LG 47LA860W £1899
30th Jul 2013 | 10:50
A hugely impressive user experience makes this 47-inch flagship LED TV fun to use, but it lacks contrast and black levels.
While some brands experiment with voice control on their latest flagship TVs and others offer NFC smartphone pairing, LG has gone for the jugular by presenting the whole darn lot on this 47-inch edge LED TV.
Arguably neither of those features are a must-have - not on any TV - but it's indicative nonetheless of how many dimensions there are to the LG 47LA860W.
Yes, passive Cinema 3D features - amid plenty of free specs, too - but more decisive are LG's bundling of a pointer-style Magic Remote, packed smart TV pages and the industry's finest digital content arbiter, SmartShare.
Attach a phone or a tablet as a source of video, stream from a Mac or a PC and SmartShare even finds cover art and all kinds of other metadata using its fabulous Plex software.
The LG 47LA860W - with a full price of £1,899 (around US$2,920 / AU$3,160) - also happens to look absolutely stunning. Arguably the best-looking TV we've seen in 2013, the LG 47LA860W has a bezel a mere 8mm (0.3 inches) thick, and a depth of just 35.1mm (1.4 inches).
Add a Freeview HD tuner, USB TimeShift recording and an enhanced dual-core processor that quickens the pace, and the LG 47LA860W looks every bit the flagship TV.
All smart TVs from LG feature Freeview HD tuners and Cinema 3D, LG's name for the passive FPR form of 3D it exclusively manufacturers.
Other 47-inch televisions in LG's massive stable include the step-down LG 47LA790W (£1,599), which loses the camera, and the LG 47LA740V (£1,549), which has three instead of four HDMI inputs. We've already reviewed the bigger 55-inch LG 55LA740V from this latter series.
If you're after a 55-inch TV, why not head for LG's one-of-a-kind OLED TV, the 55-inch LG 55EM970V? There is one small problem: it sells for £10,000.
If ever there was a manufacturer keen to keep pushing 3D, it's LG. The inventor of the FPR technology that uses the same lightweight 3D specs used in 3D cinemas has filled the LG 47LA860W's box with the things. There are six pairs in all - four pairs of AG-F315 specs, and two pairs of AG-F310DP Dual Play specs, which actually abandon 3D, instead using the technology to create full-screen gaming for two separate viewers at once. Clever stuff.
The LG 47LA860W is also well stocked with connections. There are four HDMI inputs (all along the side, with one ARC-compatible and one MHL-ready for smartphone hook-up), which will be fine for most users.
They're joined by three USB slots, one of them USB 3.0 spec, though they're all situated very high on the TV's side. All are recessed well away from the side of the TV, so trailing cables shouldn't be an issue. Also up there is a Common Interface slot.
Below is where you'll find feeds for the Freeview HD tuner, wired LAN (although Wi-Fi features, too), a Scart adaptor, optical digital audio out, a headphones jack and adaptors for component video and composite video.
So-called 'Premium' apps include Lovefilm, BBC iPlayer, Netflix, Livesport, BBC Sport, YouTube KnowHow, Napster, Skype, Blinkbox, Facebook, Deezer, Aupeo, Twitter, vTuner, Crackle, Red Bull TV and EuroSport Player.
However, it's a bit muddled, since the My Apps page actually contains what we'd call widgets, such as shortcuts to the TV's inputs, settings, TV Guide, SmartShare and other bits. There are also links to 3D World and Games World, as well as to LG's online app store.
SmartShare trades files over home networks and from USB flash drives, with MKV, AVC HD, AVI, MP4 and MPEG video files supported in our test.
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We also managed to get the LG 47LA860W to play OGG, WAV and AAC lossless music files, as well as the more common MP3, M4A and WMA, and these files continue to play while JPEG (only) photo slideshows commence.
All of these digital files are divvied up into Recently Played and Recently Added lists by the TV, with the pick presented on the TV's main home page, which is very convenient.
LG's Triple XD Engine remains one of the few that can convert any source from 2D into 3D, though a new feature for this year is Motion Eye Care, which takes the peak off full brightness.
Also here is an 800Hz Motion Clarity panel that's designed to banish blur, while TruMotion is also on hand to insert guessed-at frames of video to remove judder.
Lastly, it's worth mentioning that the LG 47LA860W has a somewhat limited - but hugely impressive - voice control feature, while a pull-up camera on the top enables you to make Skype video calls and snap selfies.
Picture, sound and value
Something we've long loved about LG TVs is their use of preset Imaging Science Foundation (ISF) picture modes, which once again work a treat (though there's also a full suite of colour management tweaks, from white balance right through to colour gamut).
In our test we plumped for the ISF 1 mode as a base for our test discs, the first of which was a 2D run-though of Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon.
LED Local Dimming is best set to its lowest setting, where it helps create a clean and precise image. If this setting is left off, the TV tends to produce a bluish tone to images where black is dominant, as well as some light spillage in the corners of the screen and a touch of haloing.
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Light spillage is not endemic to the panel at all, though overall it is the lack of convincing black levels that is the LG 47LA860W's key weakness, which will rule it out for home cinemas.
Elsewhere, though, it puts in a fine performance - colour is well saturated and natural-looking, while detail from HD sources is stunning even during fast-paced sequences.
We didn't feel much need to engage TruMotion, though on its lowest Smooth setting it makes chaotic scenes look deliciously smoother, though with some bubbling artefacts around the actors who move quickly across the shot. The Clear and Clear Plus settings remove too much brightness while adding artefacts, so are best avoided.
Smooth proves useful when watching 3D, too, though the visible lines of the FPR filter - and lower resolution generally - make judder less of an issue.
Unusually for a 3D TV, the LG 47LA860W can convert anything to 3D - from live TV to a DVD or even something you're streaming over SmartShare, it's all fair game. Except that converting sources to 3D isn't really something that's worth bothering with, because the 3D effect isn't at all consistent.
In our test we watched some golf being broadcast in HD, and found that in 3D mode the resolution drops in half, those lines are clearly visible, and though the on-screen graphics lift up nicely from the screen, the putting greens lack depth. Even when there's a near-ground shot of a crowd, the theoretical depth isn't presented cleanly enough.
Active vs passive 3D
It can all get a bit confusing, too, since only the middle of the screen seems to get a full 3D effect, regardless of the shot.
No, what the LG 47LA860W upscales to a far higher standard is non-HD sources, so that even a YouTube video full-screen looks acceptable, while regular Freeview channels excel.
It could do with some extra welly, but the LG 47LA860W's 24W speakers are more than fit for purpose. A Virtual Surround Plus mode drags out some sonic detail lurking in the background, but doesn't exactly surround you.
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On other modes the LG 47LA860W does well, and it's relatively good with music, though dialogue can sometimes sound harsh.
It's hard to argue with the breadth of features on the LG 47LA860W. As a flagship LED TV it's priced about right considering that it ships with six pairs of 3D specs and a boat-load of HDMI and USB ports and other features.
It's also worth noting that the remote control app for smartphones and tablets - supplied by almost all brands these days - is far more ambitious than most.
The free LG TV Remote app for iOS and Android acts as a second screen by putting a live TV picture on a smartphone that mirrors what's playing on the LG 47LA860W.
Live TV is about six seconds behind on the app, from which it's possible to take and share screen grabs, though it doesn't work if the source you're watching is in, or is being converted, to 3D.
The app goes on and on, presenting a grid of icons for apps and widgets and full mastery of the TV. It's a viable alternative to those who don't get on with the Magic Remote supplied with the LG 47LA860W.
Supplying the LG 47LA860W with just a Magic Remote is a confident move, but unfortunately it's a year or two too early. We do love using it - it's comfortable to hold and easy to navigate pages - but it's simply too slow to wake up.
Almost every time we picked it up we had to wait as long as five seconds before the cursor appeared on the screen.
That never happens with a traditional hard-button remote, and we're wondering why it happens here, but it does - and it's irritating. It also means revisiting the LG 47LA860W's home page to do anything substantial, simply because there are so few shortcut buttons on the remote itself.
We're also not sure about the gleaming silver colour, which looks a bit cheap. Brushed titanium this is not, and therefore it doesn't belong on a flagship LED TV.
However, there is a flip-side, in that navigating the LG 47LA860W's built-in web browser is far easier than on rival TVs, while entering text via a virtual keyboard is much quicker than with a hard-button remote.
We've do have one more remote control grumble, this time about the LG 47LA860W's Universal Control feature. It claims to furnish the Magic Remote with codes for the remotes of other AV gear connected to the LG 47LA860W.
However, in our test with a recent Philips 3D Blu-ray player, none of the four choices of codes worked.
While other manufacturers have completely refreshed their user interfaces for 2013, LG has left well alone - and a good thing, too. We've long admired its use of panels on the home page that puts apps and even files on a connected USB flash drive alongside a live TV thumbnail and a line of widgets across the bottom. It's smart and colourful, with attractive transitions, and has everything you need.
Kudos goes in particular to the SmartShare panel, which not only monitors new files on a connected USB stick, but generates a thumbnail, too. It looks great, and even finds room for links to a phone or tablet.
This so-called Screen Share is wirelessly done via Wi-Di or Wi-Fi Direct/Miracast, with a Tag-On feature that enables any NFC-compatible Android device to be linked to the LG 47LA860W just by touching them to the TV's NFC tag.
SmartShare has another dimension in MediaLink, LG's name for its Plex software. Clearly aimed at those who download files and want to watch the likes of MKV, AVI and MP4 files on their TV, Plex first connects with a PC or Mac fitted with the free Plex software (it only sorts files into specific folders that you grant it access to), then fetches metadata from the internet to furnish files with cover art and plot summaries.
It even sorts files into folder by director, year made, starring actor, and many more. It doesn't always work - Plex took a TV programme about rocks and geology and told us it was Cold Mountain - though when it does work it's stunning.
Once you've linked a PC or Mac, it appears on the LG 47LA860W's core inputs list, too, which is smart indeed, greying out dead inputs and putting them at the back of the carousel.
However, there are foibles with the inputs; stop a digital video file during playback and the LG 47LA860W defaults to another live input (TV or Blu-ray), which is a pain to navigate back from.
We do, however, have one huge complaint about the LG user interface; the electronic programme guide (EPG). Fetching it from the list of widgets is a long-winded process, but once loaded it instantly kills live TV pictures and sound. It's archaic.
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Voice control is only available for searching within SmartShare. Here, pressing the microphone button on the remote and saying something like "football" produces a list of content found within catch-up apps, on YouTube and online. Commands to operate the TV are wisely ignored, with voice search purely designed to avoid long-winded text search.
It's sensitive enough; in our test the LG 47LA860W understood "Prometheus" and found us a trailer for thePrometheus movie on the YouTube website, which it played full-screen without needing to launch the dedicated app.
Unlike similar engines, LG lets you know which app or on-demand service a particular video or movie is hosted on, which is a lot more useful than, say, Samsung's otherwise similar S Recommendation service. Who needs Google TV?
Is this the best-looking TV around? Possibly, and it looks good on paper, too, with a bevy of features including a pointer-style remote and a second screen app. It's also one of the easiest TVs to use.
However, judged on picture quality alone it sinks to slightly below our expectations, which could dissuade those looking for a flagship TV.
SmartShare and Plex are quite brilliant, since no other TV treats external devices and digital files with such ease or polish. The user interface in general is the best around, and one of the quickest - there's always one more great feature to explore. One of those is the LG TV Remote app, which acts as a fabulous second screen.
Kudos to the Magic Remote, too, for making a web browser on a TV finally usable, and for the ISF modes that provide a great out-of-box picture. Picture-wise, the LG 47LA860W's detail, motion clarity and SD upscaling are hard to argue with.
The Magic Remote just isn't reliable enough for a solo gig, while the Universal Control didn't work for our AV gear. The lack of buttons on the Magic Remote also means that it's necessary to keep visiting the full-screen smart TV page to make adjustments, which adds an extra step.
We're also left feeling underwhelmed by the EPG. Lastly, though perhaps most importantly for anyone looking for a big TV for a home cinema, the LG 47LA860W just doesn't have enough in the way of convincing black levels and contrast to compete with the best of the rest.
The LG 47LA860W is best thought of as a massively impressive TV for a living room. It doesn't have the characteristics demanded of a great home cinema, but most other kinds of users will love both its looks and its fabulous best-in-class user interface.
Downloaders and those of you wanting to network other devices with the TV will love Plex and SmartShare, which together create a peerless networking experience. OK, so it's a few apps down on some smart TVs, but the way the apps and widgets here are presented is clean, quick and easily navigated. However, we do have a query over the Magic Remote, which isn't always reliable.
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Before taking the plunge it's only right that you consider a few other flagship TVs that offer different strengths. If you're after more catch-up TV apps, the Samsung UE46F8000 at £1,800 has the finest app selection around, as well as (failing) gesture control, while the Panasonic TX-L47DT65B at £1,400 offers the finest in smart TV - My Home Screen - as well as a second screen smartphone app to rival this LG 47LA860W.