In most ways, the 50PK990’s pictures are actually pretty excellent. They’re bright by plasma standards, for a start, pinging out colours and peak whites with real vibrancy and vitality. Yet crucially this aggressive tendency seldom if ever spills over into garishness, particularly if you take the time to calibrate the screen well - or failing that, stick with one of the THX presets.
Colours are more natural in tone than with previous LG plasma TVs, too - a situation helped considerably by the screen’s ability to portray deftly subtle colour shifts and blends, even during dark scenes.
Talking of dark scenes, the 50PK990 delivers plenty of plasma’s black level advantage, producing rich, deep black colours yet retaining lots of the depth-generating shadow detail that eludes all LCD TVs to some extent. It’s well worth noting, too, that unlike the vast majority of LCD TVs, the 50PK990’s impressive black level response doesn’t falter if you’re forced to watch the screen from even quite a severe angle.
We’re duty-bound to add here that the 50PK990’s black levels don’t appear to go quite as profoundly deep as those of Panasonic’s G20 plasma series. But they still rate as excellent for the 50PK990’s money, and the TruBlack filter makes them look purer than those of the 50PK790.
HD pictures look detailed and sharp, meanwhile, provided, at least, that you ensure all of the set’s noise reduction circuits are set to off and its aspect ratio is set to Just Scan (which removes all overscanning from the image). Actually, to avoid video noise, you have to be a little careful not to over-sharpen things; we wouldn’t recommend that the Sharpness setting gets any higher than 55, for instance, or that you use the set’s Edge Enhancement feature.
It does no harm to the screen’s sharpness that its motion looks crystal clear and blur-free compared with the LCD world. Yet it also avoids the slightly speckled look that once used to be a common plasma trait.
There’s a touch more judder around than some people might like, despite the 600Hz processing. But personally we found the judder levels to be quite cinematic when watching Blu-rays!
One final addition to the 50PK990‘s really quite impressive performance ‘hit list’ is the way it upscales standard definition pictures to the Full HD, 50in screen without making them look soft or noisy. There’s some colour tone slippage at times, especially with greens and skin tones, and skin tones occasionally look a little waxy. But we wouldn’t consider these to be serious - or rare - problems.
The 50PK990’s audio, meanwhile, is best described as ‘respectable’. The set can go quite loud without distorting, and retains good vocal clarity even during action scenes. But there’s a predictable lack of bass in evidence with rich musical scores and bombastic Hollywood action fare.
The 50PK990 improves on the 50PK790. Subtly when it comes to black level response, and majorly when it comes to image retention. Yet we still can’t quite bring ourselves to award it, partly because of a couple of little careless areas of picture indiscipline, and partly because we’ve spotted Panasonic’s P50G20 selling for a similar price, despite carrying a superior online service, Freesat and Freeview HD tuners (the LG only has Freeview HD), and, we suspect, even better HD pictures. Watch this space for a review of the P50G20 soon.