Despite image quality a notch or two below competing plasmas, the LG PS80 series will win over shoppers who prioritize built-in video streaming.
LG PS80 series -- overview
When it was announced at CES 2009, the LG PS80 series of plasma TVs earned one of our three nominations for Best of CES in the TV category. We've already reviewed the other two--Panasonic's G10 plasmas and Vizio's VF551XVT LED-based LCD--and both scored higher than the PS80. It's not that we're disappointed in the interactive features that originally caused us to nominate the LG. Those include built-in Netflix streaming, which is still an LG exclusive (at least until Sony turns its own version on, or Samsung or Vizio step up), Yahoo Widgets and YouTube capability. Since then LG has also added the high-def eye candy of Vudu's on-demand video rental service. Those interactive add-ons work great, and combined with LG's picture adjustment prowess they comprise the most impressive features list seen on any plasma this year.
Unfortunately for the PS80, its picture quality impressed us less. Its lighter black levels are the main culprit, abetted by below-par video processing and even minor image retention, all areas where other plasma TVs outperform the LG. On the other hand, its color accuracy is still very good, and, of course, it has the off-angle fidelity of plasma TVs that easily trounces any LCD. Armed with superb style and that stellar features list, the LG PS80 might still appeal to people willing to focus less on picture quality than on built-in content options.
Trailing only the ultrathin, premium-priced models available from other makers, namely the Panasonic Z1 and the Samsung PNB850/860, the LG PS80 series takes a respectable bronze medal in plasma styling this year. Its coolest exterior characteristic, a single pane of glass that covers the entire panel and extends a fraction of an inch beyond the top and sides, unifies the whole design in a way that easily out-sleeks the similarly single-paned Panasonic TC-PV10 series. It has an extremely subtle, transparent blue coloring and thin chrome colored strip along the bottom, hidden speakers, a glossy black frame, and a matching chrome-and-black stand (yes, it swivels) complete the LG's uncannily futuristic look.
In our testing, the Netflix streaming worked as well as it has in other such devices, and it was exceedingly easy to use, interfacing flawlessly with our Watch Instantly queue on the Netflix Web site. When we selected new movies and TV shows for our queue, they would appear almost instantly for access on the TV.
Aside from Netflix the LG offers added access to Vudu's library of video-on-demand titles. Vudu's claim to fame is high-definition, and in our tests, its picture quality was indeed superb--much better than anything on Netflix, for example.
Connectivity options are fairly extensive on the PS80, beginning with four total HDMI ports, three on the back and one on the side. The back panel also offers two component-video inputs, an AV input with composite video, a RF input for antenna or cable, an RGB-style analog PC input, an optical digital audio output and an RS-232 port for custom installations.
In addition to the fourth HDMI port, the side panel has a second AV input with composite video and a USB port for display of digital photos and playback of MP3 music files. Our one connectivity complaint is the lack of any S-Video inputs.
The most remarkable picture control option, first introduced by LG last year and still exclusive to the company, is a 20-point white balance system (with twice as many adjustments as LG's other sets--although the word "overkill" seems appropriate in this case) designed to help get a more accurate grayscale. Unfortunately, in the case of the PS80 the system didn't work well enough to be useful, so we ended up using the standard two-point system instead.
While its image quality has a few strengths, namely in the color category, overall the LG PS80 series fell short of the high bar set by other plasmas this year. It lacks the deep black levels and 1080p/24 compatibility seen on other plasmas, and exhibited the kind of image retention we rarely see anymore.