When offered the chance to spend an evening testing out LG’s 65-inch C9 4K OLED TV and SL10YG soundbar, there were plenty of possibilities that came to mind.
These days, there’s no shortage of great content out there that you could use to put a high-end TV like this through its paces. Netflix, Stan and Amazon Prime all offer a wide variety of 4K and HDR content - all of which would probably look fantastic when splayed across the C9’s OLED-based canvas.
Hell, even if the content you’re looking to watch on an OLED TV like the C9 isn’t properly mastered for 4K, you’ve got LG’s newest Alpha 9 processor to do the heavy lifting and make up the difference.
[Related: What is OLED?]
As with its predecessor, the 2nd-generation Alpha 9 processor uses a quad-step upscaling process. This breaks down into a two-step noise cleaning process (reducing picture grain noise) and a two-step de-contour noise process (which reduces color banding).
There’s a frequency-based sharpness enhancer that boosts the finer details and adds texture to what’s on the screen by accentuating the edges of objects on the screen. There’s an object depth enhancer that separates the main object from the background image and processes it to make detection clearer and the edges. There’s a colour lookup table that LG say is 7.3 times more sophisticated than a conventional TV and there's even support for high frame rate content of up to 120FPS.
With capabilities like that, you could throw pretty much anything up on the LG C9 OLED - and it’d probably look fantastic. The C9 is the culmination of both years of iteration and R&D investment by LG. There’s not much out there that can challenge it, content-wise.
But you know what would be a challenge? Replaying one of this year’s most difficult video games - Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice - and seeing how it looks on one of the nicest TVs Australians can buy right now.
How good would Sekiro look on LG’s C9 OLED? And could I finish the game in a single evening?
[Related: Sekiro - Shadows Die Twice review]
For those out there who are familiar (or care): the goal was to critical path my way towards the Shura ending - the shortest of Sekiro’s four endings. Still, out of the gate, I was faced with a bit of a dilemma. Do I start things over with a fresh save or continue my existing save file (now in its third playthrough)?
One path offered the temptation of slightly more room-for-error, the other offered me the chance to reset the clock on the moment-to-moment difficulty of the game. When push came to shove, I opted to start things off in good faith. I went with a proper new save file.
But before that, I had to get everything set up.
With my trusty Aorus 15 gaming laptop and HDMI cable in hand, I quickly got the C9 set up. The voice controls built into the LG C9 made this part a breeze. I simply had to pick up the remote, hit the microphone button and say ‘Switch to HDMI 1’ aloud and I was ready to go. Almost.
Finally, of course, I had to make sure that Game Mode was enabled.
And jumping into a fresh save, I found myself really impressed from the get-go with how much the SL10YG soundbar added to the experience of playing Sekiro.
It’s difficult to quantify but it added a little bit of extra punch and additional impact to in-game sound effects and audio cues - from the shrill metallic clang that rings out when you pull off a successful parry to brusque coughing of the sculptor to the ferocious battle cry of the game’s first real boss.
“MY NAME IS GYOUBU MASATAKA ONIWA."
“AND AS I BREATHE THE CASTLE GATES REMAIN CLOSED.”
Stalking my way through the snow-capped steppes of the Ashina Outskirts on LG’s C9 OLED felt cinematic in a way that I didn’t get on the LG-made monitor I own at home.
When I played through the opening chapters of Sekiro on my 34-inch display, it was like looking through a window into a crisply-rendered world full of mythic promise and monstrous agenda. When I played through the same section on the 65-inch LG C9 OLED TV, it felt like that window expanded to become a living panorama of swordplay and snow that demanded the attention of anyone around it. The moody and film-esque qualities of the Sekiro’s in-game cutscenes took on a whole new life and the in-game action looked almost as sharp as the One-Armed Wolf’s Kusabimaru.
Eager to push things further, I even tried to turn on the HDR toggle in Sekiro’s graphics menu. Unfortunately, the results were immediately off-putting. In terms of saturation and color balance, they just seemed...wrong. However, I’d put that down to the fact that I was running Sekiro off a laptop. I bet if I had brought an Xbox One X or Playstation 4 Pro with me and run the game on that, I’d get a much better outcome.
Still, after butting my head up against Gyoubu Oniwa several times, I hit my first wall.
As mentioned in the intro, starting a new save file meant resetting the overall difficulty of Sekiro. Each playthrough of the game increases the overall difficulty. However, it also placed new limited on my health pool and the amount of healing potions (called gourds) at my disposal. Simply put, I had a lot less room for error than I anticipated. I could tear through most of Gyoubu’s health bar with ease but I only really had room for one mistake - and that was costing me time.
At this stage, I had already burned about twenty-five minutes. I figured I could still go back and start things over on New Game + without losing too much more - and if it would save me the need to chase those health upgrades before attempting later bosses, even better.
So I did exactly that. And my hunch was correct. The upgrades that carried over from my previous playthroughs made a big difference. I was able to fight my way back to the horse-mounted general in half the time - and taking him down only took a single attempt.
My quest to play through all of Sekiro on one of LG’s nicest OLED TVs in a single evening was back on track.
Ahead of schedule, even.
So I decided to take a quick break. Refresh my brain. Chill out and enjoy (the) space for a bit.
Picking up where I left off in my hands-on with Samsung’s Q90 QLED, I jumped back into the first season of The Expanse (available via Amazon Prime Video). And I was honestly blown away by the crispness results.
This might be partially down to the fact that the series’ third episode has some really choice cinematography in it. Still, I couldn’t shake the sense that the C9’s frequency-based sharpness enhancer and OLED’s natural tendency to deliver better deeper blacks than QLED can made a noticeable - and significant - difference here.
The close-ups of Holden and Naomi during their interrogation aboard MCRN Donnager looked genuinely jaw-dropping. It almost felt like I was seeing what OLED can do for the first time again.
Sekiro: Shadow Dies Twice is a really good-looking game - but it’s not a particularly technically demanding game. It’s stylishly-conceived and smartly-constructed in terms of its presentation. It’s not going for the high-end, super-demanding realism you’ll find in something like Battlefield but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t know how to look good.
Sekiro looks like a video game - but it’s a pretty damn good-looking video game. That’s actually one of the major reasons I thought it would be a good showpiece for gaming on LG’s latest OLEDs.
I’m much more interested to see how what the Alpha 9 processor can do with gaming content that isn’t designed to push the boundaries of graphical fidelity than content that is - because most people who play games on a 4K OLED TV like this are probably going to end up playing more of the former than they are the latter.
And as I jumped back into Sekiro and ascended the tall crenelations of Ashina Castle to do battle with the game’s next major boss - Genichiro - LG’s C9 OLED delivered on its potential. The game’s visual design already achieves this incredible delicate balance between
a setting that’s both larger-than-life yet also one that feels grounded in history, and the size and fidelity of the C9 served to accentuate and reinforce those qualities.
It’s thrilling to watch Sekiro leap from rooftop to rooftop and defy gravity. It’s almost more thrilling to watch him climb them. The C9 proved itself a superb canvas for FromSoftware’s mythic vision of Sengoku-era Japan and I proved myself a worthy opponent for Genichiro.
He failed to fell me with the lightning attacks he learned from his mentor, Tamoe - but the showdown between us made an incredible display nevertheless. And with the game’s second major boss out of the way, I was free to start clearing out the various branches of Sekiro between here and the endgame.
It took me about fifteen minutes to fight my way through Senpou Temple and - truly, I think we can all agree that hearing the Armored Warrior frantically scream out the name of his terminally-ill child (“Robeeeeeeeeeeeeeeert!”) as he plummeted to his death in the gorges below Senpou Temple was exactly what a Meridian-tuned soundbar like the SL10YG was made for.
It took me another twenty or so to race through the Sunken Valley and defeat the Corrupted Monk. This, I more-or-less expected. Once you’ve fought one Corrupted Monk, you’ve fought them all. This is my third playthrough of Sekiro, after all. At this point, I’ve fought a fair few Corrupted Monks.
A quick trip back to Senpou saw me clear out the Folding Monkeys and acquire the Mortal Blade - the most powerful weapon in Sekiro’s arsenal. I knew what I was doing, so this only took me a couple of minutes.
Of course, it was the Guardian Ape at the bottom of Ashina Depths that had me worried. Of all the bosses that loomed large in my mind as I set out on this quest to play through the entirety of Sekiro on LG’s C9 OLED, it was the largest. Literally.
However, like Gyoubu and Genichiro before him, I managed to take him down in a single attempt. And like Gyoubu and Genichiro, the experience of brawling with the Guardian Ape on a TV as big, bright and colorful as the C9 was an engrossing one. I’d fought this fight before, but I’d never quite seen this fight rendered with the crispness, grit and texture that I got this time around.
The LG SL10YG soundbar also got work done here, especially during the second-phase of the fight - where the sapien unleashes a terrifying scream attack that can inspire terror even the heart of a loyal shinobi like Sekiro.
With the Guardian Ape out of the way, the only thing left was to return to Ashina Castle and betray my liege lord.
Instead of opting for the regular ending where Sekiro remains loyal to the Divine Heir, I opted for the Shura ending - where he sides with his father instead. Of course, this transgression so meant I had two final bosses to clear: Emma - “The Gentle Blade” - and the wizened Ishinn Ashina.
Having opted for the regular set of endings in my previous playthroughs of Sekiro, I’d never faced Emma and Ishin before. As such, I underestimated their difficulty - and my efforts to best the pair weren’t helped by the fact that the left shoulder button on my controller began to act up. By my fourth or fifth attempt, it was popping out of the controller mid-fight and difficult to rely on in the heat of battle.
And as the clock crept closer to midnight, I began to make more and more mistakes. Eventually, after about an hour of attempts, I was forced to call it quits for the night.
Still, I went to bed with the knowledge that I was making progress. I could fight my way all the way up to the final phase of the fight - where Ishinn begins to deploy a variety of powerful fire-based attacks. These looked awesome on the C9’s bright and saturated surface. They were also very lethal and difficult to dodge out of.
Hour 6 to Hour 14
Booting back into the game, I figured I’d start the morning off right. I’d put an end to this dumb challenge headline that had devoured whatever semblence of a healthy sleep-schedule I once had planned for the middle of the week.
Sekiro is one of those games where sleep is often the solution. Pretty much every boss I managed to down during my evening with the LG C9 OLED in a single attempt had me stumped for days at one stage or another.
And now that the sun was up, I was READY to achieve victory. I was READY to remember and realise that - like many OLEDs - the LG C9 is a little susceptible to glare. I could still read most of Ishinn’s animations for the most part - but it didn’t make his bright flame attacks any easier to dodge.
Unfortunately, as my time with LG’s C9 OLED TV and SL10YG soundbar expired, so too did my window to complete Sekiro in a single evening.
Will I return to Sekiro and defeat Ishinn? Probably. As for LG’s C9 OLED 4K TV, I’m left with a bag full of impressions and a few familiar takeaways.
Based on my experience with the LG C9, there’s little to fault here in terms of the picture quality. This is a great looking TV and if you factor in the four-step image processing and stick it next to the best OLEDs that Sony and Panasonic have going for them, it’s probably going to hold its own fairly well. Sony and Panasonic do buy their OLED panels from LG, after all.
Will I buy one? Probably not at this stage. As impressive as the experience of gaming on it was, it’s a little too expensive for me - and also a little too large for my home. Should you buy one? I suspect it probably depends on how familiar you are with LG’s TVs.
If you’ve used an LG TV before and hated it, you should probably not buy this TV. Alternatively - if you already own an OLED that LG or another brand have put out in the last year or two, you should also probably not buy this TV. I’m convinced that the LG C9 OLED is better than its predecessors but I wouldn’t go as far as to say it’s remarkably different.
Still, if you’re looking to make the jump to OLED and are ready and willing to spend the big bucks for that big-screen experience, I could see this working. It’s by no means perfect when it comes to usability and smarts but if you’re after a top-notch TV that’ll bring a transformative touch to the picture quality of the content you watch on it, the C9 will do the trick.