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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. Click here for more information.
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.
Connectivity is basic with the exception of an RS-232 control port, which isn't standard equipment on an entry-level 1080p TV. The back panel offers two HDMI ports, a component-video input, an AV input with composite video, a RF input for antenna or cable, an RGB-style analog PC input, and an optical digital audio output. Around the left side you'll find a third HDMI input as well as a second AV input with composite video. Our one complaint is the lack of any S-Video inputs.
As we mentioned at the top the LH30's Achilles' heels are lighter black levels and subpar uniformity and off-angle viewing. Color accuracy, helped by all of those picture adjustments, is a major plus.
We also checked out the Picture Wizard. After going through its patterns, we ended up with settings quite similar to the default Expert settings, but the Wizard can enlighten people who aren't familiar with the effects of the basic picture controls. Our custom calibration described above yielded a more accurate picture, primarily because the wizard can't help fine-tune the grayscale, but nonetheless users might find it handy for setting up alternate picture modes, for example, such as one for brighter-room viewing. A good ""="" rel="follow">calibration disc will outdo the Wizard in most areas, but of course the Wizard is free. And one word of warning: The Wizard automatically saves its settings to the Expert 1 mode, which can overwrite your custom settings. We recommend using Expert 2 as your primary picture-setting bank.
Our comparison involved the 42-inch Panasonic TC-P42S1, which costs about as much as the LG, in addition to a couple of larger sets, the Samsung LN52A650 LCD and our reference Pioneer PRO-111FD. Most of our image quality tests were based on observations of "The Passion of the Christ" on Blu-ray.
Black level: Despite all of those controls, the essential black level performance of the LG 42LH30 left something to be desired. During the initial scenes in the garden, or example, dark areas like the letterbox bars, the trees and the dark garb of the disciples appeared lighter and ore washed-out than on any of the other displays. Details in shadows, such as the side of Christ's bearded face as he prays, also appeared a bit less distinct than on the Panasonic plasma, although they were still quite realistic and looked slightly better than the Samsung LCD.
Color accuracy: Post-calibration, the LH30 performed well in this regard, with the exception of blacks and very dark areas, which bore the characteristic bluish tinge we've seen on many LCD displays. In brighter areas colors stayed true. During the graphic scourging scene, for example, the soldiers' red cloaks, the pale face of Mary as she looks on in horror and the battered body of Jesus looked nearly as painfully realistic as they did on our reference display. The neutral light-brown tones of Jerusalem--a testament to the LG's linear grayscale--and the hazy blue twilight in the garden appeared natural as well, the latter in contrast to the green-tinted Panasonic S1. The LG's image wasn't as rich or as saturated as we saw on the other displays, however, a difference we attribute to the LH30's lighter black levels.
Video processing: The LG resolved every detail of 1080i and 1080p still sources, as expected, and while it handled 1080i video-based deinterlacing well, it failed to deinterlace 1080i film-based sources. The LH30 also scored a bit worse on our motion resolution test than most 60Hz LCDs we've tested, barely hitting 300 lines, and naturally 120Hz and higher refresh-rate TVs will do even better.
LG also includes a "real cinema" mode that supposedly introduces a smoothing effect, according to the manual, but we didn't any obvious smoothing in our tests--nor could we get the setting to appear anything other than grayed-out and set to "On." We have a question in to LG on the matter, and if they get back to us, we'll update this review.
Uniformity: The LH30 did not excel in this category. The sides of the image appeared darker and very slightly green-tinged compared with the middle, and we could see some variations in brightness, especially a pair of subtly brighter vertical bars in the middle of the screen. These issues appeared in flat fields mostly, such as the blue sky above Golgatha, the white overcast seen from Jesus' point of view as he slumped from the cross and the light sandy street where he lay afterward. When seen from off-angle the LG lost fidelity more quickly than did the Samsung, becoming more washed out and slightly discolored in dark areas and darker in bright areas.
Bright lighting: In a brighter room the LG did a good job attenuating ambient light and reducing reflections. It didn't preserve black levels from washing out as well as the Samsung LCD did, but it lacked that set's obvious reflections and maintained deeper blacks than the Panasonic plasma.
Standard-definition: The LG turned in an average standard-definition performance. It resolved every line of the DVD format, as expected, and details in the stone bridge and grass were relatively sharp. We did see a few more jaggies on the moving diagonal lines and the stripes on an American flag than were present on the Samsung, but the LG outdid the Panasonic on these tests. The three levels of noise reduction worked well, cleaning up even the noisiest shots of skies and sunsets, and film mode kicked in quickly to engage 2:3 pull-down and remove moire from the grandstands behind the speeding car.
The LH30 series functions very well as a big computer monitor. Via both HDMI and analog VGA, it resolved every line of a 1,920x1,080 source with no overscan or edge enhancement.
|Before color temp (20/80)||6969/7076||Average|
|After color temp||6556/6519||Good|
|Before grayscale variation||465||Average|
|After grayscale variation||52||Good|
|Color of red (x/y)||0.633/0.333||Good|
|Color of green||0.309/0.587||Good|
|Color of blue||0.151/0.065||Good|
|Defeatable edge enhancement||Y||Good|
|480i 2:3 pull-down, 24 fps||Pass||Good|
|1080i video resolution||Pass||Good|
|1080i film resolution||Fail||Poor|
CNET did not test the power consumption of this TV, but we did test another size, the LG 42LH30. See that review for more information.