LG 55LM9600 3D LCD HDTV Page 2
I watched several trailers on YouTube, plus selections from the wide range of 3D material available. Although LG’s selection menu claims this material is high definition, it would be a stretch to declare it even close to the HD I get from my cable system, much less from Blu-ray. They were tolerable, but little more. Their shortcomings likely originated at the source (or in the high compression used in the streaming process) and not with the set.
The 55LM9600 also offers keyword-based Universal Search, Dual Play for gaming (two players wearing optional glasses can each view just their part of the action without requiring a split screen), the ability to watch TV on your smartphone with LG’s Smart Share Plus, and of course, the sharing of music, photo, and video files over your home network. There’s also a voice-recognition feature that enables through the Magic Remote, but this was in beta test at review time and not evaluated here.
Two for One
The LG’s video processing (see the Video Test Bench chart) was nearly flawless, including the 2:2 tests that many sets fail. On the MA (Motion Adaptive) HD test, the pattern flickered slightly every second or two. Why it did so is not clear, but this oddity affected neither the key test parameters, which the set passed, nor real-world 1080i material.
We actually had two samples of the 55LM9600. The first had a higher black level than we’ve seen on previously reviewed full backlit local-dimming designs. The blacks were uneven as well—noticeably lighter on the sides and, in particular, in the upper right corner. We requested another sample to be certain this was merely an isolated defect. Later, I also became aware of another problem with that first sample: block noise, which was particularly prevalent in large areas of solid color such as blue sky. It was intermittent but was not present on other displays when fed with the same source material.
Fortunately, the second sample didn’t have the noise issue at all. Its minimum black level was only marginally better than the first, but the blacks were more uniform. The sides and corners were still somewhat lighter than the center, but it was less obvious and relatively easy to ignore. Both samples had some white-field nonuniformity in the form of subtle geometric patterns, visible mainly on full white fields and virtually invisible on most normal program material.
All the remaining observations and measurements were made on the second sample. Starting with 2D, the THX Cinema mode, out of the box, had pleasing but not very accurate color (see HT Labs Measures). But as noted earlier, since the THX modes are not adjustable, I used the Expert1 mode for all of the calibrations. While the set’s 20-step calibration controls were handy, the two-step adjustments got me 90 percent of the way there. Following calibration, the colors were superb. Fleshtones were as realistic as the source material allowed (subject to the creative digital color grading now raging through Hollywood—google “teal and orange” for more on this). Green foliage looked natural. Reds were rich without jumping out at you. The Art of Flight, a documentary about extreme snowboarding, has more white in its color palette than anything else, but the snowboarders’ brightly colored clothing and vividly painted transport helicopters stood out starkly against the endless expanses of snow. Flight also demonstrated the set’s outstanding 2D resolution. You won’t go far wrong with any of today’s better sets in the picture detail department, and the 55LM9600 is no exception.
The set’s only real shortcomings are black level and shadow detail. It isn’t that they’re unacceptably bad. They aren’t. But even with LED Local Dimming on High (and you’ll want to have local dimming on—the blacks are dramatically worse without it), they’re little better than average among today’s high-end sets. I expect better from a modern, full LED backlit local-dimming design.
On the upside, dark scenes with ample bright highlights (typical of most dark scenes) looked good. Much of the action in the first season of Falling Skies, now on Blu-ray, takes place at night. When there was enough light in an otherwise dark scene to draw the eye away from the blacks, the results were convincing. But if the scene ranged from black to dark gray—that is, a dark scene with very low inherent contrast—the LG had that slightly grayish look typical of an average LCD flat panel. However, it’s important to note that these observations relate to watching the set in a darkened room. Typical room lighting, even at low levels, masks the LG’s black level and shadow detail shortcomings.
One strong point of LG’s sets, including this one, is off-axis performance. This is a characteristic of the in-plane switching (IPS) panels LG uses (most other manufacturers use different types of LCD panels, for various reasons). It’s not equal to a good plasma in this regard—no LCD is—but the average viewer won’t begin to notice anything amiss in the picture until he or she moves off axis by up to 45 degrees. You’re lucky to get to 25 degrees with non-IPS LCDs.
Segue to 3D
The screen layer needed to implement the passive 3D technology (a so-called patterned retarder) introduced visible horizontal lines into the 3D image in LG’s 2011 sets (these lines are not visible in 2D). If you sat far enough back, the lines became largely invisible, though 3D works best when you’re close enough to the set to become immersed in the experience. Fortunately, LG appears to have improved on this for 2012. In the 55LM9600, these lines almost disappeared, even when viewed at roughly 8 feet from the screen. I say almost because while the lines weren’t always visible as discrete horizontal stripes (they were visible in this way mostly in the lettering of titles and end credits), they did produce a subtle graininess in 3D images (not to be confused with the very different look of film grain) that was not present in 2D.
This artifact may also be a by-product of the reduced vertical resolution inherent in passive 3D. With active glasses and a 1080p Blu-ray 3D source, each eye sees a 1920 x 1080 image. With passive, each eye sees 1920 x 540. How- ever, apart from that slightly grainy look, this loss of resolution was less obvious than you might expect, which is in keeping with what we’ve observed with other passive 3D designs. The observable loss of resolution can also vary from source to source. It was inconsequential on Despicable Me and A Christmas Carol (both animated) but moderately apparent in the 3D version of John Carter (live action).
Overall, the LG’s 3D performance was well above average. Its 3D color was excellent, and it calibrated exceptionally well. Just as important, I never saw a trace of 3D crosstalk (ghosting). The 3D image also held up at comfortable off-axis viewing angles—the same 45 degrees or so in which the set retains its basic image quality. The only limitation here was vertical; if you sit too high, the 3D will revert to a double image, similar to what you’ll see with the 3D glasses off. But that’s an unlikely seating position for viewing real-world material.
By far, LG’s best 3D performance feature is its brightness. I normally aim for 30 foot-lamberts in a 2D calibration (although the LG is capable of far more 2D output if you need it, particularly in a bright room). But you’re lucky to get even a small fraction of that from 3D with active glasses. On the 55LM9600, I achieved 30 ft-L for both 2D and 3D, although for 3D this required the maximum backlight setting. On some material I preferred to back off slightly on the 3D contrast setting, which produced a bit less brightness, but 3D at 30 ft-L really pops, particularly in a darkened room. Apart perhaps from the much more expensive Sharp Elite (Home Theater, January 2012), Avatar and Despicable Me have never looked more compelling in 3D than they did on the LG 55LM9600.
Admittedly, the problems we experienced with our first sample of the 55LM9600 were more than a bit troubling. But the second was fine. One bad set out of two isn’t a valid statistical sample with which to judge consistency, and it was the first LG set we’ve tested in which the first sample was not up to snuff.
The black level even on that second sample was a bit disappointing for a pricey, full LED backlit local-dimming design, but it was by no means unacceptable. The set’s gorgeous color, sharp detail, impressive off-axis performance, and bright, vivid 3D (together with 3D glasses cheap enough to have all your friends over for a 3D marathon) will definitely more than satisfy a wide range of potential buyers.