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LG C8 OLED review

LG sets a new standard with its 2018 OLED range

LG C8 OLED (OLED55C8, OLED65C8)
Best in Class

4K/HDR Performance 

The C8 supports just about every version of high dynamic range currently available, including HDR10, Hybrid Log-Gamma (HLG) and Dolby Vision. In fact the only version it doesn’t support is HDR10+, an open source alternative to Dolby Vision that also uses dynamic metadata. However at present only Amazon are employing HDR10+, whilst Dolby Vision is heavily supported on Netflix, iTunes and Ultra HD Blu-ray.

All the factors that made the C8’s HD/SDR picture great are just as important when it comes to 4K/HDR. HDR is all about dynamic range, the difference between black and white, and those deep blacks deliver a solid base from which to create an image with great contrast. The star field at the start of Passengers is a good example of those deep blacks, speckled by tiny spots of brightness.

The level of detail is also often astonishing, and when watching native 4K productions like Passengers, The Revenant or the BBC’s Planet Earth II, the C8 takes full advantage of its Ultra HD panel to deliver every pixel. The colors are equally as impressive, popping off the screen and delivering images that are often jaw-dropping.

The C8 is bright for an OLED, hitting around 820 nits, but it’s nowhere near as bright as the best LCD TVs. However the peak highlights in an HDR image are delivered with far greater precision; after all an OLED has 8 million pixels to play with.

Where the C8 struggles slightly is in terms of brighter overall images, such as the snow fields in The Revenant. An OLED can’t really go above 150nits in such circumstances, especially if it’s accurately tone mapping the original image. The problem is compounded by content mastered at 4,000 or even 10,000nits, resulting in images that sometimes appear too dark.

To mitigate this issue, LG has added Dynamic Tone Mapping that analyses each frame and adjusts the brightness accordingly. It’s essentially a fake version of the dynamic metadata used by Dolby Vision and HDR10+, but it really works. HDR images are much brighter overall and the effect is achieved without losing detail in brightest parts of the image. This feature was available in 2017, but this year LG has given it a dedicated control in the menu.

Once again the C8 is capable of delivering a hugely enjoyable gaming experience, with HDR games like Horizon Zero Dawn appearing almost photo-real at times. The input lag is still 21ms and the colours and motion handling remain just as impressive as with HD/SDR games.

However the same caveat about image retention and screen burn applies, only more so because you’re driving the panel harder. It shouldn’t be a problem, just be sensible when gaming for long periods of time.

4K/HDR Performance TL;DR: Although limited in terms of peak brightness, the deep blacks, precise highlights and gorgeous colors make for an impressive HDR experience. 

Sound

LG have packed 2.2-channels and 40W of amplification into the C8’s slim frame, and when you consider how thin this TV is, the sound is remarkably good. 

A speaker works by moving air; the bigger the driver, the more air it can move and the better it sounds. If you can only fit tiny speakers into a TV chassis then you’re going to struggle to deliver anything approaching a decent level of sound quality.  As Mr. Scott is fond of saying in Star Trek, you can’t change the laws of physics.

However you can help physics out, and the streamlined Alpine stand, as LG call it, actually does a great job re-directing the TV’s audio at the viewer. It also manages to create a wider and more expansive front soundstage, performing better than most other TVs with similarly svelte dimensions: There’s a solid mid-range and the top end sounds decent, but the bass is understandably limited. 

It will never sound as good as a dedicated soundbar but it’s certainly an improvement, and the fact that the Alpine stand also looks nice is an added bonus.

LG is one of the few TV manufacturers to include Dolby Atmos processing in its higher-end models, and this applies some psycho-acoustic trickery to help create a more immersive soundstage. It does work to a degree, but eventually we come back to the laws of physics, and the effectiveness of the processing is limited by the native capabilities of the speakers built into the C8. If you want a big sound to go with those lovely images, you’ll need to invest in a soundbar.

Sound TL;DR: The Alpine stand doesn’t just look nice, it actually helps improve the sound of this ultra-thin TV. But ultimately you can’t cheat the laws of physics.

Verdict

LG’s C8 builds on the success of last year’s models, resulting in a TV that can deliver astonishing HD/SDR images and equally impressive 4K/HDR pictures. It’s not as bright as an LCD TV but those deep blacks make a huge difference to the dynamic range of the image. It’s also capable of vibrant and gorgeous colors, not to mention an astounding level of detail with native 4K content.

The WebOS smart platform remains the best available and the choice of streaming services is second to none. Once you add the gorgeous design and a comprehensive set of features, you have one of the most complete TVs that we’ve ever reviewed. 

Other panels to ponder… 

If you’re in the market for an OLED TV then ironically the C8’s biggest competition probably comes from last year’s LG models, with the excellent B7 OLED and C7 OLED both heavily discounted at this time. In terms of 2018 OLED TVs, and sticking with LG, there’s the upcoming B8 OLED which is cheaper but uses the Alpha 7 processor, and thus lacks some of the new picture features.

Alternatively you could look at the Sony AF8 (Sony A8F OLED in the US), although the Android smart platform is less than ideal and its implementation of Dolby Vision has been a mess. In addition there’s the Philips 9002 but that also uses Android and doesn’t support Dolby Vision. The Panasonic FZ802 doesn’t support Dolby Vision either, but on the plus side it doesn’t use Android and supports HDR10+.

Another option for our UK readers is the Philips 802 OLED.  Buyers should weigh the visual benefits against the minor irritations, like poor catch-up TV provision, just two full-spec UHD HDMI inputs and the lack of Dolby Vision. Philips Hue-compatible Ambilight room lighting system, and the promise of an early upgrade to the new Android Oreo TV OS, however, might just balance the books. 

Finally if you fancy an LCD panel, then the excellent Samsung Q9FN QLED TV uses direct LED backlighting to deliver near-OLED blacks and a huge peak brightness, making it ideal for HDR. Since it also has a 21ms input lag and doesn’t suffer from image retention or screen burn, it’s also a great choice for gamers.

Nick Rego

A former IT & Marketing Manager turned full time Editor, Nick enjoys reviewing PC components, 3D Printers, projectors, and anything shiny and expensive. He can also be found baking up a storm in the kitchen, which we are more than happy to encourage.