Many home theater fans will give plasma the nod over LCD and LED-based flat-panel displays, if only because plasma TVs nearly always exhibits perfect uniformity and off-angle viewing characteristics, and often have better black levels than LCDs do. Those same fans may also dismiss LG and focus on Samsung and Panasonic, the other two plasma makers left in the market, but in the case of LG's PK950 series, they'd be overlooking a gem.
LG's best plasma TV for 2010 is also the company's best ever, and while it lacks 3D and some of the interactive options found on the competition, it also costs less than other makers' top panels. Its black levels are deeper than those of previous LGs, its color is mostly accurate and it handles 1080p/24 Blu-ray sources correctly, unlike many competing plasmas. Add to that a sleek, single-pane look, and the LG PK950 presents a combination to tempt image quality sticklers and style mavens alike.
Series information: We performed a hands-on evaluation of the 50-inch LG 50PK950, but this review also applies to the 60-inch LG 60PK950. Both have identical specifications and, according to the manufacturer, should provide very similar picture quality.
|Panel depth||2.1 inches||Bezel width||1.5 inches|
|Single-plane face||Yes||Swivel stand||Yes|
|Other:Transparent edge and stand stalk|
Panasonic abandoned the sleek, flush, single-pane look on its 2010 plasma line, but LG kept it intact with both the PK750 and the PK950. The latter is differentiated from the former by virtue of a transparent stand stalk and slightly narrower transparent edge along the bottom of the panel (both originated by Samsung, but who's counting?), as well as by the glass-topped stand base. Otherwise, the two LGs appear very similar, and we like their looks a lot--although not quite as much as the matte finish of the Samsung PNC7000 plasma.
For what it's worth, the 2.1-inch depth of the PK950 also falls in the middle between the Panasonic (3.5 inches) and slim Samsung (1.4 inches) plasmas.
|Remote control and menus|
|Remote size (LxW)||9.2 x 1.8 inches||Remote screen||N/A|
|Total keys||45||Backlit keys||38|
|Other IR devices controlled||No||RF control of TV||No|
|Shortcut menu||Yes||On-screen explanations||Yes|
|Other: Secondary motion-sensitive remote control|
One of the big step-up features in LG's flagship 2010 products, including the PK950 and the LX9500 LCD, is the "Magic Wand" remote, which behaves much like the Wiimote motion controller used on the Nintendo Wii. LG's little clicker fits well in the hand and its few buttons are easy to find by feel, but you really only need two: Home and Select. The former calls up a simplified menu system and a big cursor control, and moving the remote itself to point the cursor activates menu items.
The accuracy of the pointer was very good--better in our experience than even the Wiimote itself--and the jumbo icons help a lot. However, the novelty of the system wore off quickly and we ended up preferring the standard menu system and multi-button remote, which required only thumb movement. We can imagine some users intimidated by a lot of menu selections might appreciate the Magic Wand, but for most others it's just a gimmick.
LG's standard clicker is a long, thin (thoroughly un-magical) wand with decent button differentiation and friendly, rubberized keys. We liked the bulge in the middle that corresponds with a convenient notch on the underside for your index finger; we missed direct infrared control of other devices. The main menus are basic and functional with plenty of ways to get around, including a nice Quick Menu of shortcuts. We would have liked to see explanations, however, especially for the more advanced picture setting functions.
|Key TV features|
|Display technology||plasma||LED backlight||N/A|
|3D compatible||No||3D glasses included||N/A|
|Screen finish||Glass||Refresh rate||60Hz/96Hz|
|Dejudder (smooth) processing||No||1080p/24 compatible||Yes|
|Internet connection||Yes||Wireless HDMI/AV connection||Optional|
|Other: TrueBlack filter; Optional Wi-Fi dongle (AN-WF100, $70); Optional wireless media box (AN-WL100W, $350)|
The big picture quality-related step-up feature on the PK950 compared with the PK750 is the presence of a TruBlack filter, which allows the screen to preserve black levels better in bright environments (see below for details). We also appreciate the 950's proper handling of 1080p/24 sources. Unlike the flagship plasmas from Samsung and Panasonic, the LG PK950 lacks 3D compatibility.
Other notables on the PK950 include the external "LG Wireless Media Box" option that enables you to connect HDMI and other gear wirelessly, which can really help custom installations. We'd like to see built-in Wi-Fi, given all of the LG's Internet options, but you'll have to either buy the dongle or get a third-party wireless bridge. We tested LG's dongle, which worked well, but we didn't test the media box.
|Amazon Video on Demand||No||Rhapsody||No|
LG's 2009 models were among the first to include Netflix, but since that service is now available on most Internet TVs, the company's Netcast array of streaming partners is now pretty pedestrian. However, there are no major missing links aside from any kind of audio service like Pandora or Slacker radio.
In our tests, Vudu and Netflix performed as advertised, delivering the video quality we expect from both services via both Ethernet and Wi-Fi from LG's dongle. We didn't test DLNA or USB streaming.
|Other: 10 custom games, world clock, calendar; Skype requires speakerphone accessory (AN-VC100, $110)|
Most of the nonstreaming apps--with the exception of Picasa, a clock for time zones around the world, an on-screen calendar and a few games--come courtesy of Yahoo Widgets. At the time of this review, the PK950 has access to 15 widgets. That platform is more usable now than it was on last year's LG models, with snappier responses to button presses and faster load times for individual widgets. That said it could be a lot faster still, and the initial load of the main widget taskbar can take 20 seconds or more--still an eternity on a television. In comparison, the apps platforms of Samsung and Vizio felt much snappier than LG's widgets, and content selection was wider on Samsung, Vizio and Sony.
LG's games platform, not to be confused with the games included with Yahoo Widgets, includes extremely basic custom titles, for example Sudoku and Whack a Mole. Of course, you'll need to buy the external speakerphone kit to use Skype. It hasn't been released yet, so we didn't test it for this review.