LG 50PX990 £1600
1st Dec 2010 | 10:19
Stylish, competent and delightfully user-friendly 3D plasma
LG 50PX990: Overview
The plasma-powered LG 50PX990 is the UK's first TV with THX 3D certification.
This is a big deal, since the Lucasfilm-devised standard's tough criteria demand that 3D images remain bright and natural when viewed through the special glasses and that the shuttering lenses employed to create the three-dimensional effect don't cause synchronisation errors or introduce crosstalk noise.
The latter specification by itself should ensure that no LCD 3D TVs bag the same endorsement any time soon.
The 3D playback is just a small part of what this set has to offer, however, with other highlights including access to LG's NetCast online platform and a rather attractive single-layer fascia design.
Unsurprisingly, the 50PX990 sits right at the top of LG's plasma lineup, joining its 60-inch 60PX990 sibling in being the only 3D-capable plasma sets currently offered by the South Korean brand.
You get a similar level of spec minus the 3D with the PK990 series, while the cheaper PK790 range sheds the black level filter found on the more salubrious models. If you'd rather try LG's LCD 3D models, the flagship ones are the LX9900s, which come in 55-inch and 47-inch options and feature direct LED backlighting.
LG 50PX990: Features
THX-endorsed 3D playback is unquestionably the standout feature of the 50PX990. The 3D transmitter is built into the TV's chassis and a single pair of active shutter 3D glasses – complete with handy USB recharge cable – is included. It's a pity LG doesn't include a second pair of glasses with the TV, given 3D's supposedly more social appeal; rival sets from Panasonic and now Philips include two pairs.
The 50PX990 can play back every key UK 3D format, including Sky's side-by-side approach, as well as the latest full HD alternate frame system and the set is able to derive three-dimensional pictures from conventional 2D sources.
The four v1.4 HDMI sockets support full HD 3D playback and the various features associated with the format and are joined by a healthy roster of other connections. An Ethernet port supports the online function and also enables you to access files stored on a DLNA PC as well as acting as a portal to future interactive services associated with the set's Freeview HD tuner.
If you can't easily get an Ethernet cable from the TV to your router, fear not, for the 50PX990 also ships with a USB dongle included that makes the TV Wi-Fi capable.
Two USB ports can function as multimedia players and can handle JPEG photo files, MP3 audio files and, excellently, DivX HD video files.
One further jack of interest is for attaching a wireless AV link system. This enables you to receive HD pictures and audio from your sources without having to connect them physically to the TV, though it is currently unclear as to whether or not this potentially useful accessory is available in the UK.
NetCast is the first unimpressive thing about the 50PX990. The online service stretches only as far as YouTube, the Picasa online photo album site and a fairly basic weather channel, which represents a seriously limited offering compared to LG's competitors, particularly Sony.
The 50PX990 gets right back on track with its excellent picture adjustment tools. The THX badge is joined by an endorsement from the Imaging Science Foundation, which has decreed the TV flexible enough to be calibrated to a professional standard by one of its engineers – should you care to pay for the privilege.
You have to choose one of the ISF picture presets if you want to access all of the many tools available. The 'Expert' controls the ISF presets, which include the ability to adjust the contrast and brightness of the red, green and blue picture elements as well as the saturation and tint of the red, green, blue, yellow, magenta and cyan elements.
More standard adjustments, meanwhile, include various noise reduction settings, a black level booster, an optional dynamic contrast system, adjustable gamma levels, an edge enhancer and a film mode.
The final features of the 50PX990 are 600Hz sub-field drive processing, LG's 'TruBlack filter' for boosting contrast and reducing onscreen reflections, a native full HD resolution and a claimed contrast ratio of 5,000,000:1.
LG 50PX990: Picture quality
Picture quality is mostly very commendable. The fast innate response time of plasma technology ensures that 3D images suffer much less from crosstalk noise than any sort of LCD screen and makes images immediately appear sharper, more natural and less tiring to watch for prolonged periods.
Even more impressive, though, is the brightness and colour response. With the Monsters Vs Aliens Blu-ray, for instance, the picture is a notch or two brighter and richer than on Panasonic's plasmas, even approaching the degree of dynamism usually only seen on LED displays.
Avatar in 3D looks even better; it becomes apparent with true video content – as opposed to animation – that the colours during 3D are outstandingly natural. In fact, they're arguably more natural than the set's 2D palette.
The dimming effect of the glasses effectively filters out a minor black level shortcoming in the panel to be discussed shortly, reinforcing the sense that to some extent the 50PX990's 3D pictures are ultimately more impressive than its two-dimensional ones.
The only negative thing to say about the 50PX990's 3D pictures is that while they aren't bothered by crosstalk nearly as much as those of LCD TVs, there is definitely more of it than you get with Panasonic's 3D TVs. This is particularly apparent when playing Black Ops and is messy enough to warrant a swift return to 2D mode.
Given that crosstalk remains the single biggest distraction when watching 3D, that leaves Panasonic's 3D TVs as the best 3D screens around – despite their lower 3D brightness – with the LG sneaking into second place. Though of course, Panasonic's equivalent 3D model is considerably more expensive than the 50PX990.
The 2D to 3D conversion circuitry is reasonably convincing, but sometimes suffers from distracting depth miscalculations and generally feels rather gimmicky.
Black levels during 2D playback are pleasantly deep and convincing by general flat TV standards, though are neither as pitch black nor as full of shadow detail as the very best plasma or direct LED TVs.
Colour tones (usually when watching relatively low-quality standard-definition sources) can sometimes look slightly off key and a lack of tonal subtlety occasionally gives flesh a somewhat waxy quality.
However, these issues diminish considerably when watching high-definition material, and can be improved via a little time in the colour management menus. Given how good colours look in 3D mode, though, it still feels at times as though the TV's core colour settings were established with at least one eye on 3D playback.
High-definition pictures are extremely clean and detailed, while its standard-definition pictures avoid the overt noisy, soft look sometimes seen with previous LG TVs. The general sense of sharpness is done no harm at all, of course, by the plasma panel's fast response time ensuring that images are almost entirely free of the sort of motion blurring that plagues LCD TVs. There's a bit of judder at times, but this is one area where the 50PX990 outguns Panasonic's screens, at least with 50Hz material.
The 50PX990 can also be watched from a very wide angle without any loss of colour saturation or black level response, unlike most liquid crystal sets.
The last points to be raised in this section are, unfortunately, negative. 'Trigger twitch' games, such as Call of Duty, seem to display more input lag than is ideal, particularly if you forget to switch the set to its 'Game' picture preset.
Next, in keeping with other recent LG plasma TVs, there's a bit too much image retention around for comfort; you can clearly see shadows of parts of earlier images hanging over current images for a few seconds.
This only tends to persist for a few minutes after turning the TV on from cold and its residual impact should diminish over time, but with rival plasma sets from Samsung and Panasonic scarcely suffering from this problem, it is annoying to have to tolerate it to even a small degree.
LG 50PX990: Sound, value and ease of use
Audio is decent, nothing more, nothing less. It follows the usual slim TV sound format, with a clear, if not particularly open, mid-range, a decent amount of treble detail, and bass that sounds unconvincing and underpowered when pushed at all hard.
The 50PX990's price seems about right, for it places the TV comfortably in the middle of what is being asked for its direct rivals and is exactly in line with its level of performance.
Ease of use
The onscreen menus are excellent, combining plenty of high-quality icons with clearly presented, well organised lists of mostly jargon-free text. It's a testament to just how effective the system is that it is now being aped by many of LG's rivals.
Regularly used features such as the Freeview electronic programme guide (EPG) are fluid and cleanly presented the remote control is reasonably well laid out.
Even better, LG includes a second, simplified handheld unit perfect for everyday use, which is a really nifty touch.
LG 50PX990: Verdict
With plasma setting the 3D pace ahead of LCD so far, LG's debut 3D plasma TV arrived carrying plenty of expectation. The 50PX990 sets about trying to live up to those hopes right away, with a really chic design, especially if you use the provided desktop stand with its illuminated, transparent 'neck'.
It's also extremely well connected, with plenty of multimedia chops at its disposal and in now typical LG style it keeps the tinkerers happy with an ISF-backed suite of picture adjustments.
Many things about its pictures are good. Three-dimensional stuff is much less affected by crosstalk noise than LG's alternate frame 3D TVs and looks brighter and more colourful than Panasonic's 3D sets. HD images are sharp and dynamic and black levels are very good, if not quite equal to the very best.
On the downside, there's a little image retention, NetCast is off the pace compared to rival online systems, colours sometimes look a touch off when watching standard-definition material, and there's still more crosstalk during 3D viewing than you get with Panasonic's plasmas.
The set is very pretty and delivers 3D pictures with less crosstalk noise than you get with LCD alternate frame 3D sets. Multimedia flexibility is mostly impressive and high-definition 2D pictures combine good contrast with rich colours and plenty of sharpness.
NetCast is currently so low in content it's hardly worth bothering with. Also, while there's less crosstalk than with LCD TVs, there's still room for further improvement, colours sometimes look slightly off, and there's a bit of image retention, especially when you first turn the TV on.
The 50PX990 isn't perfect, still displaying a few of the problems with image retention and occasionally off colour tones that have plagued all of LG's 2010 plasma TVs.
However, when it's firing on all cylinders – predominantly with high-quality HD sources and, impressively, with 3D – it is a fine, very user-friendly TV.
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