LG OLEDB9PUA series review: All of the OLED awesomeness for somewhat less cash
TVs that use OLED screens are so good that anybody who values image quality highly should do their damndest to buy one. The problem is, they're really expensive -- as much as twice the price of a solid-performing TV with a LCD screen. So yeah, stepping up to OLED is an investment, but if you want the best picture, it's worth it.
The nice thing is that all newer OLEDs have very similar -- read: spectacular -- picture quality, so you can get the least-expensive one and not have to worry about missing much. Every year the "cheapest" OLED series is LG's "B" lineup, and for 2019 that's the B9 series reviewed here.
Its picture has all of that high-contrast OLED goodness, beating any non-OLED TV I've tested, including models from Samsung and Vizio. In my side-by-side comparisons between B9 and the more-expensive C9 OLED TV it was tough to see any difference. The B9 was slightly dimmer and it did a bit better job cleaning up some lower-quality video, but that's it. In my book the two are so close that it's not worth the price difference for the C9 -- generally at least $200, although I'd still recommend the B9 even if it only cost $100 less than the C9.
Given its place as the least-expensive current OLED TV, and OLED's place as the picture quality king, the LG B9 earns CNET's Editors' Choice award as the best high-end TV of 2019.
Get to know the B9
- It's available in 55-, 65- and 77-inch sizes.
- As usual for OLED TVs the 77-inch model is significantly more expensive, at more than twice the price of the 65-incher. Competing 75-inch LCD-based TVs proportionally much more affordable.
- You can still find the B8 from 2018, its pricing is sometimes less-expensive than the newer B9 and their image quality is very similar.
- LG's 2019 OLED TVs, including the B9, add a few extras that the B8 is missing, namely Alexa built-in, Apple AirPlay 2 and more HDMI 2.1 extras, including eARC and Auto Game mode and Variable Refresh rate. Otherwise they're basically the same.
- The only differences between the two 2019 TVs, the B9 and the C9, are slightly different stand designs and LG's processing. As I mentioned above, I don't think the C9'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 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.
The look of OLED
Compared to LCD TVs the OLED panel itself is amazingly thin when seen from the side, about a quarter-inch deep. A bulge at the bottom spoils that profile somewhat by jutting out another 1.75 inches. That bulge houses the inputs, power supply, speakers and other depth-eating TV components.
From the front there's less than a half-inch of black frame around the picture itself to the top and sides. Then there's a bit more below, but no trace of silver, no "LG" or any other logo at all. This is TV design at its most minimalist.
The B9's stand has a narrower width than the C9's and sticks out in front of the TV about two inches further on the 65-inch models. Both are angled and minimalist and, honestly, perfectly fine.
LG channels apps, Alexa, Google and Apple
LG's WebOS menu system feels nice and snappy, but it's 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 two, the Apple TV 4K and Amazon Fire TV Stick 4K, can support Dolby Vision and Dolby Atmos to take full advantage of the B9's capabilities. Meanwhile LG's apps for Netflix, Disney Plus, Amazon and Vudu all support Dolby Vision and Dolby Atmos, so 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 and wrist 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's 2019 TVs are the first devices to build in both Google Assistant and Amazon Alexa. The main mic button invokes Google Assistant while a long-press 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). Basic stuff like "What's the weather?" works as you'd expect from either assistant, complete with onscreen feedback.
I didn't dive too deep into either one, but it felt in general like Google Assistant was better integrated than Alexa. I was able to perform searches for movies and TV with Google but the same queries from Alexa directed me to enable skills and link my LG ThinQ account. When I tried doing so I got as far as the step asking Alexa to discover devices, but she couldn't find the B9.
The B9 also works with Apple's AirPlay 2 system, and just like on the Samsung Q70, it worked fine. I was able to fire up my iPhone to share photos and video to the B9's screen from the Photos app. Screen mirroring also worked as expected and was able to play videos on the TV, and control them from the phone, via Amazon Prime, Hulu, YouTube and YouTube TV for example (note that Netflix doesn't work with AirPlay on any device). Mirroring my Mac screen also worked too; the TV showed up as an option on my Mac's AirPlay menu and I was able to stream video in a browser window. It was a bit choppy at times, however. Apple fans: note that unlike Samsung TVs these LG's don't have the Apple TV app yet, but Apple says it's coming "in the future" to LG and other platforms.
Full-fledged features and connections
Key TV features
|HDR compatible||HDR10 and Dolby Vision|
The feature-packed B9 includes just about everything that matters in a modern TV. LG says the new A9 Gen 2 chip -- included on the C9 but not on the B9 -- has a "deep learning algorithm" that, among other claims, better adjusts the picture for room lighting. In my tests I didn't see any real improvement from "AI" stuff, however.
All of LG's 2019 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 will miss out on LG's support for the Nvidia G-Sync standard -- a feature reserved for the C9 and E9 series only. If that matters to you, hardcore gamer, then you'll probably want a C9 instead.
The selection of connections is 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. New for 2019 there's a dedicated headphone/analog audio output and WISA wireless audio support.
- 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
OLED gonna OLED. With both HD SDR and 4K HDR sources, in bright rooms and dark, the LG B9 reproduced the perfect black levels and superb contrast, uniformity and off-angle viewing I've come to expect from all OLED TVs.
The C9 was a tad better overall, however, with processing that did a slightly better job cleaning up some low-quality material and two advantages that could have to do with the samples I tested more than any difference between the B and C series themselves: somewhat higher light output and slightly better uniformity with test patterns. But they were so close that, once again, both deserved a "10" in image quality, the highest score I award. Meanwhile, the best LCDs I had on hand to test fell short overall, despite their superior light output.
Click the image at above 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: The B9 performed like a champ in the dark, beating all of the LCDs and looking as good as both of the OLEDs. Overall there were no major advantages of the 2019 OLEDs over last year's B8, however, and differences between the C9 and B9 were likewise vanishingly small.
Watching the Thor: Ragnarok Blu-ray disc the OLEDs' advantage over the LCDs came through best in dark areas. In the initial scene with Thor imprisoned in Surtur's lair, for example, the true blackness between the chains and in the background of the cave, led to more impactful contrast and a better image compared to the LCDs. The B9 also maintained all of the details in the shadows, keeping them from becoming crushed and impossible to discern.
The OLEDs commanded a similar advantage in other dark scenes, for example Chapter 7 when Thor rides the chair to see the Grandmaster, where the initial starfield and the recesses of the infrastructure looked more realistic than the LCDs. In brighter scenes the main advantage was in the OLEDs' letterbox bars, which remained perfectly black while the ones on the LCDs lightened somewhat.
Bright lighting: The 2019 B9 isn't as bright as the C9 I tested, and the couple-hundred nits difference in HDR was visible in side-by-side testing but didn't make a huge difference (see below). As usual, neither got as bright as the LCD-based models in our lineup, including the TCL 6 series.
Light output in nits
|TV||Brightest (SDR)||Accurate color (SDR)||Brightest (HDR)||Accurate color (HDR)|
|Vizio PQ65-F1 (2018)||2,184||1,570||2,441||2,441|
|Sony XBR-65X950G (2019)||1,050||427||1,264||1,035|
|Samsung Q70R (2019)||1,006||592||953||767|
|TCL 65R617 (2018)||653||299||824||824|
|Vizio M658-G1 (2019)||633||400||608||531|
|LG C9 (2019)||451||339||851||762|
|LG C8 (2018)||393||252||792||792|
|LG B9 (2019)||374||283||628||558|
New for 2019, LG OLEDs 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. That setting accounts for the jump in the "Accurate color (SDR)" column between the 2018 C8 and the B9/C9. As with most TVs the brightest mode for HDR and SDR (Vivid on the B9) is horribly inaccurate. For the Accurate modes I used ISF Expert Bright (Peak Brightness: High) and Cinema HDR for SDR and HDR, respectively.
There's also a new AI Brightness feature that senses ambient lighting and adjusts the image automatically, including tweaking HDR tone mapping to bring up dark areas in bright rooms. I didn't test it for this review.
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 -- think a hockey game, for example -- but even in those situations, they're hardly dim.
All of the OLED sets preserved black levels and reduced reflections very well -- better than Vizio and worse than the Samsung Q80R, whose handling of reflections is among the best I've ever seen.
Color accuracy: Before my standard calibration, the ISF Expert and Cinema modes modes were already super-accurate, and afterward they were even better. As usual OLED's superior black levels also slightly improved the perception of saturation compared to the LCDs, but in my tests all of the TVs were quite accurate, to the extent that differences wouldn't be noticeable beyond a side-by-side comparison.
Video processing: The C9 did show better processing than the B9, but I only saw the difference in lower-quality sources. I spent awhile hunting for processing-related differences between the two TVs with the excellent Ragnarok Blu-ray but didn't see anything worth noting. But when I checked out Game of Thrones' The Battle of Winterfell (aka The Long Night) episode, a source streamed from HBO Now and rife with compression artifacts, some C9 advantages emerged.
The sky above Jorah (7:39) showed banding and blocks of discoloration on the B8 and B9 near black that weren't visible on the C9, for example, and during a pan over Winterfell (5:19), bands of color in the sky showed up. When I turned the Smooth Gradation setting up to High on the C9 they largely disappeared, but with the same setting on the B9 they remained much more visible. The setting did obscure details in some areas, however, such as a mountain behind a pan over the ranks of Unsullied, so it's a trade-off. And there were still plenty of artifacts and issues (again inherent in the source) that looked equally bad on both OLEDs -- evidently beyond the reach of the C9's processing.
Otherwise processing between the two 2019 OLEDs was basically identical. The B9 passed my go-to 1080p/24 film cadence test from I Am Legend in Off, Clear and User (zero for De-Judder and 10 for De-Blur) TruMotion position. All three also delivered the TV's maximum motion resolution (600 lines) and correct film cadence. The Smooth settings and User De-Judder settings above 0 introduced some form of smoothing, or soap opera effect (Clear mode used to as well, but in 2019 it also handles 1080p/24 correctly in the Cinema and Expert modes).
The Samsungs and the Vizio with their true 120Hz refresh rates hit 1,200 lines of motion resolution, which might make them more appealing for sticklers who can't stand blurring. To my eye, however, the LGs remained perfectly sharp in motion with all the actual program material (as opposed to test patterns) I watched.
The mode that introduces black frame insertion, labeled OLED Motion, was mistakenly disabled by a recent software update. The setting is still available in the TruMotion menu on both by B9 and C9 review samples, but toggling it on either 2019 OLED has no visible effect. According to LG a software fix is in the works.
Gaming input lag has also been improved this year. The B9 was second only to the C9 with the lowest lag I've measured so far, at 13.67 and 13.7 milliseconds in game mode for 1080p and 4K HDR sources, respectively. That's better than the 2018 C8 by a solid margin, and tops the 2018 and 2019 Samsungs by less than a millisecond. If you can tell the difference, hats off to you.
Uniformity and off-angle viewing: My B9 review sample was slightly less uniform in brightness than other recent OLEDs I've tested, including the C9 and B8. It showed slightly dimmer edges along the bottom sides, particularly the left, compared to the middle of the screen. The difference was only visible in dark full-field test patterns, however, and I didn't see it in any program material.
The LCDs still showed worse uniformity than the B9, however, with slightly brighter and darker areas visible in the same patterns. And as usual the OLEDs, including the B9 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, than any of the LCDs.
HDR and 4K video: As I've seen with every OLED TV, the B9 gave an excellent performance with the highest-quality 4K and HDR video. Comparing it side-by-side against the rest of the TVs in my lineup, it beat the Samsungs and the Vizio overall, as usual, and was very similar to the B8 and C9.
Looking closely, however, I did pick out some differences between the three LG OLEDs. As noted above the B9 measured dimmer than either of the other two. My go-to reference montage from the new Spears and Munsil 4K HDR benchmark showed slightly dimmer highlights in the sunrise (2:09) for example, which measured 119 nits on the C9 and 70 on the B9. Other spot measurements were closer, but the C9 always measured (and looked) just a bit brighter. Beyond highlights I also noticed a slight difference in the full-field white, such as the snowy fields (0:37).
Beyond brightness it was tough to spot any difference between the C9 and B9. In tough sky shots -- the sunset at 2:03 and the blue expanse above the satellite dish at 5:28 -- both showed fewer banding artifacts than the B8, for example, and color was likewise basically identical between the two. Fine details like the feathers on the bird close-ups (6:28) were likewise the same. And of course all three OLEDs nailed the high-contrast torture scenes like the nightime shot of the Ferris wheel and the montage of objects in front of black backgrounds.
In comparison all of the LCDs showed lighter black levels and some blooming, or stray illumination around objects, which decreased their sense of realism. And in my lineup that realism extended to areas like those bird feathers, where side-by-side the OLEDs seemed to bring out just a bit more detail than the LCDs -- a consequence of their superior contrast, I'm guessing. All of LCDs did get brighter than the OLEDs, as usual, in both highlights and full-field scenes, but I wouldn't trade that brilliance for the incredible image of the OLEDs, including the B9.
I felt the same watching other content. The OLEDs' pitch-black letterbox bars and deep shadows in the Surtur scene from the Ragnarok 4K Blu-ray really improved the punch of Mjolnir and co., while the LCDs' brighter Bifrost and rendering of Asgard in the sunlight didn't move the needle of enjoyment as much. No display showed a big advantage in colors and detail in these scenes, however. Streaming the Amazon Prime Original Carnival Row in 4K HDR from Apple TV was a similar story: the OLEDs won the dark scenes handily and their dimmer highlights and skies weren't a major liability in bright scenes.
|Black luminance (0%)||0.000||Good|
|Peak white luminance (SDR)||374||Average|
|Avg. gamma (10-100%)||2.21||Good|
|Avg. grayscale error (10-100%)||0.44||Good|
|Dark gray error (30%)||0.29||Good|
|Bright gray error (80%)||0.32||Good|
|Avg. color checker error||0.78||Good|
|Avg. saturation sweeps error||0.83||Good|
|Avg. color error||0.94||Good|
|1080p/24 Cadence (IAL)||Pass||Good|
|Motion resolution (max)||600||Average|
|Motion resolution (dejudder off)||600||Average|
|Input lag (Game mode)||13.67||Good|
|Black luminance (0%)||0.000||Good|
|Peak white luminance (10% win)||628||Poor|
|Gamut % UHDA/P3 (CIE 1976)||98.92||Good|
|Avg. color checker error||3.59||Average|
|Input lag (Game mode, 4K HDR)||13.77||Good|
Update Dec 3, 2019: Added Editors' Choice award, 77-inch size.