Despite its headline-grabbing push to be the first to ship 4K and now OLED TVs, LG isn't the first name most buyers of high-end TV seek. Its most expensive non-4K/OLED TV this year, the LA8600 series LED LCD, again struggles to make its case to those buyers.
The strengths of the LA8600 include beautiful design mated with a Smart TV feature set that's in many ways, despite the absence of Amazon Instant streaming, the best available today. It outdoes Samsung's at controlling a cable box and integrating live TV listings, and its innovative, surprisingly precise and universal Motion Controller is the best TV remote on the market. Voice control and a built-in camera? Check. Nothing major goes missing from its list of luxuries.
On the other hand most of those extras, aside from the camera, can be found on less expensive LG TVs this year, and on paper the picture quality of the LA8600 -- unlike that of Samsung's UNF8000 -- doesn't have any obvious advantages over those step-down linemates. Compared to that Samsung and other high-end TVs, or even to some midpriced LED LCDs, the LA8600's picture isn't in the same league. Better values are likely available lower on LG's totem pole, but the LA8600 offers little to justify its price.
Series information: I performed a hands-on evaluation of the 55-inch 55LA8600, but this review also applies to the 60-inch size in the series. Both have identical specs and according to the manufacturer should provide very similar picture quality.
|LG 55LA8600 (reviewed)||55 inches|
|LG 60LA8600||60 inches|
Although not as daringly seductive as the Samsung UNF8000, the LG LA8600 is still a looker. It embraces the "all-picture" trend full-force, with an ultrathin bezel just a fingernail or two thicker than Samsung's, clad in the same black-trimmed-with-silver color. The bottom of LG's bezel is thicker, and bulges around a prominent logo further highlighted by defeatable illumination.
The LA8600 sits higher above its stand than the F8000 or the Sony 900A however, making it appear less aggressively rakish. The stand itself is a distinctive curved silver "U" that projects the thin panel forward slightly for a floaty vibe. Like many design-first stands these days, it doesn't allow any swivel.
Motion control: The best TV remote yet
LG's unique Magic Motion remote takes Samsung's touchpad's place as my new favorite clicker included with a TV. It's improved from last year, with a few extra buttons including one devoted to voice control. It fits comfortably in the hand and places all keys, including the brilliant scroll wheel, within easy thumb access. The organic shape still sits naturally upright on a coffee table. It's illuminated and doesn't need to be pointed at the TV to function.
The motion control aspect, where you wave the wand to move a cursor around the screen much like a Nintendo Wii game controller, simply works. It makes for substantially quicker navigation than Samsung's touchpad and runs circles around a standard remote, especially when dealing with lots of icons on-screen at once.
Entering search terms, URLs and password info using the virtual keyboard, for example, went faster than with any input method aside from an actual physical keyboard. Control was pleasingly precise, especially when I chose the "slow" pointer speed, and I loved the scroll wheel for whizzing through long menus and my cable box's program guide. The remote makes LG's great cable box control (see below) even better, and motion control even works within select apps like Netflix, YouTube, Hulu Plus, and Skype.
My main quibble is that the "select/OK" action, the most commonly used function on any remote, is a down-press on the scroll wheel. The click is too stiff, and worse, I often scrolled accidentally when trying to simply click. It's not a deal breaker, but I did find it annoying on a regular basis. Another annoyance is that the cursor seemed to disappear too frequently, necessitating a button-press or vigorous shake to bring back up.
And yes, like Samsung's button-light 2013 touchpad remote, LG's motion wand skips numerous major controls. The biggest missing link for frequent DVR users is transport control (Play, Pause, Rewind, Fast-forward, etc.). To use those functions you'll have to call up a virtual remote. Using it is much easier than with Samsung's system, however, because highlighting and selecting a key using motion is a relative cinch. There were still issues, however, one being the tendency of the virtual remote to disappear quickly when not in use -- inconvenient and frustrating when you want to stop the DVR from fast-forwarding, for example. I also missed having a dedicated "Input" key; changing sources again requires calling up the virtual remote.
In the end, lack of transport controls is still a deal killer for me. I'd much rather use a good universal clicker, and since having more than one remote is anathema, I'd likely leave LG's remote in the drawer. But if you make less frequent use of the DVR, or have a simple setup that doesn't require a universal clicker, the coolness of LG's motion control might be worth the downsides.
|Display technology||LCD||LED backlight||Edge-lit with local dimming|
|Smart TV||Yes||Internet connection||Built-in Wi-Fi|
|3D technology||Passive||3D glasses included||Four pairs|
|Refresh rate(s)||240Hz||Dejudder (smooth) processing||Yes|
LG's highest-end non-4K OLED TV for 2013 comes gills-filled with extras. From a picture quality standpoint, however, there isn't much separating it from the company's 2013 step-down models.
One highlight is local dimming for its edge-lit LED-based LCD screen, a feature known in LG speak as "LED Plus." The same feature also available in models as mainstream-priced as the LA6900 series. Looking at the other chief picture quality differentiator, the LA8600 gets a true 240Hz refresh rate, according to the company. So does the LA7400 series. Judging from the specifications, there's no reason to think the 8600 has significantly better picture quality overall than either of those sets.
The 7400 and 8600 also share the same non-picture-affecting features for the most part, including identical Smart TV suites, voice control, and dual-core processors. Passive 3D is onboard too, along with LG's standard four pairs of 3D glasses -- plenty for most families, but half as many as households that purchase Vizio's M series.
The LA8600's biggest extra over from LG's other sets is its built-in camera. A manual slider allows it to pop up above the TV or back down when not in use. Unlike Samsung the company didn't yet implement gesture control (despite what we saw at CES) or facial recognition, which isn't a terrible omission considering how borderline-useless those functions are. The only real use for the LG's camera is Skype, and of course people who purchase a less expensive Skype-compatible LG TV are free to add LG's $99 camera/speakerphone.
Smart TV: LG didn't completely redesign its Smart TV interface for 2013, but it did add some improvements. The most ambitious is a system called On Now, integrating cable box control with a robust browse/search/suggestion engine that incorporates shows from your cable or satellite provider as well as traditional on-demand sources like Netflix. In most ways the system is even better than Samsung's own similar "On TV" offering.
The main Smart TV interface is pretty busy and icon-heavy, although I didn't mind much since the layout is clear enough and navigation via the motion remote is a cinch. A row of function shortcuts and apps lines the bottom below a series of "cards," three of which appear on the screen at once. The first card has an inset window showing a live view of what's playing on the current input, set above an equal-sized ad. Hey, at least there are no banner ads.
The next card shows "premium" services, which by default include Netflix, Hulu Plus, YouTube, MLB TV and other heavy hitters. LG's app selection lags a step behind Panasonic and two behind Samsung, lacking both Amazon Instant Video and HBO Go. Aside from the addition of Pandora and Crackle, the selection of available big-name apps is the same as last year's.
The remainder of the cards available by default includes On Now (see below), My Interests (with weather and news in up to three categories), Smart Share (access to mobile devices, DLNA and USB media), 3D World (LG's proprietary, relatively robust on-demand 3D app), Smart World and Game World (apps). You can re-order the cards and create a custom one from the bottom row of shortcuts and installed apps (which can itself be re-ordered too). You can't delete any, however, and you can't disturb the order of Premium or the inset window/ad. In all the interface is a nice balance of customizability, form and function--better than Panasonic's in my opinion, but not quite as good as Samsung's.
Speaking of Samsung (and, er, speaking), I didn't perform extensive testing of either company's voice control features. I'll have that for a follow-up, if enough readers seem to care.
On Now browse and universal search: Somewhat buried among all of those icons is a pair labeled On Now and Search. Hitting the former calls up a list of shows now playing on your current cable or satellite provider, complete with thumbnails and an indicator bar of time elapsed. You can quickly filter by popularity (the default), Genre, HD or SD, "For you" (with the system's recommendations) and Favorites (which didn't work for me, but supposedly calls up shows related to what's on the current channel), and a flick of the scroll wheel calls up many more choices for easy browsing. There's also a "More" command that calls up a full page of thumbnails.
The system provides a great alternative to browsing your cable box's electronic program guide. The icons for TV shows are a lot more pleasing to look at, and the ability to quickly scroll through numerous choices, especially on the full-page version, reminded me of the great browsing experience Netflix provides -- except it's for live TV. I much preferred it to Samsung's On TV system because it surfaces so many more options at once, and the extensive manual filters gave me much more control -- something I prefer to relying on nebulous "recommendations."
As good as it is for browsing live TV, I personally wouldn't normally use On Now to select my shows since most of the TV I watch is stored on my DVR's hard drive. That list of recordings isn't incorporated into On Now at all, so it has no idea which of them I watch and can't make suggestions based upon them. For people like me, who almost never watch live TV, LG's system will be much less useful. Even browse-happy users will find drawbacks--for example, the system has no idea whether you subscribe to previous channels or not, so it just surfaces everything, and it doesn't remember preferences (for example, I'd like to have it default to show HD channels only).
On Now also has a tab called "Catch Up TV," which lets you browse on-demand video from Netflix, Vudu, and CinemaNow. It works OK as a universal browser, but can be frustrating especially since it doesn't hit other services (like catch-up TV stalwart Hulu Plus) and doesn't tell you whether you'll have to pay until you access the episode itself by hitting "watch."
If you know what you want to watch, LG's universal search is a nice alternative. Hitting the the ubiquitous magnifying glass calls up a search field that hits live TV, YouTube, the Web, and the three Catch Up TV apps. You can either type search terms into the box or use voice search. There were still some SNAFUs -- for example, a search of "Louis" didn't find the series, which is on Netflix, but did strangely hit a lot of "adult-only" titles, apparently from an app I didn't have access to -- but it worked as well as search on any TV I've tested.
Cable box control: Although LG isn't perfect in this area, it's still the best example of cable box control I've tested on any TV. Initial setup is relatively simple, requiring you to enter your cable provider, set-top manufacturer, ZIP code, and so on, and took me less than five minutes.
Instead of the kludgy wired dongle employed by Samsung, LG's TV simply blasts the infrared control signals around the living room -- the same method we loved on the Logitech Revue and employed by the upcoming Xbox One. Although the setup routine tells you to keep the box no more than a meter from the TV, it worked well in my testing at roughly three times that distance.
As mentioned above, the majority of commands call for a virtual onscreen remote -- a pain to use compared with buttons, but eased somewhat by motion control. The virtual keys for Guide, DVR and Menu all called up the requisite screens on my Fios DVR, and I especially appreciated that the scroll wheel jumped quickly through the EPG. Again, the main weakness for DVR control is lack of dedicated keys for transport functions.
LG's system also allows you to set up control over a Blu-ray/DVD player, as well as a soundbar or home theater system. It didn't go as well as it did with my Fios DVR. When I set up my Oppo DVD player many of the commands didn't seem to register, making control impossible. I also tried setting up Denon AV receiver as a "home theater system" and the TV didn't seem to have the remote codes to control it. I didn't test any sound bars, although since they're much simpler I'd expect better results.
These issues underscore the LG's disadvantage compared with a traditional universal remote -- the system is only as good as the devices (specifically, the IR codes to control those devices) it supports. Like Samsung, the LG TV can't "learn" additional commands, so if your component isn't fully supported, there isn't much you can do. Sure my Motorola Fios DVR happened to enjoy full support, but I wouldn't be surprised to learn of another DVR that doesn't.
Web browser: Although better than other TV-based browsers I've used, the one on the 2013 LG isn't quite as good as Samsung's. Compared with the Samsung UNF8000, the LG LA8600 loaded Web pages about as quickly, but navigating them was somewhat more awkward.
The scroll wheel was too jumpy and unpredictable compared to the scrolling action on Samsung's touchpad, and worse, the motion control cursor seemed to disappear frequently and inexplicably, making it impossible to do anything on the page until it came back (after a vigorous shake or four, or a button press). Typing with the onscreen keyboard was once again better with LG, but in total, Samsung's browser is more polished. Like Samsung's LG's browser also passed this Flash support test.
Of course, you'll experience even less frustration if you connect an external wireless keyboard. I was able to use a cheap wireless USB keyboard, the Logitech K400, and its touchpad worked well for navigation.
Picture settings: LG offers its usual scads of picture adjustments, with two Expert modes in addition to numerous other adjustable presets. The 20-point grayscale adjustment is overkill in my opinion (I prefer 10 points) and didn't work well in testing. While the color management system worked OK, it wasn't as accurate as some I've seen. Full control of picture options is available for streaming-video sources.
Connectivity: The jack pack is standard, with four HDMI and three USB ports. You'll have to choose between a single component or composite video source, available via breakout cable, since they share the same audio input. As usual there's no VGA-style PC input.
Although it delivers somewhat better picture quality overall than last year's LG sets, the flagship LA8600 doesn't really come close to matching the best-of-breed 2013 examples from Sony and Samsung, and also falls short of Vizio's much less expensive M series. Its main weakness compared with those sets is lighter black levels, and it also couldn't match the uniformity or bright-room performance of their screens. On the plus side of the ledger the LA8600 showed accurate color and very good video processing, as well as the expected benefits (and issues) of passive 3D.
Click the image at the right to see the picture settings used in the review and to read more about how this TV's picture controls worked during calibration.
|Samsung UN55F8000||55-inch LED LCD|
|Sony KDL-55W900A||55-inch LED LCD|
|Panasonic TC-L55WT60||55-inch LED LCD|
|Vizio M551d-A2R||55-inch LED LCD|
|LG 47LM7600||47-inch LED LCD|
|Panasonic TC-P60VT60||60-inch plasma|
Black level: Aside from last year's LG LM7600, the LM8600 delivered the lightest, least realistic shade of black in our lineup. The Samsung, the Sony, and the Panasonic VT60 were all significantly better in this important performance category, and the WT60 and Vizio both also managed to get consistently darker as well.
As Bond creeps through the building at night for example ("Skyfall," Chapter 11), the 8600's rendition of the silhouettes, the deepest shadows and, most tellingly, the letterbox bars, lacked the inky depth of the better sets. The darker the overall scene, the more the LG struggled to keep up with the others, but even when bright elements like the neon at 47:15 were introduced, the LG's bars still appeared a good deal lighter than any of the others except for the LM7600.
Blooming is an artifact of local dimming where a relatively bright section of screen artificially brightens up an adjacent dark section. While the LA8600 didn't show as much blooming as the WT60 it was still a worse bloomer than the others. In Chapter 14, as Bond's boat passes the night-lit dragon under the fireworks, I noticed a relatively bright patch illuminate the top bar as the dimming system kicked in. At least the LG didn't dim highlights as much as the WT60 and, to a lesser extent, the Vizio M series.
Shadow detail was a relative strength, on the other hand, although not up to the Samsung, Sony or the VT60 plasma. The face and jacket of the doomed sniper (49:45), as well as Bond's shadowy stroll the dim Macau bar (56:29) were both rendered in with plenty of detail, neither too dark nor too bright. Shadows didn't look as realistic overall as on the sets with deeper black levels, however.
Color accuracy: LG has few problems in this area, exhibiting more accurate color than any of the others aside from the Sony, the Samsung, and the VT60. Skin tones, from Bond's craggy visage to the darker face of Eve in the brightly lit market chase from Chapter 1, has a natural color that was neither too warm nor too cool, and color stayed consistent regardless of the brightness of the scene. In darker scenes the 8600 avoided the reddish tinge found on the Vizio, for example in Bond and Severine's face from the Macau bar in Chapter 14.
Compared to the sets with deeper black levels, colors on the 8600 didn't show quite the same punch or saturation overall. The exception was the WT60, which did appear a bit more washed-out in brighter scenes, for example the faces of the Bond and his contact at the museum (Chapter 10).
The LG's only major downside in this category was a direct result of lighter black levels: black and near-black areas, like the letterbox bars, showed a bluish tinge. The other non-LG LEDs, as well as the plasma, showed a truer shade of black.
Video processing: While not quite the equal of the Samsung in this category, the 8600 nonetheless performed nicely. Of paramount importance was its ability to deliver true 1080p/24 film cadence without sacrificing all of the motion resolution benefits of a high refresh rate. It achieved this result in the User setting under TruMotion, with De-judder set at 0 and De-blur at 10. It also showed correct cadence in the Off position, but that setting showed a marked decrease in motion resolution.
Aside from Off and User, all of the TruMotion settings delivered around 600 lines of motion resolution, consistent with a typical 120Hz TV. The exception was Clear Plus, a mode that introduces backlight scanning to hit the 1,200-line maximum I expect from the 240Hz TVs of today. The Smooth, Clear Plus, and Clear settings introduce the smoothing Soap Opera Effect to a greater or lesser extent.
Unlike previous years, LG's User dejudder setting is nicely incremental -- higher settings introduce progressively more smoothing in a linear fairly gradual way, so you can tune it how you like it. I still preferred the 0 setting, while 1 and 2 seemed to introduce 2:3 pull-down's halting cadence, but 3 was a nice compromise and might even be preferable to 0 for some smoothing-averse viewers.
Input lag in Game mode measured a respectable 51ms. I've heard that some LG TVs can achieve better lag scores if you rename one of their inputs "PC," but in the 8600's case that didn't help; I measured 65.7 in that setting.
Uniformity: Although not terrible, the screen on my LA8600 review sample did show more uniformity issues than the other LED LCDs in our lineup (aside from the other LG). Along the top edge, right in the middle, a relatively brighter area was visible in the letterbox bars, and as noted above its brightness fluctuated noticeably with program material. In some very dark scenes the upper-right and lower-left corner areas appeared lighter too.
That said none of these bright areas were severely distracting to my eye, although as always different review samples might show more or fewer hot spots. As usual the issues became much more visible when I switched off local dimming, although they weren't as bad as what I saw when I turned off the Samsung's dimming.
The LG maintained color fidelity from off-angle better than the Sony and Samsung, which got washed out and paler more quickly, but on the other hand it also lost black-level fidelity quicker--so overall, off-angle was basically a wash (so to speak) between the high-end LED sets. As expected the Vizio and Panasonic performed about the same as the LA8600 when seen from off-angle, and the plasma was the best in the lineup.
Bright lighting: Under the lights the LA8600's mostly glossy screen does little to curb reflections, which appeared a bit dimmer (better) than on the Samsung and Sony, and quite a bit dimmer than on the WT60, but not as nicely muted as on the other LG or the VT60 plasma, let alone a true matte LED LCD (as for the Vizio, it appears to have the same screen finish as the LA8600). On the other hand the Samsung and Sony preserved black level fidelity a bit better than the LGs, the Vizio and the plasma under the lights, and as a result I liked their bright-room picture better overall by a nose.
In the "torch" mode picture setting that delivers the most light output, which in LG's case is the Vivid setting, I measured 92 fL (footlamberts). That's not quite as bright as the Samsung (127), the WT60 (123) or the Sony (107), although it is significantly brighter than the VT60 (49) if not the plasma light output champion, Samsung's F8500 (83). The LEDs also maintain that light output with full-screen white (think hockey or a browser screen), while the plasmas attenuate. To put the numbers in some perspective, however, the VT60's maximum of 49 is bright enough for the vast majority of normal living rooms. But as usual, if you can't control ambient light and have a very bright room, or just prefer a witheringly bright TV image, an LED like the LA8600 is a better bet than most plasmas.
Sound quality: The LA8600 delivered more bass than the others in the lineup with the possible exception of the VT60, but that's a blessing and a curse. Watching the bridge scene from "Mission: Impossible 3" it lent Ving Rhames' voice and some of the explosions a bit more oomph, although the shattering glass of the car windows wasn't as distinct as on the Samsung or the VT60. With music, specifically Nick Cave's "Red Right Hand," the bass was muddy and overwhelming even at low volume levels, distorting the sound and making it seem much less precise and present than any of the other sets. All told the LA8600 was somewhere in the middle of the audio pack, better to my ear than the extrathin Sony and WT60, but not as competent overall as the VT60 or the Samsung.
Note that due to a technical issue, I was unable to test the audio of the Vizio in this lineup, although based on Ty Pendlebury's writeup, the LG is likely a somewhat worse performer for sound quality.
3D: The LA8600 performed about the same as other passive 3D sets I've tested, with a bright image and basically no visible crosstalk (yay!) balanced by visible line structure and some jagged edge artifacts (boo!).
The latter two showed up in "Hugo" when viewed from about 8 feet, where I saw the same jagged edges and moving lines as on the also-passive Vizio, WT60 and LM7600 (the latter to a less-visible extent since its screen is smaller). Line structure in the most noticeable areas -- the edge of Hugo's face (13:33) and that of Isabel's (17:06) -- was visible but difficult to discern. More noticeable were the rare instances of moving lines, typically when the camera moved over a scene that contained a horizontal edge at a shallow angle, like the bowler hat of Uncle Claude (22:41) and the edge of a low wall outside the station (22:05). I could also easily discern line structure in high-contrast graphical elements, for example the PS3's menu icons and layover displays. None of the active sets showed these artifacts.
On the other hand all of them, including my active 3D reference UNF8000, showed more crosstalk than any of the passive displays including the LA8600. Those ghostly double images were absent from even the toughest objects, like Hugo's hand as it reached for the mouse (5:01) and the tuning pegs on the guitar (7:49).
I don't calibrate for 3D so I based my observations of black level and color on the best preset, which was Cinema in this case. The LA8600 delivered accurate-looking color by default, equaling the best sets in the room, but its black levels aren't as deep as the active sets', or even the Vizio's, robbing it of some punch. Light output was a strength, making up somewhat compared with the dimmer-seeming active 3D sets, but overall in our dark room the active sets still showed better contrast.
The weight difference isn't as extreme as it used to be between passive and active 3D glasses, but LG's feather-light specs were still a bit more comfortable than any of the active specs, especially Samsung's. I preferred the passive LG specs to those from Vizio and Panasonic; they fit better than the former and didn't have the overly small lenses and internal reflections of the latter. Yeah, they seem flimsy, but that's much less of an issue when they can be inexpensively replaced.
|GEEK BOX: Test||Result||Score|
|Black luminance (0%)||0.005||Good|
|Avg. gamma (10-100%)||2.28||Good|
|Avg. grayscale error (10-100%)||0.797||Good|
|Dark gray error (20%)||0.747||Good|
|Bright gray error (70%)||0.828||Good|
|Avg. color error||1.704||Good|
|1080p/24 Cadence (IAL)||Pass||Good|
|1080i De-interlacing (film)||Pass||Good|
|Motion resolution (max)||1200||Good|
|Motion resolution (dejudder off)||600||Average|
|Input lag (Game mode)||51.27||Average|