LG PZ950 (50PZ950) 3D Plasma Review
Mark looks at LG's Flagship 3D Plasma
IntroductionConsidering LG have been so vociferous in their promotion of the passive 3D system found in their LCDs, some might suggest the use of active shutter technology in their plasma range sends out a confusing message to consumers and that LG lack the courage of their convictions or is it just that they are hedging their bets or, indeed, do they feel the need to tick the Full HD 3D box in answer to Panasonic and Samsungs' plasmas?
Over the last few years LG really have upped their game in producing some very watchable televisions at very competitive prices. We've always been big fans of the presentation of their menus - if not necessarily the usability when calibrating - and they certainly don't shy away from packing the higher end TVs with features. In the past the LG plasmas have had fairly mediocre black levels and some have been highly reflective. LG have looked to address these shortcomings with the inclusion of the TruBlack filter and if they can achieve deeper blacks with increased contrast performance, the PZ950 might make quite a compelling proposition.
The LG 50PZ950T has a big brother in the shape of the 60PZ950T that join together to form the figurehead in LGs attempts to woo the enthusiast market this year. With so much to look at, we best get cracking!< b>You can read the full review after the summary and scores below...
Styling and ConnectionsLG were the pioneers of the 'one-sheet-of-glass design' and we're unsurprised to see it present on their flagship plasma once more. We could probably make a case for Sony and Panasonic having picked up the idea and forged a little ahead in the 'wow' stakes but the LG 50PZ950 is undoubtedly a fine looking television. Around the black surround the 'frame' becomes transparent with a thin silver strip at the top with the entire chassis measuring just 6cm in depth. The only thing we're not too keen on is the curved base of the swivel stand that can make placing a centre speaker/soundbar/Kinect sensor/PSEye camera etc a problem if you don't have the room to situate them in front of the TV.
The supplied remote control looks and feels a little cheap and would greatly benefit from not being so 'clicky' when pressing the OK - and surrounding key function - buttons. It's not like the aural feedback is required as the menus are plenty responsive enough! On the plus side, the handset is backlit and the layout is just about right for easy one-handed operation; despite its relatively long dimensions. There's a recess to the rear designed for the index finger to rest in, to aid ergonomics, but its just above centre placement might have been better had it been in the middle, rather than just off. Also in the box was LGs 'Magic Motion' controller that provides Wii like motion control navigation of the menus. We're not sure if there was a fault with the one supplied with this particular PZ950 but its tendency to drift off over to the left meant we were unwittingly left appearing to be engaging in a light sabre battle - not quite what LG were aiming at, we suspect. After 20 minutes of frustration and trying all the options in the set-up menus to get it to behave, we returned it to the box marked 'gimmick'.
This being an active shutter 3D TV, we'd need a pair of 'tech specs' to explore that side of the PZ950 and LG duly oblige by providing one set of 3D eyewear in the box. The glasses are relatively lightweight and comfortable to wear but the decision for the frame to be entirely hewn from shiny black plastic is a mistake as it picks up every little bit of light in the room causing very distracting reflections on the lenses. Not only that but the first sample we received also let out a low level buzz that once picked up on, is almost impossible to ignore. The second pair sent to us were less noisy so we'd advise anyone receiving a noisy pair to seek a replacement.
Moving on to the connections and, recessed to the rear, we find two HDMI ports; legacy RGB Scart and Component connection - with complimentary L/R audio; a RS232 port for service and control in integrated systems; a VGA input - again with accompanying audio jack; SPDIF optical audio out and an ethernet connection. At the side there's a CAM slot for premium OTA services, two further HDMI inputs and 2 USB ports as well as a composite video with stereo audio jacks. Just as with almost all the TVs we've seen this year, the side-facing HDMI ports are too close to the perimeter of the TV meaning those with bulkier HDMI leads may find their sleek lines being interrupted by unsightly wiring - angled HDMI adaptors can assist here but it's still a small nuisance especially as there's only 2 HDMI inputs to the rear.
Menus & SetupOn set up we were a little surprised to not be presented with LGs nifty Picture Wizard given that's been part of every other LG we've seen for the last couple of years. We're not sure if the sample had been switched on previously but it certainly appeared to be in virgin state so we'll be asking LG the question; the Picture Wizard was present in the menus, however . Other than that, we can report no issues with getting the PZ950 up and running, with the TV ready for use in less than 5 minutes.
The LG GUI certainly ranks amongst our favourites and nothing has changed here with the PZ950. The Home button of the remote control takes you to the TVs dashboard, from which you can access every function and option available.
Under the centre of the video window is the SETUP option that houses the SETUP, PICTURE, AUDIO, TIME, LOCK, , NETWORK and SUPPORT sub-menus.
The SETUP sub-menu is largely concerned with tuning options but there's also a Booster option that can provide that little extra oomph to a weak signal through your aerial. It's not something we could test as our signal is already excellent but it could save some a few bob on an aerial upgrade or external signal amplifier. The AUDIO menu has treble/bass/clear voice and sound mode options as well as settings for digital audio output and switching the Audio Return Channel (ARC) on or off. Under TIME you can, unsurprisingly set the time, and wake up/sleep timers. The LOCK menu has password settings and a parental lock option whilst you can set up or check your connectivity options in the NETWORK menu. The SUPPORT menu plays home to self-checks for picture, audio and signal as well as the option to check for software updates and product information. Everything else you could possibly think of, except picture options, is found under the OPTION sub-menu.
Under the PICTURE menu, there are options for aspect ratio (set at Just Scan for HD material), 3D input format or 2D>3D conversion mode. Note, once you're in 3D mode, you will need to use the Q.MENU button to access options for audio and video as well as the 3D Mode Setting sub-menu. The sub-menu has picture size options, depth control as well as 3D Picture Balance and 3D Picture Correction that we never found the need to experiment with. Moving down we have the excellent Picture Wizard that allows users to get solid brightness, contrast, tint and colour settings dialled straight in to the isf Expert modes. It's not as good as a proper calibration, of course, but should go a long way in to getting the TV right for its environment. We do wish the option to set the whole thing up from an over-saturated colour gamut didn't exist but hopefully most will choose Standard rather than Preferred from the initial screen! Still, we like the wizard and what it stands for!
Moving down the PICTURE menu and we have an Energy Saving option, Picture Mode choices (choose ISF or THX!) and the standard Contrast, Brightness, Colour and Tint controls. We also have a slider for both vertical and horizontal sharpness - we set both at 20 as well as Picture Reset option. Also, toward the bottom we have the Expert Controls sub-sub menu, if you will.
In the Expert menu we have a setting for Dynamic Contrast that messes with gamma and was left off; Noise Reduction might prove useful for particularly poor source material and there's a Super Resolution option that doesn't seem to do much so was also set to off. Gamma can be set High/Low/Medium with High being the darkest option, Black Level can be set High or Low with low being appropriate for video signals and High for PC levels. Switch Film Mode on to engage cadence detection and there's a choice of
Standard or Wide colour gamut - we found standard closer to the HD standard at default. We can engage a red/green/blue colour filter for setting a more accurate colour and tint and choose from a range of colour temperatures with Warm providing the best greyscale performance. From here we can also choose to set our white balance from either 2 or 20 points and the colour management system is also accessed from the Expert menu. We will deal with the white balance and colour management in the calibration sections.
FeaturesFirst and foremost of the LGs feature set is their Smart TV platform - yes we know just about every manufacturer is spouting smart this/smart that but we can't stop them! On connecting to your wired or wireless (with USB dongle - that's listed as in the box but wasn't with our sample) network you can choose to enter the portal through either the, all-encompassing, Home or Premium buttons on the remote control. From there you can either directly choose from services such as BBC iPlayer, AceTrax, Facebook etc or choose an App to download from the store; use the included - but limited - web browser or attempt to connect to your media files stored on PC/MAC. To use the Media Link feature, you will need to install PLEX as a media server and whilst PLEX certainly has a nice interface, we find the practice a little inhibiting and we'd like the freedom to use one of our own choice. It's also worth noting that you'll need to register online with LG to download any of the apps. Again, we do find this practice a little restrictive and it creates a barrier that we think unnecessary. We do understand it from the LG perspective - and the registration process is fairly painless - but other manufacturers don't insist on registration so we'd like to see it made optional.
LG's PX990 was the worlds first 3D THX certified television and we're pleased to see the PZ950 continue the heritage. It is, without doubt, the picture mode to go for in dark conditions and gives the impression of a fair degree of accuracy through the tinted glasses. It's locked down, i.e. you can't change any settings but without hiring a calibrator with the appropriate equipment to perform a 3D calibration, it's certainly the best you will do.
Like Panasonic before them, LG list the 600Hz sub-field processing as a feature designed to improve motion resolution which is not quite the whole story but it's a nice big number to stick on a product card, in store, to give the impression they handle motion better than LCD TVs that can only muster a puny 400Hz. In actual fact these sets of numbers are totally unrelated to one another but at least it conveys the truth even if it is by means of marketing rather than anything else.
Test ResultsWe've seen some pretty reasonable attempts at accuracy to industry standards, from LG in the past and given we've no less than 4 promising pre-sets to play with on the PZ950, we would be hoping that at least one would offer an option for those that value how the picture should look but don't want to pay extra for a professional to calibrate or even have a bash themselves. There are two THX modes in THX Cinema -for darker viewing conditions - and THX Bright Room - which is self explanatory! The THX modes don't allow for any adjustment, which is a shame, but we do have two isfccc modes, also, that provide 2 and 20 point White Balance controls as well as some gamma options and a 2D Colour Management System (CMS) that should allow for some nice results.
All in all this a good performance from the PZ950 with Delta Errors only showing any serious issues from 80 IRE onwards. We want to get our errors below 3 in order that they're imperceivable to the human eye. As it is because both red and green are tracking too high near white, there's a yellow cast to skin tones that we want ironed out. Gamma tracking is good for darker conditions but we'd like to see a flatter response.
The gamut performance against the HD Rec. 709 standard is actually very impressive. So impressive in fact that only the blue primary is of any real concern with all the other colours having over all errors below 3. We've only a 2D CMS to play with so we'll have to hope that the individual Colour controls can reign in the luminance of blue.
First of all we used the 2 point white balance controls and then the 20 point to hone results further; leaving us the following:
Not too shabby at all! If we're being totally honest - and of course we always are - we didn't use the full array of the 20 point controls, instead going up in 10% increments, but as you can see from the charts, that level of control wasn't required for reference performance from the PZ950. Our images are free of yellow colour cast and nor are they just a little too pink. Bringing up a greyscale stair-step pattern confirms the impression of neutrality the charts would suggest and we can now adjust our primary and secondary colours in confidence, knowing they will be applied to a tint free base.
Gamma tracking was also much improved, giving pictures a believable sense of depth and tonal integrity. We could pretend we'd used some clever calibration strategy to tame the spike at 80% stimulus but it wouldn't be the truth as it just fell in to line with the RGB tracking. We love it when this kind of thing happens!
Moving on to the already excellent colour performance and we were able to make small improvements. We thought we may be able to do a little better here but, in the end, the 2D CMS only allowed for a us to tame the luminance of blue at the expense of it being slightly off hue and under-saturated. Our eyes are far more sensitive to errors in luminance of the colours so it's a trade we'll take but we really would like to see LG implement a full, 18 point, 3D CMS in next year's range. That said, we're less likely to see errors in blue than any of the other colours and only with a reference calibrated display to compare against are we even going to notice any issues here.
We weren't expecting any howlers from LG in this department and the PZ950 certainly scored well here. Standard definition processing was very good with no high frequency detail lost and only the barest amount of ringing visible when scaling. Video deinterlacing was also handled well with just a small amount of jaggies present on our various tests.
Cadence detection, where the TV detects progressively shot material sent through an interlaced signal, was another plus point with the most common 2:2(PAL) and 2:3 (NTSC) cadences locked on to with no issues. This was true for both standard and high definition interlaced signals in our testing. The PZ950 also had no problems in showing video text overlaid on film based material and handled 24p content without any undue stutter.
With the player set to 1080i the display correctly deinterlaced and displayed both the video and film resolution tests (provided the aspect ratio is set to Just Scan) and showed good scaling and filtering performance as well as good resolution enhancement. The PX990 also had no problems in showing video text overlaid on film based material and also handled 24p content without any problems.
We were both surprised and disappointed to measure the PZ950's latency in the region of 90-100 milliseconds in Game mode. LGs own measurements don't back up our findings and we're working with them to discover the reason for the discrepancy and we should have another sample in for testing very soon; upon which we'll update this section of the review.
Unfortunately we're unable to bare such glad tidings here as the PZ950T was still routinely returning a lag time of 100 milliseconds in GAME mode and this was with the input labelled to PC, as well as untouched. It's a very disappointing result, especially for a PDP, and it caused us the need to notch down the difficulty level in FIFA 11 - for shame!
Considering this is a 50" plasma energy consumption for the PZ950 was actually very good with it drawing an averaged 160w, calibrated, with 210w in 3D mode and 0.5w in standby.
Picture Quality - 2DViewed from what we'd consider anything like an average viewing distance, i.e. over 8 feet, the PZ950 is capable of providing some very striking pictures. The neutrality of the greyscale and all-but reference colour reproduction gives images the air of naturality and believability with the flat gamma response increasing depth of field perception. We make mention of the viewing distance as from close up some may find the picture a little noisy. Plasma's generate their colour palette by dithering the red/green/blue pixels but, of course, we shouldn't be seeing it in action. Depending on your eyesight you may see the PZ950 performing its dithering from as little as 6ft away (we could) and the closer you get the more Pulse Width Modulation (PWM) 'noise' becomes visible. It's particularly noticeable in black, or close too, with the green pixels performing a very energetic Irish jig before your very eyes. As we said, viewing distance is the key and from over 8ft - even with better than 20/20 vision - the image appears clean and crisp. For those considering a plasma and wanting to sit close, the Panasonic's are better performers.
Speaking of black, the PZ950 continues LG's tradition of being fairly mediocre in achieving a deep shade of the backbone to great contrast performance. From memory, we'd say it does slightly better than the PX990, it replaces, but there's certainly room for improvement here. The TruBlack filter does a reasonable job of maintaining contrast but it is, unfortunately, visible in anything like bright conditions with lines showing across the screen. With the lights down, and disappointing black levels excepted, the PZ950 did provide us with some real enjoyment and its superb motion handling, believable colours and excellent video processing it punches well above the sub £1,000 price tag it can be had for now. After seeing so many Panasonic's recently, watching the Copa America, at night, was a particular highlight. So there you have it sportsfans - the PZ950 is definitely worthy of your consideration!
Picture Quality - 3DThe PZ950 scores reasonably well, for the most part, when it comes to realising 3D images but there's quite a lot of crosstalk - particularly to the foreground - when compared to some other TVs and that's especially the case in high contrast scenes. The over all 3D performance is certainly not up to the standards set by other plasmas nor their own Cinema 3D LED LCD televisions.
We mentioned the issues with the glasses earlier but, to reiterate, the gloss plastic construction picks up every last reflective source in your room and they also let out a low level buzz that, once heard, is very difficult to ignore although the second pair we received were certainly less bothersome. The glasses are such an integral part of the 3D experience and it's disappointing to class LG's active shutter eyewear as a major let down. As this wasn't our sample to mess around with we refrained from lining the insides of the frames with matte black masking tape but we suspect it may have proved quite effective.
Once we had ourselves in the right viewing environment, where the glasses weren't proving too distracting, we did notice a couple of issues with the PZ950's 3D playback. The major problem was in the fluctuating of black levels in dark scenes. Regular readers may now just be double-checking they're reading a LG review rather than a Panasonic one but, rest assured, that is the case. The effect is identical to last years Panasonic TVs, where changes in luminance of low light scenes would cause the entire brightness of the screen to raise. It is something we saw fairly frequently and might just prove to be too much for some. The other problem we noticed was a very occasional wobble to the picture when displaying in side-by-side mode. It was so infrequent that it barely merits a mention but we have to report everything we see.
Having reported the issues to LG, they issued us with a new sample loaded with a new software version and the brightness fluctuation issue seems to have been fixed along with the SBS 'wobble'. Hats off to LG for being so proactive and it certainly improves the experience considerably but we've certainly had better 3D experiences from other manufacturers and, indeed, very much from LGs own passive tech panels but with a few tweaks here and there the PZ950 will be a very capable performer.
- Excellent calibrated images
- Motion handling
- Picture processing
- Mediocre and noisy blacks
- 3D glasses can be noisy and reflective
- Lots of foreground crosstalk
- Calibration menus are fiddly
- TruBlack filter is visible in bright conditions
- Input lag
LG PZ950 (50PZ950) 3D Plasma Review
The LG 50PZ950T ultimately just falls short of an AVForums award for having too many niggles and caveats to gain a great picture from it. Black levels are weak, particularly for a plasma, and up close suffer from dancing green pixels. Performance in daytime conditions is, ironically, hampered by the TruBlack filter showing its composition on images. The 3D experience is marred by the glasses reflecting on themselves and you might find they emit an annoying buzz, not to mention quite a lot of crosstalk - particularly in foreground images. The other major, and quite surprising, flaw of the PZ950 is in its latency to controller input for gaming, with the PZ950 registering a fairly whopping 100 milliseconds lag. Hopefully LG can fix this in an update because it's a very high figure, especially for a plasma display.
Anyone reading back that last paragraph could be forgiven for thinking that we took a real dislike to the PZ950 when that isn't actually the case. Watching fast moving sports on the PZ950 was as real pleasure with it in another league to the vast majority of LCDs out there; and certainly better than the Panasonic plasma experience, as things stand. The calibrated greyscale and gamut combined with some excellent video processing gave pictures a really natural look and, in the right conditions, provides an experience that belies the sub £1,000 price tag the PZ950 can be had for.
If you're going to situate the PZ950 in the right viewing environment and you sit at 'normal' viewing distances, this could be a real bargain but we felt there just too many restrictions on placement and niggles with 3D performance to merit a badge. Nearly LG, very very nearly and they could yet turn it around with a combination of software fixes and a revision to the eyewear!
Suggested retail price when reviewed: £1,400.00
Contrast/Dynamic Range/Black Level6
3D Picture Quality7
Ease Of Use8
Value for Money7
Our Review Ethos
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