As LG's least expensive 1080p resolution plasma, the LG50PG30 competes squarely against models such as the Samsung PN50A550 and the Panasonic TH-50PZ85U. Its specification sheet matches up well against those models, and its many picture controls, understated styling and generally solid feature set all point in the right direction. It misses out on the more important picture quality points, however, evincing lighter black levels than the Panasonic and less accurate color, despite all of those controls, than the Samsung. It handles standard-definition sources well, however, and if you like the styling, insist on 1080p resolution and don't mind a couple picture quality issues, it's still worthy of consideration.
LG's plasmas have an understated appearance that we've come to appreciate, and the 50PG30 is a great example. It looks almost exactly like the 50PG20 we reviewed earlier, with a glossy black frame that's relatively thin for a 50-inch plasma. The frame has sleekly rounded corners and the bottom angles back to provide a mild visual accent, while speakers are concealed under the bottom of the cabinet and face straight down. The only interruption of the gloss comes courtesy of an LED power indicator near the silver, rounded power button, and the LG logo itself.
Including the matching, pedestal swivel stand, LG's 50PG30 50-inch plasma measures 48.5 inch wide by 33.4 inches tall by 14.3 inches deep inches and weighs 93.2 pounds. Without the stand, it shrinks to 48.5 inches wide by 31.1 inches tall by 3.3 inches deep.
LG's remote control is a bit disappointing. We found the cluster of similar buttons around the cursor control difficult to differentiate without constantly having to look down at them. A little illumination would have gone a long way. In one improvement over the remotes of some previous LG TVs, the 50PG30's clicker actually has a dedicated "ratio" key to toggle between aspect ratio settings on the "Quick Menu." It can command three other pieces of equipment beyond the television itself.
The stark black-on-light-gray menus are legible and large, and the input menu, which is arranged horizontally, groups active inputs near the left where they were easy to select quickly. We would have liked to see text explanations accompany menu items, and navigating the extensive Expert menu (see below) can be quite tedious, but overall we liked the simple arrangement. We also appreciated the Quick Menu, which allows control of aspect ratio, picture presets, and other options without having to deal with the full menu system.
The principal step-up feature found on the LG 50PG30 is its 1080p native resolution, which lets the TV display every pixel of the highest-resolution sources available today. At this screen size, however, it's tough to differentiate between 1080p and lower-resolution displays, such as the company's own 50PG20.
LG's range of picture controls is very good, although this model lacks the 10-point grayscale calibration we liked so much on higher-end sets like the company's 50PG60. The two-point version available in the PG30's Expert menu isn't bad, however, and really helped us adjust the TV's color temperature beyond the typical three presets. There are a few other advanced controls, including gamma, black level and a complete color management system to play with primary and secondary color points as well as color decoding, although it wasn't as effective as we'd have hoped.
We liked the prodigious number of picture modes, seven in all, each of which can remember settings independently per input. If you're counting, that's 63 total "slots" over the set's 9 inputs, for a range of adjustability that should satisfy even the tweakiest of viewers. We also liked that all of the main picture modes indicate whether they're at default or custom settings with the presence or absence of "(User)" printed after the mode name.
The 50PG30 includes a healthy five manual-aspect ratio modes and a sixth that detects incoming content and attempts to adjust aspect automatically. LG chose to call its zero-overscan mode Just Scan, and we'd recommend using this mode with HD content unless you notice interference along the extreme edges of the screen, which can occur on some cable and satellite feeds.
Beyond picture adjustments the TV lacks picture-in-picture, but at least LG threw in a variety of settings to combat potential burn-in, such as an all-white screen, an inversion mode that shows colors in reverse, and a pixel orbiter that slowly shifts the entire image around the screen. We were happy to see three power saver modes, which dim the picture to cut down on the TV's power consumption. During initial setup, the 50PG20 also asked whether we were viewing in a store or a home environment. Answering "home" on other HDTVs, such as plasmas from Samsung or Panasonic, typically causes another significant reduction in power use, but in the LG's case it didn't help much. See the Juice Box for details.
LG equipped the 50PG30 with standard connectivity although there's one exception: an RS-232 port is available for custom installation and control. For audio and video sources, there are two HDMI inputs on the back panel and one more on the side. A pair of component video inputs, a VGA-style PC input (1,920x1,080 resolution) an RF input for antenna and cable, an AV input with composite and S-Video jacks, and an optical digital audio output complete the rear jack pack. In addition to that third HDMI port, the side panel has another AV input with composite video only, along with a USB port that's for service only (it can't accept digital photo files or music).
All told, the LG 50PG30 is a middling performer among 1080p plasmas, exhibiting average black-level performance and inaccurate color decoding and primary colors. We had no problems with its video processing and resolution, and standard-definition performance was among the best we've tested, but compared with the competition, the 50PG30's picture does little else to distinguish itself.