LG 55LW9800 - 55 Class ( 54.6 viewable ) LED-backlit LCD TV
As we describe in detail in our explanation of the confusing world of LED backlight configurations, our favorite variety is known as (deep breath) "full-array with local dimming." Unfortunately, it's exceedingly expensive to implement, at least to judge from the sticker prices of the only currently shipping 2011 HDTVs to offer this feature: Sony's XBR-HX929, Sharp's Elites, and the LG 55LW9800 reviewed here. The LG is unique among the three as the only one with passive 3D TV capability--combining local dimming with the brightness, crosstalk, and practicality advantages of polarized 3D glasses. If you want passive 3D and have money to burn, this 55-inch model (it's not available in any other size) seems appealing on paper. In person, however, despite myriad settings and our best attempt to calibrate them, it fails to fulfill those high expectations.
|Panel depth||1 inch||Bezel width||1 inch|
|Single-plane face||Yes||Swivel stand||Yes|
Although graced with a single-pane face--meaning the bezel and the screen are fronted by one sheet of plastic--a transparent-edged frame, and a relatively thin bezel, the LG LW9800 ultimately isn't as stylish as competing TVs like Sony's monolithic XBR-HX929 or Samsung's stunning, all-picture UND8000. It's still plenty sleek, however, from the glass-topped stand to the top of its thin, jewel-like panel. In fact it's as thin as many edge-lit LEDs, and thinner than the next-thinnest full-array model we've tested, the HX929, by half an inch.
|Remote size (LxW)||9.2x1.8 inches||QWERTY keyboard||No|
|Illuminated keys||35||IR device control||No|
|Menu item explanations||No||Onscreen manual||No|
LG redesigned its menu system on the 2011 Smart TV-capable models to emphasize the applications and streaming services over things like picture and audio settings. It also extended the functionality of its secondary Magic Motion remote--which acts like the controller on a Nintendo Wii to enable you to make menu selections by motion control, rather than clicking the box with your thumb--to work on every screen in the system. Both changes are improvements, and help make the 2011 LG menus among the best of any TV.
Like Sony's, LG's remotes have a central Home button but no Menu key to lead directly to the TV's picture and sound settings. The Home page consists of a live TV window with links to various services and features of the TV. The page's proportions feel right, and we liked the big icons, especially since they made using the motion controller easier.
We called the wandlike motion controller a gimmick last year, but now that it can be used seamlessly across all menus and nearly every app, many of which seem designed with motion control in mind, it's much more appealing. (Netflix is the only exception we found that didn't work with motion control, although the wand's cursor buttons still work.) Sure, some things could be better--we wish the wand had a dedicated Return/Back button, response times occasionally lagged a bit, and on occasion we had to give the wand a vigorous shake to get our cursor to return--but it was sometimes easier and faster than using the standard remote, especially after we changed pointer settings in the Settings>Options menu to Speed: Fast and Alignment: On.
Since the wand is radio-controlled, it doesn't require a clear line of sight to the TV. Another bonus is drag and drop, which we used to customize menus where available, drag a map in the Google Maps app, and easily scroll down an AP news story by dragging a scroll bar, for example. Waving the wand at the screen to navigate menus and apps will take some getting used to for motion control novices, but it's a cool option to have. The biggest downside is the extra remote on your coffee table--at least until Logitech incorporates motion control into its Harmony remotes.
|Display technology||LCD||LED backlight||Full-array with local dimming|
|3D technology||Passive||3D glasses included||4 pairs|
|Screen finish||Glossy||Internet connection||built-in Wi-Fi|
|Refresh rate(s)||480Hz||Dejudder (smooth) processing||Yes|
LG's flagship LCD TV costs so much partly because it uses a full-array local-dimming LED backlight. LG is the only maker to disclose the number of dimmable zones it uses: 216 in this case. The backlight's Nano nomenclature refers to the LEDs being part of a "thin film" that provides a "more uniform light distribution." Given the uniformity problems with the 2010 LG local dimmers that improvement was necessary.
The LW9800 also uses LG's passive 3D technology, known as "film pattern retarder" (FPR). A polarizing film coating the TV screen allows each eye, when wearing special glasses, to view every other line to create the two images necessary for the 3D illusion.
LG, along with Vizio, is currently engaged in a marketing battle with the purveyors of active 3D TVs, namely Samsung, Panasonic, and Sony. Both types of 3D TV can handle any of the new 3D formats used by Blu-ray, TV broadcasts, and video games, and both require viewers to don 3D glasses, but each has its advantages and disadvantages. See our 3D TV buying guide for general information on active versus passive 3D, and the performance section of this review for more on the LW9800's 3D picture quality.
The biggest market advantage of passive 3D is inexpensive glasses. LG packs four pairs of passive specs in with the LW9800, and additional pairs cost $10 to $20. Less expensive compatible circular polarized glasses are available from online merchants, and if you happen to own a pair of the type of passive 3D glasses used in your local theater, they should work too.
LG includes built-in Wi-Fi on the LW9800, meaning you can use a wireless connection with this TV without paying an extra $80 for a dongle or occupying a USB slot. The dongle worked well in our tests. LG also offers an external LG Wireless Media Box option (which we didn't test) designed to enable you to connect HDMI and other gear wirelessly if your installation calls for that.
|Amazon Instant||Yes||Hulu Plus||Yes|
On Blu-ray players we dubbed LG's Smart TV our favorite suite of streaming services and apps, with Panasonic's Viera Cast a close second. For TVs we like Viera Connect (a more mature version of the simpler Cast) a bit better than LG's service and both are slightly superior to Samsung's cluttered, albeit more content-rich, version of Smart TV.
Despite the ill-chosen "Premium" heading, you won't have to pay for any of the streaming services beyond subscription or pay-per-view fees. The selection is superb, although it doesn't include Pandora, a staple available on most other TVs.
We appreciated that LG's Premium services are almost all excellent. Separating the wheat from the chaff is often difficult, and we prefer to have a few apps and services that work well and offer satisfying content rather than lots of useless ones.
Speaking of chaff, the selection in LG's app store is anemic at the moment, far outpaced by Samsung's offerings and, to a lesser extent, Panasonic's. That said, the number of apps has increased from 14 to 38 since we reviewed the LG 47LW5600 in late June, and new additions include Fandango (no ticket sales, just lame trailers for now), 3D Zone (even lamer 3D video clips), a Social Center (Twitter/Facebook), and K-Zone (Korean music). We did like the star rating system, especially since the plethora of negative ratings signaled it was legitimate. We didn't like the cramped layout of the app store, however, and we're a bit mystified as to why some Apps (like the excellent HomeCast podcast aggregator) aren't Premium.
Like Samsung, LG offers video search and a Web browser. Search accesses just CinemaNow, YouTube, Amazon Instant, and some podcasts, as far as we could tell, making it relatively useless. The LW9800's browser, on the other hand, was faster and generally better than the one on the D8000 Samsungs we reviewed, although it was still worse than Google TV's (as usual it doesn't support Flash, so no Hulu.com). We liked using the motion remote to navigate, but really didn't like using it to enter text for searching or direct URL access.
|Adjustable picture modes||5||Fine dejudder control||Yes|
|Color temperature presets||3||Fine color temperature control||10 points|
|Gamma presets||3||Color management system||Yes|
LG is always among the best in this department, and we loved having two Expert modes with the full plethora of adjustments--although we prefer the color management system used by Samsung. LG's picture setting menus, while extensive, are also annoying to navigate since they require so much scrolling during adjustment, and the motion remote isn't any help here.
There are two THX modes for 2D and one for 3D--the LW9800 is the first passive TV to have achieved THX's 3D display certification. Unfortunately, unlike THX on Panasonic TVs, you can't adjust these modes on the LG beyond local dimming and dejudder.
We appreciated that four modes' worth of adjustable picture controls, including dejudder and simulated 3D options, were available for the major services we tested (Netflix, Vudu, and Amazon Instant--the last sans 3D). The Expert modes were not, however.
|HDMI inputs||4||Component video inputs||2|
|Composite video input(s)||2||VGA-style PC input(s)||1|
|USB port||2||Ethernet (LAN) port||Yes|
Unlike Samsung and Panasonic LG blesses its slim TVs with a set of honest-to-goodness multicolored RCA jacks that don't require breakout cables (although the second component/composite input does). We also appreciate the headphone jack that's become increasingly rare on today's TVs.
We expected better picture quality than we got from LG's "Nano" 55LW9800, especially given the excellent performance of the LX9500 and LE8500, this TV's 2010 predecessors. The main problem involved black levels, which were too light in the one local dimming setting (Low) that didn't necessitate major sacrifices in other areas, particularly gamma, shadow detail, and blooming. The LW9800 did evince improved uniformity compared with the two 2010 LG local dimmers, as well as excellent color, but overall its 2D picture fell short of the best 2011 LEDs, including the Sony XBR-HX929 and Sony KDL-55NX720.
As expected, the THX Cinema mode came closest to our ideal picture settings out of the box. Most of its settings were superb, aside from a grayscale that was distinctly minus-blue. We used the Expert settings to make improvements during calibration and, as long as we kept the Local Dimming setting to Low, they worked well, delivering a smooth gamma and excellent color.
Choosing Medium or High did improve black levels in very dark scenes, but sacrificed gamma and shadow detail to a large extent. In an attempt to improve gamma while trying to calibrate these modes, we found ourselves playing in the extreme ranges of the TV's Expert controls, which may have contributed to the loss in color fidelity we saw. Perhaps with more time we could have achieved a calibration that took advantage of the deeper blacks of those settings, and we wouldn't surprised if an enterprising professional calibrator could make them work better than we could. In the end, for this review we settled on Low.
For LW9800 owners who want to see how High and Medium look, we'd recommend choosing those settings from within the THX Cinema preset--that's how we performed the evaluation described below. It's worth noting that the default setting for THX Cinema is Low mode.
For our image quality tests we spun up our copy of "The Green Hornet" on Blu-ray and compared the LG with the lineup below.
|LG 47LX9500||47-inch full-array local dimming LED|
|Vizio XVT553SV||55-inch full-array local dimming LED|
|Panasonic TC-P55VT30||55-inch plasma|
|Samsung PN59D8000||59-inch plasma|
|Sony XBR-HX929||55-inch full-array local dimming LED|
|Sony KDL-55NX720||55-inch edge-lit local dimming LED|
|Pioneer PRO-111FD (reference)||50-inch plasma|
Black level: While solid in Low mode, the black levels of the LG LW9800 were visibly brighter than on the other high-end TVs in our lineup. The difference between the LG and the others was most obvious in dark scenes, for example in the shadows and the letterbox bar as Britt and Kato sit in the car (23:14)--the Vizio, the Sony NX720, and the non-Kuro plasmas were visibly darker, while the Sony HX929, the 2010 LG LX9500, and the Kuro looked darker still.
We also noticed a bit more blooming, an artifact unique to local dimming displays in which stray illumination brightens adjacent darker areas, on the LW9800 than on the Sonys, the Vizio, or the LX9500. One example came during the slow camera movement over the darkened limo in the garage (21:56), where the chrome and bright reflections brightened the letterbox bars and black paint of the car more than on the others. In its favor, the LW9800 did handle detail in shadows quite well as long as we kept local dimming in Low mode.
For comparison's sake we checked out High and Medium modes. Black levels improved quite a bit in the darkest scenes, matching the HX929 and the Kuro, but at the expense of even more blooming, especially in mixed scenes. A shot of The Standard hotel at night (7:51), for example, showed blooming significant enough to make the night sky and bars actually appear lighter than on any of the other sets, negating the settings' improvement in black levels.
High and Medium had other problems too: loss of shadow detail as well as too-dark highlights and shadows (both symptoms of dark gamma). At 23:14, the faces of Britt and Kato appeared quite a bit darker than on the other displays, and details like the black of Britt's felt hat were obscured in deeper shadows. Even medium-bright areas in dark scenes, like the facade of the mansion in the night, looked too dark, robbing the whole scene of contrast. The loss of shadow detail also extended to dark areas in brighter scenes, like the too-murky leather jacket and outfit at 34:04. The other local-dimmer TVs showed none of these issues.
Color accuracy: After calibration LG displayed excellent color, outdoing the other sets with the exception of the PND8000 and the LX9500. The faces of Britt and his bedmate in the morning light (11:09) maintained a neutral look, without the slightly bluer cast of the Sonys, the green we saw on the Panasonic plasma, or the red of the LW9800's own default THX. The green of the mansion grass and the red roses appeared accurate and well-saturated, albeit not as rich as on most of the other displays.
Our biggest complaint in this category was the LW9800's tendency toward blue in extremely dark areas, an issue that was more obvious on this set (thanks to its lighter black levels) than on the Sonys and even the Vizio.
Video processing: The LW9800 is capable of delivering correct 1080p/24 cadence if you disable dejudder (TruMotion) and engage the Real Cinema setting. Doing so causes the TV's motion resolution measurement to drop significantly (see the chart below), but, as usual, regardless of the difference we measured in our test, we didn't notice any difference in program material.
We tried using the Custom dejudder mode to achieve full motion resolution without smoothing, by setting De-judder to 0 and De-blur to 10, but we still saw some smoothing. For that reason we recommend keeping the LW9800 in TruMotion: Off mode if you don't want to see smoothing.
Uniformity: Unlike last year's LX9500, the LW9800 didn't show the vertical banding we saw on some areas, in scenes like the pan down the building (14:13) or the slow-mo face of Kato as he spies Britt's attacker (47:00). We did see some minor horizontal brightness variations, for example when the camera pans follows the motorcycle up the driveway (16:21), but they weren't more distracting than similar variations we saw on the other LCDs.
Backlight uniformity across the screen was solid, if not quite as good as on the other full-array LEDs. We noticed some darkness around the edges of the image with raster test patterns that filled the screen, but more noticeable was the slight light leakage along the bottom of our review sample, which showed up (albeit very faintly) in the letterbox bars.
Seen from off-angle the LW9800's black levels became washed out relatively quickly and blooming became much worse than when the image was seen from straight on. It was about the same as most of the other LEDs in this regard, although the washout was subjectively less noticeable since its black levels were lighter to begin with. Notably, the LX9800 performed worse than the LX9500 from last year in this area.
Bright lighting: Unfortunately LG didn't change the screen finish of the LW9800, which handles ambient light worse than just about any TV we've tested. Under lights the image appeared washed out--meaning the LG did a bad job of preserving black levels--and showed the brightest reflections of any TV in our lineup.
3D: The LW9800 performed about as well overall as the other passive LG and Toshiba we tested. On one hand it was plagued by the line structure and jagged edges we've come to associate with the current generation of passive 3D TVs, but on the other it did have a brighter picture and less crosstalk than the active 3D models. In general we still preferred the best active 3D sets--namely the Samsung and Panasonic plasmas and the Samsung UND8000 LED--to the LG LW9800's passive variety.
For our 3D test we subbed in the Samsung UN55D8000 and watched the 3D version of "The Green Hornet." As usual we didn't calibrate any of the TVs, instead relying on the default Cinema/Theater--or THX, if available--modes for each.
Line structure was the first artifact we noticed. From our 8-foot seating distance, which we consider just about perfect for a 55-inch TV, the thin horizontal black lines across the screen were just far enough to blend away in most scenes. When we leaned forward a bit we saw them again, however, especially in areas like flat fields like the sky above the statue at the funeral and the white shirts of the mourners (13:18).
The more objectionable artifacts usually occurred along the edges of objects, and we couldn't help but notice them quite frequently from 8 feet and even farther in many cases. When Britt got into the limo after the funeral, for example, we saw the uneven edges along Chudnofsky's suit (13:38) and even more noticeably on the edge of the sunlit seat in the background behind Britt (13:47). As the camera tilted slightly we saw the telltale crawling effect along the reflected light of the background window frame as well (14:05). Jaggies were also evident in some still shots with diagonal lines, such as the inward-facing windows of the publisher's office (14:49). The rim of the ubiquitous coffee cup (15:33 among others) also showed jaggies.
Sitting far enough from the screen so you don't notice these issues is one remedy, but it also takes away from the immersive nature of home theater. None of the active models showed these kinds of blemishes.
In its favor, the LW9800 showed minimal crosstalk. Difficult areas like the pillars in the bedroom (10:48) and outside the estate (12:20) were virtually free of the ghostly doubling on the LW9800, while we saw traces of it on all of the other sets, even the superb-at-3D UND8000. That said, crosstalk wasn't a major issue on the other sets in our 3D lineup either.
Color and shadow detail were both very good on the LW9800 in THX 3D mode, and black levels were comparable to 3D on the other sets. As with 2D there are no adjustments available to the LG's THX 3D mode, although the two Expert modes do make all controls available in case you want to calibrate for 3D.
Power consumption: While not a power hog by any means, the LG 55LW9800 did use more power than some of its brethren.
|Black luminance (0%)||0.0108||Average|
|Near-black x/y (5%)||0.3023/0.3103||Average|
|Dark gray x/y (20%)||0.3127/0.3275||Good|
|Bright gray x/y (70%)||0.3125/0.3289||Good|
|Before avg. color temp.||5910||Poor|
|After avg. color temp.||6482||Good|
|Red lum. error (de94_L)||1.1458||Good|
|Green lum. error (de94_L)||0.6314||Good|
|Blue lum. error (de94_L)||1.0093||Good|
|Cyan hue x/y||0.2312/0.33||Good|
|Magenta hue x/y||0.3178/0.1452||Average|
|Yellow hue x/y||0.4198/0.5134||Good|
|1080p/24 Cadence (IAL)||Pass||Good|
|1080i Deinterlacing (film)||Pass||Good|
|Motion resolution (max)||1,200||Good|
|Motion resolution (dejudder off)||400||Poor|
|LG 55LW9800||Picture settings|
|Picture on (watts)||129.57||89.636||52.303|
|Picture on (watts/sq. inch)||0.1||0.07||0.04|
|Cost per year||$28.45||$19.70||$11.52|
|Score (considering size)||Good|
LG 55LW9800 CNET review calibration results