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LG 55LW980T Review

Pros

  • Superb 2D and 3D pictures
  • Sumptuous design
  • Huge multimedia support

Cons

  • Evidence of jaggedness over small objects and bright edges
  • very limited vertical 3D viewing angle
  • Input lag a potential problem for gamers

Key Specifications

  • Review Price: £2500.00
  • 55in LCD TV with direct LED lighting
  • Passive 3D playback
  • Freeview HD tuner
  • Smart TV functionality
  • Online and DLNA multimedia support

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When we first found out about LG’s ‘Nano’ TV series at the Las Vegas Consumer Electronics Show way back in January 2011, there was no doubt in our mind about its main attraction: direct LED lighting.

This system involves illuminating LCD TV screens with clusters of LED lights positioned directly behind the screen rather than the more common approach of using LEDs ranged around the edges of the screen. Add to this configuration as the 55LW980T does local dimming, where the clusters of LEDs can have their luminance levels individually controlled, and experience has shown that you’ve got a potential recipe for serious picture quality success.

The fact that the Nano TVs delivered its direct LED tech in a body as slim if not slimmer than most edge LED TVs was just the icing on the cake. LG 55LW980T 'Nano'
It’s one fine-looking TV

So intrigued were we by the idea of an ultra slim direct LED TV, in fact, that the Nano sets’ 3D capabilities rather passed us by. Especially when we learned that the Nano sets were going to have tried and tested active 3D technology rather than the controversial new LG passive 3D system employed on all of LG’s other LCD TVs.

As the year progressed, though, and LG’s attempts to position passive 3D as the superior 3D option became almost scarily aggressive, the decision to use active 3D on the Nano sets started to look increasingly awkward, potentially undermining the brand’s entire 3D marketing thrust. So it was no great shock when LG ultimately decided to shift to passive 3D for the Nano sets. Side view

And when we found out, we couldn’t help feeling a bit disappointed, feeling that  the decision could have robbed us of what had the potential to be one of the most all-round desirable TVs of this generation.

Here’s the thing, though: We were wrong. For LG’s decision to make the 55in 55LW980T a passive 3D TV has turned out to be a masterstroke. Far from exposing passive 3D’s potential weaknesses as feared, applying it to such a high quality core TV as the 55LW980T has actually underlined passive 3D’s strengths.

We’ll get into detail on why this is so later. But for now it’s high time we hit our usual review stride. Starting with the fact that the 55in 55LW980T Nano set is one darned attractive TV. From its single-layer fascia to its trim bezel and slim rear, it oozes high-end class and build quality.
back view
It has all the connections that matter too, including four v1.4 HDMIs, two USBs, plus built-in Wi-Fi. The USBs can be used to record from the built-in Freeview HD tuner or for playing back a pretty expansive suite of photo, video and music multimedia file formats.

The Wi-Fi (or a LAN) adds file-streaming from DLNA PCs to the TV’s capabilities, as well as access to LG’s increasingly admirable Smart TV service. We did a recent update of the content now carried by LG’s online TV platform in our review of the LG 50PZ950, so we won’t go into the same level of detail again here. Suffice it to say that as well as a startling number of relatively basic information and gaming ‘apps’, there’s now a considerable amount of our preferred video streaming content, including the BBC iPlayer, the AceTrax movie rental/purchase site, and Blinkbox.

The 55LW980T also reminded us of just how well designed and attractive LG’s Smart TV menus are. And it was a massive relief to find that although its online services are a bit sluggish, the 55LW980T suffered from far fewer crashes and dysfunctional online services than we experienced with the 50PZ950T.

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’.

This probably won’t interest tech-heads, but a quick poll of friends and colleagues found a pretty healthy section of people who found the Magic Remote approach really intuitive.LG 55LW980T 'Nano'

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.
LG 55LW980T 'Nano'
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.
LG 55LW980T 'Nano'
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.

First up, after becoming increasingly aggravated lately by the amount of brightness taken out of active 3D pictures by active shutter glasses, the relatively little amount of brightness removed from the 55LW980T’s pictures in 3D mode is a breath of fresh air. We’ve noticed this on other passive sets, of course. But the truly intense brightness and vibrancy of the 55LW980T’s pictures makes this passive advantage count even more.

The brightness of the 55LW980T’s 3D images means you don’t have to dim your lights like you do with active 3D TVs when watching 3D, and the passive system further means you can watch 3D in ambient light without suffering any flickering.LG 55LW980T 'Nano'

Another thing we’ve started to get increasingly intolerant of with active 3D is crosstalk noise. There are active displays that are more or less free of crosstalk ghosting noise, but they are in the minority at the moment, and whenever we see crosstalk, we’re finding it harder to ignore it. So it’s great to find only occasional signs of it on the 55LW980T.

The 55LW980T isn’t entirely free of crosstalk, no matter what LG might claim. But it does appear much less commonly than it does on the latest active 3D screens from the likes of Samsung and Sony.

The quality of the panel at the 55LW980T’s heart also seems to help 3D Blu-ray playback look slightly sharper than it has with previous large-screen passive TVs. We still say there’s some loss of resolution compared with the best quality active screens, but the image certainly looks much more detailed and sharp than a standard definition feed, especially given the intensity of the brightness that’s emphasising every last bit of detail in the passive 3D image.

The lack of crosstalk also enhances the image’s appearance of sharpness, as does the screen’s freedom from motion blur.LGTV front

The 55LW980T’s 3D images enjoy a well-judged sense of depth too, and finally, as a result of all the above strengths, we found we could watch 3D on the 55LW980T for hours without becoming fatigued.

The most serious problem with the 55LW980T’s 3D images concerns the way the passive 3D filter across its screen causes visible horizontal lines over both bright edges (especially if they’re curved ) and small, bright objects that appear against predominantly dark backdrops. The obviousness of this reduces the further from the screen you’re sat, but it’s definitely quite distracting at times. But here’s the thing: in the context of the 55LW980T’s all-round image quality, this ‘striping’ artefact seems a relatively small price to pay for all the set’s 3D strengths.

The 55LW980T’s 3D pictures also descend into horrible crosstalk if you watch them from a position of more than 12 degrees above or below the screen. But this shouldn’t be an issue for most living room set ups.

There are a trio of other general picture flaws to report aside from the haloing issue mentioned earlier. First, there’s loss of colour and contrast when viewing the TV from wide angles. Next, the glass sheet that lies across the set’s fascia can be a little reflective of ambient light. Finally and most annoyingly, we measured input lag at just over 60ms. This is better than most other LG TVs this year, but it still high enough to potentially damage your gaming performance.

But with some decently rich, well-rounded and powerful sound keeping its 55in images company, the good news about the 55LW980T far outweighs the bad.

Verdict
In working hard to make the 55LW980T its best 2D TV to date, LG has also managed to serve up the most persuasive argument for passive 3D yet. So much so that we can fully imagine the set appealing to serious video enthusiasts as well as ‘casual’ users.

We continually check thousands of prices to show you the best deals. If you buy a product through our site we will earn a small commission from the retailer – a sort of automated referral fee – but our reviewers are always kept separate from this process. You can read more about how we make money in our Ethics Policy.

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Trusted Score


Score in detail

  • Features 9
  • 3D Quality 9
  • Value 8
  • Design 9
  • 2D Quality 9
  • Sound Quality 8

Features

Size (Inch) 55in
Display Type LED
Max. Resolution 1920 x 1080
Full HD 1080p Yes
Digital Tuner Yes
Freeview HD Yes
Freesat HD No
3D Ready Yes
Contrast Ratio 10,000,000:1
Refresh Rate (Hertz) 1000Hz

Connectivity