LG 42LE4900 £600
6th Feb 2011 | 10:10
LG's great value 42-inch edge-LED set has some tasty features, but can its pictures cut the mustard at this price?
LG 42LE4900 review - Overview
LG's close links with Sky and its 3D service are well publicised but not everyone is ready (or wealthy enough) to enter the third dimension right now. To that end, LG also boasts a wide range of conventional sets that offer bucketloads of other features without having to pay the inevitable 3D premium.
The 42LE4900 is one such set, offering edge LED backlighting and all the enticing slimness that comes with it, as well as coveted baubles including a built-in Freeview HD tuner, internet TV access, DLNA networking and much more.
That's a heck of a lot to pack into a sub-£600 set, so we can only hope that LG hasn't sacrificed picture quality on the altar of good value.
The 42LE4900 is just one of many non-3D LED TVs in LG's latest range. The 4900 series, alongside the lower-specified 490 LCD range, was launched last year and as affordable sets with built-in Freeview HD, they're part of LG's 'commitment to offering consumers easy access to hi-def content'.
The 4900 range also comes in screen sizes of 32 and 37-inch, making this a range very much aimed at those with modestly sized living rooms to match their modest budgets.
LG 42LE4900 review - Features
As mentioned previously, the 42LE4900 boasts a feature list that may exceed what you expect from a sub-£600 set.
Without 3D to hog the headlines, the honour of attention-grabber supreme goes to the Freeview HD tuner, which will no doubt be the first item on many people's shopping list. BBC One HD, BBC HD, ITV1 HD, Channel 4 HD – they're all there, ready and able to make your eyes pop out with their scissor-sharp detail.
Then there's DLNA networking, which is now very much an established part of the home entertainment landscape. It enables you to stream movies, music and photos from your PCs, laptops and other entertainment devices, and, as normal for LG gear, it welcomes all formats.
It's joined on the spec sheet by NetCast, which was a handy little feature when it first emerged, but is now looking tired and hamstrung by a dearth of compelling content – you get YouTube, Picasa and AccuWeather.com, only one of which is worth bothering with.
Thankfully, 2011 promises great things for LG's internet TV offering with the introduction of its new Smart TV system, which bumps up the content and brings full-on web browsing to the table. For now though, the 42LE4900 will have to make do with the old version.
These services are piped into the Ethernet port, which also will bring any future IPTV services on Freeview HD to your living room. Have a butcher's on the back panel and you'll spot two USB ports, which enable you to play MP3, DivX HD, WMV HD, MP4, XviD and JPEG files from memory devices.
Elsewhere the 42LE4900 goes the extra mile when it comes to picture adjustments. These include LG's regular Imaging Science Foundation-approved Expert Mode settings, which make it possible for a professional engineer to come over to your house and spend a few hours calibrating the set to within an inch of its life.
Tweaks include a deep and detailed colour management system, with brightness, contrast and tint settings for red, green and blue, plus gamma, noise reduction, black level, colour gamut and temperature settings. But if you're a little bit shy about all that stuff, the built-in Picture Wizard makes it easy to get the picture looking shipshape.
They're joined by other modes such as Dynamic Contrast, Dynamic Colour, Real Cinema, Eye Care, xvYCC, Clear White and an energy saving setting if you're concerned about your carbon footprint.
Despite its ultra-slim profile, LG has managed to squeeze a considerable amount of connections onto the rear panel and along the side, including four HDMI inputs, optical digital audio output, two sets of component inputs, composite input, PC input and a good old-fashioned Scart socket.
LG 42LE4900 review - Ease of use
Like the rest of LG's current TVs, the 42LE4900 boasts a wonderful menu system. When you first dive in, you see a beautifully presented grid of options that uses detailed, full colour graphics. It covers all of the main functions, including direct access to the Picture and Sound menus so you can zip straight to them without having to go via the full setup menu.
From here you can also visit the networking feature (under My Media), check out NetCast (although this also has its own button on the remote) and fiddle about with eight cute little games, which is a nice surprise.
The setup menu itself is laid out with the same gorgeous graphics and fonts, plus it operates with a fluidity that precious few TVs can match. The basics are all up front, making them easy to find, but anyone who wants the more complex settings doesn't have to look too hard. This is still one of the most user-friendly menu systems around.
The Freeview HD displays are also superb. From the eight-day EPG to the onscreen info banners, they boast a clarity and legibility that pays dividends when used on a regular basis. And we encountered no problems finding our content on our networking feature or a USB stick thanks to the straightforward, folder-based menus.
In the case of USB playback, the TV shows a thumbnail for each file – now that's impressive. Despite its limited content, NetCast is beautifully presented, using three large icons in the foreground with a street-based backdrop, giving it a fun, family-orientated flavour.
The remote makes up for its slight plasticky feel with considerate button placement. The central panel of menu controls places the direction keys in the middle and dots the most-used buttons around the edge, making everyday operation an absolute breeze, plus the volume, programme change and number keys are all exactly where you'd expect to find them.
Also useful is that some of the buttons glow in the dark so you can navigate with the lights off.
LG 42LE4900 review - Picture
First impressions are generally positive, with the 42LE4900 delivering a bright, punchy picture that lends itself well to high-definition material. That means blockbusting films like Avatar look instantly dazzling, with Pandora's cartoon-like colours beaming from the screen with eye-popping intensity.
But there's a pleasing subtlety to the set's colour reproduction too, conveying tonal blends smoothly and tackling Sam Worthington's tricky, stubbly skin with a convincing tone. Not quite the lucid, life-like reproduction of some sets, but certainly a great effort at this price.
Detail reproduction is also terrific. The XD Engine at the heart of the set lets none of those pixels slip through the net, making the movie's complex CG textures and landscapes look razor sharp, while objects are strongly defined around the edges. Shots of Pandora's wild and wonderful creatures ram the point home, as the set picks out hairs, scaly skin patterns and fine glimmers of light with ease.
The 42LE4900 isn't quite as assured when it comes to black levels. Switching over to a darker, moodier movie, such as Inception, shows up the set's unconvincing attempts at conveying blacks and picking out shadow detail.
This becomes a problem when it's asked to display scenes like the night-time aerial sweep over Paris – the screen looks mushy and indistinct, with the different buildings merging into a mass of black in certain areas. Inside Sato's in-dream apartment, dark areas in the background are black holes, while the definition of the lapels and pockets on Cobb's black jacket aren't as pronounced as they might be.
Another problem is that the edge LED backlighting causes some pooling of light in the corners of the screen, which is clearly visible when you play a movie with black bars and during dark scenes.
And one final negative concerns the set's lack of fluidity when it comes to motion. With none of LG's TruMotion anti-blur processing on board, you get a fairly smeary trail behind fast moving objects and hints of judder here and there, particularly during camera pans.
Test clips from a calibration disc showing fast-moving trains and quick camera pans up and down buildings display enough judder and blur to make you feel queasy.
But despite these shortcomings, which to be fair most people might expect from a sub-£600 set missing powerful picture processing, it produces very vibrant, engaging pictures with lots of detail and radiant colours.
This lends itself well to digital TV, which looks particularly crisp and solid. Hi-def channels look terrific, and although there's evidence of noise on SD channels the images are eminently watchable. And as an upscaler of SD material the set does a decent job, giving our Avatar DVD pleasing clarity and depth when fed in at 576p
LG 42LE4900 review - Sound and value
Like an eight-stone opera singer, the 42LE4900 musters a surprising amount of sonic power from its skinny frame. We're not quite sure how, but the scene in chapter 2 of Inception, when the building collapses, sounds loud and detailed, and high frequencies are relayed without excessive harshness.
However, it's still boxy in tone and seriously lacking in bass, which is fine when watching Dickinson's Real Deal but gets a bit wearing when you watch Inception all the way through.
Weighing up the amount of features against the circa-£600 price tag, we have to conclude that the 42LE4900 offers good value for money. It's great to find DLNA features and USB playback on the spec sheet, plus you don't find picture settings this detailed on many sets at this price.
That value factor does start to dip once you consider the picture shortcomings, the lack of on-board processing and the limitations of LG's current internet TV offering, but even then there's still enough good stuff here to stop you feeling short-changed.
LG 42LE4900 review - Verdict
The 42LE4900 is a great-looking TV set, boasting super-slim dimensions (thanks to its edge LED backlight) and a fetching gloss-black bezel. And at this price, the feature list is equally attractive, including modern-day frills like DLNA networking, NetCast and digital media playback from USB, not to mention the unusually detailed picture settings.
There's no motion processing or 3D support, but sacrifices were always inevitable at this price and what's left still makes it feel like good value.
It's a pity then that the LG's picture quality couldn't transcend its price tag – sure, you get bright, engaging picture quality with bright, engaging Blu-ray moments, but watch dark scenes and the poor black definition and backlight issues mean you're not seeing movies at their very best.
It's fine for everyday TV viewing but anyone with serious cinematic ambitions should save a little more moolah and check out one of LG's better specified sets.
The 42LE4900's hi-tech design looks great and its space saving 35mm profile is undoubtedly appealing. The inclusion of networking, flexible format support via USB and internet TV access (albeit limited) is also pleasing for the money.
There's a generous range of connections and the detailed ISF-approved picture settings help you (or an engineer) find a picture balance to suit. Also impressive is the slick, attractive operating system.
The set struggles with black levels, making dark scenes look a little mushy, while backlight issues cause pooling in the corners and poor motion reproduction leaves objects looking blurry and juddery. NetCast offers limited content compared to rival sets from Sony and Samsung.
If you've got around £600 to splash on a TV then you could do a lot worse than the 42LE4900. There's a tasty array of features on board, the likes of which you don't always find in this price bracket, and like many of the latest LED-equipped sets its slim, sexy looks will be a perfect fit for any living room.
Generous connectivity and extensive picture calibration settings are further high points.
That said, you will have to make some sacrifices in terms of picture quality and on-board processing. Problems with black levels, uneven backlight distribution and a lack of motion fluidity don't show movies to their full potential.
But if you're fine with that then you may find enough to like elsewhere to make the 42LE4900 a good purchase.