By now you may have heard all about passive 3D, how it might or might not be better than active, how LG/Vizio and Samsung/Sony/Panasonic are at each others' throats trying to convince buyers to choose one over the other, and how 3D TV is here to stay. That's all true, and documented exhaustively in our 3D TV FAQ, but in our experience few TV shoppers care about 3D in the least. If you're one of the few, then you'll want to know that overall we like the picture quality of active better than what we've seen of passive from the LG LW5600 series--although passive definitely has its advantages.
That said, we can forget about 3D and focus on what really matters: 2D picture quality, where the LW5600 is one of the best edge-lit LED TVs we've tested. The dimming backlight, despite its flaws, is an asset overall (and no, it's not available on less expensive, 2D-only 2011 LGs) along with best-in-class color. Perhaps most importantly, the LW5600 has a matte screen that performs better than glossy screens in bright rooms. We liked LG's Internet features and even its funky remote this year, although buyers seeking a style statement will be disappointed. The LG LW5600 costs more than most LED-based LCD TVs, but it offers the complete package and deserves consideration from buyers in this price range regardless of how they feel about 3D.
Series information: We performed a hands-on evaluation of the 47-inch 47LW5600, but this review also applies to the other screen size in the series. Both have identical specs and according to the manufacturer should provide very similar picture quality.
|Panel depth||1.1 inches||Bezel width||1.5 inches|
|Single-plane face||No||Swivel stand||Yes|
Externally the LW5600 takes an understated, inoffensive path, and we generally like the result. Glossy black coloring, squared-off corners, a (thankfully) non-illuminated logo and a medium-width bezel contribute to its staid appearance. The lone accent is the narrow transparent edge. Seen from the side, the TV's profile is among the thinnest available at just over an inch thick.
|Remote control and menus|
|Remote size (LxW)||9.2 x 1.8 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 apps 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 from 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, 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 this strip offered the ability 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 line-of-sight to the TV. Another bonus is drag/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||LCD||LED backlight||Edge-lit with local dimming|
|3D technology||Passive||3D glasses included||4 pair|
|Screen finish||Matte||Internet connection||Wi-Fi adapter|
|Refresh rate(s)||120Hz||Dejudder (smooth) processing||Y/N|
|Other: Additional passive glasses cost $20 each (model AG-F200); Optional wireless media box (AN-WL100W, $350 list)|
The LW5600 is LG's first TV with passive 3D capability, enabled by something called a Film Pattern Retarder. 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 low-volume "format war" with purveyors of active 3D TVs, namely Samsung, Panasonic and Sony. Both types of 3D TVs 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 FAQ for general information on active vs. passive and 3D in general, and the Performance section of this review for more the LW5600's 3D picture quality.
The biggest market advantage of passive 3D is inexpensive glasses. LG packs four pair of passive specs in with the LW5600, and additional pairs cost $20. Less expensive compatible circular polarized glasses are available from online merchants, and if you swipe a pair of passive 3D glasses from your local theater, they should work too.
Aside from 3D the LW5600 is the cheapest LG to offer an edge-lit LED backlight with local dimming. The LEDs along the edge of the screen can be dimmed or brightened in sections according to program content. The LW5600 offers 12 dimmable zones on the 47-incher and 16 on the 55-incher. Contrast that with the 200+ zones on the full-array local dimming LX9500 series, for example, and you'll have some idea why the scheme is far from perfect. That said, it does improve black-level performance despite some trade-offs.
The only Features difference between the LW5600 and the step-up LW6500 is a 120Hz refresh rate on the former and 240Hz on the latter. We don't expect it to have a major impact on 2D or, because of the nature of passive, 3D performance.
LG includes a Wi-Fi dongle with the LW5600, 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 CinemaNow, MLB.tv, Napster, vTuner, AccuWeather, AP news, Google Maps, Picasa and more. 14 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 VieraCast a close second. For TVs we like VieraConnect (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.
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 two music services--Pandora and Mog--that are available on its Blu-ray players mysteriously go missing on the LW5600. The company says Skype (which requires purchase of the speakerphone) and Hulu Plus will be available in July 2011.
That said, we appreciated that LG's Premium services are almost all excellent. Separating the wheat from chaff is often difficult, and we prefer to have a few apps/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. 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 why some Apps (like the excellent HomeCast podcast aggregator) aren't Premium.
Like Samsung LG also offers video search and a web browser. 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 LW5600'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 TVs' (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||6||Fine dejudder control||Yes|
|Color temperature presets||3||Fine color temperature control||10 points|
|Gamma presets||3||Color management system||Yes|
|Other: 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 gamut 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 (the motion remote isn't any help here).
We appreciated that four modes worth of adjustable picture controls, including dejudder and simulated 3D options, were available on the major services we tested (Netflix, Vudu and Amazon--the last sans 3D). The Expert modes were not, however.