OLED screens have become the current gold standard in the smartphone space, but such panels are far more expensive to manufacture at the scale needed for TVs. We've been big fans of the technology for a while now but OLED TVs are still priced at a significant premium, and are indeed accessible only to buyers with very big budgets. If you're looking at better value for money or just want the biggest TV you can get without spending a huge amount, it's advisable to stick to LED screens for now.
It's possible to buy a 55-inch 4K HDR LED TV for under Rs. 40,000 today, but the big brands such as LG still command a premium for various reasons, including the promise of better performance and features that aren't seen on budget TVs. The LG SM9000 NanoCell series, which we are reviewing today, is one such TV range. The LG SM9000 range is available in two sizes — 55-inch for Rs. 1,74,990 and 65-inch for Rs. 2,64,990, which we review here. Is the LG SM9000 NanoCell series worth such a significant premium over much of the competition? We find out in our review.
LG SM9000 NanoCell design and specifications
With modern TVs, we feel that the best look is a minimalist one that makes the screen the centre of your attention. The LG SM9000 series does exactly that, with thin borders all around the screen. The bottom border is the same width as the sides and top, and there are no brand logos on the front of the TV. The massive 65-inch screen of the LG 65SM9000 was indeed its most striking factor, and made for a largely distraction-free viewing experience.
We quite liked the smooth, featureless back of the TV as well, even though it's not something users will have to look at a lot. The TV is very slim on the whole, and even the bulge towards the middle is not quite as thick as we see on most TVs. If you're wall-mounting this TV, you'll have a small gap between it and the wall. One set of ports face sideways to the left of the screen, while others face the rear. All the ports and sockets were quite difficult to access, not just because of their positions but also because of the size of the TV itself.
If you aren't planning to wall-mount the LG SM9000 NanoCell, it comes with a convenient pedestal with a single strong stem to attach to the TV, and raises it a fair amount above the surface of your table. The curved base of the stand doesn't occupy a lot of space, and we were able to comfortably place the TV on a table that is typically too small for 65-inch TVs. The TV did sway and wobble a lot because of the stand's design, which might be a bit scary for some.
The LG SM9000 has four HDMI 2.1 ports (one of which supports ARC), all facing sideways; three USB ports (two at the side, one at the rear); digital optical audio output (via a Toslink port); a 3.5mm socket for connecting headphones or speakers; a cable antenna input; Ethernet and component sockets for audio out and AV in.
For sound, the LG SM9000 has a 2.2-channel setup with bottom firing speakers (40W output) and two subwoofer drivers (20W output) built into the TV. Various Dolby and DTS formats are supported, including Dolby Atmos. The TV also has Bluetooth 5 for wireless audio connectivity, and interestingly, supports the aptX Bluetooth codec.
The LG SM9000 NanoCell has a 4K-resolution (3840x2160 pixels) LED screen, with a 100Hz standard refresh rate and full-array dimming. This means that different sections of the backlight of the TV are individually controlled, and areas of the screen that don't need to be lit remain switched off, and therefore truly black. This promises better black levels for dark scenes.
The TV is powered by the a7 Gen 2 processor from LG, and supports HDR content up to the Dolby Vision format. Interestingly, there are a few special picture calibration modes which might appeal to users, such as Technicolor Expert mode and ISF (Imaging Science Foundation) certified mode. The picture mode can be manually set for standard viewing, but is automatically adjusted when watching HDR or Dolby Vision content, and we don't recommend changing this.
Although it wasn't available when we first started using the LG SM9000 TV, a firmware update enabled AirPlay 2 and Homekit support on the TV. We were able to test AirPlay with a MacBook Air, which worked as expected. The SM9000 also supports Miracast for screen casting.
LG has included its popular Magic Remote with the SM9000 series, which lets users perform wand-like gestures to navigate through the UI. There is also a scroll wheel and a direction pad for more traditional navigation, but we quite liked using the floating cursor. The microphone button lets you communicate with Google Assistant to give voice commands to the TV.
There are hotkeys for Netflix and Amazon Prime Video on the remote, and the Amazon Prime Video button can also be used to trigger Alexa (when configured on the TV). We did find the remote to be a bit bottom-heavy and unwieldy at times, particularly when reaching for the power button at the top.
LG SM9000 NanoCell software and interface
The LG SM9000 NanoCell TV runs the company's webOS smart platform, which is different from Android TV and many Android-based platforms in one big way — the main interface sticks to the sides of the TV rather than popping up on a separate screen. This means that you can access the interface even with a connected device running and content showing on the screen.
The source and app selection controls are at the bottom, while the Settings menu is on the left. Even extended menus — such as detailed settings — only occupy about half of the screen area. However, certain parts of the interface such as the LG Content Store (the app store on the TV) do occupy the full screen.
The TV is marketed as an ‘AI ThinQ' TV, with various AI-based features. Apart from support for Google Assistant and Alexa for voice control, the TV is also said to use AI to optimise and improve brightness, picture quality, sound quality, and acoustic tuning. None of this was perceptible to us during our time with the TV, leading us to believe that the AI features are a bit gimmicky, or too subtle to really make a big difference.
WebOS isn't the best TV interface we've used, for a number of reasons including being a bit sluggish to load and having a rather average selection of apps. It is easy enough to use, though, and enables quick access to apps as well as easy changes to settings. It's not quite as feature-filled as Android TV, but does get the job done, particularly for users who want an uncomplicated interface.
Most popular content apps are present, including Netflix, Amazon Prime Video, Hotstar, YouTube, Zee5, Hungama, Yupp TV, and Spotify. Where available, 4K, HDR, and Dolby Vision content is supported in these apps. There is also an official Alexa app that can be used to enable the Alexa voice assistant through the remote, or link the TV to any Echo speakers you have at home. All of these apps are a bit sluggish to use, but we didn't have any issues with streaming content at up to 4K resolution on a 25Mbps Internet connection.
LG SM9000 NanoCell performance
The LG SM9000 NanoCell is one of LG's top LED TV ranges, and goes up against the likes of the recently launched Sony X95G series. The LG SM9000 series is significantly more affordable than the competing Sony line, with the 65-inch 65SM9000 priced only slightly higher than the smaller 55-inch Sony 55X9500G. However, the LG SM9000 doesn't quite match up to the Sony X95G in terms of performance.
We used a variety of content to test the LG 65SM9000 with, including movies and TV shows at up to 4K resolution, and HDR and Dolby Vision content. Much of our typical viewing utilised an Amazon Fire TV Stick 4K, but we also used some test files stored on a hard drive, as well as the native apps, to get a proper idea of how this TV works with different types of content.
As always, we started with our favourite show to test TVs with, Our Planet in 4K Dolby Vision on Netflix. This is a show known for its bright, colourful, striking visuals of nature, and the LG SM9000 was able to bring out the best in this show. The visuals were searingly bright, the colours were punchy and largely accurate, and the picture was realistic and sharp, but in a gentle way that made for good transitioning of colours and didn't cause any jagged edges in the frame. The ISF picture calibration mode produced the most accurate colours and brightness in our opinion, and made for a wholly satisfying viewing experience.
The episode of Our Planet that we watched was about shallow coastal seas, and had a lot of daylight, natural greens and blues, and various other bright shades, which the LG SM9000 handled capably. We were also quite impressed by the viewing angles, with the NanoCell TV maintaining colours and sharpness even when watching from way off-centre.
With bright daytime scenes, the TV did an excellent job, be it streamed content or higher quality stored content, such as our 4K HDR sample files. Motion was good for the most part, but we did occasionally see some artefacts and issues with very quick movement.
However, the LG SM9000 TV performed abysmally with low-light visuals, primarily because of its full-array dimming feature. There aren't a lot of light zones on the TV, which makes for very large and distinct blocks of backlighting at different intensities even in dark scenes, which causes a significant blooming effect on the screen. Black levels were decent in zones where the backlight was off, but blacks appeared a very distinct shade of grey when the backlight was on.
Watching Hanna on Amazon Prime Video in 4K HDR — a show that predominantly features low-light scenes — wasn't a great experience, with the blooming effect proving to be extremely distracting. The constant shifting and changing of black levels tended to take our attention away from the sharpness and accuracy of brighter shades.
It's possible to switch off local dimming, but this completely ruined the black levels on the TV by keeping things too bright, rather than bringing the overall brightness down to ensure dark scenes remain dark, as is the case on the Sony X95G TV.
The blooming effect caused by the full-array dimming is clearly visible here
The LG SM9000 series claims to offer OLED-like picture quality, but the poor black levels and distracting blooming effect debunk that claim. Although the brightness in entirely vibrant scenes and strong colour performance does match with what we've seen on the best TVs, the LG SM9000 simply cannot hold its own with dark content. The distraction is even worse in dark rooms. HDR and Dolby Vision content tend to bring out this issue more than standard dynamic range content, as the backlighting needs to be much brighter.
As for non-HDR content in 4K and full-HD resolutions, bright shows and movies weren't quite as vibrant, but dark content turned out to be a fair bit better. Season One of True Detective, which we streamed on Hotstar in full-HD, was a much more pleasant viewing experience than Hanna, despite being equally dark and a bit less sharp. Some of our non-HDR sample videos in 4K resolution were similarly a little easier to watch, with a less distracting blooming effect.
While the TV does a good job of upscaling full-HD content, it wasn't good at all with 720p and standard definition content. Problems with SD video included a lack of detail, jagged edges, and too many artefacts. Colours also appeared strange, and while the poor performance with low-resolution content may have something to do with the sheer size of the 65SM9000, we can objectively say that this TV isn't meant for watching standard definition content.
Based on the total rated output of 60W, we expected sound on the LG SM9000 to be decent. However, we found the sound quality to be very irregular on the TV; at times it was loud, while at other times it dropped to incoherent levels even at the maximum volume. Switching off the AI sound features helped to a small extent, but we still found that constant volume adjustments were needed, which quickly became tiresome.
The sound often spiked for background music and busy scenes, while dropping during soft and conversational scenes. While vocals and highs sounded good enough, lows were a bit dull. We'd highly recommend investing in a good soundbar or speaker system with this TV for proper sound.
The LG SM9000 is an expensive TV even by LG's own standards, but does have some positives. We felt that the TV gets colours, brightness, and sharpness right. It does a decent job with HDR and Dolby Vision content as well, and provided you stick to bright movies and TV shows at full-HD or higher resolution, you'll be happy with picture performance.
Unfortunately, the full-array dimming is a gimmicky feature that might sound good on paper, but makes for poor black levels, distracting blooming effects, and a generally sub-par experience in actual use. Inconsistent sound levels, a somewhat sluggish interface, and poor performance with standard-definition and 720p content are also blots on what could have otherwise been a very good TV for the price. Although it costs a fair bit more for the same size, the Sony X95G might be worth considering over the LG SM9000 for its more consistent performance.
Price: Rs. 2,64,990 (65SM9000)
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