Fine-tuned powerhouse

With THX certified 3D and net connectivity, this high-end plasma heavyweight is no wallflower. Steve May finds beauty within the beast

LG’s plasma screens have a reputation for unassailable value, but the brand was also first to ink deals with THX and ISF for certification and calibration, and has generally impressed with the finesse of its larger panels.

The P50PZ950T continues that trend. Not only does this new model offer loads of user control through its Advanced and Expert tweaking menus, but it’s also 3D-ready with Active Shutter technology, and bristling with net-connected niceties, such as DLNA media streaming and Smart TV functions.

Easy to use

LG’s menus are nothing if not intuitive. The user interface is bold and effective, while clear menus and large icons grant access to most features and functions. There’s even a simple picture Wizard to help technophobes set up picture quality.

The TV ships with two remote handsets: the standard LG one plus the Magic Motion remote control. The latter is an RF-based wand that allows you to point and click with an onscreen cursor.

Also included in the box is a wi-fi dongle to get online. Whenever possible, however, I suggest you try and connect the set via Ethernet (using Power Line if you don’t have a LAN feed to your viewing room).

LG’s second-generation Smart TV offering is groovy from the get-go, including BBC iPlayer, YouTube, Picasa and Facebook, which can be supplemented with free and paid downloads from the LG apps store.

You can also fire up LG’s new Media Link server client from the Smart TV hub dashboard. You’ll need to install a special version of Plex on a networked PC first to get it working, though. Plex then catalogues your sound and vision files and uses metadata tags to present them on your TV in a wonderfully graphic environment. The PC has to remain on for this to function, which is a bit of a drag (what we really need is a Media Link client for an LG NAS). However, this mini-Plex is so good, I’d probably invest in a low-cost Acer Revo PC just to act as a Plex server for the TV.

If you have a spare external hard drive hanging around, you can also time-shift from the telly. LG has arguably the best implementation of HDD recording on a TV I’ve yet seen. The brand dubs its external HDD recording facility Time Machine, and rightly advocates that its main use is as a cache for pausing and replaying Live TV, although you can also manually record events using a timer. With my trusty Seagate Freeagent Go I was soon setting shows to record from the TV Guide listing. Remember, there’s only a single tuner available, though.

Unleashing the picture

The PZ950T is capable of a sharp, contrasty hi-def image, but you must leap through some hoops to eke the best from the set. First, jump into the Picture Menu and make sure the APS Powersave mode is disabled; then turn off the Energy Saving Intelligent Sensor. Both of these wretched eco options will conspire to drown your viewing in a sullen cloak of drizzle.

The final must-do tweak is to turn Dynamic Contrast off. If you don’t, sparkling noise will pepper darker scenes. This was driving me nuts for a while, until I realised what was causing it. Once this irksome triumvirate has been toggled off, you’ll find it’s possible to tune up an involving, exciting image. Black levels are suitably subterranean and there’s copious shadow detail on offer.

A near perfect 20/20 B&W step greyscale was achieved; much of which can be attributed to the set’s TruBlack Filter. Motion resolution on this set is excellent and registers a full 1080 lines under lab conditions. Even my challenging horizontally scrolling text, pattern presented few problems for the panel, with the moving characters remaining legible with no smudging. I did note some minor low level fizz, but this proves insignificant when viewing from a metre away.

The screen is prone to cinematic judder, as evidenced by some horizontal, vertical and diagonal pans. These occur with Film Mode both on and off. A sequence from Disney’s Sleeping Beauty (Blu-ray), which features Prince Charming galloping behind a rocky outcrop, stutters like King George VI.

However, this is a small price to pay for artefact-free motion. LED TVs offer copious fast frame rate modes to smooth out the effect, but there’s always a high price to be paid in artefacts and visual texture. If your primary content sources are high-definition, make sure that you select Just Scan in the aspect ratio menu. Doing this means you won’t lose any picture information beneath the bezel.

The P50PZ950T’s stereoscopic performance is solidly entertaining. LG offers Passive 3D models, but this is an Active Shutter set. There’s no great philosophical point to it being Active, it’s just that LG’s display division can’t manufacture FPR Passive Polarisation plasma panels – that tech is only LCD present. Happily, the panel delivers full HD 3D for maximum clarity, with minimal overt crosstalk.

There’s a 2D-to-3D convertor onboard too, although the sense of depth it gives is unpredictable at best, and I wouldn’t rely on it to convert flat TV and movie sources.

If I do have a reservation with the P50PZ950T it concerns image retention. It was not uncommon during my audition to spot high contrast images from previous viewing sessions lingering in dark backgrounds; more often than not this would be of the Smart TV hub itself. This is not screenburn and the image retention always went, but it was unsettling none the less. I would expect this effect to subdue over time. Fresh from the box, however, the set should be run at lower than normal contrast levels.

LG has built in a rafter of anti-screenburn tech (called Image Sticking Minimalisation), which comprises a White Wash, pixel Orbiter and a Colour Wash.

Mission accomplished

Overall, the P50PZ950T is an accomplished plasma screen capable of an excellent 2D HD picture (although LG appears to have deliberately hobbled its true potential). Images from its Freeview HD tuner are crisp, while Blu-rays look positively cinematic.

The screen’s Active Shutter 3D performance is also extremely good. My bet is you’ll also soon find it at a grand price, too.

HCC VERDICT

Highs: Well thought out Smart TV portal; effective and detailed Active Shutter 3D; motion resolution
Lows: Eco modes compromise picture; wi-fi not integrated
Performance: 4/5
Design: 4/5
Features: 5/5
Overall: 4/5

Specifications

3D: yes Active Shutter Full HD: yes 1080p24
Tuners: yes Freeview HD Component: yes
HDMI: yes four HDMI
Resolution: 1,920 x 1,080 Sound: 2 x 10W
Brightness: Unclaimed Contrast ratio: 3,000,000:1
Dimensions (w/o stand): 1175 x 721 x 50mm
Weight (w/o stand): 28.9kg
Features: 3D Ready (one pair of Active Shutter AG-S250 rechargeable USB glasses supplied); 600Hz Sub Field Drive; USB for media playback (JPEG, MP3, AVI, AVCHD, MKV support); Smart TV Portal featuring YouTube, BBC iPlayer and more; Ethernet connection; THX 3D certification; ISFccc mode