LG 55LW980 review: LG 55LW980
It's pricey and the backlighting isn't perfect, but the LG 55LW980 produces stunning pictures, has great Internet features and 3D performance is excellent.
LG's 55LW980 is the first TV we've seen from the company to use its new Nano technology. This is a filter that's placed between the screen and the LED backlighting to reduce haloing and banding problems associated with LED screens.
The set is crammed to the gills with other features too, including passive 3D support, built in Wi-Fi and Internet TV services. It's seriously pricey, however, costing a not inconsiderable £2,800.
User interface and EPG
The 55LW980 uses LG's new user interface, which is one of the best out there. It's centred around a home screen that's accessed from a dedicated Home button on the remote. Here you can enter the main setup menu, where you'll find the comprehensive picture controls that include a colour management system as well as white balance settings.
The menus make heavy use of colour and graphics, so they're very easy on the eye. We also like the way LG has included a picture wizard that makes it easy for even those with limited technical knowledge to correctly tweak the contrasts, brightness and colour settings.
We've got no complaints about the electronic programme guide (EPG) either. It may only show five channels' worth of programming data at a time, but the large font used to show programming data and the crisp, clean layout makes it a pleasure to use. It's speedy to navigate around as it responds quickly to remote commands.
Digital media and Internet features
This TV's Internet features are also top notch. You access them either by pressing the Home or Premium buttons on the remote. There are apps for a broad range of Internet video services including BBC iPlayer, YouTube, Acetrax, Blinkbox and ITN News, as well as social networking sites such as Twitter and Facebook.
You can download a broad range of additional apps from the app store, ranging from simple games to news and weather apps. Like LG's other high-end TVs, this one has a built-in web browser. It's slightly sluggish to navigate using the remote, however, and it doesn't support Flash, so you can't view videos on many sites.
This model has two USB ports and you can use these to playback a range of digital file formats including MP3 music tracks, JPEG pictures as well as Xvid, DivX and MKV video files. There's also a USB recording feature so you can record directly from the Freeview HD tuner to a USB memory key or hard drive. The TV only has a single tuner, so you can't watch one show while recording another, but it's still a handy feature to have.
When it comes to media streaming, LG has teamed up with a company called Plex that makes PC and Mac media software. Plex delivers a more pleasing interface for streaming because it automatically categorises your movies and videos and displays poster art as well as text summaries for each file.
The software can be difficult to get running, however, and as it's still in the beta phase, it's rather buggy. LG seems to have dropped support for standard Universal Plug and Play media servers, as the TV wouldn't work with other media servers on our PC and didn't recognise the server in our Iomega NAS drive.
Design and connections
You could argue that all recent LG TVs -- and to a certain extent Samsung -- have started to look the same. You'd probably be right, but when the design blueprint works so well, there's little need to change it. As with many of LG's recent models, this one features a single sheet of glass. The surface of the screen and the bezel blend into one, with a single layer covering both.
The glass surface overhangs the black bezel slightly to create a transparent edge that's easy on the eye. It gives the TV a very contemporary look.
This model feels well built too, thanks to its metal chassis. It's also slim at just 28mm deep, which is remarkable given that it uses direct (rather than edge) LED backlighting. As a result, it'll look great if you leave it perched on its attractive pedestal stand rather than wall mount it.
The remote is long and thin, which helps it feel comfortable to hold in your hand. We also like the large buttons and the way they respond with a slight click as you press them. The layout is generally good, although we would have liked the Info button, which calls up information on the current show you're watching, to be placed more towards the centre of the remote.
In its current position at the bottom of the zapper, it's awkward to reach when you're holding the remote in a normal position.
As with many of the recent large-screen models we've seen, the connections on this model are split between a side-mounted panel and a downward-facing panel on the rear. The rear panel houses the VGA connection, Ethernet socket (Wi-Fi is built-in), as well as Scart, component and composite ports -- the latter three need to be used with small adaptor cables as the chassis is too slim to accommodate full-sized sockets.
The side-mounted panel, meanwhile, houses all four of the set's HDMI ports including one that supports Audio Return Channel for routing HDMI audio to an external amp. This panel also has a Common Interface slot, two USB connectors and a composite input.
Most slimline TVs we get in for review suffer in the audio department, but despite the 55LW980's chassis only measuring 28mm deep, it actually produces very good sound. The 10W speakers and 20W subwoofer may not sound like much on paper, but in reality they can actually be pushed quite loud. They will easily fill large front rooms.
What's most surprising is that they also produce decent levels of bass, which adds a lot of extra oomph and warmth to the set's overall sound.
LG has added a few sound processing tools to the audio menu too. The first of these is its ClearVoice system. This boosts the mid-range frequencies of the sound to help dialogue stand out from the rest of the audio mix. It actually does a very good job. It's especially useful if you're watching the TV at low volume at night when others have gone to bed.
The second option is the virtual surround mode. As with most of these modes on other TVs, this one doesn't match up to a real surround sound system, but it does succeed at widening the stereo sound stage somewhat. Thankfully it manages to do this without muddying dialogue, as some of these systems do.
3D picture quality
LG's decision to opt for passive rather than active technology when it comes to 3D seems to be an increasingly clever move. Active 3D may have the benefit of delivering Full HD pictures, but active glasses are expensive, heavy and uncomfortable to wear. They can also cause eye fatigue due to the flickering that you often see on ambient light near the screen.
The passive system used on this TV does reduce the horizontal resolution of 3D pictures by half -- each eye only sees every second line -- but in reality it looks closer to two-thirds resolution due to the way our brains process visual information. If you sit close to the screen you can make out the missing lines, but from a normal viewing distance, images still look crisp. It's only really on sharp diagonal lines or circular objects that some jaggedness gives the game away.
The set's 3D images were astoundingly bright and vivid. The passive glasses doesn't dim the images as much as active ones. LG includes seven pairs of glasses with the screen and additional ones are dirt cheap to buy, so you can share the 3D experience with lots of friends and family members without having to shell out much dosh.
The images are refreshingly free of crosstalk -- the image doubling you often see on active 3D LCD and LED TVs -- and this helps to make the 3D pictures more engaging. But if you do sit at an extreme angle to the set, the 3D images start to break down into two separate images. It's best to not venture too far from a normal viewing angle.
Overall, we'd say that this is a top-notch TV for 3D, especially for if you have a larger family or want to watch 3D movies or footie matches with a bunch of mates.
2D picture quality
What's special about this set is its use of direct, local dimming backlighting, rather than the edge backlighting we see on most of today's LED models. On this TV there are 96 LED blocks positioned behind the screen that are each individually dimmable, to help it deal better with bright and dark areas of the picture.
The TV can keep the backlights on in brighter areas of the image, while dimming the backlights in darker areas to produce deeper black levels. What's more, LG has also added its Nano filter. This aims to reduce backlight pooling and striping.
In its standard preset modes, though, the local dimming does produce quite noticeable haloing when there's a bright object against a dark background. Turning off the local dimming leaves the set's black levels looking a tad weak.
The best compromise seems to be to reduce the local dimming to the low setting and then also reduce the backlight level slightly. This does darken the image, but the 55LW980 has brightness in spades, so it still looks brighter than many rival sets, and it does make the haloing effect less noticeable.
This issue aside, the TV really does deliver some astoundingly good pictures. Like many of the LG TVs we've seen this year, it does an excellent job when it comes to upscaling and de-interlacing. The result is standard-definition content like movies on DVD that look very crisp and clean. Its high brightness levels also help colours to really sing, creating lush landscapes and natural skin tones.
Dual Play gaming
Another interesting feature is the support for Dual Play gaming. This takes advantage of the polarising filter that's usually used for 3D to create two distinct full-screen images for each player.
You'll either need to wear special 3D style glasses that have the same polarising filters in both eyes to get this to work, or simply bodge together your own pairs from two of the seven pairs supplied with the set.
With these glasses you only see a single image, rather than the dual images normal 3D specs create. Thankfully you don't need specially written games to take advantage of it. Just put any game into horizontal or vertical split-screen mode and then enable the relevant mode from the set's 3D menus and you're ready to rock. Obviously the resolution of the game is reduced in this type of full-screen mode, but it's more satisfying to play.
Despite the slight issue with haloing around the backlighting and the rather high price, this is still a top-class set from LG. It looks gorgeous and produces great-looking 2D pictures with both HD and standard-definition material. Its passive 3D system is also an excellent option for families. The Internet features are top class and the Dual Play gaming is a neat feature for hardened gamers.