The expensive LG 55LW9800's picture quality doesn't live up to the promise of its full-array local dimming LED backlight.
As we describe in detail in our explanation of the confusing world of LED backlight configurations, our favorite variety is known as (deep breath) "full-array with local dimming." It's also exceedingly expensive to implement, at least judging from the sticker prices of the only currently shipping 2011 HDTVs to offer this feature: Sony's XBR-HX929, Sharp's Elites, and the LG 55LW9800 reviewed here. The LG is unique among the three as the only one with passive 3D TV capability, combining local dimming with the brightness, crosstalk, and practicality advantages of polarized 3D glasses. If you want passive 3D and have money to burn, this 55-inch model (it's not available in any other size) seems appealing on paper. In person, however, despite myriad settings and our best attempt to calibrate them, it fails to fulfill those high expectations.
The LW9800 also uses LG's passive 3D technology, known as "film pattern retarder" (FPR). A polarizing film coating the TV screen and the use of special glasses allow each eye to view every other line to create the two images necessary for the 3D illusion.
LG, along with Vizio, is currently engaged in a marketing battle with purveyors of active 3D TVs, namely Samsung, Panasonic, and Sony. Both types of 3D TVs can handle any of the new 3D formats used by Blu-ray, TV broadcasts, and video games, and both require viewers to don 3D glasses, but both have advantages and disadvantages. See our 3D TV FAQ and this article for general information on active versus passive and 3D.
The biggest market advantage of passive 3D is inexpensive glasses. LG packs four pairs of passive specs in with the LW9800, and additional pairs cost $10 to $20. Less expensive compatible circular polarized glasses are available from online merchants.
Although graced with a single-pane face--where the bezel and the screen are fronted by one sheet of plastic--a transparent-edged frame, and relatively thin bezel, the LG LW9800 ultimately falls short of the style of competing TVs like Sony's monolithic HX929 or Samsung's stunning, all-picture UND8000.
...the secondary Magic Motion remote, which acts like the controller on a Nintendo Wii to enable you to make menu selections by motion control, rather than clicking with your thumb.
We called the wandlike motion controller a gimmick last year, but now that it can be used seamlessly across all menus and nearly every app, many of which seem designed with motion control in mind, it's much more appealing. (Netflix is the only exception we found that doesn't work with motion control, although the wand's cursor buttons still work.) Sure, some things could be better--we wish the wand had a dedicated Return/Back button, response times occasionally lagged a bit, and on occasion we had to give the wand a vigorous shake to get our cursor to return--but it was sometimes easier and faster than using the standard remote, especially after we changed pointer settings to Speed: Fast and Alignment: On in the Settings>Options menu.
Since the wand is radio-controlled it doesn't require a line of sight to the TV. Another bonus is drag and drop, which we used to customize menus where available, drag a map in the Google Maps app, and easily scroll down an AP news story by dragging a scroll bar, for example. Waving the wand at the screen to navigate menus and apps will take some getting used to for motion control novices, but it's a cool and somewhat useful option to have. The biggest downside is that it means having an extra remote on your coffee table (at least until Harmony incorporates motion control).
The Home page consists of a live TV window with links below to inputs, TV settings, and favorite channels; a central section with five tiles you can customize and rearrange to link to any of the Premium services like Netflix and Amazon Instant; an LG Apps section listing the three hottest and newest apps from LG's app store; and a bottom strip with links to the app store, browser, and two apps of your choice (we wish we could choose more than just two). The page's proportions feel right and we liked the big icons, especially since they made using the motion controller easier.
Despite the ill-chosen Premium heading, you won't have to pay for any of the streaming services beyond subscription or pay-per-view fees. The selection is solid, although Pandora is still missing.
That said, we appreciated that LG's Premium services are almost all excellent. Separating the wheat from the chaff is often difficult, and we prefer to have a few apps and services that work well and offer satisfying content rather than myriad useless ones.
The selection in LG's app store is anemic at the moment, far outpaced by Samsung's offerings and, to a lesser extent, Panasonic's. That said, the number of apps has increased from 14 to 38 since we reviewed the LG 47LW5600 in late June, and new additions include Fandango (no ticket sales, just lame trailers for now), 3D Zone (even lamer 3D video clips), a Social Center (Twitter/Facebook), and K-Zone (Korean music). We did like the star rating system, especially since the plethora of negative ratings signaled it was legit. We didn't like the cramped layout of the app store, however, and we're a bit mystified as to why some apps (like the excellent HomeCast podcast aggregator) aren't Premium.
We expected better picture quality than we got from LG's "Nano" 55LW9800, especially given the excellent performance of this TV's 2010 predecessors, the LX9500 and LE8500. The main issue was black level, which was too light in the one local dimming setting (Low) that didn't necessitate major sacrifices in other areas, particularly gamma, shadow detail, and blooming. The LW9800 did evince better uniformity than the two 2010 LG local dimmers, as well as excellent color, but overall its 2D picture fell short of that of the best 2011 LEDs, including the Sony XBR-HX929 and Sony KDL-55NX720.