- Likable active 3D pictures
- Extremely high build quality
- Good multimedia support
- Contrast not the best
- High input lag
- Some crosstalk on 3D
- Review Price: £1019.00
- 50in plasma TV
- Active 3D playback
- Smart TV online service
- THX and ISF endorsed
- Magic remote control
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.
As we would expect with a high-end TV from LG, the 50PZ950 carries the endorsement of the Imaging Science Foundation (ISF). This means it’s got an impressively fulsome suite of picture calibration tools, including gamma settings and colour and white balance management controls. There’s even a filter system that lets you just show red, green or blue in the picture to aid with colour measurement and fine tuning.
There’s further endorsement, too, from THX, which has officially approved the set’s 3D and 2D picture quality standards – as well as providing handy THX picture presets that we recommend that you use unless you’re getting the ISF in or you feel like spending some time yourself tinkering with the many options available (as most of the other presets aren’t particularly helpful).
The 50PZ950 ships with not one but two remote controls. One is a standard LG affair, which is perfectly respectable as such remotes go. But the other ‘Magic’ remote is much more interesting, as it offers a completely different approach to controlling your TV that combines gesture control with just pointing the remote at the screen to select the onscreen options you want. This approach won’t suit everyone, but we’re confident that some people will find it much more intuitive than the normal remote approach.
Turning finally to the 50PZ950’s screen specification before checking out how it performs, our most important findings are that it has a full HD resolution, 600Hz sub-field driving (for enhanced motion reproduction and general stability), and most promisingly of all, a built-in ‘TruBlack’ filter to deliver an enhanced contrast performance.
Unfortunately, though, this filter doesn’t produce quite the degree of black level depth we’d hoped it would. While watching 2D, there’s a slightly grey look to parts of the picture that should look black, which immediately reduces the potency of the set’s contrast performance. The greyness also obscures some of the subtle details that help give dark scenes a sense of depth.
To be fair, the 50PZ950’s black level performance is pretty respectable if compared with even a good LCD TV. But it certainly fails to impress when sat side by side with the best of the 2011 plasma TVs from Samsung and Panasonic. Panasonic’s black level response – certainly from its G series and above – in particular is in a whole different league.
It’s worth adding that the greyness is much less apparent when watching 3D on the 50PZ950, probably because of the dimming effect of LG’s active shutter glasses. But the lack of shadow detail remains.
Having started in a negative vein, we might as well get the rest of the the 50PZ950’s problems out of the way. Console gamers, for instance, will be alarmed to hear that even using the TV’s provided Game preset, the 50PZ950’s input lag figure measured over 100ms. This is almost three times higher than the worst figures we’ve recorded from almost every other brand this year, and it doesn’t take too long getting your head blown off more than usual on Call of Duty to realise that this is a serious problem.
Another concern is image retention. Ghostly echoes of bright image elements regularly stick around over subsequent dark scenes for a good few seconds after they’re supposed to have disappeared. This isn’t as overt as it was with last year’s top-end LG plasma TVs, and should diminish once you’ve used the TV for more than 100 hours or so. But it’s still a phenomenon we wish LG could get a grip on.
Where 3D is concerned, we found ourselves less than impressed with the single set of active shutter glasses that ship with the 50PZ950. They cover an adequate amount of your field of vision, but their curved lenses prove rather good at trapping reflections of any light sources that might be around.
Also where 3D is concerned, there’s evidence of crosstalk ghosting noise when watching dark 3D scenes. However, the 50PZ950’s 3D performance also kickstarts our positive findings about its picture quality, for crosstalk is practically non-existent during bright scenes (a million miles, then, from the crosstalk horrors of LG’s entry level 50PW950T). What’s more, the 50PZ950’s 3D pictures look slightly brighter and more colourful than those of LG’s plasma rivals – especially Panasonic.
Depth levels are natural but dynamic too, and 3D motion is handled well, with good levels of clarity and minimal judder. It’s great, too, to be able to see the full HD resolution of 3D Blu-ray discs on this active TV compared with the slight reduction in resolution noted with LG’s passive sets.
The 50PZ950 also delivers some excellent colours after a little calibration work, with a striking combination of respectable vibrancy levels and natural tones – with the possible exception of some fractionally orangey reds. There could, perhaps, be a little more subtlety in the 50PZ950’s handling of colour blends, as there’s a slightly patchy look to skin tones while watching standard definition. But it’s not a major problem, and HD colour blends look immaculate.
HD footage looks crisp and detailed too, especially as there’s no sign of the motion blurring that affects so many LCD TVs. Standard definition pictures don’t enjoy the highest levels of sharpness we’ve seen, but the level of softness is by no means unwatchably bad, and also helps the TV ‘hide’ the sort of MPEG compression and grain noise that can affect standard definition images on big-screen TVs.
The 50PZ950’s pictures are quite bright by plasma standards too – despite LG’s protestations that plasma doesn’t support the passive 3D format because it’s not bright enough. Finally, as usual with plasma TVs, you can watch the 50PZ950’s pictures from almost as wide an angle as you like without images losing contrast or colour saturation – a handy trick you don’t get with LCD TVs.
Keeping the 50PZ950’s pictures company, meanwhile, is a pretty robust audio performance. The set’s speakers are able to go louder without losing dynamic range or clarity than those stuffed into most flat TVs, and there’s even a little bit of bass on hand to flesh out explosions. Vocals – especially male ones – can sound a little thick and ‘buzzy’ at times, but overall the 50PZ950’s audio is perfectly respectable.
While the 50PZ950 talks a good talk in feature terms and its pictures certainly have their moments, overall its image quality doesn’t keep up with the high plasma pace set by Samsung and Panasonic this year. LG also needs to get to grips with its input lag issues if it’s going to start satisfying TrustedReviews’ gaming obsessions…
Score in detail
3D Quality 8
2D Quality 7
Sound Quality 8
|Max. Resolution||1920 x 1080|
|Full HD 1080p||Yes|
|Refresh Rate (Hertz)||600 (via sub-field drive)Hz|
|Digital Audio Out||1 (optical)|
|WiFi||Yes (via included dongle)|
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