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..
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.
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.
[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.]
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'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.
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.
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'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).
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 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.