If you're thinking of trading up from a 32-inch TV, but don't want something that's going to completely dominate your living room, a 42-inch set is often a good option.
If you do fancy this screen size, LG's 42LA690 could be just the ticket -- for a start, it's reasonably affordable at £850 (47- and 55-inch versions of the same model will set you back more). It looks the business too, thanks to its extremely narrow bezel, and it's packed with features, including support for smart TV apps and 3D. It even comes with a Wii-style motion-sensitive remote control. The question is, does it have the picture performance to match its features?
User interface and TV guide
Sony, Samsung and Panasonic have all made major changes to their smart TV systems this year, but LG has resisted any upheaval. Instead it thinks its smart TV system is still good enough to cut it against the competition -- and in a way it's right.
Its homescreen layout is still rather attractive and is, on the whole, easy to use, even if the system does confuse matters at times by offering you a few too many ways of doing the same thing.
Once you've figured out some of its quirks though, it's quite fast to use and pretty well thought-out, especially now LG allows you customise the different panels that it displays.
The homescreen also gives you access to the TV's setting menus and these are just as well laid-out as on last year's models. There's a full colour-management system to give you finer control over colours as well as the usual more straightforward colour, brightness and contrast settings. Handily LG has included a picture wizard to help you get the best pictures from the set. Unlike Philips' picture wizard, this one works very well and helps you quickly achieve good results. Thumbs up to LG on this front.
The TV's programming guide is less of a success, however. It's actually intrusive -- when you call it up, it cuts off all audio and video from the show you're watching. It really is way past time LG integrated a video window into its guide to make it more user-friendly. It's also annoying that it lacks a details box to give you more information about the show you've currently got highlighted in the timeline. To see any programme details you have to press the Info button, which becomes tiresome after a while.
Smart TV system
LG's smart TV system looks almost identical to that on last year's models. It presents you with a Home Dashboard screen that has panels across the top giving you access to various content such as smart TV apps and 3D streaming videos, while a banner across the bottom has icons for stuff like the AV inputs lists and settings menu.
The top panels are split into different categories. The first shows premium smart apps, including BBC iPlayer, Netflix and Lovefilm, while the second gives you access to streaming 3D movies via LG's 3D World service.
Next is the Smart World store, which displays the pick of apps not included in the premium section, and after this you'll find the Game World panel, which promotes some of the games available in the app store. The last panel in the list shows any videos or images you've shared to the TV from computers, networked hard drives or smart phones.
Unlike on last year's TVs, you can now create your own panels and add shortcuts for your commonly used smart apps or features to them. The panels can also be quickly re-ordered too, which is handy.
The whole system looks quite pretty and is fairly easy to use. There's too much repetition throughout, however, which can lead to some confusion. There are multiple ways to access the media-streaming features and too many routes to get at the smart apps.
The lineup of available apps is reasonably good. Alongside the BBC's iPlayer, you'll find the likes of Netflix, Lovefilm, BlinkBox and KnowHow for movie streaming, as well as Facebook and Twitter. It lacks 4oD, ITV Player and Demand 5, however -- services that are all now supported on Samsung's smart TV platform.
The set comes with LG's motion remote, which is excellent. It lets you control a pointer onscreen just by moving the remote around and makes it much easier to enter email addresses and passwords into smart apps or just to navigate around the set's menus. LG has added voice search too. This is quite accurate at working out what you're asking for, but it only works with iPlayer, not Netflix and Lovefilm, so it's not quite as useful as it should be.
The TV's onboard media player is pretty good, though. It played our selection of MKV, Dvix and Xvid movie files without much bother. As I've remarked on many an occasion, the fast-forward and rewind controls don't work when you're streaming content across a network, which is deeply annoying.
Design and connections
The 42LA690 is a very handsome set. Finished in black it's got a very narrow bezel around the screen and a very distinctive stand. With the TV off it looks as if the bezel is only about a millimetre thick as the surface of the screen runs edge to edge. With the set on, however, you can see a black border around the display, but it's still very narrow.
Perhaps the focal point of the design is the stand. It looks like a ribbon that has been twisted into a sort of elongated U shape, and holds the TV aloft by a few centimeters to give it that floating-on-air look that's so popular at the moment.