Editors' note: The rating on this review has been lowered because of changes in the competitive marketplace.
The LG 50PG20 is the company's least expensive 50-inch plasma, competing against similar entry-level models from Samsung and Panasonic. It doesn't have the 1080p resolution of higher-priced plasmas, but we didn't really miss that extra detail. What we did miss with this LG, namely deep black levels and more accurate color, causes us to prefer the panels of those other brands in terms of pure picture quality. The 50PG20 has a lot of picture adjustments and slick styling, however, and all told it still outperforms no-name budget plasmas.
We liked the looks of the LG 50PG20, especially considering its price. The glossy black frame, which is as thin as we've seen on any consumer 50-inch plasma, has sleekly rounded corners and the bottom angles back to provide an understated visual accent. The speakers are concealed under the bottom of the cabinet and face straight down. The only interruption of the gloss comes courtesy of an LED power indicator near the silver, rounded power button, and the LG logo.
Including the matching, rounded, nonswiveling stand, LG's 50PG20 50-inch plasma measures 48.2 inches wide by 33.4 inches tall by 14.3 inches deep and weighs 92 pounds. Without the stand, it shrinks to 48.2 inches wide by 31.1 inches tall by 3.4 inches deep.
LG's remote control is a bit disappointing. We found the cluster of similar buttons around the cursor control difficult to differentiate without constantly having to look down at them. A little illumination would have gone a long way. Unlike the remote of previous LG TVs, about which we complained, the 50PG20's remote actually has a dedicated "ratio" key to toggle between aspect ratio settings on the a "Quick Menu." The remote can command three pieces of equipment other than the television.
The company has completely overhauled its menu system from last year, and the changes are mostly for the better. The stark black-on-light-gray menus are legible and large, and we liked that the input menu, which is arranged horizontally, grouped active inputs near the left where they were easy to select quickly. We would have liked to see text explanations accompany menu items, and navigating the extensive Expert menu can be quite tedious, but overall we liked the simple arrangement. We also appreciated the Quick Menu, which allows control of aspect ratio, picture presets, and other options without having to deal with the full menu system.
With a 1,366x768-pixel native resolution, otherwise known as 720p, the LG 50PG0 lacks the 1080p resolution found on more expensive models, such as LG's own 50PG30. That's not a big deal, however, since the extra detail afforded by those extra pixels is usually quite hard to spot, and the PG20 was no exception (see Performance for more information).
The range of picture controls on the PG20 is very good, especially for an entry-level model, although it lacks the company's 10-point grayscale calibration that we liked so much on higher-end sets, such as the 50PG60. The two-point version available in the PG20's Expert menu isn't bad, however, and really helped us adjust the TV's color temperature beyond the typical three presets. There's a few other advanced controls, including gamma, black level, and a complete color management system.
We liked the prodigious number of picture modes, seven in all, each of which can remember settings independently per input. If you're counting, that's 63 total "slots" over the set's 9 inputs, for a range of adjustability that should satisfy even the tweakiest of viewers. We also liked that all of the main picture modes indicate whether they're at default or custom settings with the presence or absence of "(User)" printed after the mode name.
The 50PG20 also provides a plenty of control over aspect ratio, with six total choices for high-definition sources and four for standard-definition. As a 720p HDTV, we didn't expect this set to eliminate overscan completely, so that was nice to see as well.
Beyond picture adjustments, the LG 50PG20's feature set lacks picture-in-picture, although we were happy to see three power-saver modes, which dim the picture to cut down on the TV's power consumption. During initial setup, the 50PG20 also asked whether we were viewing in a store or a home environment. Answering "home" on other HDTVs, such as plasmas from Samsung or Panasonic, typically causes significant reduction in power use, but in the LG's case, it didn't help much. See the Juice Box below for details.
LG equipped the 50PG20 with standard connectivity for the a budget HDTV, with one exception: an RS-232 port is available for custom installation and control, although we doubt most buyers in the PG20's price range will take advantage of it. For audio and video sources, there are two HDMI inputs on the back panel and one more on the side. A pair of component-video inputs, a VGA-style PC input (1,360x768-pixel recommended resolution), an RF input for antenna and cable, an AV input with composite and S-Video jacks, and an optical digital audio output complete the rear jack pack. In addition to that third HDMI port, the side panel has another AV input with composite video only, along with a USB port that's for service only (it can't accept digital photo files or music).