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..
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.