Editor's note: This review covers the LG 42LB1DR and the LG 42LB1DRA. They are identical but for cosmetics. Throughout this review we'll refer to the product as the LG 42LB1DR. Further, this review has been modified from its original publication to reflect that TV Guide information successfully loaded via antenna.(11/1/06)
LG is one of the few companies that combines a DVR with an HDTV, and on the outside, the 42LB1DR, one of its 2006 efforts, looks just like other flat-panel TVs out there today. This 42-inch LCD works perfectly well as a normal HDTV, but its real strength is its self-contained design. If you've always wanted to divorce your TV from all of those boxes and to not have to depend on a third-party DVR, then the LG 42LB1DR is just what the doctor ordered. It seems like such a good idea, in fact, that you may wonder why more HDTV/DVR combos aren't available. One reason is that most people are perfectly happy with their DVR boxes, whether those systems are TiVos, such as the HD-capable Series 3; satellite boxes, such as the DirecTV HR20 or the Dish ViP622, or a DVR available from their local cable company. Another reason is that those boxes, unlike the LG, can record more than one show simultaneously. Still another is that the only electronic program guide (EPG) usable with products like the LG, the TV Guide onscreen, can be unreliable.
In our testing the LG 42LB1DR's DVR performed relatively well, but we were not able to test CableCard functionality, and that's a big part of the TV's arsenal. The set depends on TV Guide's EPG, which we've had problems using in the past and do not find nearly as dependable as EPGs from cable or satellite providers -- although we were finally able to get it to load program information via antenna. Finally, we had some serious complaints about its image quality. Overall the LG 42LB1DR is a fine product in concept, but in real life it's got some problems.
On the outside, the LG 42LB1DR certainly holds its own in comparison with other stylish LCDs. The 42-inch screen is surrounded by the standard black gloss, although unlike most big-screen flat panels this year, LG chose to mount the speakers to the sides rather than below the cabinet. The set is attached to the stand by a column that allows it to swivel to either side. LG makes two otherwise-identical models differentiated only by cosmetics: The 42LB1DR has a silver stand and column and a black frame around the screen, while the 42LB1DRA is entirely black. This DVR-equipped television has more indicator lights than most, for functions such as recording, time-shifting, and even an active HDMI connection, and home theater nuts will appreciate that these lights are all rather small.
The width of the panel is increased about 4 inches as a result of the side-mounted speakers. It measures 46.3x30.2x11.8 inches (WHD) and weighs 90.4 pounds atop the stand; it's 46.3x26.4x5.7 inches and 71.4 pounds without the stand. That's 2 inches wider than Sharp's 46-inch LC-46D62U, for example.
LG's menu system has a lot to juggle with a built-in DVR, but we liked the interface overall. To access the list of recorded shows, you press the X Studio button, which also lets you schedule recordings--both manually VCR-style and via the TV Guide EPG--as well as see a schedule of upcoming recordings in TV Guide. We loved that the list of recorded shows had thumbnail images for each one, as well as the ability to rename shows and delete more than one show at a time. We also appreciate the numerous indicators of remaining recording time: both via a graphical pie-chart-style wheel and numbers for both SD and HD. In all, the LG's DVR menu integrates the TV Guide functions very well.
The TV Guide EPG itself serves as the 42LB1DR's main recording and channel-browsing interface. It's generally easy to use once you get the hang of it, although people used to TiVo or either of the satellite providers' EPGs will feel like they've stepped back in time a few years. It offers keyword search with history; relatively broad sort categories, including HDTV, Sports, and such; options to schedule recordings daily, weekly, or "regularly" (the last records a show every time it airs on the same channel); the ability to edit a few of the display settings; and integrated over-the-air and cable channels on one list. DVR veterans might miss more-advanced sort options and searches, automatic extension of sporting event recordings, and other EPG niceties, but overall there aren't any major missing pieces.
LG's remote is pretty lackluster, with no backlighting and DVR transport keys we found way too small, similar, and ill-placed--up at the top of the wand. Any DVR remote worth its salt has nice-size play, pause, and skip keys that fall naturally under the thumb. Our thumbs fell instead to the big cursor pad and its attendant menu controls, which again could have used a bit more differentiation. Also, we didn't like having to slide down a cover on the bottom of the remote every time we wanted to change aspect ratios--or access any of the other 13 buttons under there. The clicker's few positive points include the ability to control five other pieces of gear and its channel up/down keys that let you skip vertically from page to page in the EPG.
The LG 42LBDR's claim to fame is its built-in DVR. The 160GB hard disk can record up to 15 hours of HD or 66 hours of standard-def programming, which is about half what you'll get with the latest satellite DVRs and the TiVo Series 3. It can always record everything you're watching, allowing you to rewind up to an hour into the past, and it lets you to pause and rewind live TV as well as fast-forward up to live time. There are four speeds of rewind and fast-forward, and we were pleased to note that LG included an option missing from many stand-alone DVRs: a forward skip, which in this case instantly moves ahead 20 seconds. It makes skipping through commercial breaks a breeze.
It's important to realize that the DVR is designed to record primarily digital cable and over-the-air television. The LG's DVR can record via its standard-def analog input, but to record HD you must utilize the CableCard and/or hook this set up to an over-the-air antenna to utilize its ATSC tuner, as opposed to depending on a cable or satellite box for programming. Naturally, the LG's DVR cannot record HDTV signals via HDMI or component-video jacks (no device on the market can do that).
Compared to other HD DVRs, the main problem we have with the LG's integrated DVR is its inability to record two HD shows at once. If you're recording an HD channel, you can switch over and watch something from an analog channel, but you can't record it, nor can you watch a second HD channel. Of course, you can always watch another input while the cable or the antenna tuner is busy recording.
As we mentioned above, the LG depends on the TV Guide EPG to get its program information and schedule recordings. TV Guide's info arrives via the cable and/or antenna connection, and the good part is that it's free and it worked fine over our antenna-only connection. The bad part is that we've experienced mixed results with TV Guide hooked up to cable sources in the past, with not every channel appearing, program information being slow to load or not loading at all, and the like. Its performance typically varies with location, so you may experience similar problems depending on your cable provider. You can still schedule recordings manually even if the TV Guide doesn't load, but without the EPG the LG's DVR loses much of its functionality.
Aside from the DVR, the LG offers a fairly standard selection of HDTV features. Its LCD screen has a 1,366x768 native resolution, standard for the breed, allowing it to resolve every detail of 720p sources. There's a picture-in-picture function with side-by-side and inset options. The LG's selection of aspect ratio controls is superb. We counted four controls for HD and five for SD, along with an extra Cinema Zoom control that provides 16 steps of magnification.