LG 50PS70FD review: LG 50PS70FD
The LG 50PS70FD with "Time Machine Link" is an even better deal than its more expensive sibling, and is just as capable as a television.
Editor's note: the LG 50PS70FD and 50PS80FD are virtually identical, with the main difference being that this model lacks on-board Time Machine recording. However, you can still attach an external hard drive and receive the same functionality. As a result, our findings are very similar to the previous review.
You're looking for a TV, and you're not sure what features to look for. Is 100Hz or even 200Hz important? What about these LED TVs you've been hearing about? Well, if you ask us, none of that stuff really matters — especially when plasma is such a good technology. Instead of trying to sell you gimmicks, LG has once again bundled a video recorder into its top-end plasmas, and we think it could be a winner.
After much snickering at the "love hole" television, LG has pulled back on the design reigns a little bit for its new range of TVs. We were fortunate enough to meet the designer of the 70 and 80 series, and he said the inspirations behind the new screens were things like "walking on clouds" and speech bubbles. There's certainly an element of sky-ness about the two screens, because while the bezel is predominantly piano black there is a strip of blue along the bottom. There are two different wave patterns depending on which one you get — the PS70 is probably the most subtle of the two. We especially like the brushed aluminium stand — reassuringly weighty and very classy.
The remote control is relatively comprehensive, and features the leather-like finish we've seen before. It's not too crammed with buttons, though, and fairly easy to use.
While its competitors are pushing less "practical" features like a different way of lighting the screen or extra Hertz, LG is selling something that is actually more beneficial: a USB port to record programs onto an external drive. LG has dubbed this the "Time Machine Link" and it has most of the important features of competitors: pause and rewind live TV, EPG recording etc. It features twin tuners so you can record one channel while watching/recording another. While it does lack more advanced tools like remote recording and show suggestions, it's a great value-add.
Unlike the 42-inch LG we reviewed in May, the LG 50PS70FD is a full 1920x1080-pixel resolution and boasts a screen size of 50 inches. It has a good deal of connectivity too, with four HDMI ports, two component inputs, a PC input and two AV-in ports. For audio, the TV offers the company's Invisible Speaker system (where the bezel is the speaker), or the option of an optical output.
The LG is one of a new crop of plasmas that has started printing the "sub-field drive" figures on its specs list. We describe what sub-field drive is here, but unlike 100Hz, the 600Hz sub-field drive is actually integral to the way a plasma works. If we could use an analogy, a sub-field drive is akin to putting more baseballs into an automatic pitcher — it can only fire one at a time, but there's less slowdown as the pitcher doesn't have to wait for more balls to be put in. Only here, substitute balls for frames. According to LG Australia, some of last year's models had a 600Hz drive as well (the norm is 400 – 480) but it wasn't publicised.
The television features an "Intelligent Sensor", which adjusts to the light levels in your room and promises to boost picture quality (potentially) and reduce power usage (in dark rooms). In concert with this are the two dedicated ISF user modes, and ISF set-up routine which are used to get the best possible picture out of the TV. The Picture Wizard is actually very easy to use, and accessible from the main menu. The results you can get are quite impressive as well. We wish more manufacturers would use this.
For the past few years, LG's televisions have been consistent performers, and the PS70 and PS80 carry on this good will. The only problem for the company, though, is that rivals like Panasonic keep getting better and better. Is consistency simply enough?
In general, the LG is a very friendly TV to use, the menu is easy to read, and there are plenty of little touches that make it fun. Plugging in a HDMI source, for instance, brings up the adorable message: "New external device is connected. Do you want to enjoy this?" The USB slot also enables you to expand your viewing beyond the normal DVDs, Blu-ray discs and free-to-air by offering MP3 and video download playback with plenty of support for even obscure formats. Pity there's no Ethernet port as used on competitors like Samsung.
After we used the excellent set-up wizard we ran the TV through a number of synthetic tests, courtesy of Silicon Optix HQV, but found that perhaps this test is getting a bit old-hat. Most new televisions now use anti-aliasing and anti-noise circuitry and are able to pass these tests with ease. The LG was no different.
We ran several different types of program material through the TV, from DVD to Blu-ray and the on-board tuner, and found that it was a capable all-rounder. Picture quality was very good, with a colourful, detailed picture with the pin-sharp motion tracking that's characteristic of a good plasma. The only thing we'll note here is that the black levels weren't as impressive as we'd come to expect from the company — even the budget LG 42-inch plasma had better blacks than this. While the TV looked pretty good with the lights off, with a decent handle on shadow detail, in a lit room blacks had a brown tinge. Most competitors don't look crash-hot in the light either, but at least blacks look dark grey rather than brown.
The only other "issue" is one that Panasonic plasmas share: the LG isn't always able to handle colour gradations that well. We're talking here about skin tones, clouds — anywhere one colour blends into another. Instead of a smooth gradation at the border, you'll get a "fizzing". Until now, you had to choose a Pioneer Kuro to escape this problem, but the new Panasonic G10 also beats the LG in performance terms here.As the PS70 costs AU$400 less than the PS80, and external hard drives only cost about AU$100 you can potentially save yourself some dough. Of course, because there's only one USB port you'll have to swap it out with another drive if you want to watch other USB content. For the money, though, the recorder is really useful, if a little idiosyncratic. The facility feels like a separate device and not fully integrated into the TV. For example, pressing the "Record" button brings up a record menu that only gives you an option to "record three hours" and not "record current program", even though that's what it will do anyway. Also, it doesn't always display on-screen when it's recording another program, and it can be a little annoying when you press to record a show and it won't let you because it's taping something else already. Recordings, though, were of good quality, and pausing and rewinding live TV was as easy as with competitors like the Foxtel iQ. We like the ability to add extra storage space via the USB slot — though as there's only one you won't be able to playback media from USB drives at the same time. To record onto a USB disk you need to format it first, and unsurprisingly, a PC won't be able to read from the LG-formatted drive. However, we were able to swap recordings between the 70 and 80 series.
But vision is only half the picture, so to speak, and the LG puts in a sterling performance here. Sound quality was natural, if a little lacking in wham-pow, and if you're strapped you could use this as an acceptable speaker in a 5.1 system.