Editors' note (March 4, 2010): The rating on this product has been lowered because of changes in the competitive marketplace, including the release of 2010 models. The review has not otherwise been modified..
The 2009 entry-level LH30 series of LCD TVs re-establishes LG as the king of picture controls. Last year the company offered the most extensive suite of user-menu color adjustments available and this year there's even more to tweak--from gamma targets to color filters to a Picture Wizard, designed for nonexperts, with built-in test patterns that actually work. The end result is highly accurate color. But other major picture quality factors, namely black level and screen uniformity, are generally beyond the reach of controls, and in the LH30's case those two factors weigh heavily. Nonetheless, if you want a high degree of color accuracy and customization in an otherwise basic LCD TV, the LH30 is mighty appealing.
We performed a hands-on evaluation of the 42-inch 42LH30, but this review also applies to the other sizes in the series: the 47-inch 47LH30, the 37-inch 37LH30 and the 32-inch 32LH30. All of the sizes share identical specs and should provide very similar picture quality.
If you're looking for relief from the scads of identical-looking glossy-black HDTVs out there, don't look to the LH30 series. The straightforward exterior has the same medium-width gloss-black frame on the top and sides with a thicker portion below the screen, the bottom edge of which is curved ever so slightly and edged by a chrome-colored strip. LG's characteristic subtly protruding, illuminated power indicator interrupts the strip on the right side, and speakers are hidden completely from view along the bottom of the panel. The stand swivels and matches the panel with its glossy black.
The company cut corners on the entry-level remote control. Our biggest hang-up was lack of a dedicated aspect ratio button, and we couldn't get used to the placement of the menu key to the lower-left of the big cursor control. There is a prominent, appropriately colored key toward the top labeled "Energy Saving," complete with leaf logo, but somewhat confusingly it calls up the rotary-looking quick menu, set to the energy saving position, instead of a completely separate energy saving function. On the plus side, we liked the feel of the clicking, rubberized cursor control.
LG's menu system is quite extensive, so the easy-access quick menu for aspect ratio, picture and sound modes, the timer and other oft-used functions, is welcome. The main menu is laid out the same as last year with the addition of a new onscreen "simple manual" that provides basic setup and function information. One miscue: we'd really like to see explanations of menu items appear onscreen, too, especially since many of them are so advanced.
On the flipside, the LG LH30's picture-adjusting controls certainly surpass those of most entry-level HDTVs. The company included even more adjustments than last year, starting with a well-thought-out Picture Wizard that uses internal test patterns to help you perform you own basic calibrations of the controls for brightness, contrast, color, tint, horizontal and vertical sharpness, and backlight. Once you've finished, your settings are saved to the Expert1 picture memory slot for your choice of inputs. See the Performance section for details on the results.
Each of the eight adjustable picture memory slots is independent per input, and we appreciated that all of them, aside from the two Expert slots, indicate whether they're in the default settings. Advanced controls abound in even the nonexpert modes, with three color temperature presets, settings for dynamic contrast and color, noise reduction, three levels of gamma, a black level control, wide and standard color spaces, edge enhancement, a room-lighting sensor, and even an "eye care" setting designed to prevent the screen from being too bright (it's disabled in Vivid and Cinema modes).
Those Expert modes, which bear the logo and the input of the Imaging Science Foundation, offer a passel of additional controls. Our favorite, first introduced by LG last year and still exclusive to the company, is a 10-point white balance system that can really help get a more accurate grayscale. The company upped the ante for 2009, adding the capability to target a 2.2 gamma, internal test patterns, and even color filters for blue-only, green-only, and red-only to help set color balance. A full color management system is also on-tap, and we love the capability apply Expert settings to all inputs or just one at a time. Of course, most of these settings will appeal only to pro calibrators and HDTV geeks, but either way, LG's 2009 models offer the most complete suite of user-menu picture adjustments we've seen on any HDTV to date.
LG touts the efficiency of this set, and rightly so, according to our tests (see below). In addition to the "home use" and "store demo" initial settings common to the Energy Star 3.0-qualified televisions, there's a trio of progressively more aggressive Energy Saving settings that reduce the backlight--and thus light output along with wattage consumed. Engaging the settings disables the standard backlight control.
The H30 series is missing picture-in-picture but does provide plenty of aspect ratio control, including five modes or use with HD sources and four with standard-def. Two modes are adjustable zooms, and there's a "set by program" mode designed to automatically choose the correct aspect ratio setting based on the signal. We recommend using the Just Scan mode with 1080i and 1080p material, which assures zero overscan and proper 1:1 pixel matching for this 1080p display.