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LG PZ950 review: LG PZ950

LG PZ950

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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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8 min read

While Panasonic's and Samsung's flagship plasma TVs vie for best TV of 2011, LG's best plasma of the year, the PZ950 series, can't match the picture quality score of even the less expensive step-down 3D Panasonics. The main culprit is LG's more grayish shade of black, which washes out what would otherwise be an excellent picture. The TV's robust Internet suite and sleek styling help increase its appeal, but won't help its standing in the eyes of dark-room home theater fans shopping for plasmas in this price range.

7.6

LG PZ950

The Good

The LG <b>PZ950 series</b> evinced excellent color in bright and dark areas, along with the even screen uniformity of plasma. The Smart TV Internet portal is well-designed with a solid selection of streaming services, and LG includes a Wi-Fi dongle. The secondary motion-sensitive remote provides a cool, easy-to-use control option. We appreciated the one-sheet-of-glass styling.

The Bad

This plasma reproduces light black levels and its screen handles bright rooms worse than other TVs. It showed mediocre 3D performance. Smart TV lacks Pandora, and its search is next to useless.

The Bottom Line

Although blessed with solid features, design, and performance, the LG PZ950 series can't match the excellent picture quality of other plasmas in its price range.

Editors' note (September 1, 2011): The reviewed size of this TV is undergoing long-term testing, the results of which don't affect this review but may be interesting nonetheless. Click here for details.

Series information: We performed a hands-on evaluation of the 50-inch LG 50PZ950, but this review also applies to the other screen size in the series. The two TVs have identical specs and according to the manufacturer should provide very similar picture quality.

"="" bgcolor="#CCCCCC">Models in series (details)
LG 50PZ950 (reviewed) 50 inches
LG 60PZ950 60 inches

Design


A single sheet of glass covers both the screen and the bezel.

"="" bgcolor="#CCCCCC">Design highlights
Panel depth 1.9 inches Bezel width 1.75 inches
Single-plane face Yes Swivel stand Yes

The PZ950's most remarkable design element is its one-sheet face, where a single panel of glass fronts both the screen and bezel for sleek, a seamless look. The black bezel itself is thicker than the bezels on Samsung's high-end plasmas and Panasonic's compact GT30, but still more compact than seen on many plasmas. Transparent edges on the panel and the rounded-top stand base complete the picture. While the design isn't quite up to Samsung's PND7000/D8000 standards in our book, it's as nice as the best Panasonics and attractive and understated enough to work in just about any room.


The swivel stand has an unusual rounded top.

"="" bgcolor="#CCCCCC">Remote control and menus "="">Other: Includes secondary motion-based RF remote control
Remote size (LxW) 9.2x1.8 inches QWERTY keyboardNo
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 let you make menu selections by motion control, rather than clicking from box to box with your thumb--to work on every screen in the system. Both changes are improvements that help make the 2011 LG menus among the best of any TV.


We liked the big icons and Internet focus of the new Home page, and the fact that you customize the Premium section and two of the slots in the bottom strip.

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 below to inputs, TV settings, and favorite channels; a central section with five tiles you can customize and rearrange to link to any of the Premium services like Netflix and Amazon; an LG Apps section listing the three "hottest" and newest apps from LG's app store; and a bottom strip with links to the app store, browser and two apps of your choice (we wish it were possible to tweak more than just two). 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 (Netflix is the only exception we found--it prevents motion control, although the wand's cursor buttons still work), many of which seem designed with motion control in mind, it's much more appealing. 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 to Speed: Fast and Alignment: On in the Settings>Options menu.


The motion-control remote can navigate menus relatively easily and doesn't feel as gimmicky as it did last year.

Since the wand is radio-controlled, it doesn't require a 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 and somewhat useful option to have. The biggest downside is that it means having an extra remote on your coffee table (at least until Harmony incorporates motion control).

Features

"="" bgcolor="#CCCCCC">Key TV features "="">Other: Optional active 3D glasses (model AG-S250, $129 list each); Optional wireless media box (AN-WL100W, $350 list)
Display technology Plasma LED backlight N/A
3D technology Active 3D glasses included No
Screen finish Glass Internet connection Wi-Fi adapter
Refresh rate(s) 60Hz, 96Hz Dejudder (smooth) processing No
DLNA-compliant Photo/Music/Video USB Photo/Music/Video

Unlike LG's 2011 LCDs, its plasma TVs use active-shutter 3D glasses, zero pairs of which come with the TV. The new glasses sync using a 2.4GHz wireless signal so they aren't subject to line-of-sight like the Infrared models Panasonic uses, and we appreciate that they do have rechargeable batteries. When we asked company reps why LG didn't make its plasmas with passive 3D, we were told that doing so using existing pattern retarder technology was too costly.

LG includes a Wi-Fi dongle with the PZ950, occupying a USB slot but happily allowing you to use a wireless connection with this TV without paying an extra $80. The dongle worked well in our tests. LG also offers an external LG Wireless Media Box option (which we didn't test) that enables you to connect HDMI and other gear wirelessly if your installation calls for that.


LG's active-shutter glasses ($129 each) are required to get 3D out of the PZ950.

"="" bgcolor="#CCCCCC">Streaming and apps "="">Other: Additional Premium services include Mog, CinemaNow, MLB.tv, Napster, vTuner, AccuWeather, AP news, Google Maps, and Picasa. 32 LG Apps as of press time
Netflix Yes YouTube Yes
Amazon Instant Yes Hulu Plus Yes
Vudu Yes Pandora No
Web browser Yes Skype Yes
Facebook Yes Twitter Yes

Among 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 solid, although Pandora, a staple available on most other TVs, is missing.

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 as opposed to myriad useless ones.


You can customize the home page with up to 5 of the available Premium services.

Speaking of chaff, the selection in LG's app store is anemic at the moment, far outpaced by Samsung and, to a lesser extent, Panasonic. That said, the number of apps has increased from 14 to 32 since we reviewed the LG 47LW5600 in late June, and new additions include Fandango (no ticket sales, just lame trailers for now) and "3D Zone" (even lamer 3D video clips). We did like the star rating system, especially since the plethora of negative ratings signaled it was legit. 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. LG's search hits even fewer services than Samsung's (just Amazon Instant and some podcasts as far as we could tell), making it even more useless. The PZ950'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 the 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.

"="" bgcolor="#CCCCCC">Picture settings "="">Other: Two nonadjustable THX modes
Adjustable picture modes 7 Fine dejudder control N/A
Color temperature presets 3 Fine color temperature control 20 points
Gamma presets 3 Color management system Yes

LG is always among the best in the picture settings department, and we loved having two Expert modes with the full gamut of adjustments--although we prefer the color management system used by Samsung, and we feel the 20-point IRE adjustment is excessive; 10 points is enough in our book. LG's picture settings 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. Finally, we wish the two THX modes (Day and Night) allowed some adjustment the way they do on Panasonic's plasmas.

We appreciated that four modes' worth of adjustable picture controls, including simulated 3D options, were available for the major services we tested (Netflix, Vudu, and Amazon--the last sans 3D). The Expert modes were not, however.


LG's picture settings selection is extensive; maybe too extensive in the case of its 20-point grayscale option.

"="" bgcolor="#CCCCCC">Connectivity "="">Other: RS-232 port
HDMI inputs 4 side Component video inputs 2 back
Composite video input(s) 1 back, 1 side VGA-style PC input(s) 1
USB port 2 side Ethernet (LAN) port Yes

Unlike the slim Samsung and Panasonic plasmas, the LG has a set of honest-to-goodness multicolored RCA jacks that don't require breakout cables. Users of the Wi-Fi dongle might want a third USB port, but we doubt it. The RS-232 is available for connection to custom installation systems like Crestron or AMX.


Honest-to-goodness colored analog jacks abound on the back panel--not breakout cables required.

Performance
With its light black levels, the PZ950 series is the only plasma TV we've tested this year that didn't score an 8 or higher in this category. That said, it's still a very good performer, with excellent color, the ability to handle 1080p/24, and all of the usual uniformity advantages over LCD.

Prior to any adjustment THX Cinema proved the most accurate setting on the PX950, although it still suffered from a minus-green grayscale. As with previous LG plasmas, grayscale calibration was frustrating due to variation from measurement to measurement, interactivity between controls and mislabeled settings. While we were able to dial in some improvements over THX, we couldn't achieve the kind of accuracy and consistency we've seen on other sets with multipoint controls, such as LG's LCDs and Samsung's plasmas. LG's CMS was also inferior to Samsung's, limiting the amount of improvement we could render to color points and saturation (especially blue).

For our image quality tests we enlisted "Unknown" on Blu-ray using the TVs below. Note that our 2011 comparison plasmas have been aged as part of CNET's long-term testing; we'll be performing the same aging on the LG PZ950, but in the meantime it's worth noting that our review sample had logged 230 hours at the time of review and calibration.

"="" bgcolor="#CCCCCC">Comparison models (details)
LG 50PX950 50-inch plasma
Panasonic TC-P50ST30 50 inch plasma (2,077 hours)
Samsung PN59D7000 59-inch plasma (888 hours)
Panasonic TC-P55VT30 55-inch plasma (1,497 hours)
LG 47LW5600 47-inch LED with edge-lit local dimming
Sony XBR-55HX929 55-inch LED with full-array local dimming
Pioneer PRO-111FD (reference) 50-inch plasma

Black level: The LG plasma showed the worst (lightest) shade of black among the TVs in our lineup aside from the PX950, which measured and appeared identical in terms of black level. We noticed the LG's more washed-out black most in areas like letterbox bars and dark scenes, such as the nighttime taxi in chapter 3 (23:18). The difference was quite obvious, even when looking at the next-lightest sets; the Samsung D7000 and LG LW5600 were both clearly superior in this department, and the others even more so. The LG plasmas lacked the crispness and pop of the other sets in mixed scenes, although as usual brighter scenes made the black-level and contrast differences less apparent.

Shadow detail was very good on the PZ950, with no loss of detail near black--something that can't be said of the D7000 or LW5600--as well as no excessive lightening, as we saw near-black on the VT30. The caveat is that shadows and dark areas on the LG plasma appeared lighter, and thus less realistic, compared with the other displays.

Color accuracy: Despite some flaws, the PZ950 performed very well in this category, outdoing both Panasonics with its post-calibration Expert settings, yet falling short of the Samsung. We saw evidence during a tight shot of January Jones' face in chapter 2, for example (19:10), where her face looked quite natural and very close to the D7000, the LW5600, the Sony and the Kuro, without the golden, slightly greenish tones of the VT30 or the less saturated look of the ST30. Colors did seem a bit more washed-out at times on the PZ950, however, as a result of its lighter black levels.

Near-black measured better on the PZ950 compared with the bluish tinge of the LEDs, although the LG plasmas' lighter black levels made discolorations in shadows and deeper black areas a bit more obvious than on the other plasmas. That said, the PZ950 still had one of the most neutral grayscales at low light levels in our lineup.

Video processing: The LG handled 1080p/24 sources well, delivering the proper film cadence according to our tests. We don't consider its somewhat lower motion resolution score an issue, since we didn't see any evidence of blurring during program material.

Like past LG plasmas, the PZ950 did tend to retain afterimages more noticeably than the Samsung or the Panasonics in our lineup, but as usual they disappeared quickly and we don't consider burn-in any more of a problem on this plasma TV than others.

Bright lighting: Bright-room picture quality on the PZ950 was worse overall than on any of the other sets aside from the PZ950 from last year. The LGs didn't reduce the brightness of reflections nor preserve black levels as well as any of the others in our lineup.

3D: The PZ950 wasn't a bad 3D performer but fell short of the picture quality of all of the active models save the Sony LED and the PX950. We still preferred its image to the passive LW5600, mainly due to latter's jagged edge artifacts and somewhat softer picture.

We checked out "Tron: Legacy" for our 3D test and substituted the Samsung UN55D800 for the 2D-only Kuro. We didn't perform a 3D calibration, instead relying on the best picture preset (THX 3D Cinema).

Crosstalk was worse on the PZ950 than on any of the other 2011 sets, showing the telltale ghost image around difficult areas like the pattern on the floor of the dressing room in chapter 5 (28:25) and the stripes on Quorra's suit in chapter 9 (1:04:00). That said, the PZ950's crosstalk did not worsen as we moved off-angle, as it did on the LCD sets (especially the passive LW5600).

We also noticed something none of the other 3D TVs showed: a moiré effect where faint concentric rings of varying brightness and color appeared in the image as we moved off-angle. They stabilized, but remained visible, when we stopped moving, so we assume they're caused by some kind of interaction between the glasses and screen.

Comparing the THX settings of the VT30 and the PZ950 by eye, we definitely preferred the Panasonic. The LG's THX crushed black detail, and while it did show better black levels, the tradeoff wasn't worth it. Skin tones and colors on the two were similar, however. Of course we could adjust the Panasonic's THX setting but not the LG's, although the latter has picture settings in other modes (including full control of 3D via Expert) that should allow significant improvement over THX.

As expected, the LG PZ950 couldn't get nearly as bright as the LCDs with 3D material, especially the passive LW5600. This isn't an issue unless you have a very bright room, however; in most lighting situations the light output of plasmas like the PZ950 in 3D is sufficient.

Power consumption: We did not test the power consumption of the 60-inch LG 60PZ950 but we did test the 50-inch model. For more information, refer to the review of the LG 50PZ950.

Test Result Score
Black luminance (0%) 0.0219 Poor
Avg. gamma 2.1381 Good
Near-black x/y (5%) 0.3064/0.3156 Average
Dark gray x/y (20%) 0.3138/0.3321 Good
Bright gray x/y (70%) 0.3125/0.3296 Good
Before avg. color temp. 6625 Average
After avg. color temp. 6503 Good
Red lum. error (de94_L) 0.2121 Good
Green lum. error (de94_L) 1.9142 Average
Blue lum. error (de94_L) 0.7704 Good
Cyan hue x/y 0.2197/0.3213 Average
Magenta hue x/y 0.3236/0.1638 Average
Yellow hue x/y 0.4164/0.5039 Good
1080p/24 Cadence (IAL) Pass Good
1080i De-interlacing (film) Pass Good
Motion resolution (max) 600 Average
Motion resolution (dejudder off) 600 Average
PC input resolution (VGA) 1,920x1,080 Good

LG 50PZ950 CNET review calibration results

(Read more about how we test TVs.)

7.6

LG PZ950

Score Breakdown

Design 8Features 8Performance 7
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