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LG PM9700 review: LG PM9700

Picture quality
At CES 2012, LG told us that the company's new models can produce black levels up to 40 percent deeper than 2011 models. Comparing the 2011 50PZ950 to the 2012 50PM9700, that claim appears to be sound, with an noticeable improvement in depth of black (0.0136 compared with 0.0219 for those counting).

There is one major thing holding back the LG PM9700 however, and I wish it didn't have to be this way: there is no way to turn off the TruMotion effect in most picture modes, including THX and Expert. As a result, you'll see the excessive smoothing (aka Soap Opera Effect) and jellylike haloing artifacts characteristic of dejudder. The only mode I found that lacked smoothing was Game, which I used throughout my calibration and testing.

In Game mode, the picture was fairly punchy with reasonable color and a decent amount of depth. The only other major strikes against the TV's picture quality are the noticeably lighter black levels compared against competing TVs like the Panasonic ST50 and UT50 and the Samsung PNE6500. The LG does handle bright reflections better than any of those, however, although a trade-off to its matte screen was a slight softness to detail when viewed in the dark.

Click the image below to see the picture settings used in the review and to read more about how this TV’s picture controls worked during calibration.

Comparison models (details)
Panasonic TC-P65VT50 65-inch plasma
Panasonic TC-P55ST50 55-inch plasma
Sony KDL-55HX750 55-inch edge-lit LED
Sharp LC-60LE640U 60-inch edge-lit LED
Samsung PN60E6500 60-inch plasma

Black level: Every year, as the new plasma models come out I am constantly surprised to see black levels improve -- even when I think they couldn't get better, they do. The attention has been on Panasonic for the last few years, and rightly so, but LG has also achieved modest gains with its PM9700.

While the TV delivers better blacks than an equivalently priced LCD TV like the HX750, when up against heavy hitters like the Samsung 6500 and Panasonic ST50 the difference is very noticeable. The LG also didn't get as deep as the Sharp in our comparison. Still, it was able to conjure a respectable sense of depth, and the fly-by of the Romulan ship in Star Trek looks sufficiently spiny -- a sign of good shadow detail. That said, the Samsung and Panasonic delivered greater gravitas in their presentation.

The No. 1 reason to buy a plasma TV is for the black levels it can produce at a modest price when compared with LCD. The problem is that despite the company's own improvements in this area, its competition is simply too far ahead. There's no reason to choose the LG over either the Panasonic ST50 or the Samsung 6500 even for the just the black levels alone.

Detail: While not a subheading we normally use here, the detail resolution of the PM9700 is worth drawing attention to. The PM9700 has a matte filter, which means it deals with light reflections well, but I suspect that it is also responsible for the slight softness of the telly's pictures when viewed in the dark. This effect is most obvious on text as seen in the TVs Smart TV interface, but is also noticeable when I viewed it side-by-side with the 6500 -- James T. Kirk's chiseled features look a little weather worn on the LG. Facial details such as wrinkles on the grizzled Captain Pike are a little "botoxed" as well. There's an upside, it might actually make Keith Richards look a little more age-appropriate in the "Shine A Light" documentary. Maybe, but it can't erase the ugly.

Color accuracy: Despite the inability to control the color in any meaningful way, the LG was able to provide vibrant colors that weren't too dissimilar from the lineup's accuracy champ, the Samsung 6500. When it came to secondary colors like cyan that it was a little desaturated compared with the ST50 and Samsung 6500. This was most noticeable on partially clouded skies, but unless weather documentaries are your thing it's not actually that noticeable.

Video processing: Apart from the little problem with ultrasmoothing, the LG is actually talented at other forms of processing. While not usually noticeable, I found noise reduction to be better on the LG compared with the UT50 alongside it. The LG scrubbed out some of the grit in Blu-rays I didn't even know was there, particularly in shadows in the corners of rooms.

When parsing sources like our 24p test disk, the LG simply presented the scenes as close to "real" as the disk would allow. Only some artifacting in the Film resolution test pattern hurt what was a pretty good run for this television.

Bright lighting: If your only criteria is "a plasma TV that performs well in a lit room," then the PM9700 might well be the model to go for. It boasts a matte screen, and is one of the few televisions to do this at all in 2012, and combined with what appears to be a louver-based filter the television performs very well under lights. The blacks look black and contrast is even better than before. If subjected to direct light, such as from a facing window you get a smear of light as opposed to a reflection as on the Panasonic ST50, and this proves to be less distracting.

That said, all of the other sets in my comparison did a better job preserving black levels under the lights. While the Panasonic UT50 was not a part of my lineup, it's probably worth mentioning again that it's one of the worst bright-room performers this year, and far inferior to the LG.

3D: For a company that prides itself on its passive Cinema 3D technology, LG isn't able to come up with the goods with its own competing active solution. The TV has a 3D specific THX mode, but pop in the "Hugo" Blu-ray and ghosting looked terrible when viewing 3D shapes -- the "ghostly hand" that appears as Hugo reaches out to steal a toy mouse near the beginning of the movie comes out green. The TV isn't able to make strong 3D effects coalesce into a whole, something that Samsung's active 3D solution as seen on the ES8000, and the Panasonic plasmas in their 48Hz modes, are able to do very well.

I tried the TV with a pair of glasses based on the Full HD 3D Glasses standard, and found it did work -- once you turned them upside-down. So buying cheap Samsung replacements will only work if you like being uncomfortable.

Power consumption: No surprises in the power testing results for this TV, with a fairly average power result for TVs of this size. But at least in Standard mode the light output is normal and not completely sacrificed to meet Energy Star requirements. This may be bad for the green-conscious but it's great for your eyes.

Juice box
LG 50PM9700 Picture settings
Default Calibrated Power save
Picture on (watts) 229.61 203.24 107.26
Picture on (watts/sq. inch) 0.21 0.19 0.1
Standby (watts) 0.12 0.12 12
Cost per year $50.43 $44.65 $23.61
Score (considering size) Poor
Score (overall) Average
GEEK BOX: Test Result Score
Black luminance (0%) 0.0136 Average
Avg. gamma 1.9178 Poor
Near-black x/y (5%) 0.3035/0.316 Average
Dark gray x/y (20%) 0.3028/0.3176 Poor
Bright gray x/y (70%) 0.313/0.3257 Good
Before avg. color temp. 6223.2757 Poor
After avg. color temp. 6562.9501 Good
Red lum. error (de94_L) 3.743 Poor
Green lum. error (de94_L) 3.3243 Poor
Blue lum. error (de94_L) 2.8685 Average
Cyan hue x/y 0.2098/0.3135 Poor
Magenta hue x/y 0.3179/0.1505 Good
Yellow hue x/y 0.4303/0.5225 Poor
1080p/24 Cadence (IAL) Pass Good
1080i De-interlacing (film) Pass Good
Motion resolution (max) 800 Average
Motion resolution (dejudder off) 800 Average
LG PM9700

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