Design and Connections
Connectivity is rarely worth mentioning on displays any more, with almost all of them having more HDMI inputs than most of us could ever need, and a decent selection of analogue interfaces for backwards compatibility. It's the same deal here: you'll find 4 HDMI inputs (one of which is mounted nearer to the side), Component video and audio inputs, an RF input for hooking up an aerial to receive Digital (or analogue!) TV broadcasts, one RGB SCART input which might be useful for fans of retro video-gaming, owners of standard-def satellite or cable decoders, or for users of old DVD players. There's also one Composite SCART (which is basically useless these days), and a VGA PC input. Lastly, we have an RS-232C port for interconnected custom installs, legacy Composite video/Stereo audio inptus on the side, and a USB 2.0 port for hooking up USB devices.
Menus & Setup
Although the entire industry is finally seeing sense and giving consumers access to picture controls previously reserved for professionals (hey, everyone deserves great picture quality), LG have really led the pack by including this level of control for some time now. The 42SL8000 features the usual options that you'd expect (pictured), as well as the "Expert" modes (Imaging Science branded) which unlock the full suite of advanced controls, which are tucked away in their own menu. Here's a run-down of these options:
Dynamic Contrast performs white and black stretching to increase the perceived "punch" of the image, and is best left off (let the cinematographers and colourists decide the look of the scene, not a chip in the back of a TV). Noise Reduction activates spatial filtering, which means that specific frequencies in the picture are cut off, the idea being to filter out parts of the picture where noise tends to lurk. There's really little need for this control now that we're using digital TV, and even if there was, the effect is detrimental. Gamma is a basic Gamma control which raises or lowers the Gamma curve; this is a complex subject but think of it as a control that redistributes the values between black and white, and can be used to tailor a display to the lighting of its viewing environment. Real Cinema is a cadence detection control, which converts old-style Interlaced material to the Progressive LCD panel in a way that's most suited to the playback of Films. When 24p material is input, it also makes sure that this material is shown without inducing judder.
Colour Standard switches colour decoding between SD and HD standards, which is useful for correcting the output of badly designed upconverting DVD players, Colour Gamut oversaturates colours if it's set to "Wide", Edge Enhancer adds additional sharpening with SD material, Colour Filter isolates only the Red, Green and Blue components in the picture (useful for setting Colour controls), and Colour Temperature selects different white-point (Greyscale) presets.
Anything else we could ask for? Probably not. It's very likely that these controls allow us to get optimal performance out of this display, at least within the limitations of the LCD panel itself (that is, the amount of control given means that the TV is unlikely to be artificially restricted by software). If I have any more requests from LG, I'll make them known after calibration...
After performing measurements of the TV running after this basic adjustment, the culprit of the "sickly" look was soon revealed. Take a look at the RGB level tracking chart and you'll easily see that the TV had Green contamination in whites, adding an unwanted colour cast to the whole picture. (An ideal RGB Level Tracking chart would have the red, green and blue lines overlapping each other, indicating that the display had the right amount of each).
As mentioned, LG's displays contain just about every video control you could need to resolve picture inaccuracy issues. I got out the measuring gear and pattern generator, and got ready to bring the LG's picture performance to its peak. To start with, I used the Greyscale controls to get rid of that troublesome green contamination. LG's TV offers both a 2-point control (as do most TVs), which lets us adjust dark areas and light areas individually, as well as a 10-point control, which lets us tweak 10% stimulus, 20% stimulus, 30%, and so on. At first, I tried to use the 2-point control - if you can get good results with this, it's best not to tempt fate, as 10-point controls can sometimes adversely affect Gamma. With the 2-point control, I got fairly good results, but there was now an excess of blue at 10 IRE, which was sometimes visible in dark scenes.
Fixing this error had now brought the secondary colours closer to their intended targets, but because LG offer a Colour Management System as a standard feature, I could use this to refine colour performance even more for both primaries and secondaries. The end result is absolutely excellent, and is barely discernible from perfection: although the panel has a tiny bit of trouble achieving full saturation for some colours (most notably blue), the Luminance (in this case, the amount of each colour present) is always within "Reference" criteria. And, to be fair, too little saturation is much better than too much.
LG are well aware of the importance of these controls in getting the very best picture quality from a display device, but I need to make sure that readers are, too. To reiterate: we just took a display out of its basic settings (where it was adding unwanted colour into video images) and have corrected its performance to levels that are approaching the quality of a professional studio monitor. And, it's all because LG give their users the means to do so.
I ran some video processing tests on the LG 42SL8000 to assess its performance with standard definition material. SD material needs to be deinterlaced and scaled (resized) before it can be properly displayed on a flat panel HDTV, and both of these tasks can be performed with varying levels of quality.
First of all come the Film Mode deinterlacing tests. The good news is that the LG 42SL8000 correctly handles European PAL standard-def film content when the "Real Cinema" option is turned on, which is great news. If you have a non-upconverting DVD player or are watching a film from another SD device (like the TV's own Digital TV tuner, or from a standard-def satellite or cable box), then this means that films won't be displayed with additional flickering or aliasing.
The TV was also adept at dealing with NTSC Film content, which won't be relevant to most of us here in the UK, but is a nice bonus for owners of large US DVD collections and older DVD players. The common 3-2 cadence passed, as did 2-2.
That's all well and good for Film content, but what of material shot with Video cameras, which has to be handled differently? Again, the results were good. The TV employs fairly effective diagonal interpolation, which means that jagginess during video content will be minimised.
Next, the last SD test: scaling. To test this, I input a SMPTE RP-133 test pattern to the display, and makes sure that all of the fine patterns are being reproduced by the TV, and that no harsh glowing/ringing is being created. Scaling often teeters along a fine line between "too blurry" and "too sharp", but LG have nailed it. The quality of the scaling on the 42SL8000, especially if the "Edge Enhancement" control is used to a sensible level, is comparable to that of high-end Realta HQV-based products (think high end amps and BD players). Excellent job.
I also input Full HD 1920x1080p test patterns to make sure that the 42SL8000 was resolving the full resolution of the highest resolution HDTV signal. Whilst some TVs feature panels with 1920x1080 pixels, some of them are designed in such a way that manages to truncuate high frequency video data, meaning that small picture artefacts and a loss of fine detail can result. Past LG displays have suffered from this issue, but fortunately, the 42SL8000, like all of their recent TVs, resolves every last drop of the input signal. Excellent!
I hooked my laptop up to the display to measure input lag, and also briefly tried out the single Xbox 360 I could find that still works. Normally, the display has about 30ms of lag, which is on the better side of acceptability. However, if you label the HDMI input as "PC", then the TV will cut out extraneous processing, meaning the figure was cut to only 20ms. As a result, video games were great fun on this TV, with the lag being unnoticeable (at least by me, and I've gotten rid of TVs in the past that were affected by lag, so it's safe to say that I'm sensitive to it).
As a side note for computer users, I was also delighted to see that the LG 42SL8000 displays 4:4:4 signals (like computers and some games consoles send) without downgrading the chroma resolution. This has no benefit for TV and video applications, which use lower resolution colour components to save bandwidth, but it means that when you connect a computer to the TV, the finest pixel-thin coloured details will be displayed on screen without any blurring. In fact, I loved using this TV as a computer monitor thanks to the full chroma resolution, accurate colour, large screen, and lack of noticeable lag. I've used dedicated PC monitors that are laggier than this TV!
Because LCD displays (unlike plasmas) use an always-on backlight, the amount of power consumed by the TV does not greatly change depending on the brightness of the scene (unless a specialised power saving mode is used, but these tend to be intrusive). Here's how much juice the LG 42SL8000 used depending on the backlight intensity:
Backlight at 0: 77 watts
Backlight at 20: 98 watts
Backlight at 40: 121 watts
Backlight at 60: 145 watts
Backlight at 80: 171 watts
Backlight at 100: 195 watts
After calibration, the lack of rich blacks and the TV's viewing angle were the only criticisms I had - and those are moderately weighty criticisms. The accurate images, as always, went a long way in making the LG 42SL8000 hugely enjoyable to watch, however. With bright programme content, viewed face on or only slightly off-axis, I was all smiles (and in terms of video displays, that's a rare occurrence). With dark scenes, the amount of ambient light became crucial: having just a bit of bias lighting around the display helped distract from its black level limitations. Very, very, VERY few TV displays still look good with all of the room lighting off, and this isn't one of them.
Enough of black level, though - how about other aspects of the image quality? The motion resolution is about the same as most other recent LCD displays, but crucially, the 42SL8000 doesn't suffer from the common problem of "smearing blacks", where black objects against white backgrounds leave visible trails, which is great to see. Enabling the TruMotion 200hz system does improve motion resolution with tests, but can create other picture artefacts which are sometimes more irritating than the LCD blur was in the first place.
My usual test for 24p judder (the slow panning shots at the start of Chapter 12 in "Wall-e") showed that the LG 42SL8000 has no difficulty in showing such material correctly - provided you have "Real Cinema" enabled in the Advanced Settings screen. Additionally, the TV didn't resort to any annoying Auto-Dimming during dark scenes, so there was no brightness fluctuation being added to the film by the display.
Digital TV viewed via the TV's own tuner was passable. When you activate the Tuner input, the TV's video processor appears to be doing processing behind your back to conceal compression artefacts. I'd appreciate being given control over this: while I don't think the TV was destroying any actual picture detail (hey, it's bandwidth-strapped Digital TV - there's hardly any picture detail to start with), the filtered image looked slightly worse than it would have done untampered due to the processed look it left behind.
- Calibrated Greyscale is of Reference quality, with no unwanted colour impurities in the image
- Calibrated Colour is absolutely excellent
- SD video processing is great
- Excellent design
- Works brilliantly as a large computer monitor or for gaming, thanks to low input lag in "PC" mode and full (4:4:4) chroma resolution
- Black level is slightly lacking, leaving dark scenes looking grey in dark environments
- Limited viewing angle causes picture to appear greyish from the sides
- On-board Digital TV tuner video has slightly processed appearance
LG SL8000 (42SL8000) LCD TV Review
LG's biggest threat in the LCD TV market is, in this writers' opinion, Samsung. While their Korean rival doesn't appear to take display calibration and accuracy quite as seriously as LG, they do still provide 2-point Greyscale control, a full 3D Colour Management system, and LCD panels which outdo LG's best attempts at black level and viewing angle - even on cheaper models. That leaves LG's attractive styling and slightly better Greyscale calibration control (but subtly worse colour control) as the main points of differentiation.
On the basis of its other strengths, I can recommend the LG 42SL8000 with the proviso that prospective buyers are aware of its black level shortcomings (as they'd have to be with most LCD TVs). Ignoring this, the other strengths are just too much not to award a badge to: the design is fantastic, the usability is fantastic, the calibration controls are fantastic and allow you to get extremely accurate video from the display, and the SD video processing is nothing shabby, either. If LG can improve the black level performance of their future TVs, then they will be competing neck-and-neck with the best LCD TVs on the market. For now, they're putting up a fierce fight and this slightly pricey display deserves your consideration.
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