The 55LW980T’s general onscreen menus are excellent; graphics-rich and easy to read and navigate. LG has even included two different control systems with the TV. For as well as a standard LG remote, you get a ‘Magic’ one that allows you to navigate through menu options by pointing the remote directly at the screen, and using a much simplified series of buttons and ‘gestures’.
The 55LW980T’s screen specs seem to tally nicely with the sort of things we’d hope to see from a flagship TV. The screen’s resolution is full HD of course, and LG claims to be able to get a monstrously high 10,000,000:1 contrast ratio out of it thanks to the onboard direct LED/local dimming illumination system.
As recently as IFA 2011 we were being told by LG's TV product managers that the 55LW980T would be using no less than 288 separately controllable LED clusters. Such a specification would have allowed the set to deliver a very good degree of brightness localisation - in other words, deep blacks should be able to sit adjacent to really bright whites without too much ‘bleeding’.
This was the information we reported in good faith when we first posted this review. But we've discovered since this original review that at some point LG decided to reduce the amount of controllable LED clusters to the much lower figure of 96. A spec change which certainly explains perfectly the initial problems we had with light haloing/bleeding, as described below. It goes without saying that LG really shouldn't be making spec changes of this magnitude so late in the day, especially without informing journalists about it.
Expecting the 55LW980T’s 2D capabilities to be its main draw, this is where we started the performance phase of our test. And after a bit of unexpected tinkering, the TV didn’t let us down.
The tinkering revolves around the set’s contrast settings - or more specifically, its local dimming settings. Our test set arrived with its local dimming option set pretty high, which led to disturbing amounts of light ‘clouds’ around bright objects when they appear against dark backgrounds. The extent of this so-called ‘haloing’ effect really surprised us given that initially we were under the impression that the 55LW980T had 288 points of light control. But it's much easier to understand now that we've come to learn there are actually only 96 locally controllable light points.
So despite our usual liking for local dimming technology, we hurriedly turned the 55LW980T’s local dimming system right off. Only to be presented with the poorest black level response we’ve probably ever seen from a direct LED TV!
Thankfully, there is a solution to these black level woes, which is to set the local dimming option to Low. There’s still a little haloing under extreme circumstances, but it’s much less noticeable, and black levels look satisfyingly deep. Especially as even the blackest corners using this setting contain impressive amounts of shadow detail compared with other LCD technologies.
With this initial scare dealt with, the 55LW980T really starts to shine with its other picture attributes. Its colours are spectacular for instance, with an exceptional combination of brightness and fierce saturations. Yet the clearly potent processing engine at the 55LW980T’s heart ensures there’s plenty of subtlety to accompany the pyrotechnics, with neither striping nor blotching to spoil the colour show.
The 55LW980T’s 2D HD pictures are exquisitely sharp and detailed too - even when there’s a lot of motion to deal with. LG TVs can normally be a little hit and miss where motion is concerned, but the 55LW980T’s motion looks clean, fluid and completely natural (so long as you don’t bother with the provided TruMotion processing). So natural does motion look on the 55LW980T, in fact, that we quickly forgot to even look out for potential motion problems.
The 55LW980T also delivers engaging standard definition pictures. There’s still a little way to go before LG’s boffins can match the near-perfection of the standard def upscaling witnessed on Samsung’s premium TVs, but the fact that the 55LW980T can convert standard def images to its HD resolution well enough to make them enjoyable on a 55in screen is an achievement in itself.
Buzzing from the quality of the 55LW980T’s 2D pictures, we popped on one of the seven - yes, seven - pairs of passive 3D glasses LG supplies with its 55in LCD flagship and fired up our 3D Blu-ray player. And what we saw stopped us in our tracks. For as hinted earlier, we immediately found ourselves startlingly engaged by not just the simplicity but also the quality of the 55LW980T’s 3D pictures.