Editors' note (March 31, 2010): The performance rating on this review has been reduced one point, from "9" to "8," and the text modified, to better account for the impact of the uneven backlight performance.
In 2010 you can prepare to be confused by two familiar yet relatively complex TV technologies: 3D and LED backlights. Before you ask, no, 3D is not available on the LG LE8500 series reviewed here--that perk is reserved for the more expensive 9500 models--but an LED backlight is. More important, the LE8500 has a full-array backlight with local dimming, meaning hundreds of independent cells behind the screen can brighten or dim independently, which can really help improve picture quality. In contrast, most of other LED-backlit TVs available today have either no local dimming ability or attempt to mimic the dimming of a full array by creating zones from an edge-lit configuration. We know the former has little impact on picture quality, we haven't tested the latter (which we're calling "edge with local dimming" for now), but we can tell you after reviewing the LE8500 that full-array local dimming still works great, for the most part.
Unfortunately the 8500's picture has a flaw, absent on other local dimming displays, that will be difficult for some viewers to overlook: uneven uniformity across the screen. On the other hand, if you go by the most important ingredients of a good picture--black levels and color accuracy--the LG LE8500 is the new ruler of the LCD roost, and it sets a high bar for other 2010 TVs. If you don't give a hoot about 3D and are willing to pay more for an excellent-performing LCD, it belongs near the top of your wish list.
Series information: We performed a hands-on evaluation of the 47-inch member of LG LE8500 series, but this review also applies to the other screen size in the series. Both sizes have identical specs and according to the manufacturer should provide very similar picture quality.
|LG 47LE8500 (reviewed)||47 inches|
|LG 55LE8500||55 inches|
|Panel depth||1.4 inches||Bezel width||1.5 inches|
|Single-plane face||Y||Swivel stand||Y|
The LE8500 is a member of LG's 2010 Infinia line, which means design extras like a flush face and thin cabinet--although it doesn't get the extra-thin bezel of the step-up LE9500 series, or the 0.92-inch depth touted at CES. No matter, the LE8500 looks plenty sleek, with a minimalist aesthetic sure to please ultramodern decorators. The only potentially controversial touch in our view is the distinctive, squared-off stand stalk.
|Remote size||9.2 x 1.8 inches||Remote screen||N/A|
|Total keys||45||Backlit keys||38|
|Other IR devices controlled||N||RF control of TV||N|
|Shortcut menu||Y||Onscreen explanations||N|
LG's new clicker is a long, thin wand with decent button differentiation and friendly, rubberized keys. We liked the bulge in the middle that corresponds with a convenient notch on the underside for your index finger; we missed direct infrared control of other devices. The menus are basic and functional with plenty of ways to get around, including a nice Quick Menu of shortcuts. We would have liked to see explanations, however, especially for the more advanced picture setting functions.
|Display technology||LCD||LED backlight||Full array with local dimming|
|3D compatible||N||3D glasses included||N/A|
|Screen finish||Glossy||Refresh rate(s)||240Hz|
|Dejudder (smooth) processing||Y||1080p/24 compatible||Y|
|Internet connection||Y||Wireless HDMI/AV connection||Optional|
LG threw everything but the kitchen sink at its next-to-flagship LCD for 2010, and with the exception of 3D and a fancy remote, the LE8500 sails competitively against the best-featured models on the market. Local dimming of its full array of LED elements is the big selling point, similar to the scheme used on some of the top LCD of 2009, like the LG LH90 and the Samsung 8500. LG tells us the 47-inch LE8500 has 216 independent, dimmable zones, while the 55-incher has 240 (Samsung doesn't divulge the number of its zones).
Other notables include the external "LG Wireless Media Box" option that enables you to connect HDMI and other gear wirelessly, which can really help custom installations. We'd like to see built-in Wi-Fi, given all of the LG's Internet options, but you'll have to either buy the dongle or get a third-party wireless bridge. We tested LG's dongle, which worked well, but we didn't test the media box by press time.
|Amazon Video on Demand||N||Rhapsody||N|
LG's 2009 models were among the first to include Netflix, but since that service is now available on most Internet TVs, the company's Netcast array of streaming partners is standard-issue. There are no major missing links, however, aside from any kind of audio service like Pandora or Slacker radio. We didn't test USB or DLNA network streaming.
Update May 6, 2010: This review originally reported that Ethernet was not working, but LG updated our review sample and now it functions properly. The company claims that, despite the original sample's use of "production" firmware, the updated version with the working Ethernet is also "production," and more representative of models in the field. We also took the opportunity to test Netflix and Vudu streaming quality, and both delivered the video quality we expect from both services via both Ethernet and Wi-Fi from LG's dongle.
The selection of nonstreaming Internet features is solid on the LG, and most of the utilities, with the exception of Picasa, come courtesy of Yahoo widgets. At the time of this writing, the LE8500 has access to ten widgets. Speaking of, that platform is somewhat more usable than in the past, with snappier responses to button presses and faster load times for individual widgets. That said it could be a lot faster, and the initial load of the main widget taskbar can take 20 seconds or more--still an eternity on a television.
The Games platform, not to be confused with the games included with Yahoo widgets, includes extremely basic custom titles, for example Sudoku and Whack a Mole--the less said, the better about these pointless exercises in frustrating gameplay. Of course you'll need to buy the external speakerphone kit to use Skype. It hasn't been released (or priced) yet, so we didn't test it for this review.
|Adjustable picture modes||6||Independent memories per input||Y|
|Dejudder presets||2||Fine dejudder control||Y|
|Aspect ratio modes -- HD||6||Aspect ratio modes -- SD||5|
|Color temperature presets||3||Fine color temperature control||10 point|
|Gamma presets||3||Color management system||Y|
For 2010 LG added a couple of improvements to the industry's best suite of user menu picture controls. It now offers the ability to adjust dejudder processing, a welcome extra pioneered by Samsung last year (although it doesn't work nearly as well; see Performance for details). There are also specific gamma settings (1.9, 2.2 and 2.4) in the excellent 10-point IRE system available in the Expert menu, as well as a second THX picture preset; now you can choose from THX Cinema or THX Bright Room, although neither is user-adjustable without inputting a special code.
As with last year all of the adjustable picture modes can be separate for each input. We also liked the improvements made to the Picture Wizard, which consists of a series of test patterns that can help nonexperts adjust basic controls and get the gist of what picture setup is all about.
|Power-saver mode||Y||Ambient light sensor||Y|
|Picture-in-picture||N||On-screen user manual||Y|
The ambient light sensor can be engaged by choosing the Intelligent Sensor picture mode, and you can choose a "screen off" option in the TV's energy saver menu to just get sound, reducing consumption to 36 watts. LG calls its onscreen manual "simple" and that's definitely the case--it's more like a rundown of features than a usable manual.
|HDMI inputs||3 back, 1 side||Component-video inputs||2 back, 1 side|
|Composite video inputs||1 back, 1 side||S-video input||0|
|VGA-style PC input||1||RF input||1|
|AV output(s)||0||Digital audio output||1 optical|
|USB ports||2 side||Ethernet (LAN) port||Y|
The LG's input scheme is pretty standard aside from the necessity to use breakout cables (included) to connect component or composite sources to the side. The side bay is narrow enough that LG recommends a width no greater than 10mm (0.39 inches) for HDMI and USB cables/thumbdrives. The second USB port is nice if you monopolize the first with the optional Wi-Fi dongle.
The LG LE8500 delivered outstanding picture quality, meeting or exceeding in many areas the performance we saw on the directly competitive Samsung UN55B8500 from 2009. The LG's black levels and color were superb; its off-angle picture surpassed that of the Samsung, but on the flipside its video processing was disappointing, and it introduced more blooming and stray illumination. The biggest difference between the two, however, and one that caused us to reconsider the relative performance rating of the review, is the unusual unevenness in the LG's backlight. If not for that, it would be on a par with the Samsung as the best LCD we've ever tested.
For our image quality tests below, we watched "Star Trek" and employed the following lineup.
|Samsung UN55B8500||55-inch local dimming LED|
|LG 47LH90||47-inch local dimming LED|
|LG 47LE5500||47-inch edge-lit LED|
|Samsung UN46B7000||46-inch edge-lit LED|
|Sony KDL-52NX800||52-inch edge-lit LED|
|Pioneer PRO-111FD(reference )||50-inch plasma|
Black level: The LG LE8500 reproduced some of deepest black levels we've seen from any TV, tying and in some scenes surpassing the Samsung UNB8500 and trumping all of the other sets in our lineup with the exception of the reference Pioneer Kuro. Its depth of black was most apparent in low-light scenes, such as the dusky "classroom" on Vulcan where the shadows, letterbox bars and other dark areas appeared inky and nearly indistinguishable from the black bezel of the screen. As usual the difference was also visible in brighter scenes, albeit to a lesser extent, where blacks and the contrast of the darker letterbox bars made everything look punchy and realistic.
Shadow detail was also excellent. One example came in Chapter 1 during the staredown between the captain and the Romulan commander; their half-lit faces appeared just a tad more realistic than on the LE8500 than on any of the other displays, with the sole exception of the reference Pioneer. The difference between the two best LCDs, the LG and Samsung 8500 models, was slight, but the LG won in this category.
One difference between the two 8500 displays came in the way each handled dimming, where the Samsung had the advantage. We noticed more blooming on the LG, which manifested as the halo of brighter light interrupting the black around the PS3's play arrow icon, than we did on the Samsung, but blooming on the LG wasn't bad, and better than we've seen on most other local dimming LED-based TVs. The LG also introduced more stray illumination than the Samsung; for example, when the car crosses the dark field at the beginning of Chapter 2, slightly brighter patches flashed subtly in the shadows when it approached the parking lot. These instances were rare, however, and the effect quite subtle. Nonetheless we didn't see any such flashing on the 8500 or the other displays.
We were pleased to note no obvious fluctuations of the LG's backlight as a whole, even during relatively prolonged fades to and from black such as during the titles for "Watchmen."
Color accuracy: Like most LGs the LE8500 after calibration put up some of the most accurate grayscale and gamut numbers of any TV, and the benefits were apparent in program material. Skin tones, such as the faces of Kirk and Bones on the bridge as they confront the captain in Chapter 6, looked closer to our reference than any TV in the lineup, beating the Samsung 8500 and the LH90 by a hair. Color was consistent from light to dark areas, and the deep blacks led to lush, vibrant saturation, seen in the green fields and red car, not to mention the deep blue of the sky, in the joyride from Chapter 2.
As we saw on the Samsung 8500, near-black areas remained true and didn't veer into far into blue like many of the other LCD displays in our test.
Video processing: A new system available in the LE8500 allows further customization of dejudder or "smoothing," as well as the antiblur effect, of the TV's TruMotion processing. Labeled User and consisting of sliders labeled Judder and Blur, it seems similar to the system we liked so much from Samsung. In this case, however, it doesn't work nearly as well.
We're not fans in general of smoothing effects, which tend to make film look more like video--and we