LG PK790 (50PK790) review: LG PK790 (50PK790)

The 50-inch, 1080p 50PK790 is a very fine plasma TV, and one of the first to sport a Freeview HD tuner. Its high-definition pictures are frequently mesmerising, it's packed with features and it's beautifully designed too. Once its image-retention issues have settled down, there'll be very little to dislike

4 min read

CNET editors pick the products and services we write about. When you buy through our links, we may get a commission.

The 50-inch, 1080p 50PK790 plasma TV provides further evidence of LG's flair for design, combining a narrow bezel and slender depth with one of the company's hallmark single-sheet fascias. The angular lines, glass-like finish and opulent table-top stand finish the job off a treat. It's also one of the first TVs in the UK to sport a built-in Freeview HD tuner. It costs about £1,200.


LG PK790 (50PK790)

The Good

Great design; multimedia functions galore; capable of producing terrific pictures, especially with high-definition sources.

The Bad

Minor standard-definition colour issues; initially suffers from fairly major image-retention issues; underwhelming online service and built-in games.

The Bottom Line

LG's put some real effort into improving the picture quality of its plasma TVs with the 50PK790, and it's paid off handsomely. The set's also packed with features, and it's not overly expensive either. It suffers from noticeable image-retention problems at first, but these should subside over time

Feature creature
The 50PK790 packs in plenty of features. Let's start with its connections. Most notably, it has four HDMI ports, as well as Bluetooth wireless connectivity, two USB ports and an Ethernet port. The USB ports can play back JPEG photo, MP3 music and even DivX high-definition video files, as well as allowing Wi-Fi connectivity if you splash out on an optional USB dongle.

We'll come back to the Wi-Fi connectivity later, but first we should add that the set supports DLNA PC streaming via the Ethernet port. The Ethernet socket will also potentially let you one day enjoy interactive features that might come courtesy of the Freeview HD broadcasting platform.

The 50PK790 is a handsome telly, and its HD pictures are equally pleasing

Whether you can actually receive Freeview HD broadcasts -- delivering BBC HD, ITV HD and 4HD through your TV aerial -- currently depends on where you live. A postcode checker can be found on the Freeview HD Web site. Even if you can't get the broadcasts yet, you should be able to in the next couple of years, so we reckon it's a feature you should seriously consider looking into if you're after a new TV. 

NetCast casts its net
That Wi-Fi connectivity we mentioned earlier comes in useful for accessing LG's online NetCast platform. It's good to see LG trying to keep up with its main rivals by providing new online features, but we weren't exactly blown away by what NetCast currently provides. There are just three offerings: the AccuWeather service, YouTube and the Picasa online photo-storage platform. This falls way short of the sort of online features currently available from Philips, Sony, Panasonic and Samsung tellies. Also, we consistently struggled to get stable network connections when trying to access YouTube and Picasa content.

The 50PK790 strives for multimedia glory with a selection of built-in games too. But trust us when we say that these incredibly basic games are about as much fun as sitting on nails.

What's on the menus?
Fortunately, the 50PK790's menus are elegantly presented. They're attractively designed and easy to follow, and handle a really quite extensive set of features and set-up options with aplomb.

Particularly impressive is the TV's extremely sophisticated colour-management system, together with useful wide-colour-gamut, gamma-control and judder-reducing 'film mode' options. Judder should also be curtailed by the TV's so-called 600Hz engine, which pulses the plasma cells many times for each image frame, aiming to deliver smooth motion.

You could, if you wanted to, spend hours playing with all the 50PK790's features. But LG has also provided the set with its handy 'picture wizard' system, which guides you through the whole calibration process via well-explained test screens.

Even better than that, though, are the set's two THX-certified picture presets. The 'THX cinema' mode, in particular, delivers great results with HD films, without you having to do any work. You can also call in an engineer from the Imaging Science Foundation to calibrate the TV for you professionally, although this will set you back around £200.

Picture this
When playing a selection of Blu-ray discs, we were sometimes mesmerised by how good the 50PK790's pictures looked. Colours, for instance, have that often-elusive blend of vibrancy and naturalism that gives pictures real punch without them becoming gaudy. During HD viewing, there's little, if any, trace of the rather odd colour tones occasionally noted with last year's LG plasma TVs.

Colours also benefit from a marked improvement in the black-level response of LG's plasma sets -- dark picture areas now look much more layered and authentic. If we were to be really picky, we'd say there's still room for improvement when it comes to black levels. Panasonic's TVs have the edge here.

The 50PK790 reproduces high-definition details with extreme accuracy and clarity -- and that clarity isn't spoiled by either motion blur or any significant judder. The 50PK790's standard-definition pictures are also reasonably sharp, although they do suffer from slightly inaccurate colour tones at times.

The only really serious complaint we have with the 50PK790 is the way bright and colourful image elements, such as the Sky News logo, can leave ghostly remnants on the screen long after they're supposed to have disappeared. Although the problem will probably diminish as the 50PK790's plasma panel sees more use, it's a shame to see it so noticeably present initially. It seems LG's plasma TVs suffer more from this problem at first than similar tellies from other manufacturers. 

The 50PK790 offers a satisfactory audio performance. There's a more open feel to the sound stage than we would have anticipated given how slender the 50PK790 is, and the speakers don't break down into phutting when pushed hard. Admittedly, part of the reason for this is that the set doesn't offer very much bass.

The LG 50PK790 is a really fine plasma TV. We like its multimedia capabilities, and it's certainly among the best 50-inch TVs we've seen when it comes to showing HD pictures, especially after you've run it for long enough to overcome its early image-retention issues.

Edited by Charles Kloet