July 2, 2020

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LG OLED CX TV review: The picture against which all other TVs are measured

By this point there’s no question whether OLED-based TVs have the best picture quality available:...

By this point there’s no question whether OLED-based TVs have the best picture quality available: they do. In my opinion they’re definitely worth the extra money compared to other high-end TVs. The only question that matters is, if you can afford an OLED TV, which one should you buy? LG is the OLED leader and its 2020 CX series achieves as impressive a picture as any TV I’ve ever tested, but right now it’s not the best answer to that question.

Like

  • Better picture quality than any non-OLED TV.
  • Superior contrast and off-angle image.
  • Slim design and packed with features.

Don’t Like

  • Expensive.
  • Not appreciably better than cheaper 2019 models.

After reviewing the CX, the TV that I recommend most OLED shoppers buy instead is the LG B9 from 2019. I compared the two LG OLEDs side-by-side in my spanking new basement TV lab, and it was really tough to tell the difference between them in picture quality. My measurements sussed out some slight variations, and watching some low-quality material gave a vanishingly small edge to the CX, perhaps because of its improved processing. 

But that’s tiny potatoes compared to the huge price difference between the two right now — $600 to $800 for the 65-inch size, depending on where you shop. The price gap will shrink as the CX gets discounted and the B9 sells out later this year, but even then another TV will remain less expensive and likely a better value as well: the 2020 BX series. Look for CNET’s review of that TV soon.

My other comparison TV was the TCL 8-Series, which has the best picture quality of any non-OLED TV I’ve recently reviewed. It’s a superb performer and brighter then either OLED, but both the B9 and CX beat it for overall picture quality. Every OLED TV I’ve ever reviewed exhibits the true black levels, infinite contrast and near-perfect off-angle performance that makes images come to life like no other TV technology you can buy. 


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LG CX OLED TV review: Awesome picture, high price



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Get to know the LG CX series

  • It’s pronounced “C-10” because LG wants to be like Apple I guess.
  • It comes in 48-, 55-, 65- and 77-inch sizes. The 48-inch model is new for 2020.
  • As usual for OLED TVs, the 77-inch model is proportionally more expensive, at nearly twice the price of the 65-incher. Competing 75-inch LCD-based TVs are much more affordable. 
  • The 2020 CX adds a few extras that the B9 is missing, namely an improved image processor, compatibility with AMD FreeSync and a new Filmmaker picture mode. Otherwise they’re basically the same.
  • The only differences I noted between the B9 and CX are slightly different stand designs and LG’s processing. As I mentioned above, I don’t think the CX’s slight image quality advantage is worth the price difference.
  • OLED display technology is fundamentally different from the LED LCD technology used in the vast majority of today’s TVs, including Samsung’s QLED models.
  • The best LCD TVs I’ve reviewed so far, like the TCL 8-Series and Vizio P-Series Quantum X, scored a “9” in image quality. At times they were brighter in HDR than the OLEDs, but otherwise the OLEDs’ images were superior in almost every way.
  • All OLED TVs are more subject to both temporary and permanent image retention, aka burn-in, than LCD TVs. We at CNET don’t consider burn-in a reason for most people to avoid buying an OLED TV, however. Check out our guide to OLED burn-in for more.

Not much has changed with LG’s design. The panel on the B9, the CX and other recent OLED sets is still vanishingly thin when seen from the side, about a quarter-inch deep, with a chunkier section at the bottom that juts out another 1.75 inches. That section houses the inputs, power supply, speakers and other depth-eating TV components.

From the front it’s pure TV minimalism. There’s less than a half-inch of black frame around the top and sides of the picture itself. Then there’s a bit more below, but no trace of silver, no “LG” or any other logo at all. 

The CX’s stand is very similar to the C9’s, its angled edges and medium width across the bottom of the screen. It’s more heavily weighted than the B9 on the rear to (I presume) better resist tipping forward. That said, I’ve never had any fear of the B9 tipping forward, and I always recommend using a TV safety strap if you have kids.

LG CX OLED TV

David Katzmaier/CNET

Solid app and voice support

LG’s webOS menu system is also basically unchanged from last year. It still lacks the innovative extras and app-based setup of Samsung’s Tizen system and falls well short of the app coverage of Roku TV or Sony’s Android TV. If you want more apps, your best bet is to get an external streamer, although only a handful, including the Apple TV 4K, Amazon Fire TV Stick 4K and Nvidia Shield can support Dolby Vision and Dolby Atmos. Meanwhile LG’s apps for Netflix, Amazon, Disney Plus and Vudu all support Dolby Vision and Dolby Atmos, while Apple TV app supports Vision but not Atmos. Using the TV’s built-in apps gets you the highest-quality video and audio from those services, no external streamer required.

The remote tracks the motion of your hand to whip quickly around the screen, something that’s particularly helpful when signing into apps or searching using an onscreen keyboard. The scroll wheel is also great for moving through apps, like those seemingly infinite thumbnail rows on Netflix and Amazon.

LG CX OLED TV

David Katzmaier/CNET

LG’s TVs are still the only devices that let you use both Google Assistant and Amazon Alexa. The main mic button invokes Google Assistant while a long-press of the Amazon button gets you Alexa. Both can do all the usual Assistant stuff, including control smart home devices, answer questions and respond via a voice coming out of the TV’s speakers (yep, both voices). Basics like “What’s the weather?” works as you’d expect from either assistant, complete with onscreen feedback. 

The CX also works with Apple’s AirPlay 2 system, just like many other TVs including 2019 models like the B9. I was able to fire up my iPhone to share photos and video to the screen from the Photos app as well as mirror my Mac and phone screens. The LG also has the Apple TV app, of course.

Key features

Display technology OLED
LED backlight N/A
Resolution 4K
HDR compatible HDR10 and Dolby Vision
Smart TV webOS
Remote Motion

The feature-packed CX includes just about everything that matters in a modern TV. LG says the new A9 Gen 3 chip — included on the CX but not on the B9 or BX — has improved deep learning chops and “AI picture Pro” enhancements. I didn’t notice any major benefits from the processor in my testing. 

New for 2020 is the Filmmaker Mode, which takes the place of the Technicolor Expert modes of years past. As promised it turns off the Soap Opera Effect for film-based content (yay) but so do many other modes in the CX, including Cinema, ISF and Dolby Vision itself (yes, this TV has a LOT of picture modes). While plenty-accurate it’s also relatively dim so I ended up using Cinema and ISF Bright for most critical viewing.

All of LG’s 2019 and 2020 OLED models include the latest version of the HDMI standard: 2.1. That means their HDMI ports can handle 4K at 120fps, support enhanced audio return channel (eARC) as well as two gamer-friendly extras: variable refresh rate (VRR) and automatic low latency mode (ALLM, or auto game mode). Check out HDMI 2.1: What you need to know for details. I didn’t test any of these features yet for this review.

Speaking of VRR, the B9 and CX also support the Nvidia G-Sync standard. One difference between the two, however, is that only 2020 models like the CX will also support AMD FreeSync.

Bear with me, normal readers, because there is one ultra-technical downgrade on the CX compared to the 2019 C9. As reported by Forbes, the new model’s HDMI ports support 4K at 120fps up to 40Gbps (10 bits), while last year they went up to the full 48Gbps (12 bits). In a statement, LG told CNET that “the market situation evolution indicated that real content that requires 48Gbps is not available in the market.” The only devices that might look better at 12-bit compared to 10-bit are next-generation consoles like the PlayStation 5 and Xbox One Series X, but I’d be surprised if it makes a big difference. 

LG CX OLED TV

David Katzmaier/CNET

The selection of connections is otherwise top-notch. Unlike many of Samsung’s sets, this one actually has an analog video input for legacy (non-HDMI) devices, although it no longer supports analog component video. There’s also a dedicated headphone/analog audio output.

  • Four HDMI inputs with HDMI 2.1, HDCP 2.2
  • Three USB ports
  • Composite video/audio input
  • Optical digital audio output
  • Analog audio 3.5mm headphone output
  • RF (antenna) input
  • RS-232 port (minijack, for service only)
  • Ethernet (LAN) port

Picture quality comparisons

LG CX OLED TV

David Katzmaier/CNET

Normally I’m able to compare a TV against four or five others side-by-side, but during coronavirus lockdown the size of my basement — and limited access to comparison TVs — reduced that number to two. Happily they were two of the best TVs of 2019, the B9 OLED and the TCL 8-Series. As I mentioned above the CX and B9 were basically tied, with image quality that deserves a score of 10/10, while the TCL fell a bit short of both. 

Click the image at the right to see the picture settings used in the review and to read more about how this TV’s picture controls worked during calibration.

Dim lighting: Lined up in my darkened basement TV lab, the CX immediately distinguished itself from the LCD-based TCL but not so much from its sister LG OLED. Between the two OLED TVs I didn’t spot any major differences. 

Watching the 1080p Blu-ray of Parasite, the trademark perfect black levels and superior contrast of OLED were an upgrade in punch and realism. Every scene benefited, but as usual the darker ones showed the largest differences. As the Parks discuss the transgressions of their chauffeur in Chapter 4, for example, colors of their faces, clothes and the surrounding kitchen looked, well, richer and more realistic. In extremely dark scenes like Park Dong-ik’s ride in the back of the car, the difference was even more evident in a side-by-side comparison.

Shadow detail was excellent on the CX and overall dark areas still looked significantly more realistic than with the TCL. Pro tip: In my recommended picture mode, Cinema, bump up Brightness from 50 to 52 to reclaim those shadows while still preserving perfect black levels.

Bright lighting: No major changes here: The CX was as bright as previous LG OLEDs and significantly dimmer than high-end LCDs.

Light output in nits

TV Brightest (SDR) Accurate color (SDR) Brightest (HDR) Accurate color (HDR)
Vizio PX65-G1 1,990 1,120 2,908 2,106
TCL 65Q825 1,653 904 1,818 982
Samsung QN65Q80R 1,443 832 1,494 1,143
TCL 65R625 653 578 881 813
LG OLED65C9 (2019) 451 339 851 762
LG OLED65CX (2020) 377 290 690 634
LG OLED65B9 (2019) 374 283 628 558

LG OLEDs from 2019 and 2020 have a setting called Peak Brightness that boosts the light output for SDR sources in Cinema and Expert modes. The idea is to increase contrast for brighter viewing environments while maintaining the superior color accuracy of those modes. As with most TVs, the brightest mode for HDR and SDR (Vivid on the CX) is horribly inaccurate. For the accurate color columns above I used ISF Expert Bright (Peak Brightness: High) for SDR and Filmmaker mode for HDR — I recommend CX owners do the same to get good color in bright rooms.

Overall, the OLED sets are still plenty bright enough for just about any viewing environment. Yes, they do get quite a bit dimmer than the LCDs when showing full-screen white — a hockey game, for example — but even in those situations they’re hardly dim.

The CX and B9 preserved black levels and reduced reflections very well — better than the TCL. I didn’t compare a Samsung directly for this review but in the past that brand’s high-end models have delivered the best bright-room performance overall.

Color accuracy: Before my standard calibration, the ISF Expert, Cinema and Filmmaker modes were already super accurate, among the best I’ve seen, and afterward the CX was as accurate as I’d expect. As usual, OLED’s superior black levels also improved the perception of color saturation compared to the LCD other displays. Bright colors like the fruit on the Parks’ countertop or the green of their backyard in Chapter 11 were lush and vibrant, while skin tones like the face of Mrs. Park remained true. I also appreciated that, unlike many LCDs including the TCL in this comparison, the CX didn’t introduce a blue tinge to near-black areas.

Video processing: Watching the Parasite Blu-ray it was difficult to see any processing advantages of the CX over the B9, perhaps because it’s a very high-quality source to begin with. Looking for evidence of the CX’s fancy new chip in action, I tried an old favorite: Game of Thrones’ The Long Night episode on HBO Max, streaming from an Apple TV 4K (set to 1080p SDR to match the native stream).

The opening setup of the army awaiting the coming of the white walkers was rife with blockiness, banding and other compression issues, as well as basic video noise. But the CX didn’t clean it up much better than the B9. There was slightly less banding on the CX during a pan over Winterfell (5:19), for example, and less near-black noise in the sky during the Dothraki charge (12:51) and when the solitary horse returns (13:47), but I had to look hard to spot the improvement. And sometimes the B9 looked better; for example it showed less noise than the CX in the black sky around Sir Davos’ face (7:13). I’ll give the slight edge to the CX, but it’s really subtle.

With the Real Cinema setting turned on, the CX passed my go-to 1080p/24 film cadence test from I Am Legend in Off, Cinema Clear and User (0-4 for De-Judder and 10 for De-Blur) TruMotion position. The latter two also delivered the TV’s maximum motion resolution (600 lines). For 2020 LG’s User De-Judder setting is better than last year, with more of a range for finicky cadence purists (we know who we are) to dial in the right amount of smoothness; anything 4 or lower introduced some judder to my eye, conveying a sense of film rather than soap opera effect. Clear on the other hand is toward the smoother side, albeit still tolerable. Personally I prefer User: De-Judder 0 but it’s great that there’s more good options than ever.

LG CX OLED TV

David Katzmaier/CNET

There’s also a setting labeled OLED Motion Pro, available only in the User section of the TruMotion menu. In previous years it was a simple toggle that introduced black frame insertion to improve motion resolution but with the usual tradeoffs of a dimmer image and visible flicker. This year it has four settings, Low, Medium, High and Auto, with progressively better motion resolution, High tops out at the maximum 1,200 lines in my test but was quite dim and flickery. Medium was the best overall, measuring slightly less at 1080 lines but with nearly the same light output as Off and no flicker. The CX is the first OLED TV I’ve tested that can match LCD TVs with true 120Hz refresh rates, such as the TCL 8 series or the Samsung Q70, for motion resolution.

The problem? Engaging any OLED Motion Pro setting aside from Off crushed shadow detail and made the image look too dark. My advice is to avoid using this setting unless you calibrate the image specifically for it — or you hate blur so much that you’re willing to sacrifice being able to see dark areas clearly.

Gaming input lag is similar to last year, which is to say superb. The CX showed 13.7 and 13.8 milliseconds in game mode for 1080p and 4K HDR sources, respectively. That’s shy of the C9 by mere tenths of a millisecond. If you can tell the difference, hats off to you.

Uniformity: Like all recent OLED sets, the CX was extremely uniform in brightness and color, with no visible variations across the screen. In comparison the LCD-based TCL all showed slightly brighter and darker areas with full-field test patterns, although it didn’t have major issues. And as usual the two OLEDs were much better at maintaining fidelity from off-angle, when viewed from seats other than the sweet spot right in the middle of the screen. There were no differences in uniformity between the B9 and CX.

twitter-in-stream-wide-parasite2

Parasite is a great movie that looks spectacular in 4K HDR.


CJ Entertainment

HDR and 4K video: The 4K Blu-ray of Parasite looked spectacular on all three high-end TVs, as expected, but the OLEDs had the advantage. The TCL beat them in brightness and highlight pop, however. In Chapter 3 when Kim Ki-woo rounds a corner of the house (13:13), the sun measured twice as bright — 1028 nits vs. 540 on both OLED TVs — and the difference was obvious to my eye. 

Despite the extra brightness, however, the overall contrast and richness of the OLEDs’ image made the LCD look relatively flat by comparison in many scenes. In the criteria at 30:51, for example, there was just a bit more pop and color in the food and the flower wrappings. And despite its excellent local dimming the TCL still betrayed some brighter spots in dark areas, for example the shadows in the back of the car at 30:14. 

Looking at the gorgeous nature footage from the Spears and Munsil HDR benchmark, the TCL’s higher brightness paid more dividends than the cinematic Parasite. In my side-by-side lineup the LCD’s brighter skies, snow and other daylit scenes were more powerful, especially when most of the screen was very bright — the desert sand, and plants at 5:20 was a good example. The OLEDs didn’t look dim by any means but the TCL was better in those bright scenes. In more mixed and darker scenes, on the other hand, the OLEDs superior contrast again won out.

Keeping with the nature theme, I switched my Apple TV back to 4K HDR mode and checked out the amazing-looking Our Planet: Coastal Seas on Netflix. From the brilliant colors of the reef to the dark recesses behind the swarms of sharks I saw the same themes: an overall edge to the OLED TVs despite the TCL’s brighter image. Netflix’s nature documentary didn’t show as much HDR punch and detail as the reference disc in general, and for that reason the TCL’s brilliance didn’t make as much of an impact. In some bright scenes like the splashing seals (20:34), highlights like the waves actually measured slightly brighter on the CX OLED, but in others like the sun through the kelp (21:03) the TCL was visibly brighter and measured as such (1440 vs. 660 nits).

Geek Box

Test Result Score
Black luminance (0%) 0.000 Good
Peak white luminance (SDR) 377 Average
Avg. gamma (10-100%) 2.20 Good
Avg. grayscale error (10-100%) 0.65 Good
Dark gray error (30%) 0.20 Good
Bright gray error (80%) 0.20 Good
Avg. color checker error 1.1 Good
Avg. saturation sweeps error 1.71 Good
Avg. color error 1.14 Good
Red error 0.89 Good
Green error 0.92 Good
Blue error 1.46 Good
Cyan error 1.24 Good
Magenta error 1.40 Good
Yellow error 0.92 Good
1080p/24 Cadence (IAL) Pass Good
Motion resolution (max) 1200 Good
Motion resolution (dejudder off) 1000 Good
Input lag (Game mode) 13.67 Good
HDR10
Black luminance (0%) 0.000 Good
Peak white luminance (10% win) 690 Poor
Gamut % UHDA/P3 (CIE 1976) 99.20 Good
Avg. color checker error 4.36 Average
Input lag (Game mode, 4K HDR) 13.73 Good

LG OLEDCX CNET Calibration Results by David Katzmaier on Scribd