Should I buy the 42-inch LG C2? We test the smallest OLED 4K TV

(Image credit: Future)

The 42-inch LG C2 was a ground-breaking TV. Not because it’s the biggest, or flashiest, but because it was the first 4K OLED TV at this size. Not only that, but it takes high-end technologies – including its OLED screen – and condenses them into their smallest form yet, bringing features that the best 40- to 43-inch TVs have never seen before.

The 42-inch LG C2 takes everything that people love about the best OLED TVs, but brings it to a more compact and space-conscious size. There are a few compromises when you shrink down all that premium tech, as we'll explain, but overall you’re getting one of the best 4K TVs from a manufacturer that very much knows what it’s doing.

We have a full LG C2 review based on its larger sizes, which praises its “vivid colors, a comprehensive smart TV platform, and a slick design that’ll look great in any home” – with a new lightweight, durable design. Like other OLED TVs, you can expect deep blacks, excellent contrast, strong viewing angles, and a host of premium formats and gaming specifications too.

But it's important to know that you don't get as bright a picture as some larger LG C2 sizes, and that's not the only difference we discovered. And it's not the only 42-inch model in town now, with the Sony A90K 42-inch also available, and the Panasonic LZ1500 42-inch available in Europe and some other territories (but not the US).

So if you want to know the full lowdown on the 42-inch LG C2 specifically, read on below.

What does the 42-inch LG C2 cost?

The 42-inch LG C2 may be the smallest C-Series OLED to be released by LG this year, but that doesn’t exactly make it cheap.

The 42-inch model launched at $1,399 / £1,299 / AU$2,395, which was largely identical to the price of the larger 48-inch model ($1,399 / £1,399 / AU$2,695) at the time.

However, TV prices don't last long, and more recently you can get the LG C2 42-inch for well under $1,000 / £1,000 (although it stayed closer to full price in Australia).

Given how close the 42-inch and 48-inch models are for size, it's well worth getting a sizing up your intended spot with the dimensions for both screens (932 x 540 x 41.1mm / 36.7 x 21.3 x 1.6 inches for the 42-inch, and 1071 x 618 x 46.9mm / 42.2 x 24.3 x 1.8 inches for the 48-inch, excluding any stands) to see exactly which size will suit your room.

Generally a 42-inch screen is better placed in a bedroom or study, though it may fit perfectly in a narrow living room.

42-inch LG C2: design

LG C2 42-inch TV side view on orange background

The LG C2 42-inch looks chunkier from the side than other OLED TVs, but that's just because it's not as all – normally, the thin screen extends upwards, but there's not enough screen here… (Image credit: LG)

The 42-inch LG C2 is, by virtue of its size, one of the best-looking OLED screens out there – on the outside at least. Whereas many ‘slim’ screens bulk out at the lower rear, with a tall and thin section of screen stretching above it, the 42-inch C2’s compact size creates a very uniform shape – and it’s small enough to be assembled or carried about by a single person quite easily.

One thing we have to mention, though, is the feet. Whereas LG’s range of OLED TVs generally use a signature central stand – partially designed to help funnel audio from downward-firing speakers towards the viewer – this compact 42-inch model does without.

If you’re not wall-mounting this screen – and you might want to, given how well smaller screens can blend into surrounding decor – you’ll have to make do with two awkward-looking feet that screw into the screen’s underside. We expect it was a cheaper solution than a center-placed stand, and a screen of this size doesn’t need quite the same level of support as one of the best 75-inch TVs does. But this change does take away some of the glamor of LG’s usual build quality.

42-inch LG C2: picture quality and OLED Evo

LG C2 42-inch TV viewed from the front

The LG C2 features LG's OLED Evo screen, but has some limitations. (Image credit: LG)

One of the biggest buzzwords around LG’s top-end TVs is OLED Evo – officially, this refers to a new type of OLED panel combined with LG's latest-gen image processing. The main advantage of OLED Evo is supposed to be higher brightness than previous OLED screens.

However, while all LG C2 sizes talk about OLED Evo, you only get the higher brightness at 55 inches and above. The smaller 42-inch and 48-inch sizes can’t get the benefit of this, due to how tightly packed the screen’s eight million pixels are, according to LG (and some small LG C2 devices were known to include an older screen tech anyway, so would never have reached the higher brightness). 

You’re still getting ample visibility and dynamism, but high-contrast highlights (candles in the dark, or white subtitles against a black background) may appear very slightly muted, compared to the bigger sizes. The size of the 42-inch LG C2 puts more emphasis on cramming detail into a small screen, rather than letting the pixels breathe on a larger canvas, where the undulations of light and color could offer more impact. However, it’s a very slight difference and is mostly only noticeable when they're placed side by side – the average watcher wouldn't pick up on the difference.

It’s worth noting, too, that 42 inches is pretty much the smallest a 4K TV can get away with if you're going to actually notice all those pixels. At a close enough distance, though, you will be able to appreciate the wonders of the LG C2 even at this size – one of the many reasons it's great for gaming (as we'll come to).

You're getting LG's top-of-the-line image processing here, though, and it means that everything on the screen looks astoundingly sharp and clear, and motion is handled really well.

42-inch LG C2: audio

One notable difference between the 42-inch C2 and larger models is the sound. You’re getting by on just 20W output, rather than 40W, which feels limiting for such a premium display. It’s still a 2.2-channel system, though, meaning the balance of high and low frequencies is on par with other C2 models, and in practice you may not notice the absence of the extra power, depending on how discerning you are. 

Dolby Atmos is supported too – great for using it with a soundbar, but if you're using the built-in speakers, we recommend enabling LG's AI-based audio mode, rather than the Dolby Atmos mode. It makes much better use of what speaker power is there.

We’ve spoken at length on the middling audio of LG OLEDs before, and we ultimately recommend a dedicated soundbar to properly complete your setup if your budget allows. Some of the best soundbars are small enough for a screen of this kind – in particular, we'd recommend the Sonos Beam 2nd Gen.

42-inch LG C2: gaming

LG C2 42-inch TV in modern living room

The LG C2 is the best small TV on the planet for games. (Image credit: LG)

The 42-inch size really makes this C2 model ideal as a gaming monitor: enough to fit a lot of information in your eyeline, but large enough to feel very impactful at the same time, without having to be sat up close at a desk. 

And like all the other LG C2 models, it's a gaming powerhouse. With four HDMI 2.1 ports, all with 4K 120Hz, VRR and G-Sync/FreeSync support, plus ALLM for auto-switching to a great low-latency mode, you cannot currently do better for a small TV that doubles as a top-tier gaming display.

Barely any TVs of this size have any kind of HDMI 2.1 support, let alone total support on four inputs.

And LG's Game Optimizer feature is also a winner, letting you quickly check settings and choose what features you want enabled.

42-inch LG C2: conclusion

The 42-inch LG C2 brings almost everything that we love about LG OLEDs to a smaller size that's ideal for movie or gaming enthusiasts with more limited space.

There are downsides compared to the bigger models: the lower brightness, the weaker sound, and the fact that it's arguably weaker value for money when you look at size compared to price.

For the latter reason, we'd encourage anyone who can fit one to upgrade to the 48-inch model. It's a small price difference, and is much more cinematic at that size – it's a good investment overall.

But if what you need is a more compact TV with totally future-proofed features and the best image quality possible for a reasonable price… this is it. The other 42-inch OLED TVs are more expensive without offering huge improvements in image quality, leaving the LG C2 as the leader, no question.

Henry St Leger

Henry is a freelance technology journalist, and former News & Features Editor for TechRadar, where he specialized in home entertainment gadgets such as TVs, projectors, soundbars, and smart speakers. Other bylines include Edge, T3, iMore, GamesRadar, NBC News, Healthline, and The Times.