Review: LG 65SM9500 Goes Wide, Bright And Colorful
The LG 2019 flagship 4K Ultra HD LED LCD TV called the “NanoCell” 65SM9500, marks the next evolution in the company’s quest to stretch the brightness and color barriers in home-based LCD displays, and our review of the 65-inch model found some impressive results.
Shoppers will find the LG 65SM9500 (available soon at a $2,699 suggested retail price), which by our count appears to have about 100 full-array LED backlit zones with local dimming–the company won’t reveal what their official count is–presents an impressively bright (1697.4 nits of HDR peak luminance measured in a 10% D65 window) and colorful (93.7% P3 wide gamut) display that meets Ultra HD Alliance “Premium Certification” performance levels. It also produces rich dark blacks (0.337 nits black level, which is slightly brighter than the UHDA premium threshold of 0.05 nits).
Where the television suffers slightly is in its presentation of black level and black shadow details, which depending on the content, can reveal instances of blooming and haloing around bright objects in standard and high dynamic range (SDR and HDR) on black or dark backgrounds. However, we’ve found that as LCD TV makers have attempted to boost both brightness levels and viewing angles on their best models, these blooming issues are appearing in top LCD models from other brands as well. To be nitpicky, bright HDR highlights, as seen in 4K YouTube wildlife clips (Majestic Winter Wildlife in 4K HDR Arctic Wolves, Fixes and More) showing brilliant splashes of sunlight against dark tree shadows in a forest, occasionally revealed clipping of detail within specular highlights. (UPDATE: Upon further analysis, we only noticed the clipping issue when the television was in calibrated Technicolor HDR picture mode. After switching over to Home Cinema HDR picture mode, we found the specular highlight details were restored. We have also updated our original rating of this television from 4 to 5 out of 5 hearts.) For comparison, the ability to present details like this without blooming or clipping generally isn’t a problem for LG’s 4K OLED technology. In our opinion, LG really proves its prowess as an HDR display maker in either OLED or LCD technology implementations.
So once again, selecting a 2019 NanoCell SM9500 (formerly known as Super UHD) will require shoppers to decide what is most important to them – having brilliantly bright, colorful pictures (LED LCD technology) or less bright pictures, rich deep blacks, deep colors and wider viewing angles, both vertical and horizontal (OLED).
In the SM9500 series, LG sought to broaden the ability of its wide-angle In-Plane Switching (IPS) LCD panel. It did so, in part, using NanoCell technology to give viewers a wider angle of view than conventional VA LCD panels before colors and contrast begin to fade. Although the set does present a wider than 60-degree horizontal viewing angle before picture quality begins to suffer, we found images viewed from high and low angles are still a problem.
Thus, the picture on a tabletop positioned screen that looks brilliantly rich and colorful when the viewer is seated dead center, immediately loses some of its contrast, and haloing becomes more pronounced when the viewer stands up. Similarly, the picture suffers when looking up from below the center of the screen, which can be an issue that requires screen tilting in higher placed wall-mounted applications.
As mentioned, one of the key advancements in the line is the use of so-called “NanoCell” technology to improve color. Makers of LCD televisions have been using various methods to widen and improve the color gamut including narrow red and green phosphors, quantum dots, and various color filter improvements, like NanoCell. LG uses so-called nano particles that act as a secondary color filter to absorb unwanted light wavelengths and enhance the purity of the red and green colors displayed on the screen.
But LG’s “NanoCell” LCD lineup – formerly known as “Super UHD” – still takes a backseat to the company’s best televisions based on 4K OLED technology. Naturally, comparable OLED models cost significantly more. So the SM9500 series presents very strong picture quality for a smaller budgets. The tradeoff will be some loss of contrast and blooming/haloing issues.
But for those who love the brilliancy of momentary flashes of light in colorful HDR specular highlights, these models should satisfy in a way that OLED still can’t quite match.
The LG SM9500 is based on the company’s Alpha 7 Gen 2 processor, which is a step lower than the Alpha 9 Gen 2 used in most 2019 LG 4K OLEDs and 2019 LG 8K displays, but powerful enough to drive accurate color performance and many of the television’s Artificial Intelligece (AI)-based technologies for picture and sound quality improvement.
In fact, the 65SM9500 includes all the ThinQ AI smart functions of the 4K OLED models including the handling of multiple HDR formats (HDR10, Hybrid Log-Gamma, and Dolby Vision with dynamic metadata). This year AI sound is added. The latter uses deep learning technology to improve the surround sound quality from the television’s built-in speaker system. Similarly, deep learning technology is employed in the image processing system to adapt and improve the way images are upscaled and presented to the viewer for the clearest possible results.
The series was also designed to support many of the features in the soon-to-arrive HDMI 2.1 connection standard. The features that will be enabled for the 65SM9500 model include: Enhanced Audio Return Channel (eARC) on HDMI input 2 to send lossless object-based audio such as Dolby Atmos and DTS:X back from the TV via HDMI ARC; Variable Refresh Rate (VRR) and Auto Low Latency Mode (ALLM), both of which will be popular with video gamers; and 4K High Frame Rate up to 120 fps (also supported via USB).
LG’s 2019 65SM9500 is very similar in appearance to last year’s SK9500 model, and should fit in well with most home decor styles. As last year, the 65SM9500 comes with a rounded half-horseshoe-shaped pedestal base. This year’s base piece, which is chrome/metal, is flatter than last year’s piece. It has VESA-compliant wall-mount screw holes on the back for industry standard brackets. (Just get one with the ability to tilt the screen to avoid issues with low-angle contrast if the TV is to be mounted up high). The screen is bordered by an ultra-thin black bezel trim and the edge of the screen has a high-end looking double-lined chrome accent trim. The back of set is slightly rounded and composed of a nice-looking gray-black plastic.
The 65SM9500 is very bright making for a striking 4K HDR picture. The set is equipped with full-array LED backlights with local dimming which generate an ample amount of light output, although the when combined with IPS-panel technology this tends to reduce the black level and washout the image somewhat, producing an overall gray cast in darker sequences. It also tends to impact blooming and haloing around bright objects in both HDR and standard dynamic range (SDR) images.
After performing HDR and SDR calibrations with the LG/Portrait Displays developed 5.10.0 beta version of CalMan/AutoCal for LG HDR TVs, we found this became a distraction in the form of haloing around headlights in the night-time motorcycle chase sequences on the Ultra HD Blu-ray version of Venom. Turning the local dimming control to high helps reduce this somewhat, but not completely. We measured the HDR peak luminance at an impressively bright 1697.4 nits using a 10% D65 window. We then measured the color gamut at 93.7% P3, which is above the Ultra HD Alliance “Premium Certification” threshold. Black level, however, was slightly higher than the UHDA premium threshold at 0.337 nits (the UHDA premium maximum is 0.05 nits). We found we could deepen the appearance of blacks somewhat by turning on room lighting. Regardless, we found the bright highlights and rich nuanced colors produced by this set made for an enjoyable HDR viewing experience.
After calibration, we found the 65SM9500 handled HD 720/1080i and Full HD 1080p content with SDR very well. Colors appeared accurate with virtually imperceptible average Delta e errors, all well below 3. However, as with HDR, the issue of blooming and haloing was still evident in darkly lit content. The 65SM9500 was a solid performer handling live video from over-the-air and pay-TV signals.
The LG 65SM9500 had some issues with uniformity. Faint jail bar patterns can be seen across the screen when displaying a 100% gray pattern. We found this was occasionally visible in pans across bright backgrounds when watching real-world movies and videos. We also noticed darkened sections in all four corners and along the right and left vertical sides of the screen.
Again, significant black screen uniformity challenges surfaced as blooming or haloing around bright white on-screen objects played against black or dark backgrounds. We found we could lessen the degree of haloing by turning on overhead lighting rather than watching in a totally dark room. With room lighting off, we occasionally saw light leaking or flashlighting outside of the frame into the black letterbox borders on Blu-ray movie content, although the issue was pretty much eliminated with ambient room lighting turned on.
The 65SM9500 handled banding of gradual color transitions well, assisted this year by inclusion of a separate decontouring mode. For example, banding around Aquaman’s trident that is very noticeable on TVs with weaker processing is virtually absent on the 65SM9500 playing the 1080p Blu-ray version of the Aquaman movie. The problematic artifact sometimes pops up in the final battle scene of the Full HD Blu-ray version of the movie.
Movie film grain and low light noise, however, is noticeable in some torture sequences. This includes the Ultra HD Blu-ray version of the dimly lit party sequence with Lex Luther early in “Batman v Superman Dawn of Justice” as well as in the flashback home sequences in the streaming 4K Ultra HD version of “First Man”. However, this can be mitigated somewhat with the noise reduction control, and is generally not a distraction unless specifically looking for it.
The television has a native 120 Hz refresh rate panel and does a generally nice job with motion handling in live video such as sports. For extra help, the TruMotion motion smoothing software can be custom set to adjust for de-judder and de-blurring. With custom turned on in TruMotion the default is de-blur on full and dejudder off. Turning up dejudder tends to worsen the soap opera effect with film-based material and should be used sparingly if at all. However, the judder issue can be quite evident with certain types of movie content. For instance, turning TruMotion off for movie watching, as many movie directors now advocate, judder can be distracting and apparent in scenes with pans of vertical objects, such as the tree line in the forest scenes from the Ultra HD Blu-ray version of The Revenant.
As mentioned the 65SM9500 comes with a complement of input jacks supporting the new HDMI 2.1 standard, four inputs in all. HDMI 2 will bring support for the new eARC feature.
In addition the set is equipped with one RF antenna input, one set of RCA composite video inputs, one set of RCA stereo inputs, a TOSLINK optical audio output, three USB 2.0 inputs, an Ethernet port and an RS-232 control port via 1/8″ 3.5mm input.
Once again LG is adding its ThinQ AI platform to its NanoCell televisions, giving users a wide range of capabilities, including use this year with multiple brands of voice control AI systems. LG’s ThinQ is a platform designed to run across devices including the TV, mobile devices and smart home appliances to communicate and share data for an easier and more personalized experience.
In addition, LG is offering a new version (4.5) of webOS which also integrates voice assistance with Amazon Alexa as well as Google Assistant voice control technology to operate various functions of the TV and compatible smart devices.
With Alexa compatibility built in to the television this year, you will be able to control many of the television’s functions without the need for a separate Alexa smart speaker. However, you can also link a previously purchased Amazon Alexa device, like an Echo, Echo Dot, Echo Show, Echo Spot, and Echo Plus, to control the TV with your voice. Furthermore, the television will also interact with Google Assistant to search for content and other tasks. Voice commands are input via a button-activated mic built into the TV’s “Magic Remote.” When deeper control commands are required, the television will switch over to LG’s own voice control technology.
For Apple users, LG is also adding support for Apple’s AirPlay 2 and HomeKit features to enable the television to interact with various HomeKit enabled smart home devices.
The webOS 4.5 interface once again is controlled by the supplied Magic Remote. This provides an air-mouse-like cursor the moves around the screen by pointing to highlight on-screen buttons and selections.
The LG 65SM9500 is a more than competent display for video gaming playing. As mentioned, it will soon have HDMI connectivity supporting the new VRR, ALLM and high frame rates to be found in new and forthcoming 4K video games with HDR. Further, it has a very low input lag of 15.4 ms for both Full HD and 4K/HDR material in “game” picture mode, making for a very fast response time needed for tough competition.
As part of the ThinQ AI platform, LG’s 2019 65SM9500 includes a new audio feature called “AI Sound” that monitors content and adjusts and enhances the audio accordingly. The system was designed to upconvert stereo to 5.1.
We found the sound to be excellent for a built-in TV sound system. Vocals were always clear and not muttered. In addition, the simulated surround sound effects present a wider sound stage than typical built-in speaker packages. However, we never heard anything we might have mistaken for overhead sound effects, even when playing Dolby Atmos content. For those looking for a more directional experience, LG is now including WiSA wireless speaker connectivity to add compatible rear-channels without running connecting wires. But listening to built-in speakers designed for placement in a thin-screen TV like this, we found the sound still was boxier and narrower than would be the case with a separate surround sound speaker system or a high-quality Dolby Atmos soundbar. You’ll have to decide how important the full sight and sound experience is to you, and whether you have the budget and the space to add another layer of audio equipment to complete the ensemble. In the meantime, the on-board sound should do the job nicely.
LG’s 2019 65-inch 65SM9500 produces an often gorgeous picture and immersive on-board surround sound for a significantly lower price than an equivalently sized LG 4K OLED TV. We liked the cosmetics and the ThinQ AI paired with the webOS 4.0 smart TV platform is among the best in the business. This gets all the better with the ability to use either Google Assistant or Amazon Alexa voice control AI. That should resonate with the millions of installed Alexa smart speakers and Google/Android users across the country. But at $2,699 it’s still not exactly cheap. Shoppers in this price bracket have some intriguing options for about $800 more – like LG’s own 65C9 ($3,499) 4K OLED TV or Samsung’s new 4K Ultra HD Q90R full-array LED LCD TV ($3,498). Both of these models present better black level performance, less blooming (none with the OLED), and both technologies offer wide viewing angles. Still, we know $800 more is a lot to spend, especially when the picture on the LG 65SM9500 NanoCell TV is a lot better than “good enough.” It earns HD Guru’s highest rating and a buy recommendation, in fact.
We therefore award the LG 65SM9500 4K NanoCell LED LCD TV five out of five hearts.
The LG 65M9500 used for this review was a company loan.
UPDATE: We revised our rating of 4 out of 5 hearts to 5 out of 5 hearts after finding that observed clipping issues in specular highlights seen in Technicolor HDR mode were corrected in Home Cinema HDR mode.
By Greg Tarr
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