By now you may have heard all about passive 3D, how it might or might not be better than active, how LG/Vizio and Samsung/Sony/Panasonic are at each others' throats trying to convince buyers to choose one over the other, and how 3D TV is here to stay. That's all true, and documented exhaustively in our 3D TV FAQ, but in our experience few TV shoppers care about 3D in the least. If you're one of the few, then you'll want to know that overall we like the picture quality of active better than what we've seen of passive from the LG LW5600 series--although passive definitely has its advantages.
That said, we can forget about 3D and focus on what really matters: 2D picture quality, where the LW5600 is one of the best edge-lit LED TVs we've tested. The dimming backlight, despite its flaws, is an asset overall (and no, it's not available on less-expensive, 2D-only 2011 LGs) along with best-in-class color. Perhaps most importantly, the LW5600 has a matte screen that performs better than glossy screens in bright rooms. We liked LG's Internet features and even its funky remote this year, although buyers seeking a style statement will be disappointed. The LG LW5600 costs more than most LED-based LCD TVs, but it offers the complete package and deserves consideration from buyers in this price range regardless of how they feel about 3D.
The LW5600 is LG's first TV with passive 3D capability, enabled by something called a Film Pattern Retarder. A polarizing film coating the TV screen allows each eye, when wearing special glasses, to view every other line to create the two images necessary for the 3D illusion.
The biggest market advantage of passive 3D is inexpensive glasses. LG packs four pair of passive specs in with the LW5600, and additional pairs cost $20. Less expensive compatible circular polarized glasses are available from online merchants, and if you swipe a pair of passive 3D glasses from your local theater, they should work too.
Unlike Samsung and Panasonic LG blesses its slim TVs with a set of honest-to-goodness multicolored RCA jacks that don't require breakout cables (although the second component/composite input does). Users of a USB wi-fi dongle might want a third USB port, but we doubt it.
The secondary "Magic Motion" remote acts like the controller on a Nintendo Wii to enable you to make menu selections by motion control, rather than clicking from box with your thumb.
We called the wand-like motion controller a gimmick last year, but now that it can be used seamlessly across all menus and nearly every app (Netflix is the only exception we found--it prevents motion control, although the wand's cursor buttons still work), many of which seem designed with motion control in mind, it's much more appealing. Sure some things could be better--we wish the wand had a dedicated Return/Back button, response times occasionally lagged a bit and on occasion we had to give the wand a vigorous shake to get our cursor to return--but it was sometimes easier and faster than using the standard remote (especially after we changed pointer settings to Speed: Fast and Alignment: On in the Settings>Options menu).
Since the wand is radio-controlled it doesn't require line-of-sight to the TV. Another bonus is drag/drop, which we used to customize menus where available, drag a map in the Google maps app, and easily scroll down an AP news story by dragging a scroll bar, for example. Waving the wand at the screen to navigate menus and apps will take some getting used to for motion control novices, but it's a cool and somewhat useful option to have. The biggest downside is that it means having an extra remote on your coffee table (at least until Harmony incorporates motion control).
. The Home page consists of a live TV window with links below to inputs, TV settings, and favorite channels; a central section with five tiles you can customize and re-arrange to link to any of the "Premium" services like Netflix and Amazon; an LG Apps section listing the three hottest and newest apps from LG's app store; and a bottom strip with links to the app store, browser and two apps of your choice (we wish this strip offered the ability to tweak more than just two). The page's proportions feel right and we liked the big icons, especially since they made using the motion controller easier.
Despite the ill-chosen "Premium" heading, you won't have to pay for any of the streaming services beyond subscription or pay-per-view fees. The selection is solid, although two music services--Pandora and Mog--that are available on its Blu-ray players mysteriously go missing on the LW5600. The company says Skype (which requires purchase of the speakerphone) and Hulu Plus will be available in July 2011.
That said, we appreciated that LG's Premium services are almost all excellent. Separating the wheat from chaff is often difficult, and we prefer to have a few apps/services that work well and offer satisfying content as opposed to myriad useless ones.
The selection in LG's app store is anemic at the moment, far outpaced by Samsung and, to a lesser extent, Panasonic. We did like the star rating system, especially since the plethora of negative ratings signaled it was legit. We didn't like the cramped layout of the app store, however, and we're a bit mystified why some Apps (like the excellent HomeCast podcast aggregator) aren't "Premium."
LG is always among the best in this department, and we loved having two Expert modes with the full plethora of adjustments--although we prefer the color management system used by Samsung. LG's picture setting menus, while extensive, are also annoying to navigate since they require so much scrolling during adjustment (the motion remote isn't any help here).
The LG LW5600 is a very good overall performer for an edge-lit LED, matching its Samsung competitor the Samsung UN46D6400 with a "7" in this subcategory--although each has distinct advantages and disadvantages. We were most impressed by the LG's color, and while local dimming causes blooming and artifacts, the deep black levels and better uniformity were worth the tradeoff. 3D picture quality was, as we saw on the other passive TV we reviewed, inferior to active in key ways, but should still be appealing to less discerning eyes (and people who want to save money on a family's worth of glasses).