While Panasonic's and Samsung's flagship plasma TVs vie for best TV of 2011, LG's best plasma of the year, the PZ950 series, can't match the picture quality score of even the less expensive step-down 3D Panasonics. The main culprit is LG's more grayish shade of black, which washes out what would otherwise be an excellent picture. The TV's robust Internet suite and sleek styling help increase its appeal, but won't help its standing in the eyes of dark-room home theater fans shopping for plasmas in this price range.
Editors' note (September 1, 2011): The reviewed size of this TV is undergoing long-term testing, the results of which don't affect this review but may be interesting nonetheless. Click here for details.
Series information: We performed a hands-on evaluation of the 50-inch LG 50PZ950, but this review also applies to the other screen size in the series. The two TVs have identical specs and according to the manufacturer should provide very similar picture quality.
|Panel depth||1.9 inches||Bezel width||1.75 inches|
|Single-plane face||Yes||Swivel stand||Yes|
The PZ950's most remarkable design element is its one-sheet face, where a single panel of glass fronts both the screen and bezel for sleek, a seamless look. The black bezel itself is thicker than the bezels on Samsung's high-end plasmas and Panasonic's compact GT30, but still more compact than seen on many plasmas. Transparent edges on the panel and the rounded-top stand base complete the picture. While the design isn't quite up to Samsung's PND7000/D8000 standards in our book, it's as nice as the best Panasonics and attractive and understated enough to work in just about any room.
|Remote control and menus|
|Remote size (LxW)||9.2x1.8 inches||QWERTY keyboard||No|
|Illuminated keys||35||IR device control||No|
|Menu item explanations||No||Onscreen manual||No|
|Other: Includes secondary motion-based RF remote control|
LG redesigned its menu system on the 2011 Smart TV-capable models to emphasize the applications and streaming services over things like picture and audio settings. It also extended the functionality of its secondary Magic Motion remote--which acts like the controller on a Nintendo Wii to let you make menu selections by motion control, rather than clicking from box to box with your thumb--to work on every screen in the system. Both changes are improvements that help make the 2011 LG menus among the best of any TV.
Like Sony's, LG's remotes have a central Home button but no Menu key to lead directly to the TV's picture and sound settings. The Home page consists of a live TV window with links below to inputs, TV settings, and favorite channels; a central section with five tiles you can customize and rearrange to link to any of the Premium services like Netflix and Amazon; an LG Apps section listing the three "hottest" and newest apps from LG's app store; and a bottom strip with links to the app store, browser and two apps of your choice (we wish it were possible to tweak more than just two). The page's proportions feel right, and we liked the big icons, especially since they made using the motion controller easier.
We called the wandlike motion controller a gimmick last year, but now that it can be used seamlessly across all menus and nearly every app (Netflix is the only exception we found--it prevents motion control, although the wand's cursor buttons still work), many of which seem designed with motion control in mind, it's much more appealing. Sure some things could be better--we wish the wand had a dedicated Return/Back button, response times occasionally lagged a bit, and on occasion we had to give the wand a vigorous shake to get our cursor to return--but it was sometimes easier and faster than using the standard remote, especially after we changed pointer settings to Speed: Fast and Alignment: On in the Settings>Options menu.
Since the wand is radio-controlled, it doesn't require a line of sight to the TV. Another bonus is drag and drop, which we used to customize menus where available, drag a map in the Google maps app, and easily scroll down an AP news story by dragging a scroll bar, for example. Waving the wand at the screen to navigate menus and apps will take some getting used to for motion control novices, but it's a cool and somewhat useful option to have. The biggest downside is that it means having an extra remote on your coffee table (at least until Harmony incorporates motion control).
|Key TV features|
|Display technology||Plasma||LED backlight||N/A|
|3D technology||Active||3D glasses included||No|
|Screen finish||Glass||Internet connection||Wi-Fi adapter|
|Refresh rate(s)||60Hz, 96Hz||Dejudder (smooth) processing||No|
|Other: Optional active 3D glasses (model AG-S250, $129 list each); Optional wireless media box (AN-WL100W, $350 list)|
Unlike LG's 2011 LCDs, its plasma TVs use active-shutter 3D glasses, zero pairs of which come with the TV. The new glasses sync using a 2.4GHz wireless signal so they aren't subject to line-of-sight like the Infrared models Panasonic uses, and we appreciate that they do have rechargeable batteries. When we asked company reps why LG didn't make its plasmas with passive 3D, we were told that doing so using existing pattern retarder technology was too costly.
LG includes a Wi-Fi dongle with the PZ950, occupying a USB slot but happily allowing you to use a wireless connection with this TV without paying an extra $80. The dongle worked well in our tests. LG also offers an external LG Wireless Media Box option (which we didn't test) that enables you to connect HDMI and other gear wirelessly if your installation calls for that.
|Streaming and apps|
|Amazon Instant||Yes||Hulu Plus||Yes|
|Other: Additional Premium services include Mog, CinemaNow, MLB.tv, Napster, vTuner, AccuWeather, AP news, Google Maps, and Picasa. 32 LG Apps as of press time|
Among Blu-ray players we dubbed LG's Smart TV our favorite suite of streaming services and apps, with Panasonic's Viera Cast a close second. For TVs we like Viera Connect (a more mature version of the simpler Cast) a bit better than LG's service and both are slightly superior to Samsung's cluttered, albeit more content-rich, version of Smart TV.
Despite the ill-chosen Premium heading, you won't have to pay for any of the streaming services beyond subscription or pay-per-view fees. The selection is solid, although Pandora, a staple available on most other TVs, is missing.
We appreciated that LG's Premium services are almost all excellent. Separating the wheat from the chaff is often difficult, and we prefer to have a few apps and services that work well and offer satisfying content as opposed to myriad useless ones.
Speaking of chaff, the selection in LG's app store is anemic at the moment, far outpaced by Samsung and, to a lesser extent, Panasonic. That said, the number of apps has increased from 14 to 32 since we reviewed the LG 47LW5600 in late June, and new additions include Fandango (no ticket sales, just lame trailers for now) and "3D Zone" (even lamer 3D video clips). We did like the star rating system, especially since the plethora of negative ratings signaled it was legit. We didn't like the cramped layout of the app store, however, and we're a bit mystified as to why some apps (like the excellent HomeCast podcast aggregator) aren't premium.
Like Samsung, LG offers video search and a Web browser. LG's search hits even fewer services than Samsung's (just Amazon Instant and some podcasts as far as we could tell), making it even more useless. The PZ950's browser on the other hand was faster and generally better than the one on the D8000 Samsungs we reviewed, although it was still worse than the Google TV's (as usual, it doesn't support Flash, so no Hulu.com). We liked using the motion remote to navigate, but really didn't like using it to enter text for searching or direct URL access.
|Adjustable picture modes||7||Fine dejudder control||N/A|
|Color temperature presets||3||Fine color temperature control||20 points|
|Gamma presets||3||Color management system||Yes|
|Other: Two nonadjustable THX modes|