We live in a golden age of television, both from a programming standpoint as well as a technological one. For me, the best display technology on the market today is OLED, and there are but two players in the space: LG and Sony. LG is the currently OEM, or Original Equipment Manufacturer, of all OLED TVs, so it stands to reason that the company would be king in the space. Well, yes and no. You see, while LG may provide the display technology, there is more to a display than just a panel, something Sony is quick to point out. Having recently reviewed not one but two Sony OLED displays, the A8F and the flagship A9F MASTER Series, it didn't seem possible (to me) that any display--even an OLED one--could upset that one-two punch. Enter the LG 65C8PUA OLED.
Looking for an overview of the best TVs on the market right now? Check out HomeTheaterReview's 4K/Ultra HD TV Buyer's Guide.
The OLED65C8PUA (C8) is LG's "third best" OLED offering, behind their flagship W8 SIGNATURE Series OLED and the E8 Series. All that being said, the C8 may just be where the rubber meets the road for LG, for on paper it seems to fall somewhere between Sony's A8F and MASTER Series in terms of specs, yet costs less than both of them at $2,799.99 for its 65-inch model at the time of writing. $2,799.99 is a price one might expect to see attached to a higher-end LED-backlit LCD or even a Quantum Dot based design, but not an OLED, and yet here we are.
The C8 comes in three sizes: 55, 65, and 77 inches diagonal, with the 65 inch being reviewed here. The 55-inch model sells for $1,999.99, with the 77-inch model topping out at $6,999.99 at the time of this writing. The 65-inch C8 is far and away the best-looking display I've reviewed in 2018 from purely a design point of view. Sure, the Sony MASTER Series is pretty damned gorgeous, but only if you use its kickstand-like stand, and only after a fair amount of assembly and hassle. The C8, on the other hand, is gorgeous and ready for exhibition at MoMA right out of the box.
The OLED65C8PUA measures 57 inches wide by 33 inches tall and a hair under two inches deep at its thickest point. It tips the scales at roughly 46 pounds without its included stand, and 56 pounds with it. Like most self-contained OLED displays, the C8 is thicker near the bottom than it is at the top. Roughly two-thirds of the display appears as if it is a single pane of glass with but a thin strip of black playing the role of bezel.
Around back and contained within an edge-to-edge hump, which is curved à la the walls of the Guggenheim, rests the C8's internal speakers and I/O ports. As far as inputs and outputs are concerned, the C8 has four HDMI inputs (HDCP 2.2) with the second HDMI input supporting ARC. There are three USB 2.0 inputs, an RF antenna/cable input, composite video input, Ethernet port, optical audio output, and an RS-232C mini jack.
The C8's panel boasts a native resolution of 3,840 x 2,160 pixels, also known as 4K/Ultra HD. It's compatible with four different flavors of HDR: Dolby Vision, Advanced HDR by Technicolor, HLG, and HDR10. The brains behind the display come in the form of LG's a9 Intelligent Processor, along with the webOS operating system. webOS is one of the key differentiators between the LG and Sony OLEDs, which rely upon AndroidTV. This is a good thing, as the C8's interface is snappier in every way, while still allowing for Google Assistant and Amazon Alexa integration. Obviously, Amazon Alexa devices are sold separately, but Google Assistant is built-in, and the TV will work with standalone Google Home devices, as well. Other wireless connection options include Bluetooth (4.2) and WiFi (802.11ac). There's also ATSC and Clear QAM tuners built-in. For more on the C8's other features, please visit the product page at LG's website.
The C8 arrived quite literally on the heels of the Sony MASTER Series OLED. Whereas the Sony was a bit of a beast to hang solo, the LG was not. Admittedly, hanging an OLED of any persuasion is a job better suited for two, though I was able to hang the C8 myself. The C8's sexy curves along its backside make handling it a little more of a chore compared to other TVs, but that's a small price to pay for such a well thought out design. Because the C8, like most OLEDs, is thicker near the base of the display, it puts the mounting points lower than what you'll find with LED/LCD displays--meaning an OLED may sit higher on your wall when compared to an LED/LCD display using the same mount.
Once on my wall, I connected the C8 to my Marantz NR1509 AV receiver via a single HDMI cable using its HDMI 2 input, which features ARC. I enabled HDMI CEC on both the Marantz and LG so that my entire setup, which also included a Roku Ultra, would easily and seamlessly be controlled by whatever remote was in hand, which typically belonged to the Roku.
Speaking of remotes--apparently there is a trend among display manufacturers to utilize a single remote across all of their products, and LG is no different. The remote that comes with the C8 is the same one you get with all LG OLED and Super UHD displays, as well as some standard UHD offerings. It's gesture based, meaning to navigate through many of the menus you use the remote much in the same way you would a laser pointer during an office presentation. Waving the remote side-to-side or up and down produces a cursor on the screen that follows in sync with your gestures. It takes some getting used to, and at first blush it's annoyingly cute. But after a while it's shockingly effective and rather zippy. I still wish the remote was a little nicer in terms of its build quality, but I cannot fault it outside of that. It's 100 percent functional and its interaction with the display is flawless.
I connected the C8 to my Google Home ecosystem as well, which allowed for hands-free voice activation of certain functions within the C8--mainly searching YouTube or YouTubeTV. Loudspeakers used during this review were from Davone Audio.
Once installed, connected, and powered up it was time to calibrate the C8. The Sony MASTER Series displays--OLED and LED alike--feature an auto calibration capability thanks to the good folks at SpectraCal. This doesn't mean that you can calibrate the Sony displays without specialty software and meters; it just means that with those tools, the software, and display can communicate with one another and do 99 percent of the heavy lifting for you. Thankfully, the LG C8 features similar functionality, though it is not widely advertised. Before I synced the C8 with SpectraCal, I took a few out-of-the-box measurements the old-fashioned way, i.e. manually.
I had reviewed another LG display, the SK9000, earlier this year and found that out of the box, in its Technicolor Expert picture profile, it was for all intents and purposes calibrated. I wanted to see if the same was true of the C8, so I measured its Technicolor profile out of the box and to my chagrin it was not. However, upon taking a series of initial measurements across all of the C8's picture profiles, I found a few to be close, and one to be near ideal. In truth, the C8's Cinema, Technicolor and ISF profiles all had near-perfect color measurements out of the box--it was their greyscales that lacked accuracy. However, in its Cinema profile, the C8 was the closest to correct, with Delta E under three with respect to its color, and a Delta E average of about four when it came to the greyscale.
Starting then with the Cinema profile, I connected the C8 to my CalMan software much in the same way I did with the Sony MASTER Series and set about auto calibrating the display. Unfortunately, I encountered a glitch in the software that impacted the greyscale measurements, resulting in a wildly inaccurate reading between the 15 and 35 percent PLUGE patterns--an area that measured far flatter out of the box or before the software began tweaking the white point automatically. I have since brought this to the attention of both LG and SpectraCal, who promised they are looking into it.
Resetting the software and the C8 itself returned everything to normal, and I set about calibrating the C8 manually. Post-calibration, I was able to dial the C8 quite nicely, with color accuracy carrying a Delta E of less than one and greyscale sitting at about one-and-a-half. In other words, the C8 measured similarly--if not identical--to that of Sony's MASTER Series OLED.
So, what does all this mean? Out of the box and in its Cinema profile, the C8 manages to be 90 to 95 percent calibrated, with plenty of light output for standard and HDR viewing. Post-calibration, the C8 can be made perfect (or as close to it as I've seen) with still more than enough light output for HDR viewing, with nearly 700 Nits on tap.
I began my evaluation of the C8 with Marvel's Ant-Man and The Wasp (Marvel Studios) on Vudu in UHD. The HDR picture (once acquired) was positively brilliant, though at first blush looked decidedly blue in tone compared to the image I saw prior to the HDR signal being acquired. Pulling up the menu revealed that upon sensing an HDR image, the C8 defaulted to its Technicolor picture profile--albeit adjusted for an HDR presentation. Switching it back to my calibrated Cinema (User) profile removed the blue color bias and I was able to continue without further disruption.
The film's psychedelic sequences inside the quantum realm were vibrant and punchy in their color rendering and saturation. Despite the realm being comprised of various shades of reds and purples, all with varying degrees of transparency, there was still clear color contrast and delineation throughout, which helped maintain a truer sense of three-dimensional depth and realism. When the action returned to the real world, the color pallet was still natural and well saturated, it just came down off its LSD high quite a bit, which was good.
The real world had a decidedly muted pallet in comparison to the quantum realm and Pym's lab, though skin tones looked appropriately warm and natural, with terrific detail and texture on all of the characters. The film's more fun action sequences, like the one early on at the upscale restaurant, were a sight to behold. Motion was fluid and free of any artifacts or ghosting--apart from the deliberate "ghosting" of the film's villain, Ghost. The rapid pans mixed with the constant over/under cranking of the film's playback speed caused nary a hiccup with respect to the C8's motion performance.
Moving on, I cued up a current favorite of mine, The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel (Amazon Studios). This episodic period comedy presented in Ultra HD is a feast for the senses. Via the C8, the 1950's period aesthetic, specifically the set and costume design, simply popped off the screen. Contrast is a key element in an image appearing sharp and three-dimensional. The image quality of Maisel is next level in my opinion, appearing both sharp and decidedly modern, whilst still remaining true to its time period. Skin tones--albeit softened for effect--looked radiant. The detail in the characters' wardrobes was so astutely rendered via the C8 that each fiber could likely be counted well into the hundreds if not thousands. Likewise, the individual hairs that made up the many hairstyles of the female cast.
Edge fidelity, of which contrast also plays a role, was equal to what I had observed via the Sony MASTER Series OLED, which is to say that there was a true roundness and dimensionality to the characters and the spaces they inhabited. I had planned on sitting to watch just one episode for the purpose of this review, but the experience was so compelling that I ended up binging several.
I ended my evaluation of the C8 with the action comedy, The Spy Who Dumped Me (Lionsgate) in HDR UHD on Vudu. While the film may not be Citizen Kane, it was a fun and colorful romp via the C8. For starters the film's sequences inside a cheesy neighborhood bar were beautiful, despite attempts to make the location look like a dive. Colors were rich, punchy, and nicely saturated--altogether realistic in their portrayal--although they were far too art-directed and perfectly arranged to convince anyone watching that the space was real.
That being said, everything from the lighting to the over-the-top wardrobes featured in the scene looked just brilliant through the C8. Likewise, the film's main cast, led by Mila Kunis and Kate McKinnon, all looked their very best, though McKinnon was often played over the top (as per the character) with respect to makeup and whatnot. I just love how skin looks via a good OLED display, and the C8 proved no exception. During the film's darker scenes, like inside the interrogation van, or during the Cirque du Soleil sequence, the C8's command of shadow and low-light contrast was equal to that of the very best I've seen from OLED. The presence of absolute black mixed with ample brightness meant tracking action in low light scenes was easy, with nary a sign of artifacting.
A few things to note outside of my critical evaluation of the C8's performance: first, I didn't encounter any burn-in with respect to logos or chyrons. I think earlier generation OLEDs may have suffered burn-in, but it would appear that LG has found ways to keep that from occurring. Second, there have been reports of spontaneous OLED panel dimming with the Sony OLEDs, which means said anomaly should be present with LG displays as well. Maybe it has to do with our limited time with review units being partially to blame, but I didn't encounter this phenomenon with any of the Sony OLEDs, nor did I witness it with the LG C8. I do not know how limited or widespread the dimming problem is, but suffice to say I did not encounter it. I should point out that I also disable any and all dynamic backlighting or contrast enhancing features when reviewing a display regardless of its make or model, so maybe this is also why I have yet to experience this widely publicized glitch. Again, I have only heard of this issue with the Sony OLEDs, and it was not an issue during my time with the LG C8 OLED.
I found little fault with the C8 during my evaluation, but no product is perfect, so here comes some nitpicking. LG's whole onscreen interface and webOS is just too cute for my tastes, and I'm not the only one; I do believe my girlfriend despises it more than I do. We both feel the same about the gesture based remote, though I do think there is some merit to it once you look past its Angry Birds style cursor.
I don't like how the C8 goes black for a good few seconds when switching between standard and HDR content. The C8 is also a little slow on the uptake when it comes to acquiring and playing back an HDR signal, which with certain films may mean you miss out on the initial few seconds of content, as was the case with Ant-Man and the Wasp. Also, the C8's HDR picture defaults to the last used HDR picture profile each and every time it senses an HDR signal. I calibrated the Cinema profile; however, the initial default HDR profile is Technicolor Expert. Had I not noticed the clear color shift, I would've thought my calibration was wrong. Turns out that once I was in the C8's HDR mode I simply needed to switch the picture profile back to Cinema. Once I did this, it defaulted to Cinema each and every time.
The display's speakers suck, and that's all I have to say about that.
Lastly--and this may be a result of LG's proprietary ThinQ smart home platform, or maybe it just means LG is staying on top of things for its customers--no other TV in recent memory has prompted me to do updates like the C8. It seemed like two to three times a week I was getting on screen prompts notifying me that an update was available and would I like to download it? Firmware updates are great, because it means you can fix issues or make dated tech more current, but constant updates are annoying. I cannot imagine why a Tuesday update can't be rolled into the Thursday one so that I'm only prompted once a week.
If these sound like first world problems they are, because honestly the C8 is f-ing brilliant.
Competition and Comparisons
The most obvious question that most readers are probably asking is: how does the C8 compare to the Sony MASTER Series, the current "king" of the OLED displays? Take away all the hyperbole and marketing and there is little that the MASTER Series (reviewed here) offers that you can't also get with the C8. In terms of their picture quality, there is virtually no difference between them. I'm not suggesting the C8 is the better display, but I am saying it's a way better value, since it's $1,700 cheaper than the MASTER Series and has (arguably) the same image quality. With respect to the Sony A8F (reviewed here), Sony's "lesser" or cheaper OLED, the C8 is also as good and is still less expensive, this time by a grand. Unlike either Sony model, the C8 can also be had in sizes greater than 65 inches, which I wish I could see in my home, since I really do think that would be something special indeed.
In my humble opinion, the C8 simply trounces all LED backlit LCD displays. I just don't think one can honestly compare the two display technologies in an apples-to-apples fashion--they just look different. Do I like LED backlit LCD displays, especially those that employ Quantum Dot tech? Yes, I absolutely do, and if you like brighter imagery and better response times, say for sports or gaming, then you need to consider a LED-backlit LCD over that of an OLED. Since I'm not a gamer nor an avid watcher of sports, I simply prefer OLED. LED-backlit LCD displays that have class-leading picture quality that deserve to be considered alongside the likes of the C8 or Sony's MASTER Series OLED include, Samsung's Q9FN (reviewed here), Vizio's P-Series Quantum, and LG's own SK90 displays.
At a penny under $2,800 retail, the LG OLED65C8PUA is nothing if not a reference-level bargain. Possessing (arguably) the same overall picture quality of costlier OLEDs, specifically Sony's A8F and MASTER Series, the C8 manages to be more than just a lower priced alternative, boasting sexier styling and a snappier webOS interface compared to the competition.
Yes, the C8 is not without its faults, mainly a gesture based remote, cutesy menu structure, and subpar internal sound; but where it counts--picture quality--the C8 stands toe-to-toe with the very best.
So where does that leave us? Is the C8 better than all other OLEDs on the market today? Yes and no. If it were me and my money, and having had the opportunity to review them all, I'd just assume have the very best picture quality money could buy but for $1,700 less than what the other guy was charging for it. That doesn't make the C8 better per se, but it does (potentially) make it the more intelligent purchase for a lot of shoppers.
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•LG 55SK9000PUA Ultra HD LED Smart TV Reviewed at HomeTheaterReview.com.