LG EF9500 series review: The best high-end TV gets flat-out better

  • 1
  • 2
  • 3
  • 4
  • 5
  • 6
  • 7
  • 8
  • 9
  • 10
  • 11
  • 12
  • 13
  • 14
  • 15
  • 16

The Good The LG EF9500 OLED TV's picture quality is better than that of any LCD or plasma TV we've seen, with perfect black levels and exceedingly bright whites. It's equally adept in bright and dark rooms; showed accurate color, excellent uniformity and solid video processing; and looks better from off-angle than any LED LCD. The TV looks striking in person, with an insane 0.25-inch depth on most of its body. It's flat, not curved like other OLED TVs, and supports future HDR sources via HDMI.

The Bad The EF9500 is more expensive than pretty much any other TV of its size. Its light output, video processing and some aspects of screen uniformity aren't quite as impressive as some other TVs.

The Bottom Line If you have the money and want 55-inch or 65-inch TV today, you should buy the LG EF9500.

8.1 Overall
  • Design 10
  • Features 10
  • Performance 10
  • Value 5

If you have the money, and you want a 65-inch TV, you should buy the LG 65EF9500. It has the best picture of any TV I've tested so far, and it's flat. For that reason alone I like it better than its curved counterpart, the EG9600, which costs the same.

The longer version? Maybe you have the money and like curved TVs. Because, let's face it, flat vs. curved is more of an aesthetic decision than anything else. Fine, get the 65EG9600 curved TV. Maybe you want a 55-inch TV instead. I'm not rich, so I'd pick the 55EC9300 or, when it sells out, its basically identical replacement, the 55EG9100. Both are quite a bit cheaper than the 55EF9500 but lose that model's next-generation chops, namely 4K resolution and HDR capability. Of course, if you have the money and want those future-ready extras, go for it.

If you're in the UK, the flat EF9500 series reviewed here is known as the EF950V series. In Australia only the curved version (EG960T) seems to be available now; I'll update this section when I find out about availability of the flat version in that country.

Every inscrutable model number I just reeled off is attached to an OLED TV built by LG. Because it's so difficult to produce, only LG manufactures OLED TVs today. OLED has the best image quality of any display technology we've tested. That includes all LED LCDs, such as Samsung's SUHD models, despite the fact that some of those TVs can get brighter, or use quantum dots, or whatever.

All of these OLED TVs are still exceedingly expensive, and even though LG's recent price reductions are making the technology more affordable, it'll be at least another year before OLED competes against LED LCD on price. For some people, its advantages might be worth the money today, but for most of us, the price is still too steep. Then there's the fact that LED LCD sets come in a much wider range of sizes than OLED -- if you want something smaller than 55 or bigger than 65, it doesn't exist or it costs a mint.

But if you're shopping for a high-end TV in one of those two sizes, and want the best picture you can get, skip all those expensive flagship LED LCDs and go with the O.

Series information: I performed a hands-on evaluation of the 65-inch LG 65EF9500, but this review also applies to the 55-inch LG 55EF9500. Both sizes have identical specifications, and according to the manufacturer, should provide very similar picture quality.

Sarah Tew/CNET. Screen image copyright 1997 MacGillivray Freeman Films. Used with permission.


Even with the picture off, the EF9500 looks great. It has the same vanishingly narrow border around the screen as its curved linemate which, at 0.4 inch wide, makes the TV seem all screen. The curved version does feel more futuristic, but a flat TV sure looks better when mounted on a wall.

Sarah Tew/CNET

A sliver of silver around the rim is visible from the front, and the only other adornment to the TV itself is the illuminated LG logo set into a mirrored semicircle on the bottom. You can dim it or turn it off completely, and if you reach behind the logo you'll find a little joystick that provides volume and input control, as well as menu access.

Sarah Tew/CNET

The trademark thinness of OLED is only enhanced by the flat form factor. The top half of the TV measures 0.25 inch thick -- pretty amazing, but still not quite as slim as Sony's XBR-X900C at 0.2 inch. As usual, the need to house electronics, a power supply and inputs necessitates a thicker bulge, so the bottom half of the EF9500 widens to about 2 inches. Sans stand, the 65-incher weighs a feathery 46.7 pounds, while the 55-incher tips the scales at an even 30.

Just like the curved version, you'll need to buy a special bracket, model OTW150 ($99), to wall-mount the EF9500. Unlike most TVs, it doesn't work with standard VESA mounting kits.

Sarah Tew/CNET

Otherwise you'll use the included stand, a solid-feeling affair with a silver base and a transparent chunk of acrylic to support the TV itself. The overall effect is pleasingly "floaty" but lacks the beautiful organic sweep of the 55EC9300. For whatever reason, LG decided to color the back and the nondetachable power cord white.

Sarah Tew/CNET

The latest version of LG's Magic Remote is bigger and better than its predecessors, and I prefer it overall to Samsung's 2015 clicker. It's medium as opposed to small, and its motion control felt more precise than ever in my hand. The system was very responsive, and as usual, I really loved having a scroll wheel for blowing through lists or quickly scanning Web pages. There are a lot more buttons than before, including a numeric keypad and a much-appreciated settings key, so the lack of illumination is annoying. I also don't love the layout -- in particular, I kept hitting "3D" when I wanted settings -- but overall it's very good.

Sarah Tew/CNET. Screen image copyright 1997 MacGillivray Freeman Films. Used with permission.


Key features

Display technology: OLED
LED backlight: N/A
Resolution: 4K
Refresh rate: 120Hz
Screen shape: Flat
Screen finish: Glossy
Smart TV: Web OS 2.0
Remote: Motion
3D technology: Passive
3D glasses included: 2 pair

OLED is much closer to the late, lamented plasma than to the LED LCD ( SUHD or otherwise) technology used in the vast majority of today's TVs. Where LCD relies on a backlight shining through a liquid crystal panel to create the picture, with OLED and plasma, each individual sub-pixel is responsible for creating illumination. That's why OLED and plasma are known as "emissive" and LED LCD as "transmissive" displays, and a big reason why OLED's picture quality is so good.

For picture-quality buffs, OLED is the ultimate display technology, but it's not perfect. In addition to unresolved questions of brightness reduction over time (LG claims a 30,000-hour lifespan, for what it's worth), OLED is more subject to burn-in than LED LCD. The manual reads: "If a fixed image displays on the TV for a long period of time, it will...become a permanent disfigurement on the screen. This...burn-in is not covered by the warranty." It advises owners to avoid displaying 4:3 aspect ratio images and other fixed images for longer than an hour at a time.

I didn't actually "test" burn-in in my review sample, but I did notice some temporary retention with test patterns. That said, it didn't seem to retain static images as badly as plasmas I've tested in the past. Just like with plasma, under normal use conditions, I wouldn't worry about burn-in with OLED.

We've written plenty more about OLED in the past, so I won't rehash it all here. Check out the links at the left if you're interested in further details.

Aside from its display technology, the other major feature is 4K resolution. LG told CNET it's not going to build 1,080p OLED TVs larger than 55 inches, going all-in with 4K. The higher resolution adds cost -- significantly more so than on an LCD TV -- and a 65-inch 1,080p OLED would surely please videophiles who don't own private islands, but for now, the 65EF9500 and 65EG9600 are the least expensive 65-inch OLED TVs.

The visible benefits of 4K resolution might be minute with 2D material, but they do provide a big improvement with passive 3D. LG includes two pairs of passive glasses with the 65EF9500, which seems a bit stingy for a TV this expensive.

Sarah Tew/CNET

HDR and wide color gamut: Among high-end TVs this year one big differentiator is whether the set is capable of displaying next-generation content, for example 4K Blu-ray, that utilizes high dynamic range (HDR) and/or a wide color gamut.

Unlike the curved EG9600 series, the flat EF9500 is fully HDR-compliant. That doesn't mean it gets any brighter than its curved brother -- we'll have to wait till 2016 at least before we see a brighter HDR OLED TV from LG -- but it does mean that it can accept HDR signals from HDMI-equipped source devices like 4K Blu-ray players. The EG9600 does not have this capability, in part because it's HDMI inputs are not upgradeable to version 2.0a.

Both series do share the ability to stream HDR sources from the Internet, however. Amazon currently offers select titles in HDR, and Netflix has said it will launch its own HDR titles sometime this year.

As for wide color gamut, the EF9500 does fairly well. According to my measurements of the Wide color space, it's capable of delivering 87.7 percent of DCI/P3 color, thought to be the successor to the high-def color space. That's a bit less than the Samsung UN65JS8500 and Samsung UN65JS9500 (both about 91 percent of P3), but closer than I would have thought given Samsung's claims about SUHD. See below for more on the EF9500's color.

Sarah Tew/CNET

Smart TV: Equipped with LG's newest iteration of Web OS, version 2.0, the 65EF9500 delivers a very good smart TV experience. I prefer it to Samsung's 2015 Tizen system overall, as well as to Android TV (available on Sony and Sharp 2015 sets). Web OS is simpler and more intuitive to use than those others, yet still maintains a degree of sophistication and customizability. Of course, Roku TV is still my favorite Smart TV system.

The biggest improvement over the original version of Web OS is speed. The new interface is markedly snappier, even with the menus' bouncy happy animations, and I had no complaints about responsiveness, even in the deep settings menus. It's worth mentioning that owners of LG's 2014 sets will get an unprecedented upgrade to version 2.0, although their TVs won't be quite as responsive as true 2015 models.

Otherwise, little has changed. Motion control is available in all of the menus and many of the apps, making it relatively easy to select items. I also appreciated the unique screen capture function. Hitting the Home button on the remote brings up a band of diagonally aligned "cards," overlaying the lower third of whatever program or app you're watching at the moment. Other systems take a similar approach, but LG's icon band is both prettier and friendlier.

Unlike with Android TV and Tizen, which only show the most recent apps, you can customize and reorder the main interface to populate it with your favorite apps. Netflix and Pandora get cards, of course, but HDMI 1 and 2 do as well, along with the Web browser and local media available from USB or DLNA (WebOS also supports Plex). Click to the left of the main band and a history of the last few apps and other functions used appears. To the right reside the additional apps and functions you can launch and/or add to the main band in the middle.

Sarah Tew/CNET

The updated "LG Content Store" is much better-organized than before, with categories for movies, TV shows 3D, apps and games, and "premium" apps (nine major ones, including Netflix and Amazon but also Go Pro, an LG partner). Choosing a movie or TV show and hitting "watch now" shows you a list of services that offer it, such as Vudu and Amazon, but as with search, Netflix and Hulu Plus are omitted. The myriad other apps are categorized, but unfortunately not searchable.

The system has most major apps, with the exception of HBO Go/Now and Showtime, but Android, Samsung and Roku all offer a wider selection. As a Rhapsody user I was excited to see that app, but it proved slow and error-prone. The Web browser is decent, and the motion remote greatly eases navigation and typing with the onscreen keyboard easier. Still, you'll want to use your phone, tablet or PC browser first.

Sarah Tew/CNET

Voice search seems as accurate as most such systems, but if you're like me you'll abandon it after a few failures at recognition, which are inevitable. The search results screen (whether from voice or text) breaks out YouTube and Internet separately, and when it gets a direct hit on a TV show or movie, it surfaces hits from Amazon Instant as well as Vudu. Unfortunately, results from Netflix and Hulu Plus don't show up, and the Amazon results are imperfect. A "Dora the Explorer" search I tried (for my daughters, I swear!) only showed me one episode immediately, and I had to hit the obscurely named "Detail Info" button to see more options, which appeared on a poorly designed page with episode numbers instead of easily accessible descriptions. Once again, Roku's universal search wins handily, and Android TV is better, too.

4K streaming apps: I checked out 4K streaming on the built-in Netflix and Amazon apps, and they worked as expected -- and Amazon seems to have improved to the point where it almost instantly gave me the highest-quality version. As usual, I didn't see a massive image quality improvement over those services' HD streams, and in previous tests I've performed, neither 4K streaming services' image quality could quite match the best 1080p Blu-rays. And of course content is scarce, although both services have added numerous 4K titles, in particular original series. Unlike Samsung and Vizio, LG currently lacks the UltraFlix app.

Amazon's app also allows you to watch the HDR titles on the EF9500. I'll cover them more in-depth in the picture quality section below, but in the meantime, it's worth mentioning that I appreciated the little "HDR is now on" bug that appeared whenever I started streaming an HDR title.

New for this year, LG's YouTube app is capable of delivering videos in 4K resolution. Unfortunately the app -- unlike the YouTube website or the app on Samsung's 2015 4K TVs -- doesn't indicate what resolution the video is streaming in, so it's tough to know what you're really watching. I checked out a few of the 4K videos there, including "Honey Bees" and "Beauty of Nature," and they looked sharp enough.

I also tried a quick experiment using Florian Fredrich's 4K resolution pattern. Streaming via LG's YouTube app it delivered the full resolution of 4K, which is better than I saw on the Nvidia Shield's 4K YouTube app. Samsung's JS9500 delivered the full resolution via streaming too, although lesser Samsungs I've tested, and LG's EG9600 curved OLED TV, did not. It's tough to pin down exactly why these differences occurred, but just remember that streaming mileage, even with 4K, will vary.

Sarah Tew/CNET. Screen image copyright 1997 MacGillivray Freeman Films. Used with permission.

Picture settings: LG offers plenty of presets and lots of tweaks for calibrators, particularly in the Expert 1 and Expert 2 settings banks. The main determinant of light output is an OLED LIGHT setting, similar to a backlight control on an LCD TV. The set also offers a few dejudder/smoothing presets and a custom mode that allows you to dial in as much or as little blur and/or soap opera effect as you desire. Two-point and 20-point grayscale, a full color management system and selectable gamma (including BT.1886) round out the calibrators' toolbox.

It's worth mentioning that the HDR source I tested, namely the Amazon app, grayed out the picture settings and made it impossible to adjust any of them. On Samsung's HDR-capable sets, it was possible to make some picture adjustments. See the HDR testing section below for more.

Sarah Tew/CNET

Connectivity: I was disappointed to see only three HDMI inputs on the white backside of the 65EF9500 when most medium- and high-end TVs today have at least four. It's not a deal-breaker by any means, but in my opinion a TV this expensive should have at least four HDMI inputs. At least they're all equipped with HDMI 2.0 (technically they're HDMI 2.0a) and HDCP 2.2.

There's also a setting called Ultra HD Deep Color. It allows HDMI inputs 1 and 2 to accept 4K/60 signals at 4:4:4 and 4:2:2 chroma subsampling rates, and 10 bits. Sources with that level of color are very rare so I didn't test the feature for this review, but it could be useful in the future.

Other connections include three USB ports (one of which is version 3.0), an analog AV input with composite video, another with component-video; an optical digital audio output, an Ethernet jack, a headphone output and a RS-232 connection for custom installation systems.

Picture quality

If you've read any of my (or other reviewers') write-ups on OLED TVs before, you know what's coming in this section. This TV's unmatched contrast ratio is the main thing that makes it superior to today's LCD-based TVs, as well as to best the plasma TVs of yore. It's so important, in fact, that while LG's OLED falls a bit short of its current competition in a few other areas, its significantly superior contrast without the trade-offs of local dimming gives it a better picture overall.