LG 42LW550T £1000
12th May 2011 | 11:34
Excellent, affordable passive 42-inch 3D TV set with useful multimedia options
LG 42LW550T: Overview
It is also the latest combatant in the increasingly rancorous scuffle between active shutter and FPR (Film Patterned Retarder) 3D technology.
The former presents two consecutive full HD images, one for each eye, that are cycled quickly and viewed through a pair of shuttering glasses causing your brain to combine them into a single, three-dimensional image. FPR, on the other hand, uses a polarising film on the front of a screen that creates a 3D image when observed with cheap, non-powered glasses.
What's going to be particularly interesting about the 42LW550T is what difference if any the relative smallness of its screen (versus the previously tested 55-inch and 47-inch FPR models) will make to the Cinema 3D experience, as it seems possible, maybe even probable, that its reduced size will mitigate the impact of FPR's potential shortcomings.
The 550T part of its name shows that the 42LW550T and its 55-inch and 47-inch siblings belong in the middle of the current LG FPR 3D range, below the top-level LW650Ts and above the LW450Us.
This means it's got 100Hz processing versus the 55LW650T, 47LW650T and 42LW650T models' 200Hz; an 8,000,000:1 contrast ratio versus the 9,000,000:1 of the LW650Ts and a marginally slower panel response time, but these differences aren't major, raising hopes of a winning balance of specification, performance and value.
The difference between the LW550T series and the 55LW450U, 47LW450U, 42LW450U and 32LW450U, meanwhile, is simply that the 450U-suffxed models lack LG's new Smart TV online platform.
LG 42LW550T: Features
An edge LED backlight enables a slender, lightweight chassis that is ideal for wall mounting. The bezel around the screen is quite wide by today's standards, though, making the TV appear larger than some 42-inch sets.
It's certainly not unattractive, thanks to a glossy black finish and the addition of an extra centimetre or so of transparent trim protruding from its left and right extremities.
The 42LW550T's plentiful connections are accessed from the side and include four v1.4 HDMI inputs for HD and 3D video duties, two USBs for playing back video, photo and music files as well as optional Wi-Fi connectivity and a LAN port for PC streaming and access to LG's Smart TV platform.
The interesting thing about the 42LW550T's multimedia streaming abilities is that they can be delivered through PLEX. This provides a really slick and attractive interface to help you navigate and access all your PC's files, potentially taking much of the tedium out of the usual DLNA-style multimedia streaming.
The system works with both PC and Macs (although the 42LW550T failed to communicate with a nearby iMac during the course of this review) and seems a little buggy at the moment, but there's every chance that glitches will be ironed out by software updates.
Even in its current, imperfect state, PLEX is a worthy attempt to simplify access to multimedia on your TV.
The 42LW550T also has plenty of multimedia content you can access on PLEX, courtesy of the Smart TV system and interface. Pressing the Menu button on the remote control brings up a new 'server' screen packed with icons providing you with instant access to all your sources, plus LG's 'apps'. These apps include video sources such as the BBC iPlayer plus all manner of weird and occasionally wonderful infotainment and gaming services.
The presentation of this main jumping-off screen is very good, with the separation of the most important online features from the more trivial apps being particularly appreciated. The only problem is that a few too many of the second-tier apps are so eccentric it's hard to imagine anyone using them.
As with the majority of LG TVs these days, the 42LW550T carries loads of picture tweaks and adjustments. These include colour management, gamma controls, 10-point and two-point white balance adjustment, lots of flexibility around the MPEG and standard noise reduction systems, and different processing power levels for the set's TruMotion and Local Dimming features. In fact, so plentiful are the 42LW550T's adjustments that it comes fully endorsed by independent calibration experts the Imaging Science Foundation (ISF).
Anyone intimidated by all the subtle picture refinements on offer can take solace in the fact that getting involved with the finer aspects of picture calibration is entirely optional, but is aided by a Picture Wizard tool that guides you through a basic set-up process via a series of simple test signals. Plus, of course, if you're feeling flush you could always just pay an ISF engineer to pop round and calibrate it for you.
The final features worth mentioning are the 42LW550T's 3D tricks. The most significant of these is that the TV ships with no fewer than seven pairs of 3D glasses. The simple polarised lens design means they cost barely a couple of quid a pair, rather than the £100 or so a pair commanded by active shutter 3D glasses.
Obviously, the 42LW550T supports all the main 3D formats, including Blu-ray's alternate frame and Sky's side-by-side systems.
LG 42LW550T: Picture
Backlight inconsistency, which was a major problem on the 55LW650T, is much reduced on the 42LW550T. The edges and corners of the picture exhibit more or less the same level of brightness – or rather, darkness - during dimly lit sequences as the rest of picture and there are no distracting pools or patches of extra brightness. This makes the smaller screen's pictures immediately more involving and natural.
A more surprising improvement in backlight consistency comes from the 42LW550T's local dimming function. On the 55LW650T this tended to throw up ugly misty 'chunks' of extra light around bright objects when they appeared against dark backgrounds, but these imprecise illumination 'haloes' are much less overt on the 42LW550T (provided you don't run the backlight too hard). They are still there, but much more infrequently and are only visible if you really look for them.
This is particularly important since the 42LW550T's black level depth with the local dimming engaged (even on the Low setting) is much better than it is with the feature off.
Having overturned the 55LW650T's backlight problems, the 42LW550T then has a good stab at overcoming its larger siblings' 3D issues. Whereas you can make out subtle horizontal line structure in the 55LW650T, especially (though not exclusively) when watching 3D, this is much less obvious on the 42LW550T. You can still see it if you stick your face right up against the screen, but of course, nobody in their right mind is going to do that.
A similar benefit of seeing FPR running on a smaller screen is that you're less aware of the resolution reduction. LG claims its technology is full HD, but this doesn't tally with the reality of watching a 3D Blu-ray simultaneously on a new big-screen LG set and a similarly large active set.
However, this 42-inch TV achieves more sharpness than you might expect considering that it's effectively sharing its full HD screen space between two images simultaneously rather than presenting full HD images to each eye in sequence. The effect is sort of a halfway house between standard-def and full HD and will probably be ample at 42-inch for mainstream viewers, especially given the advantages of the FPR system.
The first of these is flicker, or rather the lack of it. If you usually watch TV with a lot of ambient light in your room, active 3D TVs can generate a sense of flickering as their active shutter glasses open and close. This doesn't happen with the FPR approach.
The glasses are also less cumbersome and heavy than most active shutter ones and don't require any synching with the screen. The specs also reduce the brightness and colour vibrancy of 3D images less than active shutter versions.
Finally – perhaps chiefly because of the different types of glasses used – watching FPR 3D for long periods of time feels less tiring than watching active shutter 3D.
LG claims other strengths for FPR, including, most notably, freedom from crosstalk, but there are issues with this claim, not least that the very best active TVs have hugely reduced crosstalk noise recently, while there are definitely signs of it on the 42LW550T. That said, provided you watch this set reasonably square-on, crosstalk appears only rarely and is generally minor when it does.
It's interesting to note that crosstalk is more prone to appear on the 42LW550T with the 2D-to-3D conversion system in play, perhaps as a result of this making a few more depth-related errors than you might expect to see from the very best conversion engines (a crown that probably rests on Samsung's head at the moment).
It's also crucial to point out that the 42LW550T's 3D pictures break down into horrendous crosstalk if your viewing angle exceeds 10° above or below the screen. It also creeps in a little if you have to view the TV from a very wide angle to the right or left - a position that also reduces the depth effect of the 3D image. Unless you've got a particularly small room, though, you should be able to accommodate seven to 10 people around the 42LW550T reasonably well without any of them suffering any drastic reduction in image quality.
Weigh up all the pros and cons of the 42LW550T's 3D pictures and the result couldn't be more different than it was with the unforgivingly massive 55LW650T. Instead of ruthlessly exposing FPR's shortcomings, the smaller screen size shifts the focus to its strengths and by doing so makes it a fun and relatively affordable way for families and friends to get into 3D.
Colours are very good after a little tinkering with the set's tools. Tones are punchy and dynamic without any sacrifice in the subtlety of blends. Skin tones can look a fraction plasticky, but not so often or so much that pictures ever really look unnatural.
Using any of the TV's presets (except perhaps Cinema) rich reds and blues can look a little dominant, as well as suffering more noise than is ideal, but the balance issue can be resolved almost completely with a little tweaking of the colour settings, while the noise problem also calms down to tolerable levels if you rein in the contrast and backlight settings.
There's a trace of jaggedness to the edges of very bright, slightly countered objects, but this side-effect of the filter mounted on the screen is much less aggressively obvious than it was on the 55LW650T.
Rather more troubling is the 42LW550T's motion processing. Even if you turn the TruMotion engine to its lowest setting flickering artifacts are visible. Turn it off, though and the picture looks slightly juddery and suffers from a touch of motion blur.
Luckily, a partial solution lies in the way the TV enables you to adjust the de-judder and de-blur elements of TruMotion. Set these to their lowest levels, or possibly to level 2 at a push, and the artefacting is reduced, creating an acceptable balance between reduced judder/blur and unwanted processing side-effects.
Input lag is one problem for which there doesn't seem to be a solution. Our tests revealed an average delay of 114ms (varying between 100ms and a maximum of around 150ms), which proves particularly detrimental to gaming. Time-sensitive games such as Guitar Hero or Call of Duty (online) clearly suffer, producing a frustrating and unrewarding experience. Given how much else the 42LW550T does right, and its potential to be a fun way for friends to indulge in some 3D gaming, this input lag flaw (that exists even within the screen's own Gaming mode) is a real shame.
LG 42LW550T: Sound, value and ease of use
Considering the large size of the 42LW550T's bezel, the audio performance is disappointing. The dynamic range is limited, bass extension is minimal and maximum volume levels are low, while the soundstage is compressed and harsh during action scenes. The best that can be said of the sound is that it is perfectly adequate for everyday TV.
Ideally the 42LW550T's price would be a bit lower to give it an instant edge over similarly priced active shutter models. If you've got a big family or you're into social viewing nights, though, the fact that you get seven pairs of 3D glasses included for free is a massive boon, saving you £700 on the price of getting a similar number of glasses to go with an active set.
Ease of use
LG's operating system has been arguably the best around for a couple of years now and this continues for the most part with the 42LW550T. Graphics are used extensively but intuitively, making the system feel friendly and inviting and the menus combine very well with the reasonably comfortable and well laid out remote control.
The new Smart TV menu handles the vast quantities of new apps and sources efficiently. The only problem is that including the header for the main TV setup menu on the same page as where you access all your sources and apps is a bit confusing. Keeping these two menu areas totally separate would make more sense.
The remote supplied with the 42LW550T was extremely unresponsive at times, but as no such problems have been experienced with previous LG remotes, the suspicion was that that this was a faulty sample.
LG 42LW550T: Verdict
The combination of the simplicity of passive 3D and a reasonable price (bearing in mind the multiple pairs of glasses) makes the 42WL550T well suited to a mainstream audience rather than picture quality-obsessed AV enthusiasts.
Its design is likeable and it's very well connected, with multimedia support galore, including includes LG's hugely expanded Smart TV online platform. The PLEX approach is interesting too, though it needs a little more work before it becomes slick enough to deliver on its full promise.
The best thing about the 42LW550T is that its performance makes a very compelling argument for passive 3D.
With a perfectly likeable 2D performance too, the 42LW550T confirms that while FPR TVs might not cut it with the picture-obsessed enthusiast market, they're a seriously persuasive proposition for the average family living room.
The only real shame is the screen's significant input lag, which severely compromises the TV's appeal to gamers.
The 42LW550T's picture quality with 3D is comfortable and engaging to watch. The fact that you get seven pairs of glasses bundled for free is brilliant, too, as is the fact that replacements cost barely a fiver.
The 42LW550T's relatively small screen hides/reduces many of the problems caused by FPR technology, too, and crucially the screen is also an accomplished 2D performer and there's much to commend about its multimedia services.
The 42LW550T's input lag of over 100ms makes it a potential no-go zone for console gamers.
Its sound isn't as powerful as its impressive pictures deserve, and although the smaller screen size reduces their impact, there are still issues with the FPR technology in the form of reduced resolution versus active shutter technology, and tiny visible traces of the structure of the polarising film sheet applied to the screen. There are also viewing angle issues to consider.
Finally, the PLEX multimedia 'bridge' system seems a little flaky at the moment (though it shows great promise), and the set's sound isn't as good as the pictures deserve.
The 42LW550T provides a friendly, affordable and comfortable way into 3D that will chime with a mainstream audience's casual and social approach to the technology.
Unless you're a regular gamer likely to be affected by the TV's high input lag, the 42LW550T makes a persuasive case for itself as the perfect family 3D TV.
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