While LCD and plasma continue to duke it out in the hearts and minds of American TV shoppers, the one arena where plasma still pummels LCD is in popularity at 50 inches and up. The main reason is that 50-plus-inch plasmas still cost a heck of a lot less than similarly sized LCDs. The LG 50PC5D represents the trend of affordable flat-panel big screens nicely, undercutting models like the Panasonic TH-50PZ77U yet outperforming true budget panels like the Vizio VP50HDTV. The LG has its share of picture quality issues, namely a noisier image than many plasmas, but its strengths, including deep black levels, a sleek design, and that competitive price tag, put it squarely in the sweet spot for many 50-inch plasma shoppers.
Like just about every other flat-panel HDTV available this year, the LG 50PC5D has an almost entirely glossy black exterior. In this case there's a strip of silver running horizontally below the glossy frame, and below that, the area containing the speakers is angled back along the bottom, for a sleek look that segues nicely into the wider-than-usual glossy black pedestal stand. Despite the presence of a swivel-looking semicircle on the stand, the panel is fixed and cannot swing from side to side. We liked the look of the TV overall, although not quite as much as the Samsung HT-P5064, for example.
The LG 50PC5D measures 48.9 inches high by 34.9 inches wide by 14.5 inches deep and weighs 86.6 pounds including the stand. Sans stand, the plasma panel clocks in at 48.9 inches high by 32.6 inches wide by a slim 3.5 inches deep and 76.3 pounds.
LG's slick design extends to the menu system, which consists of a semitransparent block overlaying the picture. The numerous options are easy to access and intuitive to adjust, although we did wish for text explanations of menu items to help flatten the learning curve. We were also annoyed that the menu's left navigation bar remained onscreen during picture adjustments, and that the adjustment sliders themselves didn't drop to the bottom on the screen.
The remote included with the 50PC5D is a bit underwhelming and saddled with a few strange design quirks. For example, we didn't understand the presence of a secondary brightness control--separate from the main brightness control in the menu--controlled by prominent "plus" and "minus" buttons flanking the main menu key. The only purpose it serves is to make picture adjustment that much more confusing. We'd also liked to have seen more useful functions, like the button that scrolls through picture modes moved from under the slide-down hatch to a more accessible position. The clicker can command four other pieces of gear, and only the keys to access different devices are backlit.
LG equipped this plasma with the standard array of pixels -- giving it a 1,366x768 native resolution--so the set can resolve every detail of 720p HDTV material. All sources, whether high-def, standard-def TV, DVD or computers, are scaled to fit the native resolution.
Picture controls on the LG 50PC5D are fairly complete, starting with eight picture presets--more than just about any HDTV we can remember. One, strangely called "Intelligent Eye," engages a sensor that detects room lighting and adjusts the picture accordingly. Although the secondary brightness control we mentioned above affects all of the presets, User1 and User2 are the only ones that can be fully adjusted. Since they're both independent per input, you can set up custom settings for two different users, lighting conditions, and so on for every source.
A few advanced adjustments are available on the LG, starting with red, green, and blue controls to help fine-tune color temperature. You can also choose from three color temperature presets, of which "warm" came closest to the standard. A trio of On/Off selections can be found under the "XD" heading: XD Contrast, which we left off for better shadow detail; XD Color, which we left off for slightly better primary colors and color decoding; and XD Noise, which we'll cover in the Performance section. There's a control for Black Level that we left on Low, for deeper blacks, and a Cinema 3:2 mode that engaged 2:3 pull-down detection.
LG offers an ample selection of aspect ratio modes. Four are available with high-def sources, along with a fifth called "Set by program" that attempts to adjust aspect automatically. The same five selections are available with standard-def sources. Unlike the company's 47LB5D LCD, the 50PC3D plasma allows all five choices with standard-def sources too.
Although we don't consider "burn-in"--or "temporary image retention" in pro-plasma parlance--any reason to avoid plasma, (more info), we appreciate when plasma makers add features to address TIR when it occurs. The 50PC5D has two modes that can help "erase" temporarily retained images, one that turns the whole screen white, and another--sure to be a hit a parties--that puts up the inverse image, turning black areas white, orange areas blue, green areas purple, etc. You can also choose the "orbiter" option, which very slowly moves the entire image around on the screen.
We didn't expect an entry-level plasma to have three HDMI inputs and the 50PC5D does not. It gets by with two, which should be plenty for most users. The back panel jack pack continues with a pair of component-video inputs, a VGA-style PC input (1,366x768 maximum resolution), one standard AV input with a choice of composite or S-Video, a single RF input for antenna or cable, and an optical digital audio output for the built-in ATSC tuner. There's a small bay on the left side of the panel that houses another AV input with composite and S-Video. Custom installers will appreciate the addition of an RS-232 control port, which is unusual in entry-level HDTVs.