It will be fascinating to see what LG does with its plasma TVs in 2012. For right now, they don’t seem to fit at all comfortably into the brand’s ‘story’.
Why? Because they use active 3D technology rather than the passive 3D technology LG has adopted - and been so bullish about - for all of its 3D LCD TVs. This must inevitably make life a bit tough for LG’s marketing people, as it’s hard to say on the one hand that the passive 3D format is the best one for the consumer when almost half of its own TV range uses the other format!
The reason LG gives for staying active with its 3D plasmas is that plasma TVs can’t go bright enough to work with - or rather, through - the filter that goes across the front of passive 3D displays. So we can only imagine that unless LG improves the brightness output of its future plasma TVs enough to support the passive filter, it’s going to have to try and deliver the same rather mixed message next year. Unless it ditches plasma altogether!
Anyway, while this speculation is all very interesting (!), it’s not getting us far into the main business of the day: reviewing LG’s 50PZ950. So without further ado, let’s check this 50in flagship plasma out - active 3D and all.
The 50PZ950 makes a strong first impression, by combining an attractively minimal, single-layer fascia with an exceptionally heavy duty build quality. There’s a nice subtle design touch, too, in the way the glass sheet that sits over the entire fascia is allowed to extend slightly beyond each of the screen’s edges. This makes the TV look wafer thin unless you make a point of sticking your head around its side and see that its rear actually protrudes around 50mm.
The 50PZ950’s connections are right in line with the sort of thing we’d expect to see on a flagship TV in 2011. The increasingly inevitable four HDMIs get the ball rolling, but it’s the set’s multimedia facilities that most stand out. For a start there are two USBs, capable of playing an impressively expansive range of photo, movie and music file formats. Or you can use one of them to make the TV wi-fi ready courtesy of a USB dongle (which has been included for free). Or you can even use the USBs for recording programmes from the built-in Freeview HD tuner.
The wi-fi connection - or a LAN if you prefer the hard-wired route - is multi-talented too, providing support for the Freeview HD tuner, permitting streaming from DLNA-ready PCs, and allowing you to delve into LG’s latest Smart TV online platform.
Exploring this Smart TV system in depth, we were startled to find some quite significant changes since we last checked it out only a few weeks ago. Particularly notable is the addition of BlinkBox, with its mixture of rentable films and free TV series. We also spotted new AutoCar, Stuff and ITN video feeds, a new ‘3D Zone’ channel for streaming 3D documentaries and entertainment programming, as well as subscription-only services from Box Office 365 and The Cartoon Network.
There are quite a few new ‘secondary’ apps too, including some which actually could be of interest to a few people! Crunchy Roll, for instance, should, in theory, provide access to Japanese Anime and Asian entertainment, while Films on Reel by Ray-V should, in theory, allow you to check out some of the work of ‘VJ’ Ray-V.
Why ‘in theory’? Because this app wouldn’t load during our tests. And it wasn’t alone, sadly; we came across a number of different apps that either didn’t load at all or else didn’t perform as they should. Worse still, we also suffered routine buffering ‘pauses’ while trying to watch video through LG’s Smart TV servers - despite using the same, usually reliable ‘UK average’ 6MB broadband connection that we routinely use to test all online TV services.
Add to these problems the fact that the 50PZ950 took a startlingly long time to load many of its apps, and you’ve got an online service that does its best to alienate you despite the amount of content LG has worked so hard to get on there. Maybe the brand should take a break from acquiring new content and focus for a bit on getting what’s there to work properly.