In 2010 you can prepare to be confused by two familiar, yet relatively complex, TV technologies: 3D and LED backlights. Before you ask, no, 3D is not available on the LG LE8500 series reviewed here--that perk is reserved for the more-expensive 9500 models--but an LED backlight is. More importantly, the LE8500 has a full-array backlight with local dimming, meaning hundreds of independent cells behind the screen can brighten or dim independently, which can really help improve picture quality. In contrast, most of other LED-backlit TVs available today have either no local-dimming capability or attempt to mimic the dimming of a full array by creating zones from an edge-lit configuration. We know the former has little impact on picture quality, and we haven't tested the latter (which we're calling "edge with local dimming" for now), but we can tell you after reviewing the LE8500 that full-array local dimming still works great.
Yes, this high-end TV falls short of the best sets available today in a couple of areas, and strict videophiles might notice some stray illumination. But if you go by the most important ingredients of good picture quality--black levels and color accuracy--the LG LE8500 is the new ruler of the LCD roost, and it sets a high bar for other 2010 TVs. If you don't give a hoot about 3D and are willing to pay more for an excellent-performing LCD, it belongs near the top of your wish list.
The LE8500 is a member of LG's 2010 Infinia line, which means design extras like a flush face and thin cabinet--although it doesn't get the extra-thin bezel of the step-up LE9500 series, or the 0.92-inch depth touted at CES. No matter, the LE8500 with its 1.4 inch depth looks plenty sleek, with a minimalist aesthetic sure to please ultramodern decorators.
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.
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.
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.
The selection of non-streaming Internet features is solid on the LG, and most of the utilities, with the exception of Picasa, come courtesy of Yahoo widgets. At the time of this writing, the LE8500 has access to 10 widgets. Speaking of, that 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.
Local dimming of its full array of LED elements is the big selling point, similar to the scheme used on some of the top LCDs of 2009, like the LG LH90 and the Samsung 8500. LG tells us the 47-inch LE8500 has 216 independent, dimmable zones, whereas the 55-incher has 240 (Samsung doesn't divulge the number of its zones).
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.
The LG LE8500 delivered outstanding picture quality, meeting or exceeding in many areas the performance we saw on the directly competitive Samsung UN55B8500 from 2009. The LG's black levels and color were superb, its off-angle picture surpassed that of the Samsung, but on the flipside, its video processing and uniformity across the screen were disappointing, and it introduced more blooming and stray illumination. All things considered, however, the LG LE8500 earns the same superb "9" in this category that we awarded the Samsung UNB8500.