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HolidayBuyer's Guide

LG LA8600 series review:

High-end TV with midrange picture quality

As mentioned above, the majority of commands call for a virtual onscreen remote -- a pain to use compared with buttons, but eased somewhat by motion control. The virtual keys for Guide, DVR and Menu all called up the requisite screens on my Fios DVR, and I especially appreciated that the scroll wheel jumped quickly through the EPG. Again, the main weakness for DVR control is lack of dedicated keys for transport functions.

LG's system also allows you to set up control over a Blu-ray/DVD player, as well as a soundbar or home theater system. It didn't go as well as it did with my Fios DVR. When I set up my Oppo DVD player many of the commands didn't seem to register, making control impossible. I also tried setting up Denon AV receiver as a "home theater system" and the TV didn't seem to have the remote codes to control it. I didn't test any sound bars, although since they're much simpler I'd expect better results.

These issues underscore the LG's disadvantage compared with a traditional universal remote -- the system is only as good as the devices (specifically, the IR codes to control those devices) it supports. Like Samsung, the LG TV can't "learn" additional commands, so if your component isn't fully supported, there isn't much you can do. Sure my Motorola Fios DVR happened to enjoy full support, but I wouldn't be surprised to learn of another DVR that doesn't.

Sarah Tew/CNET

Web browser: Although better than other TV-based browsers I've used, the one on the 2013 LG isn't quite as good as Samsung's. Compared with the Samsung UNF8000, the LG LA8600 loaded Web pages about as quickly, but navigating them was somewhat more awkward.

The scroll wheel was too jumpy and unpredictable compared to the scrolling action on Samsung's touchpad, and worse, the motion control cursor seemed to disappear frequently and inexplicably, making it impossible to do anything on the page until it came back (after a vigorous shake or four, or a button press). Typing with the onscreen keyboard was once again better with LG, but in total, Samsung's browser is more polished. Like Samsung's LG's browser also passed this Flash support test.

Of course, you'll experience even less frustration if you connect an external wireless keyboard. I was able to use a cheap wireless USB keyboard, the Logitech K400, and its touchpad worked well for navigation.

Picture settings: LG offers its usual scads of picture adjustments, with two Expert modes in addition to numerous other adjustable presets. The 20-point grayscale adjustment is overkill in my opinion (I prefer 10 points) and didn't work well in testing. While the color management system worked OK, it wasn't as accurate as some I've seen. Full control of picture options is available for streaming-video sources.

Sarah Tew/CNET

Connectivity: The jack pack is standard, with four HDMI and three USB ports. You'll have to choose between a single component or composite video source, available via breakout cable, since they share the same audio input. As usual there's no VGA-style PC input.

Picture quality
Although it delivers somewhat better picture quality overall than last year's LG sets, the flagship LA8600 doesn't really come close to matching the best-of-breed 2013 examples from Sony and Samsung, and also falls short of Vizio's much less expensive M series. Its main weakness compared with those sets is lighter black levels, and it also couldn't match the uniformity or bright-room performance of their screens. On the plus side of the ledger the LA8600 showed accurate color and very good video processing, as well as the expected benefits (and issues) of passive 3D.

Click the image at the right to see the picture settings used in the review and to read more about how this TV's picture controls worked during calibration.

Comparison models (details)
Samsung UN55F8000 55-inch LED LCD
Sony KDL-55W900A 55-inch LED LCD
Panasonic TC-L55WT60 55-inch LED LCD
Vizio M551d-A2R 55-inch LED LCD
LG 47LM7600 47-inch LED LCD
Panasonic TC-P60VT60 60-inch plasma

Black level: Aside from last year's LG LM7600, the LM8600 delivered the lightest, least realistic shade of black in our lineup. The Samsung, the Sony, and the Panasonic VT60 were all significantly better in this important performance category, and the WT60 and Vizio both also managed to get consistently darker as well.

As Bond creeps through the building at night for example ("Skyfall," Chapter 11), the 8600's rendition of the silhouettes, the deepest shadows and, most tellingly, the letterbox bars, lacked the inky depth of the better sets. The darker the overall scene, the more the LG struggled to keep up with the others, but even when bright elements like the neon at 47:15 were introduced, the LG's bars still appeared a good deal lighter than any of the others except for the LM7600.

Blooming is an artifact of local dimming where a relatively bright section of screen artificially brightens up an adjacent dark section. While the LA8600 didn't show as much blooming as the WT60 it was still a worse bloomer than the others. In Chapter 14, as Bond's boat passes the night-lit dragon under the fireworks, I noticed a relatively bright patch illuminate the top bar as the dimming system kicked in. At least the LG didn't dim highlights as much as the WT60 and, to a lesser extent, the Vizio M series.

Shadow detail was a relative strength, on the other hand, although not up to the Samsung, Sony or the VT60 plasma. The face and jacket of the doomed sniper (49:45), as well as Bond's shadowy stroll the dim Macau bar (56:29) were both rendered in with plenty of detail, neither too dark nor too bright. Shadows didn't look as realistic overall as on the sets with deeper black levels, however.

Color accuracy: LG has few problems in this area, exhibiting more accurate color than any of the others aside from the Sony, the Samsung, and the VT60. Skin tones, from Bond's craggy visage to the darker face of Eve in the brightly lit market chase from Chapter 1, has a natural color that was neither too warm nor too cool, and color stayed consistent regardless of the brightness of the scene. In darker scenes the 8600 avoided the reddish tinge found on the Vizio, for example in Bond and Severine's face from the Macau bar in Chapter 14.

Compared to the sets with deeper black levels, colors on the 8600 didn't show quite the same punch or saturation overall. The exception was the WT60, which did appear a bit more washed-out in brighter scenes, for example the faces of the Bond and his contact at the museum (Chapter 10).

The LG's only major downside in this category was a direct result of lighter black levels: black and near-black areas, like the letterbox bars, showed a bluish tinge. The other non-LG LEDs, as well as the plasma, showed a truer shade of black.

Video processing: While not quite the equal of the Samsung in this category, the 8600 nonetheless performed nicely. Of paramount importance was its ability to deliver true 1080p/24 film cadence without sacrificing all of the motion resolution benefits of a high refresh rate. It achieved this result in the User setting under TruMotion, with De-judder set at 0 and De-blur at 10. It also showed correct cadence in the Off position, but that setting showed a marked decrease in motion resolution.

Aside from Off and User, all of the TruMotion settings delivered around 600 lines of motion resolution, consistent with a typical 120Hz TV. The exception was Clear Plus, a mode that introduces backlight scanning to hit the 1,200-line maximum I expect from the 240Hz TVs of today. The Smooth, Clear Plus, and Clear settings introduce the smoothing Soap Opera Effect to a greater or lesser extent.

Unlike previous years, LG's User dejudder setting is nicely incremental -- higher settings introduce progressively more smoothing in a linear fairly gradual way, so you can tune it how you like it. I still preferred the 0 setting, while 1 and 2 seemed to introduce 2:3 pull-down's halting cadence, but 3 was a nice compromise and might even be preferable to 0 for some smoothing-averse viewers.

Input lag in Game mode measured a respectable 51ms. I've heard that some LG TVs can achieve better lag scores if you rename one of their inputs "PC," but in the 8600's case that didn't help; I measured 65.7 in that setting.

Uniformity: Although not terrible, the screen on my LA8600 review sample did show more uniformity issues than the other LED LCDs in our lineup (aside from the other LG). Along the top edge, right in the middle, a relatively brighter area was visible in the letterbox bars, and as noted above its brightness fluctuated noticeably with program material. In some very dark scenes the upper-right and lower-left corner areas appeared lighter too.

That said none of these bright areas were severely distracting to my eye, although as always different review samples might show more or fewer hot spots. As usual the issues became much more visible when I switched off local dimming, although they weren't as bad as what I saw when I turned off the Samsung's dimming.

The LG maintained color fidelity from off-angle better than the Sony and Samsung, which got washed out and paler more quickly, but on the other hand it also lost black-level fidelity quicker--so overall, off-angle was basically a wash (so to speak) between the high-end LED sets. As expected the Vizio and Panasonic performed about the same as the LA8600 when seen from off-angle, and the plasma was the best in the lineup.

Bright lighting: Under the lights the LA8600's mostly glossy screen does little to curb reflections, which appeared a bit dimmer (better) than on the Samsung and Sony, and quite a bit dimmer than on the WT60, but not as nicely muted as on the other LG or the VT60 plasma, let alone a true matte LED LCD (as for the Vizio, it appears to have the same screen finish as the LA8600). On the other hand the Samsung and Sony preserved black level fidelity a bit better than the LGs, the Vizio and the plasma under the lights, and as a result I liked their bright-room picture better overall by a nose.

In the "torch" mode picture setting that delivers the most light output, which in LG's case is the Vivid setting, I measured 92 fL (footlamberts). That's not quite as bright as the Samsung (127), the WT60 (123) or the Sony (107), although it is significantly brighter than the VT60 (49) if not the plasma light output champion, Samsung's F8500 (83). The LEDs also maintain that light output with full-screen white (think hockey or a browser screen), while the plasmas attenuate. To put the numbers in some perspective, however, the VT60's maximum of 49 is bright enough for the vast majority of normal living rooms. But as usual, if you can't control ambient light and have a very bright room, or just prefer a witheringly bright TV image, an LED like the LA8600 is a better bet than most plasmas.

Sound quality: The LA8600 delivered more bass than the others in the lineup with the possible exception of the VT60, but that's a blessing and a curse. Watching the bridge scene from "Mission: Impossible 3" it lent Ving Rhames' voice and some of the explosions a bit more oomph, although the shattering glass of the car windows wasn't as distinct as on the Samsung or the VT60. With music, specifically Nick Cave's "Red Right Hand," the bass was muddy and overwhelming even at low volume levels, distorting the sound and making it seem much less precise and present than any of the other sets. All told the LA8600 was somewhere in the middle of the audio pack, better to my ear than the extrathin Sony and WT60, but not as competent overall as the VT60 or the Samsung.

Note that due to a technical issue, I was unable to test the audio of the Vizio in this lineup, although based on Ty Pendlebury's writeup, the LG is likely a somewhat worse performer for sound quality.

3D: The LA8600 performed about the same as other passive 3D sets I've tested, with a bright image and basically no visible crosstalk (yay!) balanced by visible line structure and some jagged edge artifacts (boo!).

The latter two showed up in "Hugo" when viewed from about 8 feet, where I saw the same jagged edges and moving lines as on the also-passive Vizio, WT60 and LM7600 (the latter to a less-visible extent since its screen is smaller). Line structure in the most noticeable areas -- the edge of Hugo's face (13:33) and that of Isabel's (17:06) -- was visible but difficult to discern. More noticeable were the rare instances of moving lines, typically when the camera moved over a scene that contained a horizontal edge at a shallow angle, like the bowler hat of Uncle Claude (22:41) and the edge of a low wall outside the station (22:05). I could also easily discern line structure in high-contrast graphical elements, for example the PS3's menu icons and layover displays. None of the active sets showed these artifacts.

On the other hand all of them, including my active 3D reference UNF8000, showed more crosstalk than any of the passive displays including the LA8600. Those ghostly double images were absent from even the toughest objects, like Hugo's hand as it reached for the mouse (5:01) and the tuning pegs on the guitar (7:49).

I don't calibrate for 3D so I based my observations of black level and color on the best preset, which was Cinema in this case. The LA8600 delivered accurate-looking color by default, equaling the best sets in the room, but its black levels aren't as deep as the active sets', or even the Vizio's, robbing it of some punch. Light output was a strength, making up somewhat compared with the dimmer-seeming active 3D sets, but overall in our dark room the active sets still showed better contrast.

Sarah Tew/CNET

The weight difference isn't as extreme as it used to be between passive and active 3D glasses, but LG's feather-light specs were still a bit more comfortable than any of the active specs, especially Samsung's. I preferred the passive LG specs to those from Vizio and Panasonic; they fit better than the former and didn't have the overly small lenses and internal reflections of the latter. Yeah, they seem flimsy, but that's much less of an issue when they can be inexpensively replaced.

GEEK BOX: Test Result Score
Black luminance (0%) 0.005 Good
Avg. gamma (10-100%) 2.28 Good
Avg. grayscale error (10-100%) 0.797 Good
Dark gray error (20%) 0.747 Good
Bright gray error (70%) 0.828 Good
Avg. color error 1.704 Good
Red error 1.515 Good
Green error 0.877 Good
Blue error 3.673 Average
Cyan error 1.591 Good
Magenta error 1.388 Good
Yellow error 1.182 Good
1080p/24 Cadence (IAL) Pass Good
1080i De-interlacing (film) Pass Good
Motion resolution (max) 1200 Good
Motion resolution (dejudder off) 600 Average
Input lag (Game mode) 51.27 Average

LG 55LA8600 CNET review calibration report

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