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LG LE5500 review: LG LE5500

LG LE5500

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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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4 min read

In the last few years the most compelling LCD challengers to the picture-quality reign of plasma were equipped with multizone LED backlights that could dim or brighten in different areas of the screen independently. Broadly known as "local dimming" technology, in the best cases it delivered superb black level performance and manageable tradeoffs in the form of stray illumination or "blooming." In worse cases, such as the LG LE5500 series, that stray illumination is not managed well.

6.2

LG LE5500

The Good

Accurate color; matte screen performs well in bright rooms; plenty of streaming and interactive features; extensive picture controls; sleek styling with 1.1-inch-deep panel; energy efficient.

The Bad

Imprecise local dimming causes stray illumination and blooming; reproduces light black levels; darker areas tinged blue; adjustable dejudder doesn't work well; benefits of 120Hz difficult to discern.

The Bottom Line

Some buyers might appreciate its design and features, but the picture quality of the LG LE5500 lags behind other local dimming LED-based LCDs.

Unfortunately, we suspect that many buyers lured by the LG's claims of dimming won't understand the differences--among them the fact that this TV uses LED that illuminate the screen from the edge, rather than from behind. The LE5500 does offer plenty of perks, including accurate color, decent bright-room performance, a stylishly thin frame and numerous Internet features, but seekers of LED-based LCDs who place a premium on image quality should look elsewhere.

Series information: We performed a hands-on evaluation of the 47-inch LG 47LE5500, but this review also applies to the other screen sizes in the series. All sizes have identical specs and according to the manufacturer should provide very similar picture quality.

"="" bgcolor="#CCCCCC">Models in series (details)
LG 42LE5500 42 inches
LG 47LE5500 (reviewed) 47 inches
LG 55LE5500 55 inches

Design

LG LE5500 SERIES
A reddish tint sets the LE5500 apart, but probably won't match most decors.

"="" bgcolor="#CCCCCC">Design highlights "="">Other: Red-tinted frame
Panel depth 1.1 inches Bezel width 1.6 inches
Single-plane face No Swivel stand Yes

The LE5500 measures just over an inch thick at 1.1 inches, compared to the 1.4 inches of the LE8500--the difference between edge-lit and full-array LED backlights, we suppose. The 5500's glossy black frame is tinted slightly purplish-red along the outside, providing a more subtle accent then the darker yet full-frame red of Samsung's UNB7000 series but still failing to match most interior decors. The relatively thin bezel of the 5500 makes for a compact TV, but with the tint it seems lower-tech to our eye than monochrome flat panels.

LG LE5500 SERIES
The stand of the LE5500 allows the thin panel to swivel.

"="" bgcolor="#CCCCCC">Remote control and menus
Remote size 9.2 x 1.8 inches Remote screen N/A
Total keys 45 Backlit keys 38
Other IR devices controlled No RF control of TV No
Shortcut menu Yes On-screen explanations No

LG's clicker, the same one included on the LH8500, is a long, thin wand with decent button differentiation and friendly, rubberized keys. We liked the bulge in the middle that corresponds with a convenient notch on the underside for your index finger; we missed direct infrared control of other devices. The menus are basic and functional with plenty of ways to get around, including a nice Quick Menu of shortcuts. We would have liked to see explanations, though, especially for the more advanced picture-setting functions.

LG LE5500 SERIES
The well-designed remote has backlighting behind nearly every key.

Features

"="" bgcolor="#CCCCCC">Key TV features "="">Other: Optional wi-fi dongle (AN-WF100, $70), Optional wireless media box (AN-WL100W, $350)
Display technology LCD LED backlight Edge-lit with local dimming
3D compatible No 3D glasses included N/A
Screen finish Matte Refresh rate(s) 120Hz
Dejudder (smooth) processing Yes 1080p/24 compatible Yes
Internet connection Yes Wireless HDMI/AV connection Optional

The LE5500 arranges its LED modules around the edge of the screen, but similar to Samsung's edge-lit UNC8000 series, it still manages to offer a semblance of local dimming. LG calls its edge-with-local-dimming backlight "LED Plus," and says there are 12 "addressable segments" on the screen of the 42- and 47-incher, whereas the 55-incher has 16 segments. Contrast that with the 200+ zones on the full-array local dimming 8500 series, and you'll have some idea why the scheme on the 5500 is far from perfect (see Performance).

Other notables include the external "LG Wireless Media Box" option that enables you to connect HDMI and other gear wirelessly, which can really help custom installations. We'd like to see built-in Wi-Fi, given all of the LG's Internet options, but you'll have to either buy the dongle or get a third-party wireless bridge. We tested LG's dongle, which worked well, but we didn't test the media box by press time.

LG LE5500 SERIES
LG built local dimming into its edge-lit LED, but it's not as effective as the full-array variety.

"="" bgcolor="#CCCCCC">Streaming media
Netflix Y YouTube Y
Amazon Video on Demand N Rhapsody N
Vudu Y Pandora N
CinemaNow N DLNA compliant Photo/Music/Video
Blockbuster Y/N USB Photo/Music/Video

LG's Netcast array of streaming partners is standard-issue. There are no major missing links, however, aside from any kind of audio service like Pandora or Slacker radio. Netflix and Vudu delivered the video quality we expect via both Ethernet and Wi-Fi from LG's dongle. We didn't test USB or DLNA network streaming.

LG LE5500 SERIES
The LE5500's streaming services include solid video options, but no audio.

"="" bgcolor="#CCCCCC">Internet apps "="">Other: 8 custom games; Skype requires speakerphone accessory (Price TBD)
Yahoo widgets Yes Skype Yes
Vudu apps No Weather Yes
Facebook No News Yes
Twitter Yes Sports Yes
Photos Picasa/Flickr Stocks Yes

The selection of nonstreaming Internet features nothing to write home about, and most of the utilities, with the exception of Picasa, come courtesy of Yahoo Widgets. At the time of this writing, the LE5500 has access to 11 widgets. Yahoo's platform is somewhat more usable than in the past, with snappier responses to button presses and faster load times for individual widgets. That said it could be a lot faster, and the initial load of the main widget taskbar can take 20 seconds or more--still an eternity on a television. Apps selection and usability overall is a step behind Samsung and Vizio.

The Games platform, not to be confused with the games included with Yahoo Widgets, includes extremely basic custom titles, for example, Sudoku and Whack a Mole--the less said the better about these pointless exercises in frustrating gameplay. Of course you'll need to buy the external speakerphone kit to use Skype. It hasn't been released yet, so we didn't test it for this review.

LG LE5500 SERIES
A few custom games are included, but they have all the sophistication of games you get for free on a free cell phone.

"="" bgcolor="#CCCCCC">Picture settings "="">Other: 2-point and 10-point IRE systems available; 2 THX modes; guided "Picture Wizard" setup tool
Adjustable picture modes 7 Independent memories per input Yes
Dejudder presets 2 Fine dejudder control Yes
Aspect ratio modes -- HD 6 Aspect ratio modes -- SD 5
Color temperature presets 3 Fine color temperature control 10 point
Gamma presets 3 Color management system Yes

For 2010 LG added a couple of improvements to the industry's best suite of user menu picture controls. It now offers the ability to adjust dejudder processing, a welcome extra pioneered by Samsung last year (although it doesn't work nearly as well; see Performance for details). There are also specific gamma settings (1.9, 2.2 and 2.4) in the excellent 10-point IRE system available in the Expert menu. While the LE5500 lacks the THX modes found on step-up models, Cinema provides a substitute, and unlike THX, it's also adjustable--albeit not to the same extent as Expert.

As with last year all of the adjustable picture modes can be separate for each input. We also liked the improvements made to the Picture Wizard, which consists of a series of test patterns that can help non-Experts adjust basic controls and get the gist of what picture setup is all about.

LG LE5500 SERIES
Unfortunately, those fine dejudder controls don't work so fine.

"="" bgcolor="#CCCCCC">Other features
Power-saver mode Yes Ambient light sensor Yes
Picture-in-picture No On-screen user manual Yes

The ambient light sensor can be engaged by choosing the Intelligent Sensor picture mode, and you can choose a "screen off" option in the TV's energy saver menu to just get sound, reducing consumption to 38 watts. LG calls its onscreen manual "simple," and that's definitely the case--it's more like a rundown of features than a usable manual.

LG LE5500 SERIES
Given the complexity of many of the TV's features, we'd like to see more than a "simple" onscreen manual.

"="" bgcolor="#CCCCCC">Connectivity "="">Other: Side headphone jack; RS-232 port; proprietary "wireless control" port for media box
HDMI inputs 3 back, 1 side Component-video inputs 2 back, 1 side
Composite video inputs 1 back, 1 side S-video input 0
VGA-style PC input 1 RF input 1
AV output(s) 0 Digital audio output 1 optical
USB ports 2 side Ethernet (LAN) port Y

The input scheme is pretty standard aside from the necessity to use breakout cables (included) to connect component or composite sources to the side. The side bay is narrow enough that LG recommends a width no greater than 10mm (0.39 inches) for HDMI and USB cables/thumbdrives. The second USB port is nice if you monopolize the first with the optional Wi-Fi dongle.

LG LE5500 SERIES
Plenty of connections can be found on the LG's backside.

LG LE5500 SERIES
The side composite and component inputs are 1/8-inch jacks that require included breakout cables.

Performance
Our first experience with local dimming from an edge-lit LED configuration, with Samsung's C8000 series, was significantly better than what we saw on the (significantly less expensive) LG LE5500. The LG's imprecise dimming produced distracting brightness variations, and the TV's black level performance overall was still worse than other standard, nondimming edge-lit models'. Accurate color in bright scenes and a matte screen for bright rooms help soften the blow somewhat, but all told the LE5500 turned in mediocre picture quality.

TV settings: LG 47LE5500
Prior to setup we determined that the Expert picture modes provided the most accurate images, despite being relatively dim with an overly red grayscale and somewhat high gamma (2.36). The Cinema setting, for what it's worth, measured similarly dim with a worse, green-tinted grayscale. We employed LG's 10-point white balance system to good effect during our calibration, ending up with a very linear, accurate grayscale and our preferred 40ftl light output. It's worth noting that LG's system allowed us to choose the most linear gamma setting, which turned out to be 1.9, and come very close to our target 2.2 gamma (at 2.22 average).

After setup we spun the Blu-ray of "Edge of Darkness" and lined up the following comparison models for our maim image quality tests.

"="" bgcolor="#CCCCCC">Comparison models (details)
Sony KDL-46EX700 46-edge-lit LED
Samsung UN46B7000 46-edge-lit LED
Samsung UN55C8000 55-inch edge-lit local dimming LED
Vizio VF552XVT 55-inch local dimming LED
LG 47LE8500 47-inch full array local dimming LED
Panasonic TC-P50G20 50-inch plasma
Pioneer PRO-111FD (reference) 50-inch plasma

Black level: The LG LE5500 produced the lightest shade of black in our lineup. The difference was most visible during darker scenes, such as beginning of Chapter 2 where the shadowed street, nighttime sky between the houses and of course the letterbox bars were all relatively bright. The two standard edge-lit LED-based LCDs, the Sony EX700 and Samsung B7000, appeared somewhat darker than the 5500, and the others in the lineup got darker still. Dark objects in brighter scenes, such as Thomas Craven's black jacket in the foyer as he leans over the injured Emma, were also visibly brighter on the LG.

We also noticed significant blooming and stray illumination in dark areas, effects we attribute to the LE5500's imprecise dimming as the backlight fluctuated in brightness. The worst examples came in all-black scenes with one or two bright elements, such as the credits or our Blu-ray player's onscreen icons. Certain dark areas of the screen would appear markedly brighter than others; the black above and below the credits, for example, would be lighter than to either side. Less-noticeable but still distracting was the stray illumination in normal scenes, especially in the letterbox bars. Chapter 8 provided one example, where the upper left corner bar would darken and lighten as the bright fluorescent light disappeared and reappeared as the camera routinely switched subjects. Blooming was much more noticeable and distracting on the LE5500 than on any of the other local dimming models, including the edge-lit Samsung C8000.

Shadow detail on the LE5500 also suffered a bit as a result of the fluctuating backlight; the actors' dark hair during the Chapter 8 conversation, for example, was more obscured than on the other displays.

Color accuracy: During bright scenes the LE8500 fared well in this area, reproducing accurate skin tones and other delicate colors compared to our reference. We appreciated that the faces of Thomas and Emma and his daughter in the kitchen, for example, looked natural and well-balanced, outdoing the flatter-looking Vizio and Samsung B7000. As can be expected from a display with lighter black levels, however, saturation was less impressive than on the other displays.

Dark areas and shadows, as usual for many LCDs, veered precipitously into blue, and we consider this the LE5500's major color-related flaw. The issue was more pronounced than on any of the others aside from the Sony, but the LG's lighter blacks made it even more noticeable.

Video processing: A new system available on LG' 2010 LCDs allows further customization of dejudder or "smoothing," as well as the antiblur effect, of the TruMotion processing. Labeled User and consisting of sliders labeled Judder and Blur, it seems similar to the system we liked so much from Samsung, but doesn't work nearly as well.

We're not fans in general of smoothing effects, which tend to make film look more like video--instead we strongly prefer the (typically 24-frame, filmlike) look the director intended. That's why we like to eliminate such effects entirely, when possible, when watching movies. With Samsung's system (and to a lesser extent the ones we tested from Toshiba and Sharp) we can get the combination of no smoothing along with full motion resolution, but with LG's system that doesn't work. Dialing down smoothing (by reducing the Judder slider, which really should be renamed "dejudder," to "0") unfortunately causes the LG to improperly handle the 1080p/24 cadence--apparently treating it with the 2:3 pull-down process, similar to a standard 60Hz TV. As a result, on the LG we could see the characteristic hitching, stuttering effect in our favorite test for cadence, the shot over the aircraft carrier Intrepid from "I Am Legend," whereas TVs that properly handled 1080p/24 showed the correct, smoother yet still filmlike cadence characteristic of 24-frame film. Increasing Judder didn't help; the image just became extremely smooth. The only way to achieve that correct film cadence on the LE5500 was to turn TruMotion Off.

The LE5500 performed generally as well as any 120Hz LCD on the motion resolution test, delivering between 300-400 lines when dejudder was turned Off and 600-700 lines when it was engaged using either of the two preset TruMotion modes. Using the "blur" slider (which should be labeled "antiblur" since increasing it decreases blurring) in User mode gave gave slightly worse results: between 500-600 lines at the highest setting. As usual, we found it nearly impossible to discern the difference in motion resolution between any of these settings when watching regular program material, as opposed to test patterns.

Uniformity: In addition to the blooming issues noted above, th

6.2

LG LE5500

Score Breakdown

Design 7Features 7Performance 5
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