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.
With every new technology release, LCD tries to catch up to plasma in the picture quality race, but never seems to succeed. The biggest potential equalizer attached to LCD's engine is LED backlighting with local dimming, a technology first marketed widely by Samsung two years ago that's slowly spread to other brands' flagship LCD TVs since. LG's 2009 entrant is the LH90 series, and it closes the gap considerably compared with the best plasma displays. The LH90 models evinced superb black-level performance and LG's characteristically accurate color, helped in large measure by the company's best-in-class user-menu adjustments. This is easily the best-performing LG TV we've tested, and despite a few flaws, it's a worthy member of the flat-panel elite.
Series note: We performed a hands-on evaluation of the 47-inch LG 47LH90, but this review also applies to the other sizes in the series, namely the 42-inch 42LH90 and the 55-inch 55LH90. 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 LH90 series and the LG LH55 series we reviewed earlier, so readers of the earlier review may experience some déjà vu when reading the same sections below.
A sleek, rounded, glossy-black frame surrounds the matte screen of the LH90 series, and its curvaceousness extends to a semitransparent, blue-tinted stand stalk that supports the panel above the circular, swivel stand. The extreme edges of the panel are lined in similar semitransparent blue that's subtle enough to retain plenty of sophistication. The only other prominent details are the smallish LG logo, the chrome-edged, illuminated power indicator, and the three letters "L E D" stenciled onto the bottom-left edge. Overall the look is classy and understated, if a shade bulbous in person.
LG's improved the remote for its higher-end TVs like the LH90, with backlit buttons and more spacing between keys. Buttons are grouped logically and although we didn't like their similar sizes and shapes from an ergonomic standpoint, we did appreciate that most functions were represented by dedicated keys (aspect ratio being the major exception). There's a prominent button labeled "Energy Saving" key that directly accesses said control and a little energy saving graphic to provide enviro-geeks a warm fuzzy. 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 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.
The big addition with the LH90 series is LED backlighting with local dimming. This LCD-based TV employs groups of LEDs (as opposed to the standard fluorescent lamps behind most LCD screens) that can be individually dimmed or even switched off in different areas of the screen. The system is different from edge-lit LED-based LCDs, such as the 6000, 7000, and 8000 series sold by Samsung, because the LG's LEDs are arranged behind the screen as opposed to, well, along the edges. In general we've observed improved contrast, along with some tradeoffs, with local-dimming technology, so check out Performance below for the full skinny.
One big omission from the LG LH90's spec sheet is Internet-connected interactive capability, which is prominently featured on competing models from Samsung, Sony, and Panasonic for example. LG's only LCD models with that included interactive action is the LH50 series.
The LED-equipped LG does offer 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 processing is similar to past 120Hz and 240Hz displays, which force you to engage the smoothing effect if you want to enjoy the benefits of reduced blurring. The 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 LH90 series offers two strengths of dejudder, Low and High, and also offers a separate "Real Cinema" function designed to work with 1080p/24 sources.
Like other LG displays, the picture controls on the LH90 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 you 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.
The LH90 series includes a THX picture preset not available on lower-end models, which supposedly offers improved accuracy. Unlike THX on Panasonic TVs like the TC-PV10 series, THX on the LG cannot be adjusted at all.
Six other picture memory slots are all 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. Another setting turns off the screen completely. Engaging the Energy Saving settings disables the standard backlight control.
The LH90 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.