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LG PG30 review: LG PG30

LG PG30

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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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9 min read

As LG's least expensive 1080p resolution plasma, the LG50PG30 competes squarely against models such as the Samsung PN50A550 and the Panasonic TH-50PZ85U. Its specification sheet matches up well against those models, and its many picture controls, understated styling and generally solid feature set all point in the right direction. It misses out on the more important picture quality points, however, evincing lighter black levels than the Panasonic and less accurate color, despite all of those controls, than the Samsung. It handles standard-definition sources well, however, and if you like the styling, insist on 1080p resolution and don't mind a couple picture quality issues, it's still worthy of consideration.

6.9

LG PG30

The Good

Relatively accurate color temperature after calibration; solid standard-definition processing; numerous picture controls; sleek, attractive styling with hidden speakers; plenty of connectivity with three HDMI and one PC input.

The Bad

Reproduces a lighter shade of black; less accurate primary colors and color decoding; softer images with PC sources.

The Bottom Line

While blessed with a stylish, understated look and plenty of features, the LG 50PG30's picture quality falls a bit short of other 1080p plasma TVs.

Design
LG's plasmas have an understated appearance that we've come to appreciate, and the 50PG30 is a great example. It looks almost exactly like the 50PG20 we reviewed earlier, with a glossy black frame that's relatively thin for a 50-inch plasma. The frame has sleekly rounded corners and the bottom angles back to provide a mild visual accent, while speakers are concealed under the bottom of the cabinet and face straight down. The only interruption of the gloss comes courtesy of an LED power indicator near the silver, rounded power button, and the LG logo itself.

Including the matching, pedestal swivel stand, LG's 50PG30 50-inch plasma measures 48.5 inch wide by 33.4 inches tall by 14.3 inches deep inches and weighs 93.2 pounds. Without the stand, it shrinks to 48.5 inches wide by 31.1 inches tall by 3.3 inches deep.

LG's remote control is a bit 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. In one improvement over the remotes of some previous LG TVs, the 50PG30's clicker actually has a dedicated "ratio" key to toggle between aspect ratio settings on the "Quick Menu." It can command three other pieces of equipment beyond the television itself.

The stark black-on-light-gray menus are legible and large, and the input menu, which is arranged horizontally, groups active inputs near the left where they were easy to select quickly. We would have liked to see text explanations accompany menu items, and navigating the extensive Expert menu (see below) can be quite tedious, but overall we liked the simple arrangement. We also appreciated the Quick Menu, which allows control of aspect ratio, picture presets, and other options without having to deal with the full menu system.

Features
The principal step-up feature found on the LG 50PG30 is its 1080p native resolution, which lets the TV display every pixel of the highest-resolution sources available today. At this screen size, however, it's tough to differentiate between 1080p and lower-resolution displays, such as the company's own 50PG20.

LG 50PG30
The Expert picture modes allows tweaks of advanced parameters, including a detailed white balance adjustment.

LG's range of picture controls is very good, although this model lacks the 10-point grayscale calibration we liked so much on higher-end sets like the company's 50PG60. The two-point version available in the PG30's Expert menu isn't bad, however, and really helped us adjust the TV's color temperature beyond the typical three presets. There are a few other advanced controls, including gamma, black level and a complete color management system to play with primary and secondary color points as well as color decoding, although it wasn't as effective as we'd have hoped.

We liked the prodigious number of picture modes, seven in all, each of which can remember settings independently per input. If you're counting, that's 63 total "slots" over the set's 9 inputs, for a range of adjustability that should satisfy even the tweakiest of viewers. We also liked that all of the main picture modes indicate whether they're at default or custom settings with the presence or absence of "(User)" printed after the mode name.

LG50PG30
The LG's main picture control menu features seven adjustable modes, with a convenient "(User)" to designate which ones you've changed.

The 50PG30 includes a healthy five manual-aspect ratio modes and a sixth that detects incoming content and attempts to adjust aspect automatically. LG chose to call its zero-overscan mode Just Scan, and we'd recommend using this mode with HD content unless you notice interference along the extreme edges of the screen, which can occur on some cable and satellite feeds.

Beyond picture adjustments the TV lacks picture-in-picture, but at least LG threw in a variety of settings to combat potential burn-in, such as an all-white screen, an inversion mode that shows colors in reverse, and a pixel orbiter that slowly shifts the entire image around the screen. We were happy to see three power saver modes, which dim the picture to cut down on the TV's power consumption. During initial setup, the 50PG20 also asked whether we were viewing in a store or a home environment. Answering "home" on other HDTVs, such as plasmas from Samsung or Panasonic, typically causes another significant reduction in power use, but in the LG's case it didn't help much. See the Juice Box for details.

LG50PG30
Three total HDMI inputs are available on the 50PG30, two on the back and one on the side.

LG equipped the 50PG30 with standard connectivity although there's one exception: an RS-232 port is available for custom installation and control. For audio and video sources, there are two HDMI inputs on the back panel and one more on the side. A pair of component video inputs, a VGA-style PC input (1,920x1,080 resolution) an RF input for antenna and cable, an AV input with composite and S-Video jacks, and an optical digital audio output complete the rear jack pack. In addition to that third HDMI port, the side panel has another AV input with composite video only, along with a USB port that's for service only (it can't accept digital photo files or music).

Performance
All told, the LG 50PG30 is a middling performer among 1080p plasmas, exhibiting average black-level performance and inaccurate color decoding and primary colors. We had no problems with its video processing and resolution, and standard-definition performance was among the best we've tested, but compared with the competition, the 50PG30's picture does little else to distinguish itself.

Myriad picture controls allowed us to tweak the picture but didn't help enough. We were able to improve the grayscale somewhat, which measured a bit red and plus-green in the Warm mode default, but tracking after calibration was still not as linear as we'd like, especially at the bottom of the scale (darker areas), which veered from reddish to bluish and back. The set's color management system was a disappointment. Primary color, especially green, remained well outside the HD standard no matter what we did to the controls, while the set's incorrect color decoding was also impossible to fix and still leave color balance natural (we ended up simply zeroing out the individual saturation controls for primary and secondary colors). Check out the end of this blog post for our complete picture settings.

After setup, we lined the LG up amid a few other HDTVs we had onhand, including the similarly priced Samsung PN50A650 as well as a few current reference sets, namely the Pioneer PDP-5020FD and the Panasonic TH-50PZ800U, both 50-inch plasmas, and the Samsung LN52A650, a 52-inch LCD. For the majority of our image quality tests, we spun up a copy of Daredevil on Blu-ray in our PlayStation 3 and settled back to see how the LG compared.

Black level: The depth of black produced by the LG was about as dark as that of the Samsung PN50A550 but not as deep as that of the Panasonic and Pioneer plasmas. When young Daredevil runs after his father into the dark alley, for example, the black of the letterbox bars, the car tire and the asphalt in the alleyway appeared dark and realistic enough, although side-by-side with the better plasmas they looked a bit too bright. The Samsung LCD, for its part, also appeared lighter than any of the plasmas in these scenes. Details in the shadows, such as the side of the Dumpster and the folds in the father's clothes, were a bit brighter than we'd like to see; the rise from black to lighter shadows was a bit abrupt compared to that of the other displays, although the difference wasn't tremendous.

Color accuracy: The LG didn't score all that well in this category. Primary colors, first off, veered away from the HD standard, so the green leaves on the plants in the playground where Daredevil meets Jennifer Garner, for example, looked decidedly yellowish compared with the Panasonic and the Samsungs. The blue sky looked a bit darker than on the other sets too, which spoke to the LG's less-accurate secondary color of cyan.

As we mentioned above color decoding was also a problem, and as a result Garner's skin appeared a bit pale and undersaturated compared to the other colors and the other displays, no matter which adjustments we made to the main color control or the color management system. In dark scenes, such as the pan over the church in the beginning, we noticed that near-dark areas took on a significant bluish tinge; the bricks on the church walls looked as if they'd been bathed in bluish light, and lacked the neutral grayish color seen on the other displays. We did appreciate that black itself stayed neutral on the LG, but we didn't notice too many other positive aspects to color reproduction.

Video processing: The LG correctly deinterlaced film-based sources from both film and video, and naturally it resolved every line of 1080i and 1080p sources. We noticed a bit more video noise in noisy scenes with NR turned off than on the other displays, but engaging noise reduction cleaned that up with no apparent loss in resolution. We measured a motion resolution of between 800 and 900 lines on this set, which is about what we expect from a 1080p plasma, although as always we didn't notice any blurring during the film, even with the Samsung LCD (120Hz dejudder turned off).

It's also worth mentioning again that at a 50-inch screen size, the difference in resolution between a 1080p plasma and its 720p (actually, 1,366x768) counterpart is very difficult to discern with normal high-definition program material, whether 1080p or otherwise.

Bright lighting: In a bright room the LG reflected more ambient light than any of the other displays aside from the Samsungs, which occasionally became distracting when viewing dark scenes with the window shades up, for example. Unlike the Samsungs, dark areas also washed out more readily on the LG, and to a greater extent then the other displays as well. Overall the screen of the 50PG30 didn't exhibit very effective antireflective properties.

Standard-definition: On the other hand, our tests revealed very good standard-definition picture quality from the 50PG30. The set resolved every line of the DVD format, and details in the stone bridge and grass looked relatively sharp. In terms of jaggies, we appreciated that rotating diagonal lines looked quite clean, as did the stripes of a waving American flag. The four-step control noise reduction control worked well to remove motes of snow and other video noise. The LG also engaged 2:3 pull-down detection quickly and effectively, eliminating moire from the stands behind the racecar.

PC: Via both analog VGA and digital HDMI, the LG 50PG30 accepted and displayed every line of a 1,920x1,080-pixel resolution signal according to DisplayMate. That's great, but text and other lines on the screen appeared softer than we expected, with some edge enhancement we couldn't reduce. PC performance was therefore just average.

TEST RESULT SCORE
Before color temp (20/80) 6209/6429 Good
After color temp 6782/6562 Average
Before grayscale variation +/- 149 Good
After grayscale variation +/- 141 Average
Color of red (x/y) 0.646/0.341 Average
Color of green 0.271/0.654 Poor
Color of blue 0.148/0.067 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

LG 50PG30 Picture settings
Default Calibrated Power Save
Picture on (watts) 401.67 324.95 245.5
Picture on (watts/sq. inch) 0.38 0.3 0.23
Standby (watts) 1.09 1.09 1.09
Cost per year $125.00 $101.22 $76.66
Score (considering size) Poor
Score (overall) Poor
*Cost per year based on 2007 average U.S. residential electricity cost of 10.6 cents per kw/hr at 8 hours on/16 hours off per day.

How we test TVs.

6.9

LG PG30

Score Breakdown

Design 7Features 8Performance 6
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