LG 55-inch CX OLED Review: Is this the TV to beat in 2020?

Pretty much every OLED is going to be compared to LG’s CX this year. It’s just what happens when consumers land on a favourite each year, and for 2020 the buck stops with this exceptional workhorse of a TV.

Lavish praise? Sure, but LG deserve it right now. Not only has the company picked up its game when it comes to NanoCell, but the CX slots perfectly into that cushioned spot reserved for ambitious “TV of the Year” claims – the one that isn’t so ridiculously expensive as to push over five figures, while at the same time presenting more than enough to make owners feel like they’ve made the right choice.

And while I applaud the reasonable balance between price and quality here, the CX is still a monster investment, without representing a significant step-up (in optics, at least) from some of LG’s 2019 models. That being said, my yard stick with the ’19 range is purely based on in-store picture quality, as I wasn’t able to get properly hands on with any of last year’s models. And as everyone should know by now, an OLED in-store isn’t a good representation of performance.

Before I dip into the full review, a quick run down of OLED is still in order. As popular as they have become over the past few years, there is still a significant amount of people who aren’t quite familiar with the differences the “O” makes. This difference is also more important than ever since the CX now comes in a more cost effective 48-inch format (in addition to 55-inch, 65-inch and 77-inch), making the highly sought LG OLED more accessible than ever.

OLED stands for organic light-emitting diode; unlike LEDs, the displays don’t need back lighting to make the pixels sing with colour. The pixels are organic, which means they emit their own light and can activate and deactivate themselves individually. The benefit of this is mostly precision, commanding colour more accurately, especially when it comes to turning off completely to achieve those deep inky blacks OLED owners are always so – rightfully – proud of. With each pixel holding their own luminance, the design also benefits because there’s less load to stuff into the back of the TV, allowing for thinner and more attractive builds, most ideal for wall-mounting.

This review is based on the 55-inch model.

Design

There are still plenty of ports and audio components to stuff in behind the OLED panel, so the CX isn’t exactly a single piece of glass that can sit flush against a wall. But it’s close. Measuring at 1.8-inches, the textured metal body is super thin at the top and only slightly thicker at the bottom, where all the hardware is housed in a solid plastic protrusion. The bezels that run around the panel are similarly slim, making those full screen aspect ratios really pop.

Port layout is more or less identical to other 2020 models, which highlight the future-proofed inclusion of HDMI 2.1.

Facing the TV’s rear, the brunt of connectivity points outwards from your right. That’s four HDMI 2.1 ports – handy for gamers when next-generation consoles come out. Port 3 has eARC to maximise a modern soundbar, but there’s also the option the optical digital-audio connection. The positioning makes them incredibly easy to reach if you want to wall-mount the TV.

Hugging the same side but facing the bottom is where you can find the USB ports, AV in, and connectivity for antenna and LAN. All typical inclusions, but very nice and central so they can be accessed at all times.

Unlike some other TVs, there’s no specific cable management which may be disappointing for design-lovers, but it just means you’ll have to be nifty when it comes to how you hide any connections.

Like last year’s models, LG has gone with a wide, flat stand that fans out from the centre of the TV, the front being a smooth and polished metal and the back being sturdy plastic. It’s low-profile has a the unit sitting closer to the surface, giving the eye-catching impression of a floating panel. The downside to this is that it narrows your choice of soundbar, with anything to tall looking odd and out of place in front of the television. This is only a problem if you aren’t wall-mounting.

Magic Remote & WebOS

Navigating an LG TV in 2020 is smooth and relatively seamless. I love Android’s UI, but if I had to choose just one, my vote would 100% be going to LG’s WebOS. The designers have arrived at what I feel is the perfect balance of accessibility and design, popping up a panel of apps that is less obtrusive and can be scrolled quickly with the Magic Remote.

Android’s operating system is still king when it comes to the multitude of apps in sight, but the much more stable webOS 5 is just less of a hassle. Settings are easier to access, and when you’re constantly experimenting with settings to optimise whatever content you’re watching, that’s very valuable.

Some hate LG’s award-winning but cheap plastic Magic Remote; I love it. Those more used to long and flat remotes – like the one Sony uses – may be surprised by the aggressive looking scrolling wheel at first, but it makes it so much easier to use a browser, scroll through YouTube and quickly changes settings without constantly pressing arrow-keys (you can use those too though).

The remote works as a wand as well, and does it’s best Nintendo Wii impersonation with a chunky pointer (you can change the size of that via three options) that makes typing in search bars feel much more efficient. There are also quick-access buttons for both Netflix and Amazon Prime.

The downside is just how sensitive the remote is. Knock it even slightly and you’ll accidentally bring up the pointer, interrupting your viewing experience. Of course the easiest fix to this rarely-an-issue issue is to just place the remote somewhere where you aren’t elbowing it like a disorganised chump.

Performance

LG has packed a wallop of a punch when it comes picture quality here, and the CX screams “gold standard” when it comes to colour fidelity. The panel also sports exceptional wide viewing angles, ideal for sports lovers or group watching in a bigger room.

As I mention below, Standard Mode is, in most cases, the best option. But there are plenty of well-designed and highly considered preset picture settings to adapt to the content, ranging from Gaming and Cinema mode, to Sports and Vivid. The intended apex is Filmmaker Mode, which I discuss below. AI Picture Pro does a great job at optimising each of these modes, aiming for smoother visuals and keeping those viewing angles consistent, so even those viewing from the side are unlikely to notice any loss of quality.

Movies set in space like Gravity and Life are generally the better testers when it comes to OLED, especially because they often expose tiny blooming when bright stars are set against midnight black. With the CX I never, even once, experienced the kind of halo effect you’d generally get from such a set up, demonstrating an exceptional ability for an OLEDs most desired feature, that being their Infinite Contrast Ratios which help images looking dynamic, crisp and natural.

Shadow detailing also highlights just how nuanced the panel can be, handling all levels of black with the same precision and reliability – a testament to how top-scoring LG’s third-generation Alpha 9 processor is. The algorithm-based upscaling that this processor is capable of successfully transforms older content with little-to-no noise and improved colour accuracy.

And for HDR format content, the CX is open enough to support Dolby Vision IQ, HDR10, and HLG, but no HDR10+ – which isn’t much of an issue anyway. Opening it up to Dolby Vision IQ fixes some of the brightness issues that usually plague OLED panels, handling those aforementioned shadowing details with exceptional balance irrespective of ambient light, adjusting seamlessly as light levels change.

Granted, you still aren’t looking at a peak brightness higher than those of LG’s NanoCell TV’s, but the key here is making those differences matter as little as possible. LG has achieved that, based on use in a room with copious natural light during the day.

Audio

With not enough room to fit sizable speakers, LG has relied on more software for a better sound performance. Central is the AI Acoustic Tuning, similar Sonos’ TruePlay where it uses a mic (in this case, the one in the magic remote) to optimise the soundstage as a function of the TV’s position in the room. It doesn’t seem to be as gorgeously nuanced as TruePlay, but it successfully calibrates quickly and accurately, based on testing it in two different sized rooms.

It can’t quite move sound around a room as nimbly as soundbar can, so if you’re going to be using the CX in a wide room you’ll still need to invest in a proper setup.

Dolby Atmos is also a big reason for the improved audio performance here, representing clear separation and outstanding detail when it came to loud, immersive audio. Though anyone wanting to anchor the signature with better balance between the low and high end should still be making use of a sound bar. As good as the low-frequency extension is without a sound bar, grumbling bass sounds fairly restrained when relying only on the TV

Volume is another aspect worth mentioning. The LG can reach loud levels with very little trace of distortion, maintaining great balance even at the peak.

One problem I had with the NanoCell was an inconsistent experience when testing with several Bluetooth headphones. It’s improved here, which I would guess is mostly a credit to the more powerful processor. While on the wireless connectivity front, there’s no future-ready Wi-Fi 6, but Bluetooth 5.0 with aptX support maintains a strong connection with enabled devices. The TV is still notably slow when searching for and connecting to a device (tested mostly with the Sony WH-1000XM3 headphones), but once one has been established it remains rock solid even at a considerable distance.

Filmmaker Mode

One thing I don’t really care for is the aforementioned Filmmaker Mode. LG has put a lot of stock into curated settings, so you can have full control over how the picture looks and adjust it to best suit your tastes. The value in Filmmaker Mode is that it takes out a lot of decisions, disabling post-processing, and just defaults to all the most popular settings anyway. But there is a tendency for inconsistent brightness levels and some flat colours. Standard mode was my go-to throughout my time with the TV, where I found content was much more vivid and natural-looking.

You definitely want to turn off Energy Saving mode, which is automatically enabled out-of-box, when you first set-up the CX. This should be the first thing you’re changing in the settings, seeing as it can dim a bit too much and make it look like something’s wrong with the TV.

If I wrote the same thing in my review for the NanoCell 91, its because I had the exact same experience with Filmmaker Mode here. It seems even with an OLED IPS panel, the specifically engineered pre-sets are consistent in their pros and cons.

AI & Smarts

You’ll find plenty to like if you’re looking for smarts and integration of connected devices. ThinQ AI is LG’s way of ensuring the navigation experience is as smooth and seamless as is possible right now. Whether you’re using Google Assistant, Amazon Alexa, Apple Airplay 2, or Apple Homekit, it’s safe to expect very few to no frustrations when it comes to controlling how the TV works in the smart home ecosystem.

Gaming

LG has made it a point to improve software for gamers, especially with next-gen consoles being released later this year. In addition to the future-ready HDMI 2.1, the TV features an Auto Low Latency Mode, Variable Refresh Rate, FreeSync Premium and G-Sync Compatible to accurately adjust the TVs refresh rate to its source. Games with fast movement like Sekiro and Doom Eternal demonstrated how well the VRR works, with virtually no trace of tearing and a more fluid overall experience.

The appeal to gamers is also obvious with LG finally agreeing to bring the 48-inch CX to the Australian market. This puts the CX technology in a smaller and more portable format, ideal for use in gaming set ups.

It also should be noted that FreeSync Premium was a more recent firmware rollout to LG’s 2020 models, boding well for rolling updates which will undoubtedly make sure the gaming is up to its promised scratch when those consoles do arrive.

Verdict

There’s a lot to love about LG’s CX. The picture quality is superlative, and the multitude of options to allow for high customisation is certainly appreciated and should appeal to a variety of tastes. The gaming-friendly features also makes the CX a highly attractive and reliable option for a wider range of people.

That being said, the C9 is sure looking attractive now that prices have been inevitably cut. From the spec-sheet, there doesn’t seem to be enough of a leap to cover the different price tags. Although if you’re on a bit of a budget, that’s what the 48-inch is for.

You can view the full spec sheet and grab more information here.

FIVE STARS (OUT OF FIVE)

Highlights: Although there’s always room for improvement, it’s hard to see how the CX could be any better than it is; surprisingly solid audio performance without a sound bar; future-ready for new-gen consoles; reduces known OLED issues to hardly noticeable; packed with features with customise your experience completely; superlative contrast; low profile design.
Lowlights: Can’t reach the same brightness levels as a NanoCell, so consider lighting when choosing what room to place it in.
Manufacturer: LG
Price: A$3,959 (based on 55-inch model)
Available: Now

Review based on unit supplied by LG.

Chris Singh

Chris Singh is the Deputy Editor of the AU review and a freelance travel writer. You can reach him on Instagram by following @chrisdsingh.

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