LG 55LA740V £1499
19th Jul 2013 | 15:05
A feature-rich but ultimately flawed mid-range TV
After years of consistent, even quite spectacular progress in the TV world, topped off by the successes it's achieved with its passive 3D format, LG still finds itself under a world of pressure this year, thanks to the arrival of a frightening number of fearsomely good rivals.
Still, LG's 55LA740V certainly looks as if it's got the weapons to stake its claim on the TV world's hotly contested middle ground.
Its incredibly slinky design is a match for almost any other television we've seen this year, and its extensive feature list includes one of the most heavily populated and well-interfaced smart TV engines in town, as well as the sort of picture set up subtleties normally reserved for high-end models.
The 55-inch TV - priced at £1,499 (around US$2,290 / AU$2,485) - also supports playback of a wide variety of multimedia file formats. And promisingly its edge LED picture technology is supported by a contrast-boosting local dimming system, which is something we certainly don't always expect as standard on a mid-range TV.
If you want to go high-end instead of sticking with the mid-range LG 55LA740V, then LG has alternatives to tempt you. One step up you get the LG 55LA790W, which adds an extra HDMI port and provides a different stand design, while the LG 55LA860W provides an even trimmer design and introduces a built-in camera and high-level video processing power.
LG is very much at the top table now when it comes to TV design, and this trend extends confidently down to its latest mid-range model. As we would expect given current trends, the LG 55LA740V's bezel is extremely thin, and gains extra style points for the way it stands proud of the rear.
The television's stand is also highly striking with its unusual 'inverted arch' shape, metallic finish and open frame design.
There's a slight disappointment on the rear, though, where a search uncovers only three HDMI ports when we would ideally like to find four these days. This is quite a surprise on an LG TV, since the Korean brand can usually be depended on to offer more features and connections than average, rather than fewer.
The TV does, though, offer extensive multimedia playback via three USB ports and Wi-Fi-enabled DLNA network playback, and it enables you to go online with LG's latest smart TV service.
This service quickly turns out to be one of the best in the current smart TV world for two reasons. First, its interface is hugely impressive, thanks to its on-screen layout and Magic Remote handset - more on these in the Usability section.
Second, its neat folder-style menu system hosts a huge array of apps, taking in everything from games and information to those most important of online TV services, the video streaming platforms.
TV and film highlights are Netflix, Lovefilm, BBC iPlayer, Blinkbox, BBC Sport, YouTube and KnowHow Movies. This is a fair selection of big hitters, but it's impossible to ignore the absence of other catch-up TV services such as 4OD, ITV Player and Demand 5 - services that are all found on the latest smart TV platform from LG's arch-rival, Samsung.
But LG has done a better job than Samsung of delivering a good iOS and Android control app for its latest TVs, offering a good interface, lots of integrated functionality (versus the piecemeal approach of Samsung's control app) and a strong array of features.
As usual with an LG TV, the LG 55LA740V is endorsed by the Imaging Science Foundation (ISF), which means that as well as a couple of ISF picture preset slots that an ISF-certified engineer could use for professionally calibrating day and night modes, you get a truly expansive suite of picture tweaks.
There's colour management, gamma management, white balance adjustments, contrast boosters, sharpness boosters, noise reduction systems - the list of options really is huge.
Some of these features are more useful than others - the sharpness booster and noise reduction features at the very least need to be treated with extreme care if not ignored altogether when watching HD sources if you don't want them to actually make pictures worse rather than better.
Overall, though, you've got everything you need to give images believable, 'industry standard' colours if that's your thing, or extreme levels of vibrancy and punch if you prefer that.
The panel at the LG 55LA740V's heart is a Full HD affair, as is almost standard these days, and it's illuminated by an edge LED lighting array bolstered by a local dimming system, whereby sectors of the LEDs can have their brightness levels set individually, to bolster images' potential black level response and contrast.
The panel is also, of course, one of LG's passive 3D types, with no less than six pairs of cheap passive glasses included with the TV (four 3D, two for enabling two users to enjoy simultaneous full-screen gaming).
Unfortunately the LG 55LA740V presents a mixed bag of results in this all-important part of any TV's makeup. Let's get the bad news out of the way first.
The biggest problem is contrast. LG just hasn't moved the contrast response of this latest passive 3D panel as far forward in 2013 as we'd have liked, resulting in black levels during dark scenes that look significantly less deep and natural than those of many rival TVs.
The darkest sequences in the alien tunnels in Prometheus, for instance, look distinctly washed out/greyed over when using the panel in its native state, resulting in some slightly off-key dark colours and a need to squint through the mist to try to spot background details.
Thankfully, calling the LG 55LA740V's local dimming system into action leads to a dramatic increase in the screen's black level response. However, even with the local dimming system running on its highest setting, black levels are still only fair to middling, plus there's another problem: backlight blocking.
What we mean by this is that whenever there's a bright object within a predominantly dark background - which actually happens more than you might think, especially when watching a film - you can see a fairly clear 'strip' or rectangle of extra light around the bright object, stretching all the way from the top of the image down to the bottom.
It doesn't help in this regard that LG is still ranging its edge LED lights along the top and bottom edges of its screen rather than down the sides, since experience suggests that light blocks caused by local dimming are at least a bit easier to control when lights are ranged down the TV's sides.
Using the local dimming system on its lowest power setting reduces the obviousness of the light blocking problems, but the bottom line is that at no point did we feel able to become completely immersed in very dark scenes.
The other issue with the LG 55LA740V's performance is that its handling of colours feels a little basic at times. Large expanses of colour can look a little short of tonal subtleties and skin tones can sometimes look a touch plasticky.
And some background areas containing lots of subtle colour information (such as the faces of Ron and Hermione in the background of the scene where Harry speaks to Griphook near the start of the final Harry Potter film) can look a bit blocky and low-res.
Right, now for the good news. Starting with the exceptional sharpness the screen is able to deliver with HD footage. Every last pixel of resolution in a Full HD source is rendered with aplomb, and without leaving the picture looking forced, gritty or stressed around object edges.
The sense of clarity only reduces marginally, moreover, when you're watching action scenes, revealing the LG 55LA740V to have a decent innate response time.
Calling into play LG's motion processing system can improve motion clarity even further, especially when it comes to judder reduction. And it delivers its improvements without generating too many unwanted side effects - at least if you only use the motion processing on its lowest power setting.
Next, while colours lack some finesse versus the best TVs in town, they are at least very boldly and vibrantly presented, making images look eye-catching and punchy. In fact, they're so bold that they do a fine job of hiding the panel's black level shortcomings with the majority of typical TV fodder, which tends to be predominantly bright with just a few dark elements.
The panel has plenty of brightness to help drive its rich colour saturations off the screen too, and during bright scenes colours still manage to look quite natural despite their aggressive saturations and aforementioned lack of subtlety in places.
The LG 55LA740V can be watched from a slightly wider viewing angle than many rival screens without contrast or colour saturations dropping off too heavily too, and its 3D pictures are eminently watchable thanks to their brightness, lack of flicker and crosstalk (so long as your vertical viewing angle is under 13 degrees) and generally less fatiguing nature compared with active 3D images.
The 55-inch screen is large enough to reveal passive 3D's weaknesses of a slight reduction in resolution versus Full HD active 3D screens, occasionally visible horizontal line structure across bright parts of the image and some jaggedness around curved edges. But for many people, the passive 3D advantages will outweigh its negatives.
Standard definition picture
Standard definition is fast becoming less important, especially now the BBC has announced five more HD channels for 2014. But on those odd occasions where you really can't avoid standard definition, the LG 55LA740V does a good job of upscaling it to its native Full HD pixel count, adding detail without exaggerating noise or leaving proceedings looking soft or processed.
The last point to cover here is input lag - the amount of time it takes the LG 55LA740V to render an image after receiving it at its inputs. And here it comes up rather short of expectations, averaging around 65ms - a time significant enough to reduce your video gaming performance.
Usability, sound and value
LG has tried very hard indeed on the 55LA740V to deliver an exceptionally user-friendly smart TV interface. The highlight of the system is the Magic Remote you get with the TV alongside a standard model.
As well as greatly streamlining the button count, the Magic Remote rather brilliantly enables you to select options by just pointing the remote at the right part of the on-screen menus. This feels brilliantly intuitive, and will come as a godsend to technophobes who usually start trembling at the very sight of a normal remote control. And most importantly, it provides a genuine shortcut to the huge amounts of content that the LG 55LA740V makes available.
Another great feature of the Magic Remote is the spinning wheel button at its heart, which enables you to quickly shift up and down menu option lists.
The LG 55LA740V's on-screen menus are very well designed for the most part, too. The approach taken is to divide the countless apps up into themed folders, with a few highlighted options available from the front of each folder directly from the main hub screen while further selections pop up if you select a folder's More button.
The sheer quantity of direct app link icons that the menus can carry without looking cluttered or overbearing is impressive, and really sells the scope of LG's smart offering.
LG's TV adjustment menus are a bit less elegant and forward thinking than its smart menus, but they get the job done cleanly enough - especially because they're quite sensible in the way they keep the most complicated features tucked away from the eyes of casual users, and the way you can still navigate options with the Magic Remote.
One final strength of the LG 55LA740V's operating system is the accompanying app that LG has designed for iOS and Android devices.
This features attractive menus, reasonably logical organisation and a strong feature count, underlining our belief that such second-screen apps will become a huge part of TV functionality in the next year or so.
LG joins an impressive roster of manufacturers this year who really seem to have got to grips with the thorny issue of how to get a convincing audio performance out of a slim bodied TV.
Its twin 12W speakers are given solid support by a rear-firing subwoofer to ensure that the soundstage has both more bass and more mid-range clarity than you might normally expect. The soundstage is also larger than that heard from most flatscreen TVs, and even manages to avoid sounding excessively cramped during loud parts of a dense mix.
The full £1,499 (around US$2,290 / AU$2,485) asking price for the LG 55LA740V is reasonable in some ways. After all, it's got a 55-inch screen, its pictures look enjoyable with bright footage, it's beautifully designed, and its smart TV interface is outstanding.
However, the television's problems with dark scenes will likely make it look a bit expensive to avid film fans, while its input lag will similarly make it feel like a costly frustration for serious gamers.
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On paper, the LG 55LA740V seems tailor-made to make a big impact on the mid-range of the big screen TV market. Its £1,500 (around US$2,290 / AU$2,485) price isn't by any means unreasonable for a well-specified 55-inch TV, and its design offers an exciting twist on the super-slim designs that are currently all the rage.
Its feature count is strong too, dominated as it is by a content-rich, beautifully interfaced multimedia/online system, a superbly intuitive 'point and click' Magic Remote handset and more picture calibration tools than you'd expect to find on many rival brands' flagship TVs.
There are times, too, where the LG 55LA740V's performance really shines - predominantly with bright, colourful content. But unfortunately the TV has a weak point that's revealed whenever you're watching something dark. It struggles to produce dark scenes with real conviction, leaving you frequently feeling unable to get totally immersed in dark content.
The TV also suffers enough with input lag to make it a compromised option for gamers.
The TV looks posher than you'd expect, given its price, and LG's latest smart TV interface is both attractive and winningly easy to find your way around.
The Magic Remote handset is a work of genius too, and bright, colourful image content looks engaging and bold. The LG 55LA740V's 3D images are relaxing and involving, as well.
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The TV struggles with dark scenes, thanks to a fundamental lack of contrast that the onboard local dimming engine isn't quite clever enough to work around without causing distracting backlight block inconsistencies.
Input lag is too high for gaming too, and the addition of a few more of the key UK catch-up TV services to LG's smart TV offering would be greatly appreciated.
LG has done a good job of serving up on the LG 55LA740V all the key design tricks and features users increasingly demand from a respectable mid-range TV. And it's put all of these design tricks and features on sale at a respectable price. LG has also clearly worked extremely hard on making its quite sophisticated smart TV platform feel easy and intuitive to use.
The TV's pictures know how to make an impact too, with their bold colours and high brightness and sharpness levels.
However, the LG 55LA740V sadly comes a bit of a cropper when asked to reproduce dark sequences, thanks to a below-par native contrast performance and a somewhat rough and ready local dimming system.
Add to this a fairly high input lag figure, and you've got a TV that will likely frustrate both film fans and serious gamers - a fairly significant portion, in other words, of its potential audience.
The Panasonic L55ET60 is a very close alternative to the LG 55LA740V, offering as it does passive 3D and a super-friendly smart TV interface inside a hugely attractive body. It doesn't have as many online content services as the LG, but it handles dark scenes slightly better (if hardly perfectly) and is beautifully designed.
The Sony 55W805A is a potential rival too. However, while the Sony model offers an impressive array of video content on its online service, its contrast performance is no better than that of the LG. In fact, its handling of dark scenes is arguably even less convincing.