In the last few years the most compelling LCD challengers to the picture quality reign of plasma were equipped with multizone LED backlights that could dim or brighten in different areas of the screen independently. Broadly known as "local dimming" technology, in the best cases it delivered superb black-level performance and manageable trade-offs in the form of stray illumination or "blooming." In worse cases, such as the LG LE5500 series, that stray illumination is not managed well.
Unfortunately, we suspect that many buyers lured by the LG's claims of dimming won't understand the differences--among them the fact that this TV uses LED that illuminate the screen from the edge, rather than from behind. The LE5500 does offer plenty of perks, including accurate color, decent bright-room performance, a stylishly thin frame and numerous Internet features, but seekers of LED-based LCDs who place a premium on image quality should look elsewhere.
You'll need to use breakout cables (included) to connect component or composite sources to the side. The side bay is narrow enough that LG recommends a width no greater than 10mm (0.39 inches) for HDMI and USB cables/thumbdrives. The second USB port is nice if you monopolize the first with the optional Wi-Fi dongle.
LG's new clicker is a long, thin wand with decent button differentiation and friendly, rubberized keys. We liked the bulge in the middle that corresponds with a convenient notch on the underside for your index finger; we missed direct infrared control of other devices.
The selection of nonstreaming Internet features nothing to write home about, and most of the utilities, with the exception of Picasa, come courtesy of Yahoo widgets. At the time of this writing, the LE5500 has access to eleven widgets. Yahoo's platform is somewhat more usable than in the past, with snappier responses to button presses and faster load times for individual widgets. That said it could be a lot faster, and the initial load of the main widget taskbar can take 20 seconds or more--still an eternity on a television. Apps selection and usability overall is a step behind Samsung and Vizio.
The Games platform, not to be confused with the games included with Yahoo Widgets, includes extremely basic custom titles, for example Sudoku and Whack a Mole--the less said, the better about these pointless exercises in frustrating gameplay.
We also liked the improvements made to the Picture Wizard, which consists of a series of test patterns that can help non-Experts adjust basic controls and get the gist of what picture setup is all about.
Our first experience with local dimming from an edge-lit LED configuration, with Samsung's C8000 series, was significantly better than what we saw on the (significantly less expensive) LG LE5500. The LG's imprecise dimming produced distracting brightness variations, and the TV's black-level performance overall was still worse than other standard, nondimming edge-lit models'. Accurate color in bright scenes and a matte screen for bright rooms help soften the blow somewhat, but all told, the LE5500 turned in mediocre picture quality.