While Panasonic and Samsung's flagship plasma TVs vie for best TV of 2011, LG's best plasma of the year, the PZ950 series, can't match the picture quality score of even the less expensive step-down 3D Panasonics. The main culprit is LG's more grayish shade of black, which washes out what would otherwise be an excellent picture. The TV's robust Internet suite and sleek styling help increase its appeal, but won't help its standing in the eyes of dark-room home theater fans shopping for plasmas in this price range.
The PZ950's most remarkable design element is its one-sheet face, where a single panel of glass fronts both the screen and bezel for sleek, a seamless look. The black bezel itself is thicker than that of Samsung's high-end plasmas and Panasonic's compact GT30, but still more compact than that of many plasmas. Transparent edges on the panel complete the picture.
Unlike LG's 2011 LCDs, its plasma TVs use active-shutter 3D glasses, zero pairs of which come with the TV. The new glasses sync using a 2.4GHz wireless signal so they aren't subject to line-of-sight like the Infrared models Panasonic uses, and we appreciate that they do have rechargeable batteries. When we asked company reps why LG didn't make its plasmas with passive 3D, we were told that doing so using existing pattern retarder technology was too costly.
Four HDMI and two component-video inputs provide plenty of high-def connectivity. Unlike the slim Samsung and Panasonic plasmas the LG has a set of honest-to-goodness multicolored RCA jacks that don't require breakout cables. Users of the Wi-Fi dongle might want a third USB port, but we doubt it. The RS-232 is available for connection to custom installation systems like Crestron or AMX.
The secondary "Magic Motion" remote acts like the controller on a Nintendo Wii to enable you to make menu selections by motion control, rather than clicking from box to box 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 (Netflix is the only exception we found--it prevents motion control, although the wand's cursor buttons still work), many of which seem designed with motion control in mind, it's much more appealing. 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 line-of-sight to the TV. Another bonus is drag/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; 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 this strip offered the ability to tweak 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, a staple available on most other TVs, goes missing.
We appreciated that LG's Premium services are almost all excellent. Separating the wheat from chaff is often difficult, and we prefer to have a few apps/services that work well and offer satisfying content as opposed to myriad useless ones.
The selection in LG's app store is anemic at the moment, far outpaced by Samsung and, to a lesser extent, Panasonic. 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 why some Apps (like the excellent HomeCast podcast aggregator) aren't Premium.
We loved having two Expert modes with the full gamut of adjustments--although we prefer the color management system used by Samsung, and we feel the 20-point IRE adjustment is excessive (10 points is enough in our book).
With its light black levels the PZ950 series is the only plasma TV we've tested this year that didn't score an 8 or higher in this category. That said, it's still a very good performer, with excellent color, the ability to handle 1080p/24, and all of the usual uniformity advantages over LCD.