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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.
We can't fault the LG LH20 series for trying. The company's least-expensive lineup of LCDs for 2009 offers more features than its competition, including the only USB port for digital photos and by far the best selection of picture adjustments. All of those tweaks let users dial in superb color, but its color accuracy only goes so far when black levels look gray instead. But as long as you don't expect deep blacks from your low-buck LCD (and why should you?), the LG LH20 series still has a lot to offer for a tempting price.
We performed a hands-on evaluation of the 32-inch LG 32LH20, but this review also applies to the 26-inch LG 26LH20, the 37-inch LG 37LH20, and the 42-inch LG 42LH20. All four sets share identical specifications and should exhibit very similar picture quality. The 19- and 22-inch members of the series have lower contrast ratio specs, in addition to other differences, so this review does not apply to those models.
Editors' note: Many of the Design and Features elements are identical between the LG LH20 series and the LG LH30 series we reviewed earlier, so readers of the earlier review may experience some deja vu when reading the same sections of this review.
The LG's straightforward exterior is the same kind of gloss-black frame seen on most of its competition, and, overall, its look is unobtrusive yet distinguished. Its bottom edge curves slightly, and LG's characteristic subtly protruding, illuminated power indicator is on the bottom right of the frame, serving as its sole accent. The stand swivels and matches the panel with its glossy black.
Although the LG's remote control is better than many at this level, it could stand improvement. 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" that calls up those settings. On the plus side, we liked the feel of the clicking, rubberized cursor control. A cluster of keys at the bottom of the remote can command other gear that's compatible with the HDMI-CEC control-over-HDMI scheme, but the remote can't control other devices via infrared signals.
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. We suspect some inexperienced users may get overwhelmed with all of the options in the main menu, so we'd really like to see explanations of menu items appear onscreen as well--especially since many of the options are advanced.
Like most entry-level LCD TVs, the LG has a 1,366x768-pixel native resolution (720p), as opposed to the 1080p resolution found on step-up models. Of course, at this screen size the benefits of 1080p are negligible, except with computer sources, so we don't consider this feature omission a big deal.
The LH20 is one of the best entry-level LCDs available feature-wise, and can rival many other TV makers' step-up models in regards to features. It's one of the only sets in its class to include a USB port for photo and music playback, allowing a convenient way to check out digital photos on the big(ger) screen.
It also includes LG's full suite of picture adjustments. Beginners will appreciate the 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 the calibrations, your settings are saved to the Expert1 picture memory slot for your choice of inputs. It won't compete with the accuracy of a full adjustment, but it's great for basic setup.
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 non-Expert 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, and edge enhancement, among others.
Those Expert modes, which bear the logo and the input of the Imaging Science Foundation, offer a passel of additional controls. Our favorite, 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, in addition to a less-extensive 2-point system. LG 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 to 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, including this entry-level set, offer the most complete suite of user-menu picture adjustments we've seen on any HDTV to date.
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 LG provides plenty of aspect ratio control, including five modes for use with HD sources and four with standard-definition source. One mode is an adjustable zoom, and there's a "set by program" mode designed to choose automatically the correct aspect ratio setting based on the signal. We recommend using the latter mode to assure zero overscan, unless you see interference along the extreme edges of the screen.
Connectivity is essentially standard with the exception of an RS-232 control port for custom installations, which isn't standard equipment on any 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 (1,360x768-pixel maximum resolution), and an optical digital audio output. Around the left side, you'll find a second AV input with composite video as well as the USB port.
While all of those picture controls go a long way toward making the LG the most color-accurate small LCD we've ever tested, that can't address its fundamental flaw: light black levels. Unfortunately for LG, in the LH20's case the latter trumps the former at affecting the overall look of the picture.
The initial settings in the LG's Cinema and Expert modes were as accurate as any low-buck LCD we've tested, with light output at 35 footlamberts and gamma a superb 2.23 (compared with the 2.2 standard)--although as usual the grayscale measured a tad blue. Using the set's excellent 10-point IRE adjustment during calibration, we were able to remove the blue and keep gamma relatively accurate (2.14), for an end result that thoroughly surpassed our expectations for an entry-level set. In case you're wondering, we touch the color management system because the LH20's primary and secondary colors came exceedingly close to the standard, although judging from past LG models we could probably have eked out marginal improvements here as well.
We compared the LG directly to a few other entry-level LCDs we had on-hand, including the Panasonic TC-32LX1, the Samsung LN32B360, the Sharp LC-32D47U, the Sony KDL-32L5000, the Toshiba 32AV502U, the Vizio VO302E, and the Westinghouse SK-32H640G. We also employed our trusty Pioneer PRO-111FD as a reference--obviously, it shouldn't be compared to any of these LCDs. Our Blu-ray Disc of choice for most of the image quality tests in this comparison was the superb-looking "Baraka" played at from our Sony PlayStation 3.
Black level: The LH20 suffered when it came to black level, evincing a lighter shade than all of the other sets aside from the Panasonic. We noticed the difference immediately in black areas such as the letterbox bars, the head of the iconic praying monk used in the title sequence, and the eclipse at the beginning of Chapter 21. The lighter blacks also washed out brighter scenes, albeit to a lesser extent.
The LG's shadow detail, seen in the stone crevices of the statues in Chapter 2, for example, was as revealing as we could have wished; however, the lighter blacks made shadowy areas appear less defined and realistic than on many of the other displays.
Color accuracy: As we've seen on many LG displays, the LH20 proved the pick of the color accuracy litter. Its grayscale contributed to realistic skin tone of the meditating man and woman looking out the window in Chapter 10, approaching the accuracy of our reference. Saturation and primary/secondary color accuracy were solid compared with the LG's peers as well. However, the Samsung and Toshiba definitely looked richer and more vibrant in the scene with the dancing tribes-people than the LG did.
Its one color hiccup, and it's fairly major, was the LH20's obvious blue tinge to black and very dark areas, which was definitely among the worst in our lineup.
Video processing: The LG doesn't perform much overt processing, such as the dejudder seen on higher-end LCDs, and since it has 720p resolution our motion resolution test isn't valid. We expect the KDL-L5000 would perform about the same in that test as other 60Hz displays, and as usual, we didn't notice any motion blur in our viewing.
We did appreciate the lack of the kinds of moire artifacts we saw in 1080i mode on the Toshiba, the Westinghouse, and the Sharp sets. Like the other models in our comparison, the LH20 series properly deinterlaced both film- and video-based sources, according to our test.
Uniformity: The LG LH20 was a mixed bag in this area. On one hand, it didn't have any brighter areas on the screen, as we saw on the Sony. On the other, it was among the worst off-angle performers in our test, losing black level and color fidelity relatively quickly compared with the Sony, Samsung, and Toshiba.
Bright lighting: Like most matte-screened LCDs the LG performed well under bright lights, attenuating ambient light admirably. It was no better or worse than any of the other sets in our lineup, which all have similar screens.
Standard-definition: Compared with the others in our lineup, the LG's performance was average. While it resolved every line of the DVD format, the details in the grass and stone bridge of our test clip looked relatively soft. However, jaggies on moving diagonal lines were kept to a minimum, and its noise reduction was quite effective. As we'd expect, the display also engaged 2:3 pull-down detection effectively.
PC: The LG made an excellent PC monitor, albeit a relatively low-resolution one. It fully resolved 1,360x768-pixel sources via both HDMI and VGA, showing crisp text in both cases. Our one hang-up was an inability to get the right balance between edge enhancement or excessive sharpness, despite how much we twiddled with the sharpness control(s).
|Before color temp (20/80)||6632/6885||Good|
|After color temp||6609/6515||Good|
|Before grayscale variation||Good|
|After grayscale variation||Good|
|Color of red (x/y)||0.633/0.3344||Good|
|Color of green||0.301/0.596||Good|
|Color of blue||0.151/0.067||Good|
|Defeatable edge enhancement||Y||Good|
|480i 2:3 pull-down, 24 fps||Pass||Good|
|1080i video resolution||Pass||Good|
|1080i film resolution||Pass||Good|
Power consumption: We did not test the power consumption of this size in the LG LH20 series, but we did test the 32-inch model. For more information, refer to the review of the LG 32LH20.