As we describe in detail in our explanation of the confusing world of LED backlight configurations, our favorite variety is known as (deep breath) "full-array with local dimming." Unfortunately, it's exceedingly expensive to implement, at least to judge from the sticker prices of the only currently shipping 2011 HDTVs to offer this feature: Sony's XBR-HX929, Sharp's Elites, and the LG 55LW9800 reviewed here. The LG is unique among the three as the only one with passive 3D TV capability--combining local dimming with the brightness, crosstalk, and practicality advantages of polarized 3D glasses. If you want passive 3D and have money to burn, this 55-inch model (it's not available in any other size) seems appealing on paper. In person, however, despite myriad settings and our best attempt to calibrate them, it fails to fulfill those high expectations.
|Panel depth||1 inch||Bezel width||1 inch|
|Single-plane face||Yes||Swivel stand||Yes|
Although graced with a single-pane face--meaning the bezel and the screen are fronted by one sheet of plastic--a transparent-edged frame, and a relatively thin bezel, the LG LW9800 ultimately isn't as stylish as competing TVs like Sony's monolithic XBR-HX929 or Samsung's stunning, all-picture UND8000. It's still plenty sleek, however, from the glass-topped stand to the top of its thin, jewel-like panel. In fact it's as thin as many edge-lit LEDs, and thinner than the next-thinnest full-array model we've tested, the HX929, by half an inch.
|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 enable you to make menu selections by motion control, rather than clicking the box with your thumb--to work on every screen in the system. Both changes are improvements, and 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 to various services and features of the TV. 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, many of which seem designed with motion control in mind, it's much more appealing. (Netflix is the only exception we found that didn't work with motion control, although the wand's cursor buttons still work.) 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 in the Settings>Options menu to Speed: Fast and Alignment: On.
Since the wand is radio-controlled, it doesn't require a clear 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 option to have. The biggest downside is the extra remote on your coffee table--at least until Logitech incorporates motion control into its Harmony remotes.
|Key TV features|
|Display technology||LCD||LED backlight||Full-array with local dimming|
|3D technology||Passive||3D glasses included||4 pairs|
|Screen finish||Glossy||Internet connection||built-in Wi-Fi|
|Refresh rate(s)||480Hz||Dejudder (smooth) processing||Yes|
|Other: Optional wireless media box (AN-WL100W, $350 list)|
LG's flagship LCD TV costs so much partly because it uses a full-array local-dimming LED backlight. LG is the only maker to disclose the number of dimmable zones it uses: 216 in this case. The backlight's Nano nomenclature refers to the LEDs being part of a "thin film" that provides a "more uniform light distribution." Given the uniformity problems with the 2010 LG local dimmers that improvement was necessary.
The LW9800 also uses LG's passive 3D technology, known as "film pattern retarder" (FPR). A polarizing film coating the TV screen allows each eye, when wearing special glasses, to view every other line to create the two images necessary for the 3D illusion.
LG, along with Vizio, is currently engaged in a marketing battle with the purveyors of active 3D TVs, namely Samsung, Panasonic, and Sony. Both types of 3D TV can handle any of the new 3D formats used by Blu-ray, TV broadcasts, and video games, and both require viewers to don 3D glasses, but each has its advantages and disadvantages. See our 3D TV buying guide for general information on active versus passive 3D, and the performance section of this review for more on the LW9800's 3D picture quality.
The biggest market advantage of passive 3D is inexpensive glasses. LG packs four pairs of passive specs in with the LW9800, and additional pairs cost $10 to $20. Less expensive compatible circular polarized glasses are available from online merchants, and if you happen to own a pair of the type of passive 3D glasses used in your local theater, they should work too.
LG includes built-in Wi-Fi on the LW9800, meaning you can use a wireless connection with this TV without paying an extra $80 for a dongle or occupying a USB slot. The dongle worked well in our tests. LG also offers an external LG Wireless Media Box option (which we didn't test) designed to enable 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. As of press time, 32 LG Apps.|
On 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 superb, although it doesn't include Pandora, a staple available on most other TVs.
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 rather than lots of useless ones.
Speaking of chaff, the selection in LG's app store is anemic at the moment, far outpaced by Samsung's offerings and, to a lesser extent, Panasonic's. That said, the number of apps has increased from 14 to 38 since we reviewed the LG 47LW5600 in late June, and new additions include Fandango (no ticket sales, just lame trailers for now), 3D Zone (even lamer 3D video clips), a Social Center (Twitter/Facebook), and K-Zone (Korean music). We did like the star rating system, especially since the plethora of negative ratings signaled it was legitimate. 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. Search accesses just CinemaNow, YouTube, Amazon Instant, and some podcasts, as far as we could tell, making it relatively useless. The LW9800'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 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||5||Fine dejudder control||Yes|
|Color temperature presets||3||Fine color temperature control||10 points|
|Gamma presets||3||Color management system||Yes|
|Other: THX modes for 2D and 3D; three local dimming options as well as Off|
LG is always among the best in this department, and we loved having two Expert modes with the full plethora of adjustments--although we prefer the color management system used by Samsung. LG's picture setting menus, while extensive, are also annoying to navigate since they require so much scrolling during adjustment, and the motion remote isn't any help here.
There are two THX modes for 2D and one for 3D--the LW9800 is the first passive TV to have achieved THX's 3D display certification. Unfortunately, unlike THX on Panasonic TVs, you can't adjust these modes on the LG beyond local dimming and dejudder.
We appreciated that four modes' worth of adjustable picture controls, including dejudder and simulated 3D options, were available for the major services we tested (Netflix, Vudu, and Amazon Instant--the last sans 3D). The Expert modes were not, however.
|HDMI inputs||4||Component video inputs||2|
|Composite video input(s)||2||VGA-style PC input(s)||1|
|USB port||2||Ethernet (LAN) port||Yes|
|Other: Headphone jack|
Unlike Samsung and Panasonic LG blesses its slim TVs with a set of honest-to-goodness multicolored RCA jacks that don't require breakout cables (although the second component/composite input does). We also appreciate the headphone jack that's become increasingly rare on today's TVs.