LG 42LV550T £799
26th Jul 2011 | 15:40
It might not have 3D, but this 42-inch LG TV still has plenty going for it
LG 42LV550T: Overview
Although LG's passive 3D system has comprehensively proven its worth, at least where relatively compact screen sizes are concerned, it still comes as a slight relief to find that the brand's 42LV550T doesn't have 3D built in. It means there's no need to have to get into the whole passive vs active 3D philosophical debate again, allowing this review to focus solely on the product itself rather than larger issues beyond it.
What's more, despite its lack of 3D, the 42-inch smart TV has a decent quantity of tricks to get stuck into. The LV550T series does, after all, represent the top end of LG's non-3D TVs, and the brand traditionally isn't shy of delivering plenty of bang for your buck with its relatively high-end sets.
Among the LG 42LV550T's headline features is something called MCI 500Hz. The MCI bit stands for Motion Clarity Index, confirming that this is a feature designed to boost the appearance of motion.
There will be a little more detail on this later, but for now it seems safe to say that this new 'measurement' appears to be a direct response to Samsung's use of similarly high CMR (Clear Motion Rate) figures on the spec lists of its TVs.
The LG 42LV550T also enjoys edge LED lighting, LG's full 2011 Smart TV service, a Freeview HD tuner and extensive multimedia playback via both a USB port and LG's PLEX multimedia conduit for files stored on a PC or Mac.
Other models in the same range are the 47-inch 47LV550T, 37-inch 37LV550T and 32-inch 32LV550T.
If the LV550T range's features all sound good to you but you want 3D as well, the equivalent 3D model is the 42LW550T.
The LG 42LV550T's price feels about right to us – maybe a touch better than right – for what's on offer. Especially if you're attracted by its now rather excellent PLEX multimedia support.
However, if you want something a little cheaper, the next range down is the LV450U. This series only has a standard definition tuner, lacks smart TV functionality and uses MCI 400 rather than MCI 500.
LG 42LV550T: Features
In keeping with most 2011 TVs, the LG 42LV550T uses an edge LED lighting system. This immediately delivers an obvious design boost, since the set's very trim around the back compared with most conventional LCD TVs. It should also deliver energy benefits – LG claims its edge LED TVs use as much as 40% less energy than normal CCFL lighting systems.
The LG 42LV550T's design looks pretty nice from the front, too, with a reasonably narrow bezel that's given extra swagger by a glossy finish and the way it tapers to a point at its extremities.
TVs as slim and light (13.2kg) as the LG 42LV550T obviously lend themselves nicely to wall hanging, so it's nice to find that all of its connections have been arranged so that you can access them from the side or bottom of the TV; they don't just point straight out.
The connections in question are extensive. Four HDMIs lead the charge, joined among other things by a pair of USB ports, a D-Sub PC port, a LAN port, a component video input and an RS-232 control port that people building integrated home networks will appreciate.
The USBs can be used for either making the TV Wi-Fi ready via an optional dongle, or else playing back a healthy variety of music, photo and video file formats – including Xvid, DivX and MKV.
As for the LAN, this serves no less than three potential functions. First, it's there as mandatory but currently pointless support for the set's built-in Freeview HD tuner. Second, it provides access to LG's new Smart TV online content service, which will be covered in detail in a moment. Finally, it allows you to stream files stored on connected PCs or Macs via the rather pleasantly presented and flexible PLEX interface.
LG is currently the only brand using PLEX, and in earlier reviews it caused quite a few problems, particularly when trying to get the TV talking to Apple Macs.
Rather brilliantly, though, these previous Mac communication problems were fixed on the LG 42LV550T, which hooked up with a PLEX-enabled Mac as soon as it was added to the network. It then proceeded to work very stably, even when streaming HD camcorder files.
LG's Smart TV service, meanwhile, impresses once more with the quality of its presentation and the leap in its content level versus last year's models. Headline services comprise an open web browser, BBC iPlayer, Acetrax movies, VTuner internet radio, YouTube, Picasa and the inevitable Facebook and Twitter apps.
Other so-called 'Premium' apps include Woomi for TV, Funspot for games, mlb.tv for watching baseball, Dailymotion, Google Maps, Viewster, iConcerts, Al Jazeera, CineTrailer, AUPEO! Personal radio and AccuWeather.
There's also a vast quantity of second-tier apps – around 115 at our latest count – covering games, lifestyle, education, news/information and entertainment. The vast majority of these secondary, download-them-if-you-want-them apps are of niche interest, to say the least. So much so that it's hard to imagine anyone filling the set's 300MB of provided app memory particularly fast.
One other little negative point to raise here, too, is that during the review process, some of the Premium services took quite a long time to load.
The 42LV550T joins the majority of LG TVs in receiving the endorsement of the Imaging Science Foundation (ISF). This indicates that the TV has enough picture set-up options to be professionally calibrated.
If you want to have a go at in-depth calibration for yourself, the sort of fine-tuning options available include adjustments for the contrast and brightness of the RGB colour elements; the colour and tone settings for the RGBCMY colour elements; backlight control; gamma presets and 2pt or 10pt white balance adjustment.
The 'Advanced' picture sub-menu also contains all sorts of processing options, such as MPEG and standard noise reduction tools, a dynamic contrast system, a black level booster and a 'Super Resolution' feature for increasing the picture's sharpness.
To be honest, though, most of these options, aside perhaps from the Dynamic Contrast one, are best left turned off, especially if you're watching an HD source, because they can cause the picture to look processed.
The last picture adjustments of note are an optional Local Dimming system that can control portions of the edge LED lights separately to enhance contrast performance, and various settings for the set's TruMotion processing. There's even a manual TruMotion mode where you can adjust how hard the processing works on judder and blur separately.
The last thing to quickly mention on the LG 42LV550T's features is the MCI 500Hz figure noted earlier. The 500Hz bit doesn't refer to an actual image refresh rate of 500Hz in the traditional sense. In fact, the native refresh rate is 100Hz, with the other 400Hz being delivered by a combination of a scanning backlight and the set's motion processing.
LG 42LV550T: Performance
The LG 42LV550T's pictures are a classic game of two halves, in that it looks great with bright scenes, but slightly off with dark ones.
The problem with dark scenes is that while LG has provided a healthy number of tools aimed at getting a convincing black level response during dark scenes, there doesn't seem to be a combination of settings that delivers a totally satisfying final result.
Starting with the Local Dimming feature turned on, for instance, it quickly became apparent that even on the feature's least aggressive setting it causes obvious blocks of light to appear around bright objects when they're appearing against dark backgrounds. So naturally that feature was turned off right away.
However, turning this feature off caused quite a drop off in the depth of black that the LG 42LV550T's screen can resolve. Making sure the Dynamic contrast system was turned on to its lowest setting improved things a bit, although turning this any higher made the image look unstable, with frequent brightness jumps.
Setting the separate Black Level option to low is worth a try, too, but be warned that even on its least powerful setting this can cause shadow detail to be reduced during dark scenes.
Further complications find the provided Cinema preset failing to look at all convincing during dark scenes, with far too much low brightness detailing getting crushed out of the picture, and the appearance of subtle but undeniable backlight 'clouds' over parts of the picture if you're watching in a dark room.
However, the impact of the clouding is reduced almost to nothing if you're watching in a bright room, or if you're watching bright scenes.
In fact, with bright footage the LG 42LV550T is a highly accomplished performer.
Two things in particular stand out right away: sharpness and brightness. Regarding the former, HD material looks impressively detailed and crisp, especially as the set doesn't suffer badly at all with motion blur, even if you decide against using the TruMotion system.
As for the brightness, pictures look intensely dynamic, punchy and colour-rich, except during very dark scenes. In fact, the set's portrayal of bright parts of the picture is so enjoyably aggressive, it effectively hides the screen's black level shortcomings during shots where there's a bold mix of light and darks, leaving only predominantly dark scenes to reveal the black level issues noted earlier.
Colours are decently – perhaps totally – consistently natural in tone too, although the presets on offer all benefit from a little fine-tuning via the colour management features.
Also pleasing for an inexpensive TV is how well defined the colour blends are. There's no sign of the striping or patching noted with some of LG's really entry-level TVs, which helps pictures look more three-dimensional – without actually being 3D, of course!
With the set's motion processing, for most of the time you're probably best leaving it off, because the picture only suffers with a little motion blurring without it, and it can cause processing side effects, even in its lowest preset mode.
The only thing you might want to try – because this minimises unwanted side effects – is using a manual configuration, with the blur element turned way down and the judder element set to two or maybe three. Set the judder any higher and you'll find that film sources start to look unnaturally fluid.
The LG 42LV550T is a middling-to-good performer with standard-definition sources. Noise is reasonably suppressed during the upscaling process, but upscaled pictures don't ultimately look as sharp as they can on some rival sets.
A number of LG TVs this year have suffered quite excessively with input lag, making them unsuitable as gaming monitors. But the 42LV550T doesn't fare too badly, averaging 30ms over the course of 20 separate tests.
The lag actually shifted between a common level of 40ms and an occasional 6ms, but even the occasional 40ms maximum figure should only have a very minor impact on your gaming performance.
LG 42LV550T: Sound, value and ease of use
Considering how slim its bezel is, the LG 42LV550T isn't actually a bad audio performer. It's certainly capable of going surprisingly loud without distortions setting in, and has an uncanny knack for picking up subtle treble details in a mix. Its mid-range is also just about open enough to handle dialogue convincingly at loud volumes.
Its weakness, predictably, is bass, which isn't powerful or deep enough to provide a convincing balance to the effective trebles, leaving the soundstage sounding rather unbalanced, and occasionally harsh, during action scenes.
The 42LV550T's price feels about right - maybe a touch better than right - for what's on offer. Especially if you're attracted by its now rather excellent PLEX multimedia support.
Ease of use
For the most part, the LG 42LV550T's operating system is excellent. Leading the way is LG's mostly superb Smart Hub menu screen, which joins a similarly presented system on Samsung's TVs in offering direct access to a huge amount of sources and apps without looking overcrowded – despite also keeping a reduced version of the TV picture playing on the left-hand side.
The set's remote control is very likable, too. Its slim shape feels good in your hand, and its button layout is unusually coherent.
Picture calibration novices will appreciate the LG 42LV550T's Picture Wizard system, which guides you through a basic but effective picture calibration process.
Our only operational gripes are a) that the sheer volume of apps now available on LG's Smart TV platform makes navigating them rather daunting, and b) that the decision to place the access to the main set-up menus on the Smart Hub screen unnecessarily over-complicates things. It would have been much easier to provide direct access to the set-up menus via a dedicated remote button.
LG 42LV550T: Verdict
With no passive – or, for that matter, active – 3D to its name, LG's 42LV550T needs to rely on other charms to attract you to its cause.
These charms include an attractively slender and 'angular' design, a full version of LG's latest Smart TV online service complete with a web browser, good compatibility with Macs and PCs and something dubbed MCI 500Hz – a fancy name for a pseudo 500Hz effect thanks to a combination of motion processing, a scanning backlight and 100Hz processing.
Inevitably, it uses edge LED lighting, while its extremely well-presented on-screen menus provide a wealth of picture set-up features and options, including a colour management system and all manner of tools for tweaking the set's black level response.
It's a pity that none of these tools enable the TV to produce a totally satisfying black level response, at least if you're watching in a dark room. But in most other ways – provided you're careful with some of its processing options – the LG 42LV550T's pictures can be considered a success, with excellent sharpness and colour response and decent motion handling.
During bright footage the LG 42LV550T's pictures can look excellent, thanks to some exceptionally vivid colours, high brightness levels and extreme sharpness – especially when you're watching HD sources.
The set's Smart TV online service has some excellent features, too, and the PLEX system for networking with your PC or Mac now works a treat. The set's on-screen menus and remote are also excellent.
Really dark scenes can suffer numerous problems, depending on what settings you're using, and there doesn't seem to be any mix of settings that gets rid of every flaw. Also, too many of the apps in the app store are pointless.
If you're looking for a versatile, multimedia-savvy 42-inch TV that looks great and doesn't cost the earth, the LG 42LV550T has a lot going for it.
Its PLEX system works great with PCs and Macs alike, it plays back an unusually wide variety of multimedia file types and for most of the time it also produces extremely enjoyable pictures.
If you're a fan of watching films with the lights off, though, you might find yourself troubled by a few black level shortcomings.
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