edge-to-edge. That being said, the Filmmaker Mode did appear accurate to my eyes, and likely more closely resembled that of a projected image in terms of light output.
Moving on to HDR content, I fired up the sci-fi thriller Underwater (20th Century Fox) on Vudu. Underwater is presented in native 4K using HDR10, which again looked brilliant via the 90 Series. The film takes place entirely, as its name would lead you to believe, underwater, and as a result is a dark film, one that admittedly could do with a bit more low-light contrast. This last gripe is not a commentary on the 90 Series' performance but rather a critique on the film itself, as many critics have commented on this problem. Still, if you want to see if your display is up to snuff in the low-light or black-level arenas, Underwater is a great torture test.
While the 90 Series didn't manage OLED-like levels of performance, it came close -- shockingly close. I'm not going to lie: the film looked great and the HDR rendering was very natural throughout, and not overly favoring the highlights in the face of so much darkness. I did find that if I re-engaged the dynamic backlighting or local dimming settings, the contrast between the brightest areas of the screen and the darkest ones could become or feel too artificial, but disabling these features curbed this. Conversely, putting the display into its Filmmaker Mode also did away with this phenomenon.
While the 90 Series may not be a light cannon compared to say a Vizio P Series Quantum X, it possessed more than enough light output to watch Underwater in ambient light conditions and make the experience not only worthwhile but engaging. There really isn't much else to comment on with respect to the 90 Series' color rendition in this film, as Underwater is decidedly monochromatic in its palettes. But, the inherent sharpness as it relates to texture, specifically the weathered armor found on the characters' dive suits, was just splendid to behold.
I ended my evaluation of the 90 Series with a general mix of streaming video via YouTube and YouTube TV, as this is what a lot of us are watching nowadays while sheltering in place. Network broadcasts not shot from the anchor's living room continued to look first-rate, but all of the 90 Series' upscaling prowess couldn't massage 480i or 720p webcam material into anything truly professional looking.
That being said, the 90 Series is a great display to show just how wide the delta is between some of the best YouTubers and the networks themselves when the latter doesn't have an entire crew to fall back on. Content from the likes of Marques Brownlee, who often shoots in 8K via his RED Cinema camera, looked brilliant through the 90 Series, putting both studios and broadcasts from the likes of NBC, CBS, and Fox to utter shame during this strange time for mass media.
Which brings me to my final point: as the centerpiece of a modern media room setup the 90 Series is not only a capable performer, it's arguably one of the best on the market today.
No display is perfect, though the 90 Series repeatedly proved to be among the better examples of an LED-backlit LCD on the market today. Still, in comparison to similarly equipped quantum dot displays from the likes of Vizio or Samsung, the 90 Series is not as bright as those two, which may or may not be a deal breaker for some. For me, it's not an issue, as I don't like the look of a display that is overly bright, but if you have a lot of ambient light in your room, or you just like a super bright HDR image, then the LG is likely not going to be for you.
In terms of usability, I am not a fan of webOS. I much prefer Android TV or Roku as a native UI, with webOS falling just above Vizio's atrocious SmartCast UI. webOS is functional, in that it does work and for the most part it is very snappy, but it is just a bit too cutesy and clunky for my tastes. I say clunky because the remote sometimes adds a level of difficulty to simple commands that just doesn't really happen with less interactive displays.
Competition and Comparisons
At roughly $1,500 retail for a 65-inch model, the 90 Series faces some stiff competition, especially from the likes of Hisense, Vizio, and Sony (of which LG provides some measure of manufacturing support for). Starting with Hisense, the new H8G is nearly half the price for a similarly spec'd model, and while it may not have the LG's native refresh rate or FreeSync tech, the two share more similarities than differences -- not to mention they measure almost identically out of the box in their Cinema modes. They're also pretty evenly matched with respect to light output. So, while the LG is snappier throughout its menus and does a marginally better job upscaling lower-resolution content to 4K, it has to work hard to justify being worth double the price.
Vizio's P Series Quantum X, on the other hand, costs about 33 percent less than the LG, but boasts almost three times the light output as the 90 Series. Now, I may not be the biggest fan of Vizio's UI or OS (I loathe it), but there is no denying Vizio's value proposition and why it continues to be the value LED backed LCD to beat, especially when it comes to enjoying HDR content in any lighting condition.
Lastly, there is Sony's fabulous X950H. These two are a bit more evenly matched, though I give the slight nod to Sony based on my tests, despite preferring the industrial design of the LG to the Sony hands down. The Sony does utilize Android TV for its OS, which makes the user experience that much better (in my opinion) for those not choosing to rely on third party peripherals for their source material. But when it comes down to picture quality, the Sony and LG are very, very evenly matched.
The LG 65NANO90UNA 90 Series 65-inch Class 4K Smart TV for 2020 is phenomenal and a notable improvement over the previous year's model. The industrial design of the 90 Series is divine, and holds its own nicely against arguably the sexiest displays, which are LG's own OLED models.
In terms of performance, the 90 Series holds its own against OLED, inching ever closer to that technology's party piece, which is natural or true-to-life contrast and black levels. In terms of color accuracy and brightness, there is nothing in it, as the 90 Series is equal to that of its OLED brethren. So, while the 90 Series may not win an all-out brightness competition against, say, Samsung or Vizio's quantum dot models, within its wheelhouse the LG is among the best there is on the market today. Honestly, my only gripe with it now is that I wish LG had sent along the 75- or even 86-inch model for review, as there would be no way I'd let it return. In an increasingly crowded and confusing field of capable Ultra HD displays, the 90 Series from LG deserves to be on your short list of contenders.
• Visit the LG website for more product information.
• Check out our TV Reviews category page to read similar reviews.
• LG 65B9PUA 65-Inch OLED Ultra HD Display Reviewed at HomeTheaterReview.com.