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LG 42LB1DR review: LG 42LB1DR

Although we like the idea of a built-in DVR, we were disappointed by the 42-inch LG 42LB1DR's overall picture quality and single-tuner DVR.

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David Katzmaier
David_Katzmaier.jpg

David Katzmaier

Editorial Director -- TVs and streaming

David has reviewed TVs, streaming services, streaming devices and home entertainment gear at CNET since 2002. He is an ISF certified, NIST trained calibrator and developed CNET's TV test procedure himself. Previously David wrote reviews and features for Sound & Vision magazine and eTown.com. He is known to two people on Twitter as "The Cormac McCarthy of consumer electronics."

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11 min read
Editor's note: This review covers the LG 42LB1DR and the LG 42LB1DRA. They are identical but for cosmetics. Throughout this review we'll refer to the product as the LG 42LB1DR. Further, this review has been modified from its original publication to reflect that TV Guide information successfully loaded via antenna.(11/1/06)

LG is one of the few companies that combines a DVR with an HDTV, and on the outside, the 42LB1DR, one of its 2006 efforts, looks just like other flat-panel TVs out there today. This 42-inch LCD works perfectly well as a normal HDTV, but its real strength is its self-contained design. If you've always wanted to divorce your TV from all of those boxes and to not have to depend on a third-party DVR, then the LG 42LB1DR is just what the doctor ordered. It seems like such a good idea, in fact, that you may wonder why more HDTV/DVR combos aren't available. One reason is that most people are perfectly happy with their DVR boxes, whether those systems are TiVos, such as the HD-capable Series 3; satellite boxes, such as the DirecTV HR20 or the Dish ViP622, or a DVR available from their local cable company. Another reason is that those boxes, unlike the LG, can record more than one show simultaneously. Still another is that the only electronic program guide (EPG) usable with products like the LG, the TV Guide onscreen, can be unreliable.

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5.8

LG 42LB1DR

The Good

Includes built-in DVR with CableCard slot; relatively accurate color; well-integrated DVR menu system; slick looks, with included swivel stand.

The Bad

DVR can record only one HD show at once; display reproduces light color of black; screen is less uniform than most LCDs; image washes out from off-angle; some flicker with 1080i sources; side-mounted speakers increase width.

The Bottom Line

While the 42-inch LG 42LB1DR's unique built-in DVR will appeal to those who want to ditch the cable box, its disappointing picture quality and single-tuner DVR limit its appeal.

In our testing the LG 42LB1DR's DVR performed relatively well, but we were not able to test CableCard functionality, and that's a big part of the TV's arsenal. The set depends on TV Guide's EPG, which we've had problems using in the past and do not find nearly as dependable as EPGs from cable or satellite providers -- although we were finally able to get it to load program information via antenna. Finally, we had some serious complaints about its image quality. Overall the LG 42LB1DR is a fine product in concept, but in real life it's got some problems.

Design
On the outside, the LG 42LB1DR certainly holds its own in comparison with other stylish LCDs. The 42-inch screen is surrounded by the standard black gloss, although unlike most big-screen flat panels this year, LG chose to mount the speakers to the sides rather than below the cabinet. The set is attached to the stand by a column that allows it to swivel to either side. LG makes two otherwise-identical models differentiated only by cosmetics: The 42LB1DR has a silver stand and column and a black frame around the screen, while the 42LB1DRA is entirely black. This DVR-equipped television has more indicator lights than most, for functions such as recording, time-shifting, and even an active HDMI connection, and home theater nuts will appreciate that these lights are all rather small.

The width of the panel is increased about 4 inches as a result of the side-mounted speakers. It measures 46.3x30.2x11.8 inches (WHD) and weighs 90.4 pounds atop the stand; it's 46.3x26.4x5.7 inches and 71.4 pounds without the stand. That's 2 inches wider than Sharp's 46-inch LC-46D62U, for example.

LG's menu system has a lot to juggle with a built-in DVR, but we liked the interface overall. To access the list of recorded shows, you press the X Studio button, which also lets you schedule recordings--both manually VCR-style and via the TV Guide EPG--as well as see a schedule of upcoming recordings in TV Guide. We loved that the list of recorded shows had thumbnail images for each one, as well as the ability to rename shows and delete more than one show at a time. We also appreciate the numerous indicators of remaining recording time: both via a graphical pie-chart-style wheel and numbers for both SD and HD. In all, the LG's DVR menu integrates the TV Guide functions very well.

The TV Guide EPG itself serves as the 42LB1DR's main recording and channel-browsing interface. It's generally easy to use once you get the hang of it, although people used to TiVo or either of the satellite providers' EPGs will feel like they've stepped back in time a few years. It offers keyword search with history; relatively broad sort categories, including HDTV, Sports, and such; options to schedule recordings daily, weekly, or "regularly" (the last records a show every time it airs on the same channel); the ability to edit a few of the display settings; and integrated over-the-air and cable channels on one list. DVR veterans might miss more-advanced sort options and searches, automatic extension of sporting event recordings, and other EPG niceties, but overall there aren't any major missing pieces.

LG's remote is pretty lackluster, with no backlighting and DVR transport keys we found way too small, similar, and ill-placed--up at the top of the wand. Any DVR remote worth its salt has nice-size play, pause, and skip keys that fall naturally under the thumb. Our thumbs fell instead to the big cursor pad and its attendant menu controls, which again could have used a bit more differentiation. Also, we didn't like having to slide down a cover on the bottom of the remote every time we wanted to change aspect ratios--or access any of the other 13 buttons under there. The clicker's few positive points include the ability to control five other pieces of gear and its channel up/down keys that let you skip vertically from page to page in the EPG.

Features
The LG 42LBDR's claim to fame is its built-in DVR. The 160GB hard disk can record up to 15 hours of HD or 66 hours of standard-def programming, which is about half what you'll get with the latest satellite DVRs and the TiVo Series 3. It can always record everything you're watching, allowing you to rewind up to an hour into the past, and it lets you to pause and rewind live TV as well as fast-forward up to live time. There are four speeds of rewind and fast-forward, and we were pleased to note that LG included an option missing from many stand-alone DVRs: a forward skip, which in this case instantly moves ahead 20 seconds. It makes skipping through commercial breaks a breeze.

It's important to realize that the DVR is designed to record primarily digital cable and over-the-air television. The LG's DVR can record via its standard-def analog input, but to record HD you must utilize the CableCard and/or hook this set up to an over-the-air antenna to utilize its ATSC tuner, as opposed to depending on a cable or satellite box for programming. Naturally, the LG's DVR cannot record HDTV signals via HDMI or component-video jacks (no device on the market can do that).

Compared to other HD DVRs, the main problem we have with the LG's integrated DVR is its inability to record two HD shows at once. If you're recording an HD channel, you can switch over and watch something from an analog channel, but you can't record it, nor can you watch a second HD channel. Of course, you can always watch another input while the cable or the antenna tuner is busy recording.

As we mentioned above, the LG depends on the TV Guide EPG to get its program information and schedule recordings. TV Guide's info arrives via the cable and/or antenna connection, and the good part is that it's free and it worked fine over our antenna-only connection. The bad part is that we've experienced mixed results with TV Guide hooked up to cable sources in the past, with not every channel appearing, program information being slow to load or not loading at all, and the like. Its performance typically varies with location, so you may experience similar problems depending on your cable provider. You can still schedule recordings manually even if the TV Guide doesn't load, but without the EPG the LG's DVR loses much of its functionality.

Aside from the DVR, the LG offers a fairly standard selection of HDTV features. Its LCD screen has a 1,366x768 native resolution, standard for the breed, allowing it to resolve every detail of 720p sources. There's a picture-in-picture function with side-by-side and inset options. The LG's selection of aspect ratio controls is superb. We counted four controls for HD and five for SD, along with an extra Cinema Zoom control that provides 16 steps of magnification.

The 42LB1DR also offers a solid selection of picture-affecting controls, with one exception: There's no way to adjust the backlight. Such a control may have improved the set's black-level performance (see below). In its favor, the set offers more preset picture modes than most, five in all, as well as two separate, adjustable user modes for each input. This allows you to set up, say, one custom mode for watching during the day and another for nighttime. We also loved that we could call up a screen that divided the picture into quarters, each showing the effects of a different picture mode.

Advanced picture controls start with two color temperature presets, of which Low came closest to the standard. There's also a custom color temperature option, which allowed us to significantly improve the LG's grayscale performance. A black-level control sets black at either a high or a low level; we chose low because it's the standard for HDTV. The 3:2 pull-down circuit can be turned off or on, and LG has an additional trio of controls labeled XD. Each offers an on/off setting for contrast, color, and noise (we assume they mean noise reduction,) and we found that the default Auto setting, which left these all set to On, provided the best picture with high-quality sources.

Connectivity on the LG 42LB1DR leaves little to be desired. A pair of HDMI inputs; two component-video inputs; one PC-style VGA input (1,280x720 resolution only); one A/V input with S-Video and composite video; and two RF inputs--one each for antenna and cable--comprise the main input bay. There's a set of A/V inputs with S-Video and composite video along the right side for temporary connections. Finally, there's an RS-232 control port, a monitor A/V output with composite video, and an optical digital audio output.

Performance
Unfortunately, we were unable to get a CableCard installed for testing because CNET's testing facility lacks a cable hookup, so our evaluation of the LG 42LB1DR's DVR section was based entirely on over the-air recordings. We've seen reports from users of the set having trouble with CableCard but we can't confirm them first-hand. As we mentioned above, after a few days we were finally able to get the program information from TV Guide to load via antenna. In our New York City testing location the program information looked complete enough and covered every over-the-air HD channel we received. We were able to schedule timer recordings, resolve conflicts and delete unwanted timers easily, and sort functions like "HDTV" worked well. The program information only went out to two days so far; we'll update this review if it expands to the eight days worth of info claimed in the manual.

Overall, we were satisfied with the examples of the DVR's recording quality that we saw. The drive recorded the high-def shows without any problems, and video quality stayed true to the source. Of course the main differentiator was the source quality; many HD channels in our New York reception area looked spectacular, while a couple looked noticeably worse, and as always, quality varied from show to show.

On the other hand, the performance of the LG 42LB1DR as an HDTV display, apart from its DVR, was disappointing in comparison to that of other flat-panel LCDs we've tested recently. Its black levels were among the lightest we've seen recently, its image washed out more than most from off-angle and was less uniform, and it had a tendency to flicker with 1080i sources, forcing us to choose 720p resolution when possible. On the other hand, it exhibited relatively accurate color after adjustment. For our complete picture adjustments, click the Tips & Tricks tab above.

We compared the LG to a few other LCD TVs we had in our Labs: the JVC LT-40FN97; the Sharp LC-46D62U; and the Westinghouse LVM-47w1, along with the 50-inch Panasonic TH-50PH9UK plasma. We chose Firewall on Blu-ray and set our Samsung BD-P1000 to 720p resolution. We normally evaluate in 1080i, but in this case we saw some flicker on still images via HDMI, and we noticed that the LG manual recommended setting our output sources to 720p.

Our first impression was of the LG's relatively light reproduction of black. In our dark room, the black screen during the opening credits appeared to glow much brighter than the screens of the other displays, and measurements confirmed that the LG simply could not produce a very dark color of black. As a result, dark areas, such as when Harrison Ford gets accosted in his car on the way home from work and the dark interior of his house, lost a good deal of their impact and punch.

The LG also exhibited worse uniformity across the screen than most other LCDs we've seen. We could clearly see lighter spots in the dark areas, including a particularly bright blotch on the lower left that was visible throughout the film in the letterbox bars. Smaller, dimmer light areas were also visible in black and dark fields, but it's worth noting that they mostly disappeared during bright scenes and were less visible with the lights turned up. Viewed from angles other than straight on, the LG also washed out more quickly in dark areas than the other LCDs in our Labs, exhibiting the least tolerance for off-angle viewing.

We did appreciate the LG's relatively accurate color, however. The skin tones of Ford and his assistant (Mary Lynn Rajskub) appeared realistic and not overly red as they drove to meet his kidnapped family, and the green hillsides and brown brush appeared suitably colored and not too garish. Saturation was significantly hampered by the lighter blacks, however, so brightly colored areas didn't appear as rich as they did on the other displays.

While the Blu-ray of Firewall was a relatively clean source, we noticed that with lower-quality sources, such as some standard-def programming, the LG didn't do a very good job of cleaning up the video noise. In our standard-def tests using the HQV test disc via component video, the noisy shots of sky appeared to be as filled with moving "snow" as we'd ever seen them, despite whether or not we engaged the set's Noise feature under XM. The LG didn't fare too well with many of the other HQV tests either, evincing relatively jagged edges on the moving diagonal lines and failing to eliminate the moiré in the grandstands on the 2:3 pull-down test.

Despite the presence of the computer input port the LG won't make an ideal big-screen computer monitor. That's because the port could accept only one resolution when we tested it: 1,280x720. Since this doesn't match the panel's native resolution exactly, text didn't show up as clearly as it should. There was also significant overscan that we couldn't get rid of; the menu bar along the bottom of the Windows desktop, for example, was completely invisible.

TEST RESULT SCORE
Before color temp (20/80) 6682/7292K Good
After color temp 7152/6580K Poor
Before grayscale variation +/- 670K Average
After grayscale variation +/- 194K Average
Color of red (x/y) 0.636/0.337 Good
Color of green 0.280/0.615 Average
Color of blue 0.146/0.065 Good
Overscan 4.3 percent Average
Black-level retention All patterns stable Good
2:3 pull-down, 24fps Y Good
Defeatable edge enhancement Y Good

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5.8

LG 42LB1DR

Score Breakdown

Design 6Features 8Performance 4
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