Editors' note (March 4, 2010): The rating on this product has been lowered because of changes in the competitive marketplace, including the release of 2010 models. The review has not otherwise been modified. Click here for more information.
At CES this year, LG made a big deal out of its 240Hz technology, claiming it bested similar blur-busting tech from other LCD makers. The LH55 series represents the company's least expensive HDTV equipped with a 240Hz refresh rate, and when it comes to that feature, as usual, we weren't particularly impressed. The results were similar to those seen on other 240Hz displays--reduced blur that was difficult for us to really discern, although test patterns prove it's there--but we were a bit annoyed that you have to engage the smoothing effect of dejudder if you want to reduce blur. In its favor, the LH55 brings a boatload of other picture quality adjustments to bear, most of them leading to excellent color accuracy, but its overall picture is hampered by lighter black levels, among other minor problems. If you can handle those issues, are sensitive to blur and enjoy picture tweaks, the LH55 is one of the more tempting LCDs out there.
Series note: We performed a hands-on evaluation of the 42-inch LG 42LH55, but this review also applies to the other sizes in the series, namely the 37-inch 37LH55, the 47-inch 47LH55, and the 55-inch 55LH55. All sizes share identical specs and features and should provide very similar picture quality.
Editors' note: Many of the design and features elements are identical between the LG LH55 series and the LG LH30 series we reviewed previously, so readers of the earlier review may experience some déjà vu when reading the same sections below.
The LG LH55 looks slick enough but lacks any overt, eye-catching styling cues. Its most remarkable external feature is the thin, transparent strip along the left and right edges of the frame. That frame rounds slightly along the top edge and is thicker below than above, and its gloss-black coloration is interrupted by the LG logo only. A bump on the bottom left edge houses the blue-lit power indicator. The stand swivels and matches the panel with its glossy black.
LG's remote is relatively disappointing. We found the cluster of similar buttons around the cursor control difficult to differentiate without constantly having to look down at them. A little illumination would have gone a long way. There's a prominent button labeled "Energy Saving" that directly accesses said control and a little energy saving graphic to provide enviro-geeks a warm and fuzzy feeling. The remote can't control other brands of gear directly with infrared commands.
The menu system is quite extensive, so the easy-access quick menu for aspect ratio, picture and sound modes, the timer, and other oft-used functions is welcome. The main menu is laid out the same as last year's model, with the addition of a new onscreen "simple manual" that provides basic setup and function information. One miscue: we'd really like to see explanations of menu items appear onscreen, too, especially since many of them are so advanced.
As we mentioned above, the LH55's main step-up feature is a 240Hz refresh rate, which is designed to combat blurring in motion. There are two species of 240Hz and LG employs the "scanning backlight" variety, which augments the usual 120Hz technique of doubling the standard 60-frame signal with a backlight that flashes very rapidly on and off (much faster than humans can perceive) to help reduce motion blur. In our tests the other 240Hz technique, which actually quadruples the standard signal and is used by Sony and Samsung, produced slightly better results than LG's method, which is also employed by Toshiba and Vizio. Unlike Toshiba, which carefully calls the scanning backlight a "240Hz effect," LG's marketing department has no qualms about touting its method as unqualified 240Hz.
LG's implementation of dejudder is similar to past 120Hz and 240Hz displays, which force you to engage the smoothing effect of dejudder if you want to enjoy the benefits of reduced blurring. 2009 models from Samsung and Toshiba, on the other hand, allow you to separate the two functions, an option we really prefer to have. The LH55 series offers two strengths of dejudder, Low and High, and also offers a separate "Real Cinema" function designed to work with 1080p/24 sources. Check out the performance section for more details.
Like other LG displays, the picture controls on the LH55 series surpass most of the competition. The company included even more adjustments than last year, starting with a well-thought-out Picture Wizard that uses internal test patterns to help you perform your own basic calibrations of the controls for brightness, contrast, color, tint, horizontal and vertical sharpness, and backlight. Once you've finished, your settings are saved to the Expert1 picture memory slot for your choice of inputs.
Each of the eight adjustable picture memory slots is independent per input, and we appreciated that all of them, aside from the two Expert slots, indicate whether they're in the default settings. A ninth mode, called Intelligent Sensor, reacts to ambient lighting conditions and automatically sets picture parameters accordingly. Advanced controls abound in even the nonexpert modes, with three color temperature presets, settings for dynamic contrast and color, noise reduction, three levels of gamma, a black level control, wide and standard color spaces, edge enhancement, a room-lighting sensor, and even an "eye care" setting designed to prevent the screen from being too bright (it's disabled in Vivid and Cinema modes).
Those Expert modes, which bear the logo and the input of the Imaging Science Foundation, offer a passel of additional controls. Our favorite, first introduced by LG last year and still exclusive to the company, is a 10-point white balance system that can really help get a more accurate grayscale. The company upped the ante for 2009, adding the capability to target a 2.2 gamma, internal test patterns, and even color filters for blue-only, green-only, and red-only to help set color balance. A full color management system is also on tap, and we love the capability to apply Expert settings to all inputs or just one at a time. Of course, most of these settings will appeal only to pro calibrators and HDTV geeks, but either way, LG's 2009 models offer the most complete suite of user-menu picture adjustments we've seen on any HDTV to date.
LG touts the efficiency of this set, and rightly so, according to our tests (see below). In addition to the "home use" and "store demo" initial settings common to the Energy Star 3.0-qualified televisions, there's a quartet of progressively more aggressive Energy Saving settings that reduce the backlight--and thus light output along with wattage consumed. Engaging the settings disables the standard backlight control.
The LH55 series is missing picture-in-picture, but does provide plenty of aspect ratio control, including five modes or use with HD sources and four with standard-def. Two modes are adjustable zooms, and there's a "set by program" mode designed to automatically choose the correct aspect ratio setting based on the signal. We recommend using the Just Scan mode with 1080i and 1080p material, which assures zero overscan and proper 1:1 pixel matching for this 1080p display.