Trendsetter keeps old-school ties

LG puts its 3D house in order with a new plasma model, although John Archer still isn’t totally happy

LG is telling anyone who cares to listen that it’s ‘Sky’s brand of choice’ for 3D tellies, and it’s been uniquely prolific about offering 3D models in every type of TV technology. So far we’ve had direct and edge LED, CCFL LCD and even a Passive 3D LCD model to go with the more popular Active ones.

To date only two things have been missing from LG’s 3D lineup: consistently enjoyable 3D picture quality in a plasma model. Hopefully this panel will put that right.

As LG’s most highly-specified plasma TV, it’s no surprise to find the 50PX990 attractively clad in the brand’s Infinia design. So there’s an enviably slim chassis, while the glossy bezel and screen share the same single plane. A subtle infusion of blue in the bezel’s extremities and glass-necked stand further enhances the set’s striking appearance.

The 50PX990’s connections include, inevitably for a 3D TV, v1.4 HDMIs. But the set is also strong on multimedia aids, with two USBs and an Ethernet jack supporting the more standard D-Sub PC port. The USBs can handle video (including DivX HD) files as well as music and photos, while additionally making the TV Wi-Fi capable via a bundled dongle. The Ethernet enables communication with both DLNA PCs and LG’s NetCast TV service.

The latter has been less than impressive in previous reviews, but just before Christmas, LG delivered a hefty system update that finally made the service worth talking about. Highlights of the new content on offer include a good-looking and stable version of the BBC iPlayer; YouTube; Google Maps; Twitter; Facebook and the vTuner internet radio ‘tuner’.

There’s no doubt that even the new, improved NetCast still lags behind the best rival online platforms. But, at least, the brand has taken a step in the right direction.

THX-approved

The panel is also the UK’s first 3DTV to receive official backing for its performance from independent quality assurance group THX, which claims to have focused on brightness, colour saturations and crosstalk noise in deciding that the 50PX990 is worthy of its support (for more info on THX 3D certification, turn to page 46).

Crosstalk’s ghosting problems have significantly blighted LG’s active 3D LCD screens, and for me remain the biggest hitch to the widespread enjoyment of the format at home.

The 50PX990 also sports a solid 2D-to-3D conversion system for people who are happy to watch a diminished and occasionally disorientating 3D experience, and ships with one pair of Active Shutter glasses included. With extra glasses costing around £100, it’s a shame LG couldn’t have added at least another pair. Especially as the TV costs nearly 50 per cent more than Samsung’s PS50C6900 50in 3D plasma. But maybe the 50PX990 will justify its price hike elsewhere.

Further features not directly connected to the set’s 3D abilities include a full HD resolution, an integrated Freeview HD tuner, so-called ‘600Hz’ sub-field drive technology, and the inclusion within the screen’s design of LG’s TruBlack filter, for reduced reflections and enhanced black level response.

It’s worth noting, too, that the 50PX990 is endorsed by the Imaging Science Foundation as well as THX, with the former lending its name on account of the set’s really extensive picture-tuning toolkit. The latter includes a pretty formidable colour management system, as well as extremely flexible control of the set’s gamma settings.

Bright star

In action, the 50PX990 is so close to being an outstanding performer that I feel frustrated by it.

Starting out with Avatar on 3D Blu-ray, I was immediately, and pleasantly, surprised to find 3D pictures still looking appealing dynamic, rich and bright despite the inevitable dimming effect of the glasses and alternate frame technology. In fact, while they’re not quite as bright and colour-rich as the 3D pictures from some LCD/LED TVs, they’re definitely punchier than Panasonic’s 3D plasma pictures.

It’s also great to find that the dreaded crosstalk problem is much reduced here compared with any of LG’s active 3D LCD/LED TVs. This immediately makes 3D pictures much more natural and watchable over extended periods of time.

As noted earlier, the 50PX990’s 2D-to-3D converter is solid enough (though arguably not as good as Samsung’s), but we never really felt tempted to use it.

Switching to 2D footage, the 50PX990 delivers HD with exceptional sharpness to back up the colour vibrancy and brightness already noticed during 3D viewing. In fact, at times, hues can look a little too rich for comfort in 2D mode. But this can be sorted fairly easily by spending time with the set’s colour calibration tools.

Motion is handled nicely, too, provided you don’t set the TV’s motion processing too high, resulting in acceptable amounts of judder and practically no blur.

Moreover, it’s more obvious during 2D viewing that the 50PX990 is very good when it comes to black level response, attaining levels of black richness that LCD and many edge LED TVs simply cannot reach.

Black levels

With one of LG’s better standard definition-to-HD upscaling systems in play, along with a satisfactory audio performance for such a slim TV, you might be wondering why we’ve only given the 50PX990 four stars for performance.

First, while crosstalk is much reduced compared with LG’s active 3D LCD TVs, there’s still more of it than you would see on a Panasonic 3D plasma TV. And given how distracting crosstalk is, this means that Panasonic retains its place at the top of our 3D TV chart.

Then, while the 50PX990’s black level response is good versus the TV world at large, it also suffers a little in comparison with Panasonic’s plasma TVs, plus a couple of the best direct LED models, come to that.

Finally, the 50PX990 seems to suffers with image retention issues, the like of which I haven’t seen for a while. In other words, you can sometimes see ‘echoes’ of bright image elements lingering over the picture for some time after they should have disappeared. This was a once-common plasma failing, and usually disappears over time – but Samsung and Panasonic seem to have eliminated it almost entirely.

Net chatter between owners doesn’t seem to make a big issue of the problem, but I can’t see why buyers of the 50PX990 should put up with what can be a distracting problem for even an initial period. This is particularly the case since apart from this old-school technical issue, what we have here is in many ways a cutting-edge TV.

HCC VERDICT

Highs: Beautifully built; relatively little crosstalk with 3D
Lows: Annoying image retention; black levels not class-leading; one pair of 3D glasses only
Performance: 4/5
Design: 5/5
Features: 5/5
Overall: 4/5

Specifications

3D: yes Active Shutter
HD Ready: yes including 1080p/24 Tuner: Yes Freeview HD and analogue
Component video: Yes one rear input
HDMI/DVI:Yes four, including v1.4 option
PC input: Yes one D-Sub
Resolution: 1,920 x 1,080 Sound: 20W
Brightness (claimed): N/A;
Contrast ratio (claimed): 5,000,000:1
Dimensions (off stand): 1,190(w) x 737(h) x 52.5(d)mm
Weight: 30.2kg
Also features: 600Hz; NetCast online service; USB media playback MP3; JPEG; DivX HD support; XD Engine processing; TruBlack filter; DLNA support; Wi-fi dongle included; endorsed by THX and ISF; colour and gamma management