LG 55LM660T £2200
3rd Apr 2012 | 15:54
LG's latest passive 3D TV is its best yet
After throwing the TV world in to chaos last year with its launch of passive 3D technology, 2012 is potentially a critical year for LG.
Can it bring its industry-rocking 3D technology forward? And perhaps more importantly, can it still keep up with the 'Joneses' in other areas, given that 3D's consumer appeal appears to be on the wane?
Based on the recently tested 47LM670T and now the 55-inch 55LM660T, early indications are promising. Design wise, for instance, the 55LM660T is a huge step forward for the brand, thanks to an incredibly narrow bezel that gets even closer to delivering 'bezel-free TV' than Samsung's flagship TVs do.
The 55LM660T also enjoys an improved version of LG's Smart TV online service, complete with prettier onscreen menus and more content - including a Netflix portal. These online features, moreover, are joined by extensive multimedia support via USB ports and DLNA compatibility.
It's good to find, too, that you can enjoy the set's network features via integrated Wi-Fi if you can't easily hardwire the set to your router/PC, while die-hard picture tinkerers will find plenty of tweaks to get their teeth into when it comes to getting pictures looking exactly as they want them to.
Also promising is the inclusion of a new version of LG's Magic Remote alongside a more standard remote. This adds a Wiimote-style gesture control option to the mix without requiring you to wave your arms about like you do with Samsung's remote-free gesture-control approach.
Given the level of spec inside the edge LED 55LM660T, it's surprising to find that the set doesn't sit particularly close to the top of LG's new range. Directly above it is the LM760T series, which doubles LG's 'Motion Clarity Index' figure (derived from a combination of a screen's native refresh rate and the scanning rate of its backlight) from the '400' of the LM660Ts to 800.
Further up still you get to the LM860V models, which introduce a dramatic 'floating metal wing' stand design and a premium version of the Smart TV system based around a dual-core processor.
Right at the top of the range later in the year will be the direct/full LED LM960V models, as well, of course, as the 55-inch EM960V OLED model that caused such a stir at this year's Consumer Electronics Show.
Sticking with the LM660T range for now, though, the 55-inch model is joined by 32-inch, 42-inch and 47-inch siblings, with some sizes also available with silvery colour variations on the bezel design (under LM669T and LM670T model names).
The first feature of the 55LM660T you become aware of after hoiking the surprisingly heavy and well-built TV out of its box is its design. For it really does look stunning.
The main attraction comes from the incredible slenderness of its bezel. With the TV on you're aware - barely! - of around 10mm of black frame around the top, left and right sides of the image, with a further mm or so of rather pleasant outer silver trim. With the TV off, because the shade of the bezel has cunningly been matched to the 'off' colour of the screen, the only bezel you're aware of is the silver bit. So it looks like your TV only has around 1mm of frame. Hubba.
With a tidily slim rear to partner the practically non-existent bezel, the 55LM660T clearly lends itself to wall mounting. So it's nice to see LG has made all of its connections accessible from the side. However, it also must be said that the stand LG has designed for the 55LM660T is exceptionally attractive too - as well as being unusually easy to build by today's standards.
The connections mentioned a moment ago are pretty prodigious, as is to be expected of an ambitious LG TV these days. Four HDMIs are on hand to cope with your digital HD and 3D demands, while the set's multimedia features are delivered via a trio of USBs, a LAN port, built-in Wi-Fi, and, of course, a D-Sub PC port.
The USB inputs can cope with a wide variety of video, music and photo file formats, including DivX HD, HAAC, AAC, MP3, PCM and DTS. And the same sort of compatibility is also available from your PC or Mac via either PLEX or LG's Smart Share software.
LG Smart Hub
Pressing the Menu button on the main remote control calls up a new and much-improved version of the Smart Hub menu introduced with 2011's LG TVs. The resolution of the graphics on the hub seems to have been increased resulting in a cleaner, crisper look, and the ability to show more information and source options at any one time. The Smart Hub also preserves the TV picture you were watching in the upper left, with a box containing instant access to eight 'Premium' apps in the middle of the screen, and a '3D World' box providing access to streaming 3D content on the right.
You can scroll further right too, to reach an 'LG Smart World' box from which you can access reams of other apps from LG's App download store, while right at the end is a box devoted to your Smart Share networked sources.
Along the bottom of the screen, meanwhile, is a long list of smaller icons for quickly accessing such stuff as: other source options (including your own video, photo and music files and the set's social media apps); a built-in Web browser; the set's EPG; a full Input list; the TV's Settings menus; and features like the TV's 2D to 3D conversion and onscreen User Guide.
LG and its Korean rival Samsung have both taken an 'everything including the kitchen sink' approach to online TV features. So it's no surprise to find the app coffers on the 55LM660T positively bulging with content.
The Premium section, as its name suggests, contains the most interesting stuff. Though don't worry; premium here is being used mostly in a quality sense, rather than meaning you have to pay for all the services the premium section contains.
The services highlighted on the front Premium page at the time of writing were the BBC iPlayer, YouTube, BlinkBox, ITN, BoxOffice365, AceTrax Movies, Viewster, and vTuner. Clicking 'more' to get through to the full Premium service list added RedBull TV, CineTrailer, AutoCar, Twitter, Facebook Stuff, iConcerts, DailyMotion, Cartoon Network, HiT Entertainment and Picasa to the list. There were no links to either NetFlix or LoveFilm at the time of writing, but LG is adamant both these services will be present and correct any moment now.
Moving across to the 3D World content section is like stepping into an alternate universe of TV programming, as you stumble across such gems as performances by Asia's top 'bubble artist', 3D performance from some of Korea's finest magicians, short 3D tours around some of the world's most famous cities, and 3D trips round an assortment of, um, aquariums.
While much of the content on the 3D World 'channel' is quite bizarre, though, it's surprisingly abundant, and some of it is actually pretty good fun in 3D. The bubble show, in particular, is unmissable. Honestly.
It's good to find navigation through the content enhanced by Entertainment, Sports, Documentary, Kids and Lifestyle subsections, though obviously it would be kind of cool if LG could eventually get a bit more mainstream (and non-Korean) 3D content on there at some point.
The Smart World app 'store' is almost scarily packed with stuff.
If we listed them all, you'd lose the will to live, for the simple fact that 95% of the non-Premium apps on LG's latest Smart TV service are unexpurgated bilge that add nothing to the TV other than unnecessary clutter.
It's annoying, too, that a number of the apps feature some pretty ropey English in both their names and their onscreen explanations - something that makes this section of the Smart TV service feel even more half baked.
The only good news, really, is that the organisation of the main onscreen menus means you can easily completely avoid the 'second tier app' collection.
Moving on to the TV's set up options, as usual with an LG TV, they're extensive. Highlights so far as pictures are concerned are separate backlight, brightness and contrast controls; dynamic contrast and dynamic colour modes; a Clear White mode; gamma controls; a colour management system; separate MPEG and general Noise Reduction routines; and multiple settings for the LED Local Dimming system.
It's good to find, too, that LG has included a new version of its decent setup aid, the Picture Wizard, which guides you through a basic picture calibration process.
Other features of note are an Energy saving mode (which is probably best left off, actually, if you prefer picture quality to saving the planet!), and a surprisingly long list of 3D controls, including 2D to 3D conversion, and the facility to adjust the depth and 'viewpoint' of 3D material.
Obviously such 3D tweaks should be used with great care, as you're essentially tinkering with the 3D vision of the people who put together the 3D source you're watching. But experience shows that different people have different tolerances for 3D, so really there's no harm in providing potentially helpful tools for those people who get tired or, alternatively, feel underwhelmed by studio 'preset' 3D levels.
One final 3D-related feature of the 55LM660T is its dual play 2D gaming feature. This uses the ability of the screen to effectively show two images at once to allow two different players to enjoy fullscreen gaming simultaneously, with each player wearing a special pair of glasses designed to 'receive' just one of the simultaneous images being shown. The special glasses you need for this are available as an optional extra 'dual play' pack.
While many of LG's Passive 3D TVs last year undoubtedly persuaded us that the technology was worthwhile and deserving of a big fanbase, it seemed to fare least well on LG's largest screen sizes. So it comes as a pleasant surprise to find ourselves mostly entranced by how 3D looks on the 55LM660T.
Donning one of the four free - and fetchingly multicoloured! - pairs of passive 3D glasses LG supplies with the TV, the advantages of passive 3D technology are immediately apparent. Bright 3D sequences, for instance, look fabulously punchy and dynamic compared with your average active 3D presentation, thanks to the way the glasses don't have to use any shuttering technology.
This doesn't just help bright parts of the picture either; it also means that dark backgrounds don't tend to look as flat and short of shadow detail as some of their active counterparts.
Then there's the fact that images suffer with less crosstalk ghosting noise than you tend to get with all the but the very best active 3D systems.
It's important to stress that the image isn't completely devoid of crosstalk, no matter how much LG might like to tell you that it is. But unlike some/many active 3D TVs, the crosstalk hardly ever appears on foreground objects, and is seldom truly distracting.
Or at least that's the case so long as a) you deactivate all the TV's noise reduction and motion processing circuitry (which is left on by default despite the fact that it introduces lots of blurring in 3D backgrounds) and b) you don't find yourself having to watch the 55LM660T from a vertical viewing angle greater than around 13 degrees. For at this point alignment issues between the glasses and the polarising sheet that lies across the 55LM660T's front can suddenly cause crosstalk galore.
The general crispness of the 55LM660T's 3D pictures helps them enjoy a fine sense of depth and scale too. And perhaps best of all, since the glasses don't use shuttering technology, you can watch 3D on the 55LM660T for extended amounts of time without suffering the sort of fatigue that generally accompanies active 3D viewing.
From a sensible viewing distance, moreover, the 55LM660T's 3D pictures also seem less overtly troubled by the loss of resolution and horizontal line structure that bothered us on last year's 55-inch passive 3D models. You can still make out slight evidence of horizontal 'blank lines' over small, bright parts of the image, such as the main menu text on Tangled, and the edges of bright objects tend to look jagged. But for some reason the picture looks crisper and the horizontal lines look less obvious than they did on last year's passive 3D sets.
LG isn't claiming to have introduced any great improvements to the passive 3D filter on the 55LM660T, so presumably the TV's more satisfying 3D effort is down to improvements to the core panel at the set's heart.
These sort of improvements should also, of course, positively impact the 55LM660T's 2D performance. And right away there's a big improvement to be seen with this new TV's backlight handling. For whereas last year's 55-inch edge LED LG TVs suffered with some quite overt backlight consistency problems, here the situation is much improved - especially once you've calibrated picture settings to deliver the optimum black level.
There remain faint traces of inconsistent lighting right at the very edges of the screen, but for the most part these aren't widespread or glaring enough to distract you from what you're watching, even during very dark scenes. Especially if you're watching the TV in quite a bright room.
Colours also look very intense and expressive on the 55LM660T, thanks to the screen's natural contrast and vibrancy, as well as what appears to be a good - though not quite great - colour processing system that ensures there's a subtle enough tonal range to avoid striping, blotching and plastic-looking skin tones.
The second dimension
HD 2D pictures look detailed and sharp, too - at least when the image is relatively static. In fact, they can look a little too 'forensic' if you use the set's edge enhancement and 'Super Resolution' tools. But it's only a moment's work to turn these off and let the screen's innate clarity speak for itself.
There is, though, a noticeable reduction in clarity and detail over moving objects. While this is not severe enough to be considered a deal-breaker for a TV which, after all, sits at the relatively affordable end of LG's latest passive 3D range, it's still a pity there doesn't appear to be any potent solution to it among the TV's processing options. At least the resolution loss appears more as subtle judder than more aggravating blurring, though.
Having touched on a negative in the LG's picture, there are a few more to mention, too. First, occasionally HD pictures look a touch noisy. Dark suits, for instance, can sometimes look strangely 'alive' with dot crawl noise.
Next, if you sit close to the screen you can see obvious signs of the 3D passive filter even over 2D pictures. These signs comprise horizontal line structure over bright image elements, and a degree of jaggedness to bright, contoured edges. To be fair, though, you only become strongly aware of these issues if you're sat quite a bit closer to the screen than most people would consider sensible...
Another issue is that with the picture calibrated to produce the best black level results (as in, where there's minimal greyness and backlight inconsistency), dark parts of the picture look rather low on the sort of shadow details that bring dark scenes to life.
Finally, the 55LM660T sadly continues a disappointingly long-running trend with LG TVs of suffering high levels of input lag (the delay between a source image arriving at the TV and it actually appearing on the TV's screen). Even using the TV's own Game preset, our tests measured an average lag of around 90ms, varying between around 65ms at its best to a much more common reading of nearly 100ms.
This is undoubtedly high enough to impact your performance with timing-based games like Call of Duty and Guitar Hero. Given how many times before this issue has been raised about LG TVs, it will strike keen gamers as very disappointing that LG still hasn't made inroads into sorting the problem out.
Sound, value and ease of use
Ease of use
The higher resolution Smart Hub menu design on the 55LM660T works superbly well. It manages to handle vast amounts of information clearly and succinctly, and its organisation is straightforward and effective.
Even the presence on the Smart TV platform of dozens and dozens of pointless b-list apps isn't a problem, as these apps only appear if you want them too; only 8 appear on the main Smart Hub screen.
LG has also put right a problem we had with last year's Smart TVs, so that you can now instantly access the TV's Settings menus via a dedicated button on the main remote, rather than having to first go into the Smart Hub menus.
The settings menus look a bit 'low-fi' versus the Smart Hub ones, it has to be said, but they're still attractive enough, and more importantly they're pretty easy to learn your way round.
Many brands this year are attempting to offer alternatives to standard remote controls with their Smart TVs - and LG is no different, with its take on proceedings being a revamped version of its previous launched Magic remote. This broadly replicates the functionality of a Nintendo WiiMote, allowing you to just point the remote at the right place on the screen to select your desired option.
This new Magic Motion Remote features a more ergonomic, banana-shaped design, as well as introducing a navigation 'wheel' you can use for scrolling up and down selected menus.
The addition of this wheel is a great touch, making it much easier to quickly access options than was the case with the previous Magic remote iteration. In fact, with the onscreen pointer reacting quickly and accurately to your movements, there's really nothing not to like about the Magic Remote. It's certainly not a stretch to imagine that most people will quickly find they prefer the Magic Remote approach to using the standard TV remote.
The 55LM660T delivers a further major ease of use boost over last year's LG TVs when it comes to its networking functionality. For while last year's LG networkable TVs routinely struggled to talk to at least the Macs in our building, the 55LM660T managed to connect immediately and effortlessly to both resident PCs AND Macs. It even showed a picture of the PLEXed-up Mac in a source 'icon' on the TV's screen, just to make it absolutely clear which computer sources were which.
In fact, the 55LM660T is possibly the most easy-to-network TV we've seen, suggesting that LG has put a heck of a lot of (very worthwhile) effort into improving its multimedia infrastructure for 2012.
While it's a technical challenge to get great picture quality out of a TV with such tiny bodywork as the 55LM660T, it's a near-impossibility to get any half decent audio. So it's not especially surprising to hear the 55LM660T sounding rather cramped and a little harsh in the middle of a typical Hollywood blockbuster action scene.
However, it does manage a half-decent stab at producing some bass; voices seem to be given special emphasis so you never lose track of what's being said; and the harshness never becomes unbearable. So the 55LM660T can certainly be considered an adequate enough audio performer to tide you over until you can afford an external audio system.
The £2,200 55LM660T has the misfortune to arrive hot on the heels of Sharp's 60-inch 60LE636 - a screen we've now seen selling for under £1,000.
However, the LG set enjoys a much more advanced Smart TV service than the Sharp, as well as lots more features including, of course, 3D. It's also a better performer for the most part, especially when it comes to controlling the consistency of its backlight. And the LG's design is in a whole other stratosphere.
All in all, £2,200 seems a fair rather than irresistible price for what the TV has to offer.
The 55LM660T makes a heck of an impression right from the off, thanks to a stunning design that at least rivals and arguably betters the impact of Samsung's 'zero bezel' models.
It's also got all the connections you need for today's multimedia-obsessed world, including built-in Wi-Fi, and comes equipped with a beautifully presented, content-enriched version of LG's Smart TV service.
Then there's LG's passive 3D system, supported on the 55LM660T by the inclusion of five pairs of glasses included free in the box.
In many ways the 55LM660T is great fun to watch, too. Its 3D pictures are bright, colourful and relaxing, and its 2D images avoid some of the pitfalls of last year's LG range.
There are still a few problems though, including minor motion flaws, visible line structure over 3D pictures, rather hollow black colours at times, and enough input lag to trouble gamers.
The 55LM660T's design is nothing short of spectacular. And the same can often be said of its pictures, at least with bright, sharp, colourful HD and 3D sources. 3D in particular is great fun to watch.
The TV's operating system is very good too, and its multimedia features are excellent and very easy to set up and use.
The screen suffers more input lag than gamers might feel comfortable with, and dark scenes can look a bit low on shadow detail. There are motion issues too.
Finally, the passive 3D filter causes signs of horizontal line structure over 2D and 3D pictures - though this isn't really a big problem from a sensible viewing distance, and would likely scarcely be noticeable at all on a smaller screen.
LG's ambitions to overhaul its Korean rival as the world's favourite TV brand are once again writ large on this early 2012 model. Its design is a belter; its feature count is massive and, for the most part, genuinely useful; and best of all its pictures are a big improvement over last year's equivalent models.
There are just enough problems around to make us yearn for LG's upcoming higher-specced TVs, but considered for what it is, a mid-range model, the 55LM660T remains for the most part a very attractive TV indeed.
If you want an extremely affordable active 3D 55-inch alternative to the 55LM660T, then you could consider Toshiba's 55WL863 - a TV on sale for as little as £1200 in places. This set does suffer with crosstalk, though, and its online service is way behind LGs.
If you want a nearly crosstalk-free active 3D option, there's the Panasonic P55VT30. This uses plasma technology and so isn't as bright as the LG model, but it's a superb TV in a darkened room. Bear in mind, though, that it's due to be superseded soon by the P55VT30.
Passive alternatives are available from Panasonic (in the shape of the ET5 series), Toshiba (the VL863 series - though this doesn't go up to 55-inch), and the Philips also size-limited PFL7666 series. But it's worth bearing in mind that all of these TVs use passive 3D panels sourced from - you guessed it - LG.