The price gap between 42-inch and 50-inch plasmas seems to narrow every week, giving HDTV shoppers another tough decision. A 50-inch plasma is significantly larger than a 42-incher; with 30 percent more screen area, the panel is so large that it won't fit well into many people's rooms. If you have the space, however, a 50-inch plasma makes an impressive centerpiece for a home theater. LG's 50PC3D is a midpriced example of the breed offering an attractive mix of features, if nothing spectacular. We were a bit underwhelmed by its image quality and disappointed by the single HDMI input--we expect two from sets such as this nowadays--but we appreciated the LG's simple design and its ability to resize its image six ways from Sunday. LG clad its 50PC3D plasma in unassuming attire, going with charcoal gray around the big screen and silver near the extremities. A pair of speakers blends nicely into the fuselage to either side and doesn't make the set too much wider than its competition. Refreshingly light on the typical logos and acronyms, the face of this plasma's only adornment is the LG moniker and a green, annoyingly undimmable LED power indicator. The LG 50PC3D measures 51.3 by 34.3 by 14 inches (WHD) including stand; the panel itself is 4.2 inches thick.
The remote lacks backlighting but can control five other pieces of A/V gear. We like its size and found it generally easy to get around by feel. A slide-down door conceals a few convenient buttons, including commands to change picture modes and freeze the image.
We also appreciate the clean design and simple navigation of the internal menu system, although like many TV makers, LG chose to stash picture-affecting controls--including aspect ratio and 2:3 pull-down--somewhere other than the picture section of the menu. All important commands, including input selection, aspect-ratio control, and other options, are duplicated in the menu as well as with direct-access buttons. Like nearly all 50-inch plasmas, the LG 50PS3D packs a native resolution of 1,366x768 pixels into its screen. That's enough to display every detail of 720p HDTV sources. All incoming resolutions, including HDTV, DVD, standard TV, and computers, are scaled to fit the native resolution.
The LG 50PC3D has a relatively sparse selection of conveniences, with picture-in-picture being the biggest omission. It does include an ATSC tuner to receive over-the-air high-def, although like so many other HDTVs this year, it lacks CableCard--no big loss as far as we're concerned. In its favor, the LG includes more aspect-ratio selections than just about any set we're reviewed recently. You can resize the image in six different ways with standard-def sources and five with high-def, and one of the selections, Cinema Zoom, lets you choose from 16 different levels of cropping and magnification. Only the Horizon mode, which stretches the sides of the wide-screen picture more than the middle, is disabled for HD sources.
Although it skips many of the often-dubious picture enhancements found on other HDTVs, the LG 50PC3D has more picture presets than most. The six nonadjustable modes (Daylight, Normal, Night Time, Movie, Video Game, and Expert) are joined by a seventh Custom setting that allows you to adjust the picture controls differently for each input. We really like the APM button--which divides the screen into quarters, each one affected by a different picture mode--because it makes choosing a mode much easier. The three most home-theater-friendly modes, Night Time, Movie, and Expert, were all extremely close to one another, but we thought Expert looked just a bit better than the other two for nighttime viewing (see Performance).
Other options include three color-temperature presets and a low-power mode that limits the set's light output if you're interested in saving a few bucks on your electricity bill. There are also a three methods available to reduce image retention, a.k.a. burn-in, if it occurs. One simply fills the screen with a white field, one incrementally moves the entire image around the screen, and the last reverses the colors onscreen, turning black areas white, for example. While we generally consider burn-in a minor issue with plasmas in the home, it's nice to have options such as this if it does happen to occur (more info).
Around back, the first thing we noticed was the single HDMI input; many competing HDTV this year include a second, which is great if you have--or ever decide to buy--more than one source with an HDMI or DVI output. There are also two component-video inputs; one A/V input with composite- and S-Video; two RF inputs--one for cable and one for antenna; a composite A/V output; and an optical digital audio output for the over-the-air tuner. The VGA-style PC input can accept computer sources with resolutions as high as 1,024x768. Finally, a set of A/V inputs with composite- and S-Video can be found on the side of the set. Overall, the LG 50PC3D delivered a less appealing picture than many competing plasmas. It evinced solid color reproduction, but its performance in darker scenes was below average, and it could really use some kind of noise reduction. We also noticed softness in DVD and HDTV material. We could improve it somewhat by increasing the sharpness control, but that introduced unnatural-looking enhanced edges.
Our first step entailed calibrating the set for color temperature and other settings. During this process we noticed that the LG, like a few plasma sets we've seen recently, including Panasonic's TH-42PX60U, had trouble maintaining the same level of black and other dark colors regardless of the total brightness of the picture. For that reason, we had to compromise--between achieving an inky black and resolving enough detail in shadows--when setting the brightness control.