Over the last couple of years, LG has been making more of a name for itself in the HDTV arena, and this year the company offers an even more extensive lineup than ever. One of the first out of the gate is the 52SX4D ($2,999 list), a 52-inch DLP-based HDTV. The LG 52SX4D boasts an attractive design, an up-to-date input section, and a long feature list that includes one of the first examples of a popular item among 2005 CableCard-equipped HDTVs: a built-in TV Guide EPG. That's all well and good, but unfortunately, the performance of the 52SX4D doesn't match up to that of its competition.
The design of the LG 52SX4D takes a step in the right direction for home theater: toward black and away from silver. Just about every surface, from the screen to the speakers to the cabinet below the screen, is matte-black, a look that may not impress on the showroom floor but works well in a darkened room. A silver border, nearly invisible from head on, frames the entire cabinet.
Other accents include a slick-looking, vertical window with indicators for the TV's warm-up status and other functions, and a strip of clear plastic that runs the width of the face. A row of buttons is hidden beneath the strip out of sight. The speakers flanking the left and right sides of the screen make the 52SX4D resemble a pedestal-free Samsung HL-P5085W.
Like all microdisplays, the 52SX4D spends time warming up and cooling down--it took about 35 seconds for the image to reach full brightness. The internal lamp will burn out in approximately 8,000 hours under normal use, according to LG; replacement bulbs cost $220. The 52SX4D is a tabletop model, measuring 56 by 36 by 16 inches (WHD) and weighing a trim 83 pounds, so you'll need some sort of stand to get it to eye level. An optional stand (model KDR-52SX4, $399 list) is also available from LG.
The smallish, gray remote is well laid out and places the most common keys within thumb reach. Unfortunately, the backlight button illuminates only the Mode key, which selects the component you want to control, making the backlighting essentially useless. The internal menu system is fairly straightforward and easy to use.
We're not big fans of the TV Guide EPG's design. When it works, its main flaw is the fact that channels don't appear in the correct order, so you have to manually arrange them--a tedious process for today's 200-channel digital cable services. The Guide isn't as easy to read or as responsive as the ones in our cable box, TiVo, or Dish 942 satellite receiver. While the Guide can control a cable box, you should probably use it only if you want to skip the box and take advantage of the LG's digital cable-ready capability with a CableCard. In this scenario, TV Guide is your only EPG option.
LG packed the 52SX4D with features. As we mentioned, it's one of the first 2005 HDTVs--but definitely not the last--to include both Digital Cable Ready/CableCard capability and a built-in TV Guide onscreen EPG. This combination allows it to overcome CableCard's primary limitation, the inability to access the cable company's own EPG, so in theory, you'll get almost full cable-box functionality--minus video-on-demand and pay-per-view--without the actual box. In practice, we've found TV Guide unable to populate its listings with program information when connected to certain digital cable systems. We did not test the 52SX4D's Guide, but TV Guide did not function correctly with Time Warner New York's cable system on LG's 32LX1D, which uses the same version of the TVG software as this television. Your mileage may vary.
Other notable features include the federally-mandated over-the-air HDTV tuner, as well as a versatile dual-tuner PIP function with POP (picture-out-of-picture) and split-screen options. The LG 52SX4D offers more aspect-ratio choices than just about any other HDTV we've tested: six standard settings, including Horizon for stretching the sides more than the middle, plus a 16-position Cinema Zoom option that expands the entire picture in increments. Only one option, Horizon, is disabled for HDTV sources.
Picture-related features start with a comprehensive set of six video presets as well as independent input memories for customizing each input for different sources. There are also three color temperature presets, with Warm being the closest to the broadcast standard. Unfortunately the set's 2:3 pull-down detection doesn't work well at all (see Performance for more).
Employing Texas Instruments' HD3 DLP chip, the 52SX4D has a native resolution of 1,280x720, which should be enough to display the full detail of 720p HDTV. All other sources, including computer, 1080i HDTV, and standard-definition, are scaled to fit the pixels.
The connectivity options on the LG 52SX4D are generous. The primary connections include two HDMI inputs, two component video inputs, and two FireWire ports for use with D-VHS decks, MicroMV (only) camcorders, and the handful of DTV Link-enabled products. There are also two A/V inputs, one with composite and S-Video and one with only composite video and stereo audio inputs; a 15-pin VGA style input for computer hookup; and a set of Monitor A/V outputs with composite video only. Lastly, two memory card slots on the front of the set allow you to view digital camera photos and even play MP3s on the TV.
LG also offers a version of this television, the 62SX4D, which has identical features and a 62-inch screen.
The performance of the LG 52SX4D leaves a lot to be desired, both out of the box and after a thorough calibration. In LG's favor, the grayscale calibrated very well (see the geek box below), and the service menu is a model of simplicity, as the company introduced an Expert mode that includes only pertinent calibration-specific information. Of course, a professional is required to perform this service.
No professional can cure our biggest complaint with the 52SX4D. For whatever reason, the television didn't deliver nearly all the resolution it should have. A 720p resolution multiburst pattern from our Accupel HDG-3000 signal generator showed about 20 percent of the horizontal resolution to be missing from both HDMI and component video inputs. A certain amount of roll-off was also visible on visible on anamorphic DVD sources. As a result, high-quality images didn't look nearly as sharp as they should. Note that the Samsung HL-P5085W and Mitsubishi's WD-52525 both use the 720p DLP HD2+ chip, whereas this set uses the HD3 chip--a difference that may contribute to the loss of resolution.
We were also disappointed to find that the 2:3 pull-down circuitry really didn't work. Watching the opening scene from the Star Trek: Insurrection DVD, we noticed that the motion artifacts on the canoes and the square-shaped buildings in particular were quite jarring, and the set seemed to fall in and out of film mode as opposed to engaging its 2:3 processing and keeping it engaged.
The set's black-level performance was also not on a par with the other DLP RPTVs we've reviewed. The opening scenes of Alien and some dark material on the Seabiscuit DVD revealed less than inky deep blacks, with a lot of visible low-level noise.
On the upside, the 52SX4D's color decoding was relatively accurate, which resulted in good color saturation and natural-looking skin tones. HD material from our DirecTV HD satellite was a bit underwhelming, mainly because it looked soft. Color was good, and bright scenes popped, but the overall softness of the image was something we couldn't ignore.
The 52SX4D was a bit of a picture-quality disappointment, given the very good performance we have come to expect from DLP rear-projection technology. LG really needs to make some significant improvements in the product before it can compete with the rest of the DLP pack.
|Before color temp (30/80)
|After color temp (30/80)
|Before grayscale variation
|After grayscale variation
|Color decoder error: red
|Color decoder error: green
|All patterns stable
|2:3 pull-down, 24fps
|Defeatable edge enhancement