The picture controls on the PS80 series surpass most of the competition. LG included even more adjustments than last year, starting with a well thought out Picture Wizard that uses internal test patterns to help you perform basic calibrations of the controls for brightness, contrast, color, tint, horizontal and vertical sharpness, and backlight. Once you've finished, your settings are saved to the Expert1 picture memory slot for your choice of inputs.
The PS80 series includes a THX picture preset not available on lower-end models. Unlike THX on Panasonic TVs such as the TC-PV10 series, the THX settings on the LG cannot be adjusted at all. Each of the other six picture modes slots is adjustable independent per input, and we appreciated that all of them, aside from the two Expert slots, indicate whether they're in the default settings. Advanced controls abound in even the nonexpert modes, with three color temperature presets, settings for dynamic contrast and color, noise reduction, three levels of gamma, a black level control, wide and standard color spaces and a film mode setting to control 2:3 pull-down detection.
Those Expert modes, which bear the logo and the input of the Imaging Science Foundation, offer scads of additional controls. The most remarkable, 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 (see Performance).
The company includes internal test patterns and even color filters for blue-only, green-only, and red-only to help set color balance. A full color management system is also on-tap, and we love the capability apply Expert settings to all inputs or just one at a time. Of course, most of these settings will appeal only to pro calibrators and HDTV geeks; but either way, LG's 2009 models offer the most complete suite of user-menu picture adjustments we've seen on any HDTV to date.
LG's green energy saving button, prominently placed at the top of the remote, provides quick access to the three power saver modes that step down the set's maximum light output to save power, and a fourth that incorporates a room lighting sensor that adjusts output depending on ambient light.
The PS80 series is missing a picture-in-picture feature, but does provide plenty of aspect-ratio control, including five modes or use with HD sources and four with standard-def. Two modes are adjustable zooms, and there's a "set by program" mode designed to automatically choose the correct aspect ratio setting based on the signal. We recommend using the Just Scan mode with 1080i and 1080p material, which assures zero overscan and proper 1:1 pixel matching for this 1080p display.
LG also throws in a few ways to combat temporary image retention or burn-in, which it calls "image sticking." There's a pixel orbiter that moves the entire image slightly over time, as well as two modes--one that whites out the screen and one that alternates white and color--to remove image sticking should it occur. These modes could prove useful if you encounter the same kind of retention we did.
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 its lack of S-Video inputs.
While its image quality has a few strengths, namely in the color category, 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 plasma TVs, and exhibited the kind of image retention we rarely see anymore.
As we mentioned, when we attempted our standard calibration with the 20-point IRE system, it didn't work as well as it has in the past. The main problem we observed was that TV's color temperature fluctuated more than normal, swinging as much as a few hundred Kelvin in darker areas, so homing in on a target using the 20-point system's myriad controls was extremely frustrating and ultimately fruitless. Perhaps color temperature would stabilize if we left it running for a hundred hours or so during a break-in period, but an extended break-in is not currently part of our testing regimen.
In the end, we decided to calibrate using the less accurate two-point system that improved on the default settings, but still was not as accurate as what we've achieved on past LG models. The PS80's grayscale after calibration was less flat than we'd like, tending toward green in midbright areas for example, and we would have loved to use the more-exact system to tune it further. The two-point system also couldn't improve gamma much beyond the 2.05 of default Expert; we ended up at 2.08 versus the ideal of 2.2.
We also checked out the Picture Wizard and after we completed the onscreen prompts, we ended up with settings that came quite close to the default for Expert mode. However, those settings did not translate perfectly according to our external test patterns--black level was too high. Still, the wizard can provide a good education to viewers unfamiliar with the basic functions of picture controls.
For our comparison, we lined up the LG PS80 next to competing plasmas such as the Panasonic TC-P50V10, the Samsung PN50B650, along with our reference Pioneer PRO-111FD. We also incorporated a couple of LCDs, namely the Samsung LN52B750, the Sony KDL-52XBR9, and the LG 47LH50. For the majority of our image quality tests, we checked out "Orphan" on Blu-ray Disc.
Black levels: Compared with most of the other TVs in our lineup, the 50PS80 produced a more washed out shade of black. In very dark scenes, such as the beginning of Chapter 20 when Esther enters the workshop to put her arm in the vice, the black areas and shadows appeared lighter than on any of the other sets aside from LG's LH50 LCD. The difference was also clearly visible in mixed scenes, such as Chapter 5 with the walls of the dark orphanage visible against the brighter light outside, and as usual became less obvious in predominantly bright scenes. In the PS80's favor, its blacks remained steady regardless of changes in brightness in the rest of the image.
The LG's shadow detail didn't obscure any dim objects, but was a bit less-realistic than on the other displays. Details were a bit brighter than on our reference, for example, an issue we attribute to the LG's lighter gamma in dark scenes.
Color accuracy: While not quite in the same league as other LG HDTVs we've tested recently, the PS80 fared well in color accuracy tests and remained among the more accurate sets in our lineup. Skin tones, such as the pale faces of Esther and Kate as they meet for the first time, looked natural and not too rosy-cheeked. The slight green we measured in the LG's grayscale didn't impinge on the warmth of skin tones and other delicate colors in most scenes. As usual, we noticed that lighter black levels hurt saturation somewhat, although bright colors on the LG, such as Chapter 9 with Esther and Katz in the garden, still appeared relatively lush, if not as good as on the other plasma sets.
Primary and secondary colors were superb, as evinced by the green and yellow of the garden plants and the reddish-orange of the steps. We also appreciated that the dark areas of the LG's picture appeared relatively neutral, as opposed to bluish like the LCD screens.
Video processing: The PS80 fell short of the competition in this arena. As we mentioned at the top it couldn't consistently pass our test for proper handling of 1080p/24 sources. That test consists of watching the helicopter flyover of the Intrepid from "I Am Legend," which should pass under the camera smoothly yet with the steady cadence of film. Instead, we occasionally saw the characteristic halting cadence indicative of 2:3 pull-down. Of the four times we performed the test, the LG passed twice and failed twice. Suffice to say it can neither match the consistency of the other 24p-capable plasmas we've tested this year, nor similar 120Hz and 240Hz LCD models.
According to LG's Web site, its plasmas use "600Hz subfield driving," which sounds like the 600Hz subfield drive used by Panasonic on its plasma TV, but the two didn't give the same results in our test. The LG delivered between 800 lines and 900 lines of resolution, which is similar to what we saw on the Samsung plasma but less than on the Panasonic TV--which resolved the full 1080 lines. However, LG's number is still very good, and, as usual, we suspect that even the most blur-sensitive viewers won't notice a difference with regular program material. The PS80 series properly deinterlaced both video- and film-based material, although the latter required us to turn on the set's film mode.
Uniformity: We normally skip this section with plasma TVs, since they most always have perfect screen uniformity and off-angle viewing characteristics. The PS80 did as well, aside from its higher incidence of temporary image retention, aka burn-in, compared with other plasma TVs we've tested this year. When we left an image paused onscreen for 30 seconds or more, we could often observe trace signs of it immediately afterward, especially in flat fields. On the other hand, the traces disappeared quickly in every case, even extended, paused test patterns, so we don't consider it a deal-breaker.
Bright lighting: Under strong overhead lights and with bright windows facing the screen, the LG PS80 was among the worse performers in our lineup. It didn't attenu