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LG SL80 review: LG SL80

LG SL80

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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

OVR
6.6

LG SL80

The Good

Minimalist look with thin bezel; 1.8-inch depth and edge-to-edge glass; accurate color; extensive picture controls including unique Picture Wizard; solid connectivity with four HDMI ports and one PC input; energy efficient.

The Bad

Reproduces light black levels; does not separate antiblur and antijudder processing; benefits of 240Hz difficult to discern; glossy screen reflects ambient light; below average off-angle viewing.

The Bottom Line

The LG SL80 series' style-first philosophy will appeal to buyers seeking a sleek LCD TV and don't mind sacrificing some performance.

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.

A big flat-panel TV can tend to dominate a room, which helps explain why some TV shoppers insist on a television that looks as good as possible when turned off. LG designed its slim-bezel, thin-panel models, the SL80 series reviewed here, and the SL90 series, with those kinds of shoppers in mind. This HDTV definitely puts style first, with its sleek, compact appearance highlighted by a piece of glass that fronts the entire panel. The SL80 lacks the extensive interactive features found on other TVs in its price range, however, and its picture quality fell a bit short as well despite excellent color, with blacks that aren't as deep and a screen that reflects a lot of ambient light. If you prize design above those issues, however, you'll find plenty to like about this LCD TV.

Series note: We performed a hands-on evaluation of the 47-inch LG 47SL80, but this review also applies to the other size in the series, the 42-inch 42SL80. The two sizes share identical specs and features and should provide very similar picture quality.

Design
[Editors' note: Many of the Design and Features elements are identical between the SL80 series and the LH55 series we reviewed earlier, so readers of the previous review may experience some déjà vu when reading the same sections below.]

LG SL80 series

A thin bezel along the top and sides widens a bit along the bottom, where a lighter strip houses touch-sensitive controls.

The main appeal of the LG SL80 series is its stark, minimalist appearance, which presages the "all-picture" look introduced at CES 2010 in models like the LE9500. The slim black frame around the screen, and the screen itself, are both fronted by the same piece of glass that extends all the way to the edges of the panel. The exception is the bottom edge, where a strip of dark gray provides some accent. The stainless steel color on the matching stand's swivel stalk serves a similar purpose, and completes the impressive look of this style-first flat panel.

LG SL80 series
A matching swivel stand provides a metallic contrast to the black-and-gray panel.

LG SL80 series
When seen from the side, the SL80's 1.8-inch depth adds another dose of panache.

LG's improved the remote for its higher-end TVs like the SL80, with backlit buttons and more spacing between keys. Buttons are grouped logically, and though we didn't like their similar sizes and shapes from an ergonomic standpoint, we did appreciate that most functions were represented by dedicated keys (aspect ratio being the major exception). There's a prominent button labeled "Energy Saving" that directly accesses said control and a little energy saving graphic to provide enviro-geeks a warm fuzzy feeling. The remote can't control other brands of gear directly with infrared commands, although like most new TVs the SL80 can control newer gear via HDMI.

LG SL80 series
The quick menu offers easy access to controls like aspect ratio, and sound and picture modes.

The 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.

Features
The LG SL80 series lacks the interactive features found on the company's LH50 models, but it does include basically the same feature set as the LG LH55 series, starting with the 240Hz refresh rate, which is designed to combat blurring in motion. There are two species of 240Hz and LG employs the "scanning backlight" variety, which augments the usual 120Hz technique of doubling the standard 60-frame signal with a backlight that flashes very rapidly on and off (much faster than humans can perceive) to help reduce motion blur. In our tests the other 240Hz technique, which actually quadruples the standard signal and is used by Sony and Samsung, produced slightly better results than LG's method, which is also employed by Toshiba and Vizio. Check out 240Hz TVs: What you need to know for more information.

LG SL80 series
LG's "TruMotion 240Hz" dejudder offers just three settings: Low, High, and Off. We prefer Off.

LG's implementation of dejudder processing is similar to its past 120Hz and 240Hz displays, which force you to engage the smoothing effect of dejudder if you want to enjoy the benefits of reduced blurring. The 2009 models from Samsung and Toshiba, on the other hand, allow you to separate the two functions, an option we really prefer to have. The SL80 series offers two strengths of dejudder, Low and High, and also offers a separate "Real Cinema" function designed to work with 1080p/24 sources. Check out performance for more details.

Like other LG displays, the picture controls on the SL80 series surpass most of the competition. 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 your 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.

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. A ninth mode, called Intelligent Sensor, reacts to ambient lighting conditions and automatically sets picture parameters accordingly. 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).

LG SL80 series
Extensive picture adjustments include a 10-point IRE color temperature menu, the best in the business.

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 SL80 series
A color filter can aid in setting the color control.

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 quartet 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 SL80 series is missing picture-in-picture but does provide plenty of aspect ratio control, including five modes for 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.

LG SL80 series
The LG's back panel input bay is highlighted by a trio of HDMI and a PC input, which looks a lot like the RS-232 port next to it.

LG SL80 series
A recessed bay along the side adds a fourth HDMI, a USB port, and an AV input with composite video.

Connectivity is fairly extensive on the SL80, beginning with four total HDMI ports, three on the back and one on the side. The back panel also offers two component-video inputs, an AV input with composite video, an RF input for antenna or cable, an RGB-style analog PC input, an optical digital audio output and an RS-232 port for custom installations. In addition to the fourth HDMI port, the side panel has a second AV input with composite video and a USB port for display of digital photos and playback of MP3 music files. Our one connectivity complaint is the lack of any S-Video inputs.

Performance
Like most other 2009 LCDs by LG we've reviewed, the SL80 series demonstrated subpar black-level performance and superb color. Beyond those basics, we noted decent video processing, although we would have liked to have more adjustment options, and the glossy screen, which as usual tended to collect ambient light worse than a matte screen.

TV settings: LG 47SL80

Picture setup on the LG was helped by the accuracy of its initial settings--defaults in both Cinema (see the Geek Box "before" numbers) and Expert came quite close to ideal--and as usual the company's well-thought-out Expert controls. Our calibration took advantage of the 10-point IRE system to bring the grayscale to an extremely flat level, and we ended up with similarly flat gamma. As usual with LCDs the darkest parts were exceptions, and the LG became extremely blue at 5 percent and lower. It's worth noting that primary and secondary colors and color decoding were both superb without us having to mess with the color management system.

Our comparison included a few other non-LED-based 240Hz LCDs, namely the Samsung LN52B750, the Sony KDL-52XBR9, and the Mitsubishi LT-46249. We also threw in LG's own 47LH50 and, as a reference, the Pioneer PRO-111FD plasma. We performed many of our standard image quality tests with "The Dark Knight" on Blu-ray.

Black level: The latest Batman didn't treat the SL80 kindly during its dark scenes. As the camera twists above the Hong Kong night in Chapter 9, for example, the hills in the background, shadowed buildings, and Batman's black suit all appeared significantly lighter than on any of the other displays in the room. The difference between the SL80 and all of the others was quite obvious with the exception of the LG LH50, which appeared just a bit darker.

Shadow detail, for what it was worth, was fairly good, and we could see the tools on the caped crusader's belt quite well for example. But that strength wasn't nearly as obvious as the set's weakness in reproducing black.

Color accuracy: As usual the LG delivered an excellent showing in this category. When Rachel and Harvey enter Bruce's party in Chapter 11, for example, her skin tone appeared natural and not too pale or greenish, as it did on the Samsung and Sony, respectively, in comparison. Likewise the colorful pink, blue, and yellow dresses of Bruce's girls showed off the LG's primary color accuracy well, and closely matched that of our reference. On the other hand the image appeared less rich and saturated than on any of the other displays, a flaw we blame on the more washed-out black levels.

Video processing: With "TruMotion 240Hz" processing set to either Low or High mode, the SL80 resolved between 700 and 800 lines of motion resolution according to our test. We saw between 900 and 1000 lines from the Sony and Samsung 240Hz displays we tested. Disabling the LG's processing caused the test to register between 300 and 400 lines, which is typical of a 60Hz LCD. Of course, in our experience the blurring seen in test patterns, despite the large differences in the motion resolution, is quite difficult to perceive in real-world program material. As we noted above, it's impossible to get the improved motion resolution of the antiblur effect without also engaging dejudder processing.

We've never been fans of the overt smoothing effect of dejudder, and though we understand that some viewers might like it, we feel it makes film-based sources look too much like video. The LG is no exception, and motion seemed too video-like even in the Low setting, which was about the equivalent of Standard on the Sony and Samsung. Artifacts in Low mode weren't exceedingly common, but in High they appeared more frequently. We saw halos around Bruce's head as he stepped into the elevator in Chapter 7, for example, which were subtle in Low but more obvious in High. We saw a few more artifacts on the Sony and Samsungs' High and Smooth modes, respectively, than in High on the LG, but in any case we recommend leaving the TruMotion 240Hz setting turned off for films.

We did appreciate the LG's Real Cinema setting, however, which functioned as advertised to preserve the true frame rate of film. We set our Blu-ray player to 1080p/24 output mode, turned off TruMotion, turned the Real Cinema setting on, and fed the LG our favorite test clip for evaluating film cadence, the helicopter flyover of the Intrepid from "I Am Legend." The SL80 showed the proper amount of judder without the slight hitching motion characteristic of 2:3 pull-down, which returned when we set Real Cinema to Off.

Finally, the SL80 series delivered every line of static resolution and properly deinterlaced video based sources. Unlike most other LG sets we've reviewed, including the LH55, it also properly deinterlaced film-based sources.

Uniformity: The SL80 sample we reviewed exhibited average uniformity across its screen, with slightly darker areas around the edges and corners compared with the middle, but no overly bright spots or visible backlight structure.

When seen from off-angle the LG performed worse than either the Sony or the Samsung, becoming washed-out quite a bit more quickly. The screen didn't discolor too badly when seen from either side of the sweet spot directly in front of the screen, however.

Bright lighting: LG switched over to a shiny screen from the matte it used for earlier models, like the LH50, and in bright rooms that screen suffered. It tended to capture reflections of bright objects in the room, such as windows during daytime, lamps, and even brighter clothing worn by viewers, in a much brighter, sharper, and more distracting way than did the screen of the matte displays, like the Sony and the LH50. Unlike the Samsung's glossy screen, the one on the SL80 didn't preserve black levels in a bright environment any better than the matte models.

Standard-definition: With standard-def sources the LG turned in a fine performance. It resolved every line of the DVD format and detail in the grass and stone bridge was solid. Jaggies were kept to a minimum and the waving American flag looked smooth. Noise reduction worked well to remove moving motes from the skies and sunsets, and we appreciated that 2:3 pull-down detection kicked in quickly and effectively to remove moire from the grandstands behind the racecar.

PC: With PC sources the LG did as well as we expect from any 1080p LCD, delivering every line of resolution from a 1,920x1,080-pixel input with no overscan or edge enhancement via both HDMI and VGA.

TEST RESULT SCORE
Before color temp (20/80) 6769/6502 Good
After color temp 6500/6519 Good
Before grayscale variation 69 Good
After grayscale variation 51 Good
Color of red (x/y) 0.631/0.335 Good
Color of green 0.304/0.591 Good
Color of blue 0.151/0.069 Good
Overscan 0.0% 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 SL80 series, but we did test the 47-inch model. For more information, refer to the review of the LG 47SL80.

How we test TVs

OVR
6.6

LG SL80

Score Breakdown

Design 8Features 6Performance 6
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