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LG 50PC3D review: LG 50PC3D

LG 50PC3D

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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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7 min read

The remote lacks backlighting but can control five other pieces of A/V gear. We like its size and found it generally easy to get around by feel. A slide-down door conceals a few convenient buttons, including commands to change picture modes and freeze the image.

5.9

LG 50PC3D

The Good

Clean, unobtrusive styling; relatively accurate color; excellent aspect-ratio controls; unique four-way picture mode browser; independent input memories.

The Bad

Brightness of dark areas fluctuates; below-average picture with low-quality sources; tradeoff between softness and edge-enhancement; just one HDMI input; no picture-in-picture.

The Bottom Line

While it offers an appealing mix of features and a refreshingly simple design, the LG 50PC3D 50-inch plasma doesn't perform well enough to earn our strong recommendation.
Intro
The price gap between 42-inch and 50-inch plasmas seems to narrow every week, giving HDTV shoppers another tough decision. A 50-inch plasma is significantly larger than a 42-incher; with 30 percent more screen area, the panel is so large that it won't fit well into many people's rooms. If you have the space, however, a 50-inch plasma makes an impressive centerpiece for a home theater. LG's 50PC3D is a midpriced example of the breed offering an attractive mix of features, if nothing spectacular. We were a bit underwhelmed by its image quality and disappointed by the single HDMI input--we expect two from sets such as this nowadays--but we appreciated the LG's simple design and its ability to resize its image six ways from Sunday. LG clad its 50PC3D plasma in unassuming attire, going with charcoal gray around the big screen and silver near the extremities. A pair of speakers blends nicely into the fuselage to either side and doesn't make the set too much wider than its competition. Refreshingly light on the typical logos and acronyms, the face of this plasma's only adornment is the LG moniker and a green, annoyingly undimmable LED power indicator. The LG 50PC3D measures 51.3 by 34.3 by 14 inches (WHD) including stand; the panel itself is 4.2 inches thick.

We also appreciate the clean design and simple navigation of the internal menu system, although like many TV makers, LG chose to stash picture-affecting controls--including aspect ratio and 2:3 pull-down--somewhere other than the picture section of the menu. All important commands, including input selection, aspect-ratio control, and other options, are duplicated in the menu as well as with direct-access buttons. Like nearly all 50-inch plasmas, the LG 50PS3D packs a native resolution of 1,366x768 pixels into its screen. That's enough to display every detail of 720p HDTV sources. All incoming resolutions, including HDTV, DVD, standard TV, and computers, are scaled to fit the native resolution.

The LG 50PC3D has a relatively sparse selection of conveniences, with picture-in-picture being the biggest omission. It does include an ATSC tuner to receive over-the-air high-def, although like so many other HDTVs this year, it lacks CableCard--no big loss as far as we're concerned. In its favor, the LG includes more aspect-ratio selections than just about any set we're reviewed recently. You can resize the image in six different ways with standard-def sources and five with high-def, and one of the selections, Cinema Zoom, lets you choose from 16 different levels of cropping and magnification. Only the Horizon mode, which stretches the sides of the wide-screen picture more than the middle, is disabled for HD sources.

Although it skips many of the often-dubious picture enhancements found on other HDTVs, the LG 50PC3D has more picture presets than most. The six nonadjustable modes (Daylight, Normal, Night Time, Movie, Video Game, and Expert) are joined by a seventh Custom setting that allows you to adjust the picture controls differently for each input. We really like the APM button--which divides the screen into quarters, each one affected by a different picture mode--because it makes choosing a mode much easier. The three most home-theater-friendly modes, Night Time, Movie, and Expert, were all extremely close to one another, but we thought Expert looked just a bit better than the other two for nighttime viewing (see Performance).

Other options include three color-temperature presets and a low-power mode that limits the set's light output if you're interested in saving a few bucks on your electricity bill. There are also a three methods available to reduce image retention, a.k.a. burn-in, if it occurs. One simply fills the screen with a white field, one incrementally moves the entire image around the screen, and the last reverses the colors onscreen, turning black areas white, for example. While we generally consider burn-in a minor issue with plasmas in the home, it's nice to have options such as this if it does happen to occur (more info).

Around back, the first thing we noticed was the single HDMI input; many competing HDTV this year include a second, which is great if you have--or ever decide to buy--more than one source with an HDMI or DVI output. There are also two component-video inputs; one A/V input with composite- and S-Video; two RF inputs--one for cable and one for antenna; a composite A/V output; and an optical digital audio output for the over-the-air tuner. The VGA-style PC input can accept computer sources with resolutions as high as 1,024x768. Finally, a set of A/V inputs with composite- and S-Video can be found on the side of the set. Overall, the LG 50PC3D delivered a less appealing picture than many competing plasmas. It evinced solid color reproduction, but its performance in darker scenes was below average, and it could really use some kind of noise reduction. We also noticed softness in DVD and HDTV material. We could improve it somewhat by increasing the sharpness control, but that introduced unnatural-looking enhanced edges.

Our first step entailed calibrating the set for color temperature and other settings. During this process we noticed that the LG, like a few plasma sets we've seen recently, including Panasonic's TH-42PX60U, had trouble maintaining the same level of black and other dark colors regardless of the total brightness of the picture. For that reason, we had to compromise--between achieving an inky black and resolving enough detail in shadows--when setting the brightness control.

After setup, we watched selected scenes from The Interpreter on DVD. The fluctuation in black level became apparent in shots with lots of shadows, such as the early bar scene with Tobin Keller (Sean Penn) drinking to forget his newly deceased wife. To discern the folds in his jacket, we had to increase the brightness control, which made black areas of the image, such as deeper shadows and the letterbox bars, appear lighter than they should have. The lighter blacks, as always, also made colors appear less saturated.

We also detected softness in the DVD image via both HDMI and component-video. In a shot of Silvia Broome (Nicole Kidman) from across her apartment, her fine blonde hair and fair face were less detailed than they looked on other sets we had on hand to compare (namely two Samsungs, the HP-S4253 plasma and the LN-S4051D LCD). As she types an e-mail, we could read the small text of her generic Web-mail client on the Samsungs but not on the LG. We were able to improve it a bit by bringing up the sharpness control, but that introduced some edge enhancement that appeared, for example, as a brighter edge along her black jacket. We preferred the softer image to edge enhancement, wishing, of course, to not have to make that decision.

The LG 50PC3D did a good job producing accurate color. In an extreme close-up of Broome taking a lie-detector test, her skin looked suitably pale with just the right amount of red in her cheeks. A lot of this accuracy can be chalked up to the set's excellent postcalibration color temperature, but its grayscale in the Warm color-temperature setting prior to calibration was also more accurate and consistent than that of many plasmas. We also appreciated the LG's lack of false contouring; in one instance when Keller points out a photo of Broome in an album, the shadow on the white facing page faded smoothly into white with no concentric banding.

When we turned to HDTV, the LG's image, as expected, looked better, although it had many of the same issues we saw on DVD. During one of the many Red Sox vs. Yankees games on ESPN, the grass looked a bit softer than it should. Again, we could improve detail somewhat at the expense of making edges--especially visible in the borders of the visiting Sox's gray uniforms--unnaturally sharp-looking. Colors were nicely saturated, although the grass looked slightly more yellow than it should have. We also saw too much mosquito noise, so called because it resembles a swarm of tiny mosquitoes, in the blue backstop behind home plate and other flat areas.

We looked at a variety of standard-def material, and the results were below average. While the set did a decent job removing jagged edges from video-based material, it failed to smooth out lines and otherwise pass any of our 2:3 pull-down tests, via either S-Video or component-video. As a result, we recommend you mate the LG with a solid-performing progressive-scan or upconverting DVD player to handle standard-def video-processing duties. You may still notice moving lines in some film-based standard-def TV sources, however.

Our biggest complaint with the LG 50PC3D's standard-def performance was its inability to reduce much of the video noise inherent in low-quality images. The telltale mosquito noise, visible especially in skies and other flat images, was definitely more obvious on the LG than on other plasmas we've reviewed recently.

Test Result Score
Before color temp (20/80) 7,192/6,893K Good
After color temp 6,513/6,414K Good
Before grayscale variation +/- 427K Good
After grayscale variation +/- 36K Good
Color of red (x/y) 0.653/0.327 Good
Color of green 0.254/0.673 Poor
Color of blue 0.149/0.059 Good
Overscan 4 percent Average
Black-level retention No stable pattern Poor
2:3 pull-down, 24fps No Poor
Defeatable edge enhancement No Poor
5.9

LG 50PC3D

Score Breakdown

Design 7Features 6Performance 5
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