Many home theater fans will give plasma the nod over LCD and LED-based flat-panel displays, if only because plasma TVs nearly always exhibits perfect uniformity and off-angle viewing characteristics, and often have better black levels than LCDs do. Those same fans may also dismiss LG and focus on Samsung and Panasonic, the other two plasma makers left in the market, but in the case of LG's PK950 series, they'd be overlooking a gem.
LG's best plasma TV for 2010 is also the company's best ever, and while it lacks 3D and some of the interactive options found on the competition, it also costs less than other makers' top panels. Its black levels are deeper than those of previous LGs, its color is mostly accurate and it handles 1080p/24 Blu-ray sources correctly, unlike many competing plasmas. Add to that a sleek, single-pane look, and the LG PK950 presents a combination to tempt image quality sticklers and style mavens alike.
Series information: We performed a hands-on evaluation of the 50-inch LG 50PK950, but this review also applies to the 60-inch LG 60PK950. Both have identical specifications and, according to the manufacturer, should provide very similar picture quality.
|LG 50PK950 (reviewed)||50 inches|
|LG 60PK950||60 inches|
|Panel depth||2.1 inches||Bezel width||1.5 inches|
|Single-plane face||Yes||Swivel stand||Yes|
Panasonic abandoned the sleek, flush, single-pane look on its 2010 plasma line, but LG kept it intact with both the PK750 and the PK950. The latter is differentiated from the former by virtue of a transparent stand stalk and slightly narrower transparent edge along the bottom of the panel (both originated by Samsung, but who's counting?), as well as by the glass-topped stand base. Otherwise, the two LGs appear very similar, and we like their looks a lot--although not quite as much as the matte finish of the Samsung PNC7000 plasma.
For what it's worth, the 2.1-inch depth of the PK950 also falls in the middle between the Panasonic (3.5 inches) and slim Samsung (1.4 inches) plasmas.
|Remote size (LxW)||9.2 x 1.8 inches||Remote screen||N/A|
|Total keys||45||Backlit keys||38|
|Other IR devices controlled||No||RF control of TV||No|
|Shortcut menu||Yes||On-screen explanations||Yes|
One of the big step-up features in LG's flagship 2010 products, including the PK950 and the LX9500 LCD, is the "Magic Wand" remote, which behaves much like the Wiimote motion controller used on the Nintendo Wii. LG's little clicker fits well in the hand and its few buttons are easy to find by feel, but you really only need two: Home and Select. The former calls up a simplified menu system and a big cursor control, and moving the remote itself to point the cursor activates menu items.
The accuracy of the pointer was very good--better in our experience than even the Wiimote itself--and the jumbo icons help a lot. However, the novelty of the system wore off quickly and we ended up preferring the standard menu system and multi-button remote, which required only thumb movement. We can imagine some users intimidated by a lot of menu selections might appreciate the Magic Wand, but for most others it's just a gimmick.
LG's standard clicker is a long, thin (thoroughly un-magical) 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 main 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||plasma||LED backlight||N/A|
|3D compatible||No||3D glasses included||N/A|
|Screen finish||Glass||Refresh rate||60Hz/96Hz|
|Dejudder (smooth) processing||No||1080p/24 compatible||Yes|
|Internet connection||Yes||Wireless HDMI/AV connection||Optional|
The big picture quality-related step-up feature on the PK950 compared with the PK750 is the presence of a TruBlack filter, which allows the screen to preserve black levels better in bright environments (see below for details). We also appreciate the 950's proper handling of 1080p/24 sources. Unlike the flagship plasmas from Samsung and Panasonic, the LG PK950 lacks 3D compatibility.
Other notables on the PK950 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.
|Amazon Video on Demand||No||Rhapsody||No|
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 now pretty pedestrian. However, there are no major missing links aside from any kind of audio service like Pandora or Slacker radio.
In our tests, Vudu and Netflix performed as advertised, delivering the video quality we expect from both services via both Ethernet and Wi-Fi from LG's dongle. We didn't test DLNA or USB streaming.
Most of the nonstreaming apps--with the exception of Picasa, a clock for time zones around the world, an on-screen calendar and a few games--come courtesy of Yahoo Widgets. At the time of this review, the PK950 has access to 15 widgets. That platform is more usable now than it was on last year's LG models, with snappier responses to button presses and faster load times for individual widgets. That said it could be a lot faster still, and the initial load of the main widget taskbar can take 20 seconds or more--still an eternity on a television. In comparison, the apps platforms of Samsung and Vizio felt much snappier than LG's widgets, and content selection was wider on Samsung, Vizio and Sony.
LG's 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. Of course, you'll need to buy the external speakerphone kit to use Skype. It hasn't been released yet, so we didn't test it for this review.
|Adjustable picture modes||6||Independent memories per input||Yes|
|Dejudder presets||0||Fine dejudder control||N/A|
|Aspect ratio modes -- HD||6||Aspect ratio modes -- SD||5|
|Color temperature presets||3||Fine color temperature control||20 points|
|Gamma presets||2||Color management system||Yes|
In this area LG is among the best on the market for sheer numbers of adjustable parameters. The TV's two Expert modes allow fine adjustment of 20 points of white balance, which seems like overkill compared with the 10-point system on the LG LH8500 series or Samsung's high-end 2010 sets, and didn't work well in our testing. Fortunately, the TV also offers LG's usual suite of other advanced adjustments, including a standard 2-point system.
Plenty of presets are provided for those who'd rather not futz with settings. The two THX modes, one for bright and one for dim environments, are not user adjustable, and there's a new Auto Power Saver Mode, again non-adjustable, that depends on room lighting to do its job. LG's Picture Wizard is on-hand to guide novices through basic settings.
|Power saver mode||Yes||Ambient light sensor||Yes|
|Picture-in-picture||No||Onscreen user manual||Yes|
In addition to the Auto Power Saver picture mode, you can apply one of three Energy Saving settings (each limits maximum light output) or an ambient light sensor to any non-THX picture mode. You can also choose a "screen off" option in the TV's energy saver menu to just get sound, reducing consumption to about 24 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.
Like most plasmas, the PK950 offers three ways to fight burn-in, including white and color washes and a pixel orbiter that shifts the whole image around on the screen. Since temporary image retention seems more common on this set than with other plasmas, we welcome the washes in particular.
|HDMI inputs||3 back, 1 side||Component video inputs||2 back|
|Composite video input(s)||1 back, 1 side||S-video input(s)||0|
|VGA-style PC input(s)||1||RF input(s)||1|
|AV output(s)||0||Digital audio output||1 optical|
|USB port||2 side||Ethernet (LAN) port||Yes|
There's nothing special here aside from the proprietary, optional wireless connection (see Key Features), and no major missing links unless you're partial to S-video. The second USB port is nice if you monopolize the first with the optional Wi-Fi dongle.
All told the LG PK90 series delivered an excellent performance, with deep black levels, accurate color and solid video processing that handled 1080p/24 correctly. As usual for a plasma, it also showed nearly perfect off-angle viewing and screen uniformity. We could complain about some color issues in dark areas and secondaries, but they don't take much away from LG's best plasma yet.
The LG's most-accurate picture preset was THX Bright Room, with a solid, if somewhat minus-blue grayscale and relatively accurate gamma (2.16 versus the 2.2 standard), both of which outdid both THX Cinema and the default Expert settings. There was plenty of room for improvement, however, so for our calibration we fired up LG's 20-point IRE grayscale adjustment.
Unfortunately, as we saw on the PK750, the system didn't work well--we saw significant drift over time and a lack of sufficient sensitivity and range in the controls. So, rather than waste more time trying to shoehorn it into an accurate state, we resorted to the standard 2-point system. It improved the grayscale quite a bit, although variations remained afterward, especially in dark areas, and gamma was worse than THX (2.36 overall). We ended up using our calibrated Expert for our evaluation below, however, mainly because its grayscale was more accurate than THX.
After setting up the PK950 we gathered the following comparison models and watched "The Final Destination" on Blu-ray for the majority of our image quality tests below.
|LG 50PK750||50-inch plasma|
|Panasonic TC-P50G20||50-inch plasma|
|Panasonic TC-P50VT25||50-inch plasma|
|Samsung PN50C590||50-inch plasma|
|Samsung PN50C7000||50-inch plasma|
|LG 47LE8500||47-inch full array local dimming LED|
|Pioneer PRO-111FD (reference)||50-inch plasma|
Black level: In this crucial department the LG PK950 performed well, although it still couldn't quite match the depth of black delivered by some of the competitors in our lineup. The difference was apparent mostly in dark scenes, such as Chapter 6 when the tow truck-driving racist stalks the neighborhood. Black areas like the letterbox bars and the deepest shadows on the truck, the parked car, and the side mirrors, for example, all appeared darker on the PK950 than on the PK750 and the Samsung C590, just a bit lighter than the Samsung C7000 and Panasonic G20, and significantly lighter than the rest. The difference between the PK950, the C7000 and G20 was visible in our dark room in a side-by-side comparison, but we doubt it would be apparent in less stringent viewing environments.
Despite its less-accurate overall gamma, the PK950 handled details in shadows relatively well, mainly because gamma in dark areas was fairly close to the standard. That said, it still appeared to obscure more details than our reference, although it did surpass the C7000 and G20 in this category, if only by a hair.
Color accuracy: In bright areas the PK950 performed as well in this area as the better models in our lineup. The faces of the children in the stands during the initial raceway scene, including the delicate skin tones of Lori and Janet, appeared natural and quite close to our reference, without the slightly paler cast of the Samsung PNC7000 or the greenish of the Panasonic G20. Saturation was very good and primaries and secondaries mostly accurate, from the green grass of the infield to the red of the car logos.
The exception, as we saw on the PK750, was cyan, which appeared too intense and threw off colors like blue jeans, spectators' blue shirts and the blue paint of the broken bench, as well as the blue of skies in later scenes. Yellow also appeared a bit too reddish, as seen in road signs and Nick's swim trunks, but the difference was much more subtle.
In dark areas, the PK950 fell off somewhat. We detected a bluish cast to near-black colors, such as the dark suit of the mourner at the funeral in Chapter 5, or the shadows of the black hair of other bereaved. The effect was more visible and objectionable than on any of the other models in our lineup.
Video processing: Unlike the PK750 we tested earlier, the PK950 consistently handled 1080p/24 correctly, delivering the true cadence of film on so-enabled Blu-ray sources. We saw the effect on our favorite 1080p/24 test, the helicopter flyover from "I Am Legend," where the PK950 outdid most of the other sets in our lineup as well by reproducing the camera movement smoothly (yet not too smoothly), without the subtle hitching motion characterize by 2:3 pull-down.
According to our motion resolution test, the LG PK950 delivered the same result as the PK750: between 700 and 800 lines. That performance doesn't match the best plasmas or 240Hz LCDs we've tested, although it is better than typical 120Hz LCDs. As usual, we don't expect many viewers to notice, or even be able to see, the difference.
As on the PK750, we also saw softness and ringing artifacts in finely detailed areas of test patterns, although they were too subtle for us to see in most normal program material. Renaming the input "PC" and using a 1080p/60 source (1080i or 10