LG's gorgeous-looking TV comes close to greatness, but suffers in regards to contrast
LG TVs certainly know how to make an entrance. The 55LA860W – one of LG’s most high-end 2013 sets – is a serious looker, thanks to a bezel so thin you don’t even notice it for most of the time; the beautiful finish applied to the bezel’s sides; and a striking metallic, open-frame desktop pedestal. The glamour even extends to the Magic Remote handset you get with the TV, as its small, strikingly conical form comes clad in a bold, shiny silver.
This remote doesn’t just look good either. It also proves an inspired way of navigating LG’s neat-looking Smart Hub onscreen menu system. All you have to do is point the remote at a menu item and hit the select button; a Nintendo Wii-like ‘point and click’ approach so intuitive I can’t understand why more TV brands aren’t using it.
Looking further at LG’s Smart TV interface and features, there’s much to like. Organising the different apps and online service options into simple onscreen folders will feel pleasingly familiar to anyone used to dealing with computers, and the number of direct content/app links LG has fitted onscreen without making the menus look cluttered is excellent.
I was reasonably impressed by the amount of video content carried by LG’s online system, which includes BBC iPlayer, LoveFilm and Netflix content, along with lots of 3D material. That said, rival manufacturers such as Samsung and Sony go further still with their online video choice.
The 55LA860W rivals anyone, though, with the amount of video, photo and music files it can play from USB sticks or networked DLNA devices. Add in the pop-up camera integrated into the TV's svelte form, so you can make Skype calls or control the TV by gestures, and you have a convincing Smart TV – although I found the Magic Remote much preferable to waving my hands around like a fool.
LG’s long relationship with independent calibration group the Imaging Science Foundation (ISF) continues here. So, as well as a huge array of picture calibration tools you get two ISF picture preset slots where ISF engineers can store the best day and night picture settings for your room. If you pay them to do the calibration, of course.
So far the 55LA860W hasn’t put a foot wrong, but cueing up some dark content (the final Two-Face sequence in The Dark Knight on Blu-ray) quickly reveals the difficulties it has delivering a decent contrast performance. Using the TV’s local dimming option finds many bright objects against dark backdrops surround by distracting blocks of light that run the full height of the picture. There’s also a notable shortage of shadow detail in dark areas. Turn the local dimming off, though, and blacks become an unnatural milky grey.
The 55LA860W’s pictures improve with bright, colourful content. The Everything I Need song sequence in The Muppets looks beautifully vibrant, extremely sharp, and surprisingly subtly coloured, giving it the cinematic feel missing during dark scenes.
The lantern release sequence in Chapter 8 of Tangled in 3D, meanwhile, reveals a really fun, well-defined and crosstalk-free 3D experience, despite some Passive tech-induced jaggedness around bright edges.
The set’s audio is above average, thanks to the scale of the soundstage, the engrossing detail present in the mix, and a reasonable amount of bass. However, if a film soundtrack really goes deep or you push the volume too high, the LF performance starts to distort.
While it has its good points, my opinion of the 55LA860W is ultimately defined by its significant problems handling dark scenes – especially when considered against some of the other, much more contrast-rich 55in TVs currently on the market. It does undercut those others price-wise, though.
Price: £2,000 Approx
Highs: Beautiful design; bright pictures look great; Magic Remote; strong Smart TV interface
Lows: Below average native black level response; weak local dimming
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