LG is pushing its TV range for 2013: around 70 per cent of its TVs will be smart enabled, and it's backing this up with new-sized Ultra HD TVs and even — we hope — the first commercially available OLED TV in Australia.
The LA8600 is the LED smart TV flagship for the company, and we've taken a look at the 55-inch model and, spoiler alert, there's a lot to like here.
In terms of design, there is very little to quibble with on the LA8600. The ultra-thin bezel gives the screen an edge-to-edge styling, and the stand itself is a rather clever bit of engineering. There are small castors built into the underside of the stand, letting it rotate easily side to side to adjust viewing angle.
It's only a short arc, but it makes small adjustments to the LA8600 a one-handed job, not a back-breaking, cabinet-gouging event, and it's indicative of the thought that LG has put in to the overall design.
The access to ports at the back was also particularly appreciated — the four HDMI ports and the three USB ports at the side, not the bottom, making it simple to get everything plugged in.
As we said in the preview, the LA8600 arrived pre-assembled in a special road case, so we can't comment on what the initial set-up is like for when you first open the box.
The software set-up, however, is just as effortless as we've come to expect from modern TVs — auto-scanning for channels, auto-detect for internet — it's a matter of a few remote clicks, and you're up and running in a few minutes.
Easy access for the HDMI and USB ports.
(Credit: Nic Healey/CNET Australia)
The new-look Magic Remote also gets a big thumbs up. LG has kept the general design of the older one, with a few tweaks. The back lighting can be turned on and off, the scroll wheel is responsive and the buttons all have good feedback.
The voice commands can be accessed from the remote, and, more importantly, the pointer function seems a little tighter than previous models. We were quite surprised by how easy it was to use the on-screen keyboard with the remote.
The smart TV interface will also feel quite similar to anyone who's owned the older models. The screen is divided into section, with the default, labelled Premium, where you find your video-on-demand content, including a sold array of catch-up TV.
This is followed by 3D world, Smart World, Game World and then the Smart Share category, which is where you can link the LA8600 to devices around the home and generally connect to your home network.
LG certainly has all of the elements you'd want from a smart TV, including a well-populated apps marketplace, but the interface feels just a little dated. That said, you can easily edit the order in which the categories appear, and even create your own custom "card" with up to eight of your preferred apps and links in the one spot.
Similarly, the quick find bar at the bottom of the screen should make things a bit easier, but it actually feels over-populated. Moving between screens in the interface also doesn't feel as smooth as we'd like. We definitely look forward to LG updating the interface down the track.
Finally, the LA8600 comes with a camera along the top that can be manually opened and closed. The camera is fine for Skype or games, and you can even take lounge-room "selfies", if you'd like. Motion control is an option, but we're not sure why you would when the Magic Remote works so well.
The Magic Remote is responsive and great to use.
(Credit: Nic Healey/CNET Australia)
In terms of picture, the LA8600 is excellent — really one of LG's best in the LED category. Blu-ray was smooth, with great contrast and detail. Blacks appear deep, and the same goes for full HD video files off the internet.
The presets include Game, Cinema, Eco, Standard and Vivid. All can be adjusted manually for personal choice, but we'd be hard pressed to find anything to alter in the Cinema or Game modes.
Even standard-def streaming sources such as iView looked good on the screen. We were very happy with the images the LA8600 delivered under different lighting conditions, as well; both darkened rooms and areas with a reasonable amount of ambient lighting didn't seem to affect the image, and we didn't have much of a problem with screen glare.
In terms of 3D, the passive screen on the LA8600 worked just fine — certainly no judder, and none of the occasional dizziness you can get from 3D.
As a final note, we thought the LA8600 was rather good when it came to gaming, certainly when using a PS3. Again, good colours and contrast, with high-action scenes looking smooth.
If we had any real complaints, they were around a few of the smart TV elements. The voice search worked OK, but it had one or two issues understanding us, and, as we said, the layout wasn't the slickest we've seen.
Weirdly, if you're in settings mode at all, the set exits back to the TV channels by default, rather than taking you back to the smart TV area if that's what you were in. The same goes if you click the exit button on an app. That's certainly not a big deal, but it caused a little frustration at times.
In the end, LG's LA8600 is an excellent panel, with a great design, and while the smart TV elements may need a few tweaks, and the price is in line with what LG competitors are doing in the market — even a little bit cheaper than some.
It's still an AU$4099 TV — definitely not a budget model — but there's nothing in the LA8600 that would suggest it was overpriced for what LG has managed to pack in. This is a genuinely impressive TV and a great flagship for LG's 2013 range.