LG 55LW650T £2160
13th Apr 2011 | 13:23
A new 55-inch LG passive 3D TV let down only by an inconsistent backlight
LG 55LW650T: Overview
This 3D format war is well and truly on, with extravagant claims, outraged counterclaims, legal threats and even a bit of swearing. Somewhere in the middle of all the posturing, the 3D TVs at the heart of this impassioned conflict are starting to arrive.
In the active 3D corner there have been very positive reviews of Samsung's 55-inch UE55D8000, 46-inch UE46D7000 and Panasonic's TX-L32DT30B and TX-P50GT30B, while in the passive camp LG earned a rave write-up for its 47LW550T.
So hopes have to be high that the 55LW650T – a step up the range from the 47LW550T – will continue the run of good, competitive form.
As its name suggests, the 55LW650T has a 55-inch screen. Which means it should reveal with even more clarity all the various potential strengths and weakness of LG's preference for the passive 3D format.
After all, as well as being bigger, the 55LW650T also outguns the 47LW550T in the contrast department (9,000,000:1 versus 8,000,000:1), the motion handling department (it's got 200Hz compared to the LW550T's 100Hz) and on response time (2.0ms against 2.4ms).
The 55LW650T is also distinguished by its carriage of LG's rather swanky new Smart TV system, edge LED lighting with 'spot control' and all manner of multimedia file playback options. If the 55-inch model is too big for you, it's also available in 42-inch (the 42LW650T) and 47-inch (47LW650T) variations.
If you fancy a significantly cheaper slice of LG's passive 3D action, you'll need to step down to the LW450U series, though you should bear in mind that this only has 100Hz, rather than 200Hz processing and doesn't carry any Smart TV functions.
LG 55LW650T: Features
The 55LW650T's headline attraction is its passive 3D playback (or Film-Type Patterned Retarder 3D, to use LG's technical terminology) and the seven polarised 3D glasses it ships with.
While active 3D systems work by combining sequential images with electronic, shuttering glasses, passive sets produce left and right-eye images simultaneously, then use polarised glasses to pull them together in order to create an illusion of depth.
Passive is the technique you'll encounter in most cinemas and has been around far longer than its rival. LG's new FPR approach replaces the glass substrate 3D 'filter' found in previous passive screens with a thin film placed on the front of the screen.
This method is significantly cheaper than the glass substrate approach. So, while the benefit of passive 3D's cheap and cheerful glasses was rather lost with LG's earlier 47LD950 because of the expense of making the panel, the FPR technology in the 55LW650T reinforces the cheapness of the glasses (at just £2 each for extra pairs).
To give this some context, the 55LW650T can be yours for £2,160, whereas Panasonic's active 3D, 55-inch TX-P55VT30B plasma TV, for example, costs at least £3,000 with only two pairs of glasses included and further pairs costing around £100 a pop.
It is also well worth noting that Sky has just revealed a deal whereby subscribers can claim as much as £400 cash back on three of LG's new passive 3D models: the 42-inch 42LW450U (£100), the 47LW550T (£200), and the 55LW650T (£400).
Much is also being made of the fact that you can use the same polarised glasses used by most UK 3D cinemas, not to mention the fact that passive technology is flicker-free and relatively free from the crosstalk or 'double ghosting' that plagues active sets.
Passive glasses, meanwhile, are lighter and less cumbersome than active ones and a recent investigation by the Beijing Ophthalmology Research Institute found that FPR causes less eye fatigue than active-shutter systems.
Not that passive is perfect, with rival brands citing its compromised resolution as a major flaw, but more of that later.
Neither is it the only interesting feature this TV carries. For instance, it's also the proud owner of LG's radically revamped Smart TV system. Press the blue Home button on the 55LW650T's remote and you get a bold new onscreen menu containing a startling amount of information. On the left side you get a decent-sized box showing the TV channel you were watching, beneath which there are smallish boxes for choosing which input you want to watch accessing the TV's main set-up menus and electronic programme guides.
Along the bottom of the screen are a series of large, attractive icons providing access to various multimedia tools. These include the LG Apps store, an open web browser, Media Link for accessing multimedia files stored on any PC or Mac via free multimedia platform PLEX, plus a couple of games.
In a central column of the screen, meanwhile, is a list of the five Premium apps. At the time of writing, the BBC iPlayer sits at the top, with the AceTrax movie purchase/rental service below, followed by YouTube, Picasa and Facebook. Clicking on a '+' icon at the top of this list takes you to the full 'premium' apps list, all beautifully presented with big, colourful icons.
These include the woomiTV video gateway platform, vTuner internet radio service, DailyMotion, Google maps, Twitter, iPlayTV and Funspot game 'channels', the viewster service for renting weird and mostly rubbish films, CineTrailer.tv, iConcerts, Al-jazeera, MLB.tv subscription baseball channel, aupeo personal radio service and Accuweather. Completing the list is a Coming Soon icon reminding you that, as with all modern online TV platforms, LG's is a work in progress.
Back on the main Home screen, the final column of this dense but clearly organised page is another link to the LG Apps store. These applications appear on virtual 'shelves' under sections dubbed Hot, New, Top Paid, Top Free and All. It's all extremely easy on the eye, taking the basic smartphone approach and shifting it up another couple of gears to suit a larger TV screen.
You can also search all the apps by genre and all you have to do to download extra apps into the 323MB of available memory space is choose them and input your LG account details. The full list of non-premium apps is almost endless and frequently bizarre, with some of the more sensible highlights including instruction in first aid, heaps of games and a White House app delivering weekly updates and photos from America's first building.
Perhaps surprisingly, the 55LW650T' lacks LG's radical 'single layer' fascia design and its bezel is rather wide by today's standards, making it look every bit of its 55-inch size.
The connections are extensive and include four HDMIs, two USBs (capable of playing JPEGs, MP3s, and MPEG4/DivX files), and a LAN port for accessing the Smart TV and MediaLink function. So slim is the TV that adaptors are required for some connections, such as the component video input, but all the necessary adaptors are supplied.
As with the vast majority of other slim TVs, the 55LW650T is build around edge LED technology, in this case supported by local dimming, whereby clusters of the backlight diodes can have their luminance controlled individually to boost contrast.
Turning to the set's 3D features, as well as the ability to play both Sky's side-by-side and Blu-ray's alternate-frame 3D sources (the active Blu-ray ones have to be converted into a passive output) there's a 2D to 3D converter and you can adjust the depth and viewpoint of the 3D image to suit your tastes.
The array of picture adjustments LG has included on its Imaging Science Foundation-approved set is impressive. Highlights include adjustments for the strength of LG's TruMotion movement processing, multiple settings for the LED local dimming, all manner of noise reduction settings and types.
Provided you've got one of the ISF modes chosen from the picture preset list, you can also tweak two and 10-point gamma fine-tuning, contrast and brightness adjustments for the red, green and blue colour elements, plus saturation and tint adjustments for the three secondary colours as well as the primaries.
LG 55LW650T: Picture quality
The 55LW650T's 3D performance is nothing if not eminently watchable and offers a few immediate advantage over active technology.
The passive system means that you simply pop on the lightweight glasses and the picture snaps straight into 3D without any delay while everything synchronises. It's refreshing not to have any flickering in your peripheral vision from ambient light and – initially, at least – there is no hint of eye-fatigue.
The 55LW650T's 3D pictures also look brighter and less prone to crosstalk than those of most active 3D TVs.
Possibly the single greatest thing about the 55LW650T's 3D experience, though, is that it can be shared with so many other people. Sharing active 3D usually involves having to pass a couple of pairs of glasses around while everyone else stares in anticipation at a blurry picture, but up to seven people can join in the 3D fun with any 55LW650T and extra glasses cost just £2.
Given the potentially social nature of 3D, where it will likely be used for group or family viewing sessions of events like sports or films, the affordability of the passive option is enormously persuasive.
On the other hand, LG's repeated claims that its passive technology can compete with active for raw picture quality don't quite stack up. Particularly evident, at least on a screen this large, is a reduction in resolution when watching 3D on Blu-ray and on some broadcasts. This is particularly evident during motion and over backgrounds, such as trees or textured walls.
It could be that LG's only fair-to-middling motion processing doesn't help when it comes to 3D clarity, as the processing causes some artefacting when it's on, but leaves the picture looking a touch blurry when it's off.
To be fair, though, as noted in the review of the 47LW550T, the picture doesn't appear to be merely standard-definition, as you might expect, but is somewhere between standard and true hi-def. If you want to marry 3D with the full resolution of your HD TV, though, the passive route might not be for you.
A further passive-specific issue is that we could make out narrow black horizontal lines in the picture in 3D mode caused by the filter on the screen. These also produce a little jaggedness and 'striping' over the edges of contoured objects in 3D mode, with the former in particular becoming quite pronounced over very shallow curves. The passive film on the screen also causes minor striping and jaggedness over the edges of objects during 2D viewing.
It should be stressed, however, that these issues reduce the further you sit away from the screen. With this in mind, it might be that passive technology is better suited to smaller screen sizes than this 55-inch monster.
Another limitation of the 55LW650T's passive 3D pictures is their viewing angle. Move far down the TV's sides and you can start to see a slight wavy-line effect presumably caused by the film on the screen, while having a viewing angle of only around 10° or greater above or below the screen greatly increases the appearance of crosstalk.
Speaking of which, the 55LW650T's 3D pictures aren't as totally free of the stuff as anticipated. There are clear moments of double imaging, even with scenes that don't show this problem on plasma TVs. It's more subtle than it is with most active 3D screens, though, and appears more as a gentle shimmer or local loss of focus than the very clear double ghosting witnessed on active 3D displays.
The last point concerns the 55LW650T's 2D to 3D conversion, which delivers not much more than a fairly shallow effect that exhibits noticeably more depth errors than the best rival engines.
In the final analysis, the 55LW650T's 3D performance is in many ways exactly what you might expect. Quality might not be as high as you'd find on one of the better active shutter sets, but it is far from unwatchable and is arguably more relaxing if you're affected by flickering.
First impressions of the 55LW650T's 2D performance, meanwhile, are very good. Pictures from a combination of HD broadcasts and Blu-rays are punchy, thanks to a winning combination of an expansive contrast range with vibrant, well saturated colours. Predominantly dark scenes benefit from a very profound black level response, but the picture can also go bright when required, with the screen having the requisite power to overcome the darkening effect of the 3D film filter without difficulty.
Also impressive is the sharpness and detail with HD sources, which fully reveal the impact HD can have on a screen this large. Occasionally the sharpness goes too far, tipping the picture over into looking rather noisy. And there's a touch of moiré patterning over patches of very fine detail, but for the most part, if your source is excellent, then so, it initially appears, are this TV's HD pictures.
Unfortunately, though, the more you watch the 55LW650T, the more it becomes clear that the occasional appearance of grain is not the set's only significant issue. Another is that motion doesn't look wholly convincing, with either marginal resolution loss without TruMotion, or slight edge artefacts with the processing engaged.
The biggest problem by far, though, concerns that old edge LED chestnut, backlight inconsistency. While black levels in uniformly dark pictures are reasonably consistent with the local dimming mode switched on, you can see distractingly obvious 'blocks' of light around any bright elements that appear in the picture.
Yet if you turn the local dimming off, the panel suddenly exhibits obvious signs of backlight inconsistency, with large patches of the picture looking much brighter than others. Even with the backlight toned down to just 30 per cent it looks like someone's shining a low-powered torch onto each of the picture's four corners.
With standard-definition broadcasts and DVDs, the 55LW650T proves an able rather than spectacular upscaler, repressing video noise quite well, but not making pictures look particularly sharp.
Finally, there's the 55LW650T's rather disappointing gaming performance. While pictures remain surprisingly and gratifyingly short of the sort of motion blur and trailing sometimes seen when playing games on LCD TVs, the set's measured input lag, even using its dedicated Game picture preset, is a depressingly high 101ms. You can expect this to result in a considerably diminished performance with pixel-precise platform games, and twitch-trigger games like Call of Duty.
LG 55LW650T: Sound, value and ease of use
Sound is a definite area of disappointment with the 55LW650T. Its speakers are presumably too thin to deliver either much bass or much volume, and so aren't capable of the sort of audio experience and soundstage size that such a vast screen really deserves.
They are adequate for everyday viewing, as they can handle vocals clearly and accurately and aren't bad with treble detail, but video games and action movies sound thin and narrow.
If you're after perfectly watchable, bigscreen 3D images on the cheap, then LG's 55LW650T is a highly tempting proposition. Especially if you've got a couple of kids or more, or a large social group you see regularly, and so need to have a plentiful supply of glasses.
The potentially casual nature of 3D viewing – as in it being something you will only watch occasionally rather than all the time – arguably plays into passive 3D's hands when it comes to value, too, since mainstream consumers may think they'll just go for the cheapest 3D option available, which may well be a passive one.
However, if your main interest is in getting the last word in either 3D or 2D quality, you're best advised to sacrifice five inches and get Panasonic's recently reviewed TX-P50GT30B.
Ease of use
With such a lot going on inside the 55LW650T, it would be easy for the set to be a nightmare to use, but it's a testament to the visual flair and organisational prowess of LG's onscreen menus, as well as an improved remote control design, that the set is very easy to operate.
The use of graphics and icons is outstanding and the menus do a good job of adapting themselves to suit different technical knowledge levels, placing more complicated stuff in sub-menus or further down main menus.
The standard remote has plenty of buttons providing direct access to the TV's most important features and the layout is generally thoughtful.
LG also does an optional alternative remote control for its Smart TVs: the so-called Magic Remote. This device works as a Wii-mote style 'pointer', enabling you to point at the option on the screen that you want to access. Some will find this a much more intuitive approach than the less 'connected' normal remote control approach and it really comes into its own now LG has got so many Smart TV features. If you don't fancy coughing up for the Magic Remote, though, you can also download a free Android/iOS app for your phone that does broadly the same thing.
There are areas for concern with the 55LW650T's usability, though. First, the inclusion of the TV's set-up and picture adjustment menus on the same page as all the app and multimedia controls is a bit confusing. Retaining separate menus might have been more sensible.
Second, the PLEX Media Server system is far from the easiest in the world to get to grips with. Getting both PC and Mac computers to communicate properly with the TV was a time-consuming and frustrating business, thanks to a general lack of information and a far-from-intuitive operating system.
LG 55LW650T: Verdict
As the flagship model from LG's new passive 3D range, the 55LW650T has a point to prove. After all, it's reckoned to have the best of LG's core panel technology underpinning its new FPR 3D technology and its screen is big enough to let its 3D talents shine.
It also comes fully loaded with multimedia tricks and treats, including LG's new, vastly improved Smart TV engine, and playback of most of the key video, audio and photo file formats from USB sticks or PC/Macs connected via the new-to-TV PLEX platform.
For the most part, the 55LW650T does a good job of selling passive 3D. Its pictures are relaxing to watch, clearer than expected (considering the relative lack of resolution versus active 3D), bright, and dynamic and including seven pairs of passive glasses is an inspired touch.
Add this to the already relatively cheap price of the 55LW650T, and the crucial value selling argument of passive 3D is definitively proved.
However, the 55LW650T doesn't deliver as sharp and detailed a 3D image as active shutter models, suffers pretty significant problems if watched from much of angle (especially above or below the screen) and can suffer a few visible artefacts caused by the filter, though these reduce if you sit far enough away from the screen.
The main problems with the 55LW650T, though, are unrelated to its persuasive 3D performance and are down instead to some impoverished audio, minor flaws handling motion and some significant black level consistency issues.
The price is far from unreasonable for a 55-inch 3D TV, particularly one that comes with seven pairs of specs.
LG's new Smart TV system is a big leap forward too, and elevates the brand instantly into the 'online TV' A list.
For around 80 per cent of your viewing time, the 55LW650T's pictures are good-to-great. Colours are dynamic and reasonably natural, black levels generally look deep if you've got the local dimming feature active, detail levels are high with HD and standard-def looks smooth, if not especially sharp. Its 3D images are comfortable to watch, bright and colourful, meanwhile.
3D pictures lack the sharpness you get with good active 3D sets and there are visible line structure issues. Dark scenes are consistently and aggressively troubled by backlight problems, regardless of whether or not you're using local dimming.
Many of LG's non-premium apps are pointless or just plain weird (though LG is hardly alone in this respect!) and sound quality is barely average, lacking the power to do justice to the pictures.
Finally, its input lag will be a concern to gamers.
The 55LW650T is a sophisticated TV that delivers a strong case for passive 3D technology as an affordable alternative to active.
Indeed, if the TV was being judged on its 3D 'case' alone, it might well have bagged another star or so.
It's a pity, then, that it is let down by one of the most distractingly inconsistent backlights we've seen for some time. It's possible, though that the 55LW650T's problems are down to the screen's extravagant size, and won't crop up nearly as much on smaller models.
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