Is the new LG C2 OLED TV worth the price increase? 

Experts and consumers alike have widely praised LG’s midrange OLED models as the best high-end TVs available for several generations. Their novel technology delivers impressive performance when playing nearly any type of content, whether it’s movies, TV shows or video games.

The only major drawback to LG’s OLED TVs is that they are anything but cheap. One way to mitigate that high cost is to get last year’s model. To figure out how worthwhile that prospect is for most people, here’s a closer look at this year’s C2 and last year’s C1 to see if the incremental improvements are worth the current price hike.

How do OLED TVs work?

Typical LCD TVs use a backlight, a liquid crystal matrix layer and a set of color filters to produce an image. The backlight creates the light, the liquid crystal either blocks it or lets it through, and the color filters turn it to the appropriate shade or hue.

LCD panels are highly refined at this point, but they can still suffer from consistent issues such as light bleed, poor viewing angles and splotchy, grayish blacks. Some technologies can fight these issues, such as local dimming configurations that dim or brighten individual screen areas to enhance effective contrast levels.

OLED technology aims to change all that. Instead of a separate backlight and liquid crystal matrix, OLED panels have a single layer of pixels that can turn themselves on and off at will, known as individually lit pixels. In contrast to LCD panels, OLEDs create perfect blacks, rarely degrade when viewed from an angle and never suffer from light bleed or blooming. Essentially, the self-illuminated pixels serve as a perfect local dimming configuration.

OLED TV pros

  • Wide color gamuts: Since there’s no extraneous backlight or light bleed to deal with, OLED panels and their color filters generally produce wide ranges of colors.
  • Great viewing angles: Even if you’re sitting in the farthest position on the couch, the colors and brightness level of an OLED TV will look largely the same.
  • Low input lag: With fewer components in the process, OLED panels translate your inputs to onscreen results almost instantly.
  • Slim and light designs: The lack of a bulky backlight means OLED TVs don’t weigh as much and are smaller than their backlit counterparts.

OLED TV cons

  • High prices: The high cost of OLED TVs is by far the biggest reason some people avoid them.
  • Less-than-ideal peak brightness: Most OLED TVs have significant difficulty getting anywhere near as bright as LCD TVs, which is a big problem if you’re looking for the best possible HDR experience.
  • Potential for long-term burn-in: The chemicals that make up OLED pixels and subpixels break down over time, unlike LCD backlights and liquid crystal layers. This can lead to image retention in the long term. Luckily for prospective OLED buyers, the risk is lower than ever due to a few novel technologies.

What is the LG C1 OLED TV?

It’s been clear to most industry experts since at least the 2017 C7 that LG’s OLED models are among the finest TVs available. In fact, LG Display (which is related to LG, the TV manufacturer, but not the same company) still manufactures nearly all the TV-size OLED panels on the planet.

2021 LG C1

The 2021 LG C1 was part of the first wave of 4K TVs to support nearly all the newest HDMI 2.1 requirements straight off the production line. The most obvious such improvement is the TV’s ability to display 4K content at 120 hertz, or 120 frames per second if you’re rendering in real time. At the time, the HDMI 2.1 standard maxed out at 48 gigabits per second. The LG C1 offered 40 Gbps of bandwidth, and while that didn’t quite reach the full specification, it was and still is plenty of overhead for nearly all consumer applications.

Other features make a difference depending on how you use your TV. Auto low-latency mode ensures your input lag is as low as possible the moment you plug in a gaming console. Enhanced audio return channel lets you route video and audio streams to the correct home-theater hardware without running any redundancy HDMI or optical audio cables. HDMI Forum variable refresh rate technology eliminates the compatibility and performance issues that can arise with Nvidia’s and AMD’s proprietary VRR methods. The LG C1 was one of the first TVs to embrace all of these features.

How is the LG C2 different from the C1?

LG C2

Several small improvements were made to the LG C2. Together, they do make a difference, but not so much that springing for the new and expensive model is a slam dunk.

Full HDMI 2.1 bandwidth

That means its HDMI input can handle the full 48 Gbps of bandwidth. This will likely only come into play if you’re using ultra-premium configurations such as 4K resolution at full 4:4:4 chroma sampling, along with 10-bit color and Dolby Vision HDR. For that kind of setup, you’ll have to be heavily invested in high-end home-theater gear to notice the difference. So, most users won’t benefit a ton from the C2’s increased bandwidth.

Streamlined smart controls

The biggest deal here is the new ability of LG webOS to accept hands-free voice commands. That means you no longer have to wipe the popcorn butter off your hands when changing to a new movie or TV show. You can also now set individual user profiles for accessing streaming content, so you don’t get suggestions for all the weird shows your family members might watch.

Wider color gamut

The C1 could already produce an impressive color volume, and the C2 actually does a slightly better job there. However, the update introduced a minor issue with tone mapping. In other words, the relative color and brightness adjustment between colors in HDR mode isn’t quite as true to the source as it could be. While this is a real issue, you probably won’t notice it.

Increased peak brightness

Here’s the one big change made to the new C2. Previously, only the LG G1 boasted the company’s new Evo-class OLED panels. Now, the C2 does, too, although the G2 still gets the brighter panel. In some highlights, the C2 is estimated at up to 20% brighter than its predecessor.

Is this a big deal? Probably not. But it’s a big enough increase that you’d notice it if the C1 and C2 were placed side by side.

Should you buy the new LG C2 or the LG C1?

If money is no object, it’s certainly worth springing for the new C2 due to some small but meaningful improvements. On the other hand, most users will hardly notice a difference between the pair’s image quality, but they will notice the savings of several hundred dollars on the 2021 LG C1.

Other TVs to consider

If you’re not certain that one of the above LG models is right for you, there are plenty of quality alternatives worth considering.

Hisense U9DG

Hisense U9DG

The first of its kind, it uses a pair of panels in one to deliver essentially unmatched contrast and seriously impressive cinematic performance. However, it’s not great for gaming and comes in only a 75-inch size. Sold by Amazon

Samsung QN90A

Samsung QN90A

This is another case where last year’s model is basically as good as, yet much cheaper than, the latest release. It significantly outshines the C2. Sold by Amazon

Sony A90J

Sony A90J

Few OLED TVs are as bright (or as costly) as this model, which provides a beautiful picture. Sold by Amazon

Hisense U6G

Hisense U6G

It offers a great HDR experience at a far cheaper price than the competition. If you mostly plan on watching movies, it’s the ideal budget-friendly choice. Sold by Amazon

 

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Chris Thomas writes for BestReviews. BestReviews has helped millions of consumers simplify their purchasing decisions, saving them time and money.

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