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LG LH50 review: LG LH50

LG LH50

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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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15 min read

OVR
6.6

LG LH50

The Good

First TV with built-in Netflix streaming; well-implemented Yahoo Widgets engine; accurate color; extensive picture controls including unique Picture Wizard; solid connectivity with four HDMI and one PC input; energy efficient.

The Bad

Relatively expensive; reproduces pretty light black levels; does not separate antiblur and anti-judder processing; fails to properly handle 1080p/24 content; below-average off-angle viewing; no S-video input.

The Bottom Line

While the picture quality of the LG LH50 series won't appeal to videophiles, its Netflix streaming and oodles of other interactive features will win over plenty of folks fed up with external boxes.

Editors' note (March 4, 2010): The rating on this product has been lowered because of changes in the competitive marketplace, including the release of 2010 models. The review has not otherwise been modified. Click here for more information.

If the Internet is the future of television, then LG's LH50 series hails from the day after tomorrow. This flat-panel LCD is the first to offer Netflix streaming, which allows instant, free-to-subscribers access to an all-you-can watch menu of thousands of movies and TV shows without having to connect another box. Sure, Sony has already announced the service for its own compatible TVs later this fall, and we expect Netflix to make its way to Yahoo Widget-equipped TVs from Samsung (and perhaps others) sometime later this year, but for now the LH50 holds exclusive claim to Netflix. Speaking of Yahoo Widgets, the LH50 delivers that feature too, and better than other TVs we've tested, and also includes its own YouTube client and network streaming to boot.

On the other hand, the LH50 costs a good couple hundred more than its non-Web-enabled cousin in the company's line--easily enough to buy an external Netflix device and then some. Its performance wasn't as good as some of the better LCDs we've tested, albeit still decent enough to pass most viewers' muster, especially in terms of color accuracy. For fans of Internet video who don't want one more box, those issues might be worth the sacrifice for the LG LH50, which for now is the most well-featured Interactive HDTV available.

Series note: We performed a hands-on evaluation of the 47-inch LG 47LH50, but this review also applies to the 42-inch LG 42LH50 and the 55-inch 55LH55. All three share identical specs and features and should provide very similar picture quality.

Design
Editors' note: Many of the Design and Features elements are identical between the LG LH50 series and the LG LH55 series we reviewed earlier, so readers of the earlier review may experience some déjà vu when reading the same sections below.

The LG LH50 lacks any overt, eye-catching styling cues to set off its glossy black sheen. Its most remarkable external feature consists of the thin, transparent strip along the left and right edges of the frame. That frame rounds slightly along the top edge and is thicker below than above. A bump on the bottom right edge houses the blue-lit power indicator. The stand swivels and matches the panel with its glossy black.

LG LH50 series
The lower-right corner shows the bulge of the power indicator and the transparent edging.

LG's remote is relatively 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. On the plus side, it's easy to find the different-colored buttons for "Netcast" (for Netflix, YouTube, Yahoo Widgets, and local photos and music streaming) and Widgets (for Yahoo Widgets, again), and there's another prominent button labeled "Energy Saving" that directly accesses said control and a little energy saving graphic to provide enviro-geeks a warm fuzzy. The remote can't control other brands of gear directly with infrared commands.

The menu system is quite extensive, so the easy-access quick menu for aspect ratio, picture and sound modes, the timer, and other oft-used functions is welcome. The main menu is laid out the same as last year's model, with the addition of a new onscreen "simple manual" that provides basic setup and function information. One miscue: we'd really like to see explanations of menu items appear onscreen, too, especially since many of them are so advanced.

Features
Interactive capability: At the time of this writing the LH50 LCD and PS80 plasma series by LG are the only TVs on the market with built-in Netflix streaming. Of course you can get the service on other external devices such as the Xbox 360, TiVo HD, Roku player and a few Blu-ray players, for example, but these LG sets build it right in.

LG LH50 series
The LH50's Netflix interface mirrors that of other Netflix streaming devices, with cover art arranged horizontally.

For the uninitiated, Netflix streaming, called "Watch Instantly" by the company, lets Netflix subscribers immediately watch free movies and TV shows from the service's catalog. The selection of titles is more restricted than the normal mail order service and generally excludes new, major name releases, but there are still thousands of titles. You must select titles to watch instantly using a PC; you can't browse and choose titles directly on the TV, although that restriction may be lifted in a future update.

In our testing, the Netflix streaming worked as well as it has in other such devices, and it was exceedingly easy to use, interfacing flawlessly with our Watch Instantly queue on the Netflix Web site. As usual, video quality depends a lot on your Internet connection. In the best-case scenario, with "full bars," the so-called HD videos looked a bit better than DVD, although the frame rate still seemed too slow, creating a stuttering effect in pans and other camera movement that dejudder didn't address (to be fair, all Netflix devices suffer from this artifact). The main difference, and it's a potentially big one for videophiles, is that LG's built-in Netflix service doesn't allow you to adjust any of the picture parameters beyond the presets for the various picture modes. You can choose from among the modes via the quick menu, but main menu access isn't available, so you can't tweak any of the modes. That said, you still get more control of the picture than you do on Yahoo Widgets' current video players, for example, and choosing from among eight modes will be plenty for most viewers. Our Roku review has more details on Netflix streaming.

LG LH50 series
The LG's built-in YouTube client offers a range of features.

Aside from Netflix, the LG offers its own YouTube client that's superior to the Yahoo Widget available on Samsung TVs, not to mention the proprietary clients developed by Sony and Panasonic, but basically offers the same functionality. You can sign into your YouTube account, brose most-recent, most-viewed, and top-rated videos, search via an onscreen virtual keyboard using the TV remote (autofill of popular search terms is supported, thankfully) and sort by date. Like on those other TV clients, YouTube.com's "HD" category is absent and video quality is significantly worse than it is on the Web site, even with higher-quality non-HD videos. No "continuous play" option is available to automatically move on to the next video in a category. Check out our look at YouTube on TV for more information.

The LG also includes Yahoo Widgets. At the time of testing, it offered fewer widgets than Samsung, but significantly more than Sony, although we expect those differences to even out in time (but naturally we don't expect LG to get the YouTube widget, for example, since the company built its own separate client). Check out Yahoo's official list of current LG widgets for details.

LG LH50 series
We appreciated that Yahoo widgets on the LG operated more quickly than they have on other sets we've tested.


On the other hand, the LG implementation of Yahoo Widgets was much more responsive than on the Samsung and Sony TVs we've, even after we had downloaded all of the available widgets into the dock. Moving between snippets on the dock, navigating among individual widgets, and even loading the widget engine in the first place all moved much faster on the LH50 series than any of the four Samsung TVs we had on hand. For that reason, we found it the best widget experience we've tested so far. Check out our full review of Yahoo Widgets for more information.

Finally, like many current TVs, the LG LH50 can stream photos, music, and video from networked PCs in the home, as well as from thumbdrives connected to its USB port. We didn't test this feature.

It's notable that the LH50, like other interactive TVs, doesn't include wireless capability; if you want to ditch the Ethernet cable, you'll have to add your own wireless solution.

Other features: Even beyond the interactive capabilities, the LG LH50 is a full-featured HDTV. It lacks the LED backlight and 240Hz refresh rate found on more-expensive models available today, however, making do with standard backlighting and 120Hz processing with dejudder. LG's dejudder processing is similar to past 120Hz and 240Hz displays, which force you to engage the smoothing effect of dejudder if you want to enjoy the benefits of reduced blurring. Samsung's and Toshiba's 2009 models, on the other hand, allow you to separate the two functions, an option we really prefer to have. The LH50 series offers two strengths of dejudder, Low and High, and also offers a separate "Real Cinema" function designed to work with 1080p/24 sources--although in our experience it was basically unwatchable. Check out the performance section of the review for more details.

LG LH50 series
Unlike with Samsung sets, you can't separate the antiblurring and dejudder processing on the LG.

Like other LG displays, the picture controls on the LH50 series surpass most of the competition. The company included even more adjustments than last year, starting with a well-thought-out Picture Wizard that uses internal test patterns to help you perform your own basic calibrations of the controls for brightness, contrast, color, tint, horizontal and vertical sharpness, and backlight. Once you've finished, your settings are saved to the Expert1 picture memory slot for your choice of inputs.

Each of the eight adjustable picture memory slots is independent per input, and we appreciated that all of them, aside from the two Expert slots, indicate whether they're in the default settings. A ninth mode, called Intelligent Sensor, reacts to ambient lighting conditions and automatically sets picture parameters accordingly. Advanced controls abound in even the nonexpert modes, with three color temperature presets, settings for dynamic contrast and color, noise reduction, three levels of gamma, a black level control, wide and standard color spaces, edge enhancement, a room-lighting sensor, and even an "eye care" setting designed to prevent the screen from being too bright (it's disabled in Vivid and Cinema modes).

LG LH50 series
We like LG's in-depth calibration options.

Those Expert modes, which bear the logo and the input of the Imaging Science Foundation, offer a passel of additional controls. Our favorite, first introduced by LG last year and still exclusive to the company, is a 10-point white balance system that can really help get a more accurate grayscale. The company upped the ante for 2009, adding the capability to target a 2.2 gamma, internal test patterns, and even color filters for blue-only, green-only, and red-only to help set color balance. A full color management system is also on-tap, and we love the capability to apply Expert settings to all inputs or just one at a time. Of course, most of these settings will appeal only to pro calibrators and HDTV geeks, but either way, LG's 2009 models offer the most complete suite of user-menu picture adjustments we've seen on any HDTV to date.

LG LH50 series
A unique color filter lets you better utilize the color management system.

LG touts the efficiency of this set, and rightly so, according to our tests (see below). In addition to the "home use" and "store demo" initial settings common to the Energy Star 3.0-qualified televisions, there's a quartet of progressively more aggressive Energy Saving settings that reduce the backlight--and thus light output along with wattage consumed. Engaging the settings disables the standard backlight control.

The LH50 series is missing picture-in-picture, but does provide plenty of aspect ratio control, including five modes for use with HD sources and four with standard-def. Two modes are adjustable zooms, and there's a "set by program" mode designed to automatically choose the correct aspect ratio setting based on the signal. We recommend using the Just Scan mode with 1080i and 1080p material, which assures zero overscan and proper 1:1 pixel matching for this 1080p display.

LG LH50 series
Three HDMI ports, a PC input, and a LAN port for Internet access are available on the LH50's back panel. No wireless Internet provision comes with the TV.

LG LH50 series
Side panel inputs include one HDMI, one AV, and a USB input. The LG lacks S-Video inputs altogether.

Connectivity is fairly extensive on the LH50, beginning with four total HDMI ports, three on the back and one on the side. The back panel also offers two component-video inputs, an AV input with composite video, an RF input for antenna or cable, an RGB-style analog PC input, an optical digital audio output, and an RS-232 port for custom installations. In addition to the fourth HDMI port, the side panel has a second AV input with composite video and a USB port for display of digital photos and playback of MP3 music files. Our one connectivity complaint is the lack of any S-Video inputs.

Performance
Overall, the LG LH50 series delivered solid picture quality, anchored by excellent color, but fell short in the all-important black level category. We also encountered a video processing issue that prevented the LG from properly handling 1080p/24 sources.

TV settings: LG 47LH50
As usual, we appreciated LG's extensive array of picture settings during our calibration. We were able to address the slightly blue grayscale in all but the darkest areas while hewing as close to the 2.2 gamma as possible (we ended up with 2.17), and we even moved the already-excellent primary and secondary colors to near perfection. Those controls are largely responsible for the set's excellent color accuracy.

After setup, we lined the LG up next to a few competing TVs, including the Samsung LN46B650 and LN52B750, the Sony KDL-52XBR9, and the Panasonic TC-P50V10, as well as the JVC LT-P46300 and our reference Pioneer PRO-111FD. For most of our image quality tests we employed the Blu-ray of "Body of Lies."

Black level: Compared with the other displays in our lineup, the LG produced a lighter shade of black. In dark scenes, like the torture of the inmate DiCaprio remembers in Chapter 1, dark areas, shadows, and the letterbox bars looked brighter and less realistic than any of the other sets, albeit closest to the Sony XBR9, the Samsung B650, and the JVC. Shadow detail was solid, on the other hand, and we could make out more detail in the hair of DiCaprio's beard and the prisoner's shaded face, for example, on the LG than we could on the Samsung B650 or the JVC. As usual, the realism of the LG's shadows was hampered by its lighter blacks.

Color accuracy: As with past LG displays, the LH50's extensive picture adjustments really helped it deliver accurate color in all but the very darkest areas. From the street scenes in Chapter 6 to the desert scrub to DiCaprio's skin tone as he gazes over the suspected insurgent compound, the LG's grayscale, color points, and color-decoding accuracy combined for an image that appeared closer to our reference than any of the other displays in the comparison. The main downside of bright-scene color was the LG's lower saturation than most of the other sets (a result of lighter black levels), which caused colors to have a bit less punch and impact. That said, saturation was still very good.

Conversely, the LG LH50 became quite discolored in very dark areas. We noticed the blue tinge to blacks most in the fades between chapters, when the screen would go completely dark aside from the place name (eg, "Amman, Jordan"), but in any dark scene, blacks and shadows were bluish. The LH50's tinge was more noticeable than any of the other sets in our lineup; the B650 came close, but its darker black levels made the blue discoloration less noticeable than on the LG.

Video processing: The LH50 performed worse in this area than the other higher-refresh-rate LCDs in our comparison.

In general, we dislike the overt smoothing effect of dejudder, and while we understand some viewers might disagree, we feel it makes film-based sources look too much like video. The LG LH50, with its TruMotion 120Hz dejudder processing, is no exception. In many scenes we noticed a slight halo around objects in the foreground as they moved against the background, such as the heads of the khimar- and ghutra-wearing passersby seen between the stalls in Chapter 9. This artifact was worse in the High rather than the Low dejudder setting, as was the artifact where fast-moving objects, such as the features of the informant's face as he turns to talk to DiCaprio in the same scene, seem to break apart briefly and then reassemble. Both of these artifacts were less common and intense on the Samsung and Sony display' dejudder modes.

Unlike most 120Hz displays, the LG LH50 failed to properly handle 1080p/24 sources. With Real Cinema engaged (regardless of dejudder setting), 1080p/24 material would catch and stutter randomly, often, and noticeably enough to render the material unwatchable in our opinion. The issue happened most often with camera movement and pans, such as the flying shot over the deck of the Intrepid from "I Am Legend," or when an onscreen object moved, such as the face of the sheik in Chapter 4 of "Lies." It seemed to occur at least every minute during any 1080p/24 film. Disabling Real Cinema fixed the issue, but caused the normal slight stuttering, hitching motion characteristic of 2:3 pull-down, not the proper 1080p/24 cadence we expect from a 120Hz TV. For films, we recommend LH50 owners disable Real Cinema as well as the 1080p/24 output of their Blu-ray players.

In terms of motion resolution, the LG LH50 performed like most other 120Hz sets we've tested, delivering between 300 and 400 lines when dejudder processing was disabled and between 500 and 600 lines when we turned it on. As we mentioned, there's no way to separate dejudder and antiblur processing. The LG also passed both film-based and video-based de-interlacing tests and delivered every line of 1080i and 1080p still sources when in Just Scan mode, but, as usual, none of these resolution characteristics were easy to discern in program material, as opposed to test patterns.

Uniformity: The LG LH50 sample we reviewed exhibited average uniformity across its screen, with slightly darker areas around the edges and corners compared with the middle, but no overly bright spots. We did see some visible backlight structure during brighter scenes, when slightly darker sections became visible against clouds, for example, but it wasn't distracting or egregious by any means.

When seen from off-angle, the LG performed worse than the other displays in our lineup, becoming washed out quite a bit more quickly than either the Sony or the Samsung. The screen didn't discolor too badly when seen from either side of the sweet spot directly in front of the screen, however.

Bright lighting: As a matte-screened display, the LH50 handled ambient lighting better than the shiny-screened Samsung LCDs and both plasmas, and as well as the matte Sony and JVCs. Bright lights in the room weren't reflected as brightly in its screen, and the screen did an adequate job of preserving black levels in the bright room--if not as good as the Samsung was able.

Standard definition: With standard-def sources, the LG turned in a fine performance. It resolved every line of the DVD format, and detail in the grass and stone bridge was solid. Jaggies were kept to a minimum and the waving American flag looked smooth. Noise reduction worked well to remove moving motes from the skies and sunsets, and we appreciated that 2:3 pull-down detection kicked in quickly and effectively to remove moire from the grandstands behind the race car.

PC: With PC sources, the LG performed well, delivering every line of resolution from a 1920x1080 input with no overscan or edge enhancement via both HDMI and VGA. The latter input showed some interference in the highest-frequency test patterns, and text appeared a bit softer than via HDMI, but it was still better than many VGA sources we've seen.

TEST RESULT SCORE
Before color temp (20/80) 6991/6900 Average
After color temp 6523/6494 Good
Before grayscale variation 346 Average
After grayscale variation 27 Good
Color of red (x/y) 0.64/0.333 Good
Color of green 0.293/0.607 Good
Color of blue 0.146/0.06 Good
Overscan 0.0% Good
Defeatable edge enhancement Y Good
480i 2:3 pull-down, 24 fps Pass Good
1080i video resolution Pass Good
1080i film resolution Pass Good

Power consumption: We did no

OVR
6.6

LG LH50

Score Breakdown

Design 7Features 7Performance 6
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