There was a time when LCD TVs had a very distinct and clear lead over plasma TVs. Happily Pioneer and Panasonic have done a massive amount to improve plasma technology over the last two years, and the problems of the past -- daft panel resolutions, murky blacks, nasty sparkles on dark areas -- have either been reduced to virtually nothing or banished totally.
So when LG offered to send its new 50-inch plasma, we were very interested. At £1,000 it's considerably cheaper than the Pioneer of the same size, and is a decent saving on the Panasonic, especially when you consider that the LG includes a Freeview+ PVR (formerly known as Freeview Playback). Let's take a closer look at the TV, its features and how it performs and decide if it's worth the cash.
First off, the LG is a lovely looking TV. The front is finished with a large panel of plastic that covers the whole screen. The plasma panel itself is recessed slightly and when the TV is off, the whole thing looks like one big slab of darkness. It's very cool indeed, and the TV itself is incredibly thin, too. The only distractions on the front of the TV are the power button and LG logo -- there are no other connections or hidden flaps, and there aren't even any visible speakers.
The remote control is one of the newer models, meaning it's pleasant to look at and easy to use. Getting around the TVs menu system is easy, and all of the buttons are a decent size, so those with larger fingers will get on fine.
At the back of the TV there is, as you'd imagine, a good selection of inputs including two HDMI sockets -- a third is located about an inch away on the side of the TV. You also get component, VGA and a pair of Scart sockets. For audio you get an optical digital output, which can obviously be connected to an AV receiver, sound bar or 2.1 system.
The whole shebang comes on a weighty stand, but obviously wall mounting is an option too, as long as you've got walls made out of something real -- no plywood or cardboard-based materials, please.
Admittedly, this TV doesn't have a 1080p panel, which means if you're only interested in the latest and greatest this won't be for you. That said, we maintain that you can get a staggeringly good picture from a 720p set, and if you're looking to save a few quid you would probably be very happy with a good HD-ready TV.
What this TV loses in resolution it makes up for with its main selling point: the built-in Freeview+ recorder, which has 160GB of storage -- more than enough to record plenty of your favourite TV programmes. Of course there are advantages and disadvantages to built-in recorders. The most obvious downside is that if it breaks, you're going to be in a tricky position. On the plus side, though, it saves power, reduces clutter and makes recording programmes incredibly simple.
The first time we turned on the TV we reset it to factory conditions and re-tuned the digital channels. Our first impression of the picture quality was disappointing. The Freeivew picture was awful -- far too bright and with colours that might look okay in a cartoon, but in no way accurately reflect real life.
Luckily some tweaking improved the situation considerably. Switching from the dreaded 'dynamic' mode -- when has that setting ever not been trouble? -- soon made us happier. Colours were more natural and brightness was reduced to a level that ensured our corneas would live to see another day.