Shopping for a 4K TV is like trying to find a single wave in the ocean. Most TVs are indistinguishable from each other at a glance—unless your eyes happen to lock onto an OLED. When you look at an OLED TV, you tend to keep looking. You may not even know why at first, but it looks better. Even next to the best LCD TVs, an OLED, with its vivid colors and inky blacks will entrance you.
It’s simple actually: OLED TVs don’t need a backlight. All other TV screens have a panel of pixels and a light source of some kind—either a big grid of small Christmas Tree-like LED backlights, or lights on the edges that shines through the LCD panel. TV makers have gotten real skilled at improving backlit and edge-lit TVs. But, no matter—OLED bests even the most advanced LCD-based TVs in just about every metric.
That’s because every dot in the 4K (3,840 x 2,160) grid of pixels lights up individually. That means that every single pixel can turn itself completely off if a scene is dark, and that the colors in every pixel are extra vivid because the red, green, and blue subpixels can shoot their colors at your retinas without assistance.
LG made a good bet with its OLED screen tech. It’s currently the only company that makes OLED TV screens (it also supplies them to companies like Sony and Panasonic), and it’s had an iron grip on the tech since 2013. That’s the main reason why, for yet another year, LG’s many OLED TV series—B8, C8, E8, G8—are the best-looking TVs in the world. For about a month, I’ve watched all my TV shows and movies on the 55-inch C8 (OLED55C8PUA), a good representative of the whole lineup, and I don’t want to go back.
Thanks to OLED, the C8 is the only 4K TV I’ve used that makes absolutely everything I watch look noticeably better, even upscaled HD content or YouTube videos.
Science fiction shows, like The Expanse or any Star Trek look especially stunning with the deep blacks, but honestly, I also love that when a program is letterboxed, the top and bottom borders simply vanish. Even the drearily-lit palaces in The Crown have more depth and beauty thanks to the contrast on the C8.
As a gamer, I also appreciate the low 21ms latency in LG’s Game Mode. Games of Fortnite look colorful and punchy on it, and I may have gasped the first time I booted up Nintendo’s vibrant, bubbly fun Super Mario Odyssey.
I can wax poetic about the beauty of OLED for hours, but that doesn’t mean LG’s C8 or its peers are perfect TVs. The C8 was so thin at the top (less than a quarter inch) that I thought I might accidentally bend it when I laid it down on my couch to screw on the pedestal stand after I unboxed it. Luckily, it has a small amount of junk in its trunk toward the bottom (it’s about 2 inches thick), making it easy to pick up.
My extended family was visiting when I first set up the C8, and they got a bad first impression. For some reason, voice menus were on by default, so the TV loudly announced every menu movement I made, and when I tried to turn it off, the voice actually doubled in speed, sounding kind of like Alvin and the Chipmunks. I finally silenced the voices, but was annoyed that the TV assumed I was a cable subscriber, and put up a static snow screen with volume on high. Most modern TVs mute the static, at the very least, but LG’s TV menus are rough around the edges.
If you expect modern conveniences like the C8 automatically recognizing what devices you’ve plugged in, think again. My Roku is HDMI 3 to LG, and that’s all it may ever be. (There are 4 HDMI ports on this model, along with 3 USB, 1 optical, 1 cable, and most other ports you’d expect.)
The Wii-like motion control remote control works well enough with LG’s webOS interface, and I like that holding the mic button down lets you talk to Google Assistant on the TV. But the remote is still a little busy, full of unneeded buttons. The TV settings menus also have clear backgrounds by default, which makes them difficult to read if you’re watching something reasonably bright. Changing menu transparency means digging deep into the picture settings, which aren’t intuitive.
Things really went off the rails when we tried to watch The Incredibles but had to fiddle with those picture settings to fix up the color and motion—something you’ll want to do, as well. The default settings had LG’s version of the annoying soap opera effect, called TruMotion, set to ON, and was too dimly lit for my tastes thanks to an energy-saving mode. So I tinkered with it, turned TruMotion OFF, and tweaked some other settings easily enough.
I thought I had it all dialed in until I switched inputs from my PS4 to my Roku and discovered the TV has no universal picture settings. Even if you alter your picture settings and hit “Apply to All Inputs,” you’ll still have to fix the advanced picture settings for every device you hook up. This is dumb, and makes an already complex picture setup process three or four times more frustrating.
It took me about an hour to understand what was going on and get it all set up. My family grew impatient as movie time was significantly delayed. They told me they’d never have the patience or troubleshooting knowledge to be able to dig in and tinker as much as I did. We even had some audio sync issues with the 4K Amazon Fire TV, too, though all my other devices worked perfectly.
Over the next few days, family members began to compliment the quality of the picture, and my wife is now a believer, but LG really needs to modernize and improve its settings and setup.
Even the webOS app interface, which is admittedly better than what other smart TVs have, could be easier to use. Apps don’t auto update. You’re instead taken through a labyrinth of menus just to tell the TV, yes, you’d like to update so you can use the app again. After telling it to download an update, there’s no easy way back either, so you have to reopen the apps menu entirely. Despite LG’s best efforts, I still recommend buying one of these TV streaming devices to watch Netflix and content from other services.
The C8 does have relatively good downward firing speakers for a TV, and is technically Dolby Atmos capable. As much as I didn’t mind its sound, there is no substitute for a good soundbar.
The only elephant in the room? Screen burn-in. It’s a kind of a shadow or ghost outline that you can see after a graphic is gone. It can happen with OLED TVs if you watch a lot of the same channels or play games with persistent on-screen elements (think CNN or QVC, or the heads up display of Fortnite). As someone who’s owned a Plasma TV for 7 years, I can say you probably won’t encounter permanent burn-in unless you have some very specific viewing habits, or disable the LG’s built-in tools. If the idea of a rare display flaw plaguing your expensive TV irks you, you’ll likely be waiting for a while—either LG will finally cure OLED’s Achilles’ Heel or something better will come along.
You’re going to have to spend some time tinkering (and a little annoyed) with all of LG’s 2018 OLED TVs, but the picture quality is worth it. So if you’re price-averse, take it from me: the $2,000+ price of the 55-Inch C8 melts away once you get used to the sweet picture quality you’ll have on-tap.
If it’s out of your budget, make sure to check prices on every LG OLED model, especially last year’s models. They may be a little older, but they’re identical to what you get this year in the ways that count, and prices can drop as low as $1,300. You can also try waiting until Thanksgiving weekend. That’s usually when TVs start getting big holiday discounts, though don’t expect the 2018 models to get cheaper than $1,500 even this winter.
If you truly want the best-looking TV, this is it. LG’s setup and menus may leave something to be desired, but its screen is so stunning that you’ll forgive it. In 2018, LG’s OLED TV lineup is the best you can buy.