By Richard Lawler posted Jun 3rd 2011 5:10PM
Much like the format war that once divided us between HD DVD and Blu-ray, a battle between two different types of 3D-capable HDTVs rages on while customers wait to be convinced that any of the new tech is worth the trouble. One of the first to enter the battlefield for the passive glasses side from LG is the LW5600, a slim edge-LED lit LCD model that is most notable for its extras. Besides featuring a Film Patterned Retarder (FPR) screen that plays back 3D viewable with the same RealD glasses you use at the movie theater, it's a connected TV packing apps, Plex media streaming software and a "magic motion" gesture control remote. After perusing the spec list we couldn't wait to see if more features actually made for a better HDTV experience and if passive 3D is a competitive option for home viewing, so check after the break to see how we felt about it after a few hours on the couch.
Design and Controls
Right out of the box the LW5600 impressed with its design, it's a slim edge-lit LED model and while the bezel is wide, from the side it is incredibly slim measuring at just 1.2-inches thick. There aren't any annoying lit-up logos on the front, with the only light coming from the power / standby indicator that can be toggled to off in the settings. The power and volume controls mounted at the lower right are touch sensitive and although we found them easy to use and responsive, they can be hard to find since they don't light up. The stand matches the rest of the frame with an unassuming design that keeps the 49-pound screen steady while also easily swiveling left or right so we could access the inputs on the back. HDMI (2) and USB (2) jacks are mounted on the side where they're easily accessible.
That slim frame means you'll need to use the included dongle to connect any component video inputs, Ethernet cables or headphones in the rear. We're still not sure why so many "connected TV" platforms don't simply have Wi-Fi built in, but this model does include a USB dongle that was relatively easy to setup. There were a couple of instances where it lost connection to our network, but after a few of the firmware updates that came through during testing we didn't experience that again.
Another key feature for a TV is how easy it is to customize the settings and as usual LG came through on that front. While we quickly dived to turn the TruMotion 120Hz motion processing off as we always do, it allows several degrees of customization for dejudder and deblurring and at low settings the effect was tolerable. Creating the right settings for each input and saving them was as easy to do as we've seen on any set, whether inputting presets we found online or calibrating with a disc. Less enjoyable is the set's propensity to suddenly switch between two different types of menus while presenting the same information, which can be confusing and makes it harder than it should be to navigate.
There's a lot to experience with all of the apps and features included, and as result the stock remote features three different menu buttons for the quick menu, home menu and premium menu. Beyond the initial three menus, there's a different menu setup for use with the Magic Motion gesture control remote, and yet another design that shows up when viewing content in 3D. The problem is this is far too much for the average user to deal with, and while there are good elements like being able to choose which apps pop up in the home menu and easy access to picture presets in the quick menu, we'd prefer if it were slimmed down to just one look. There was also no way to get one button access to the display settings which quickly became annoying. If you're sticking with the stock remote the worst design decision is how the menu buttons wrap around the D-pad, meaning one wrong push to the right or left could sometimes pull us right out of Netflix and back to the beginning. To its credit, the remote does feature a backlight that far too many units forego and switching 3D modes was also an easy process kept to the minimum amount of button presses.
One way to keep things simple is to use the Magic Motion Gesture Remote that LG is featuring for the second year, which controls basically like a Wiimote to guide an onscreen cursor. Unfortunately, we didn't find this any easier to use than the standard remote whether in its custom mini-menu or in the larger home menu. It's possible to customize the cursor speed which helped a bit, but we suspect this is an accessory that will quickly be banished behind the couch and left there. It's particularly disappointing how inelegant the control schemes are because there's so much to do built right into the TV. Being able to use a smartphone or a QWERTY keyboard to type in login information for some of the menus would be great and while there is such an app available for LG's Blu-ray players, it doesn't work with the HDTVs.
Of course, what separates this TV from so many others are its built features, and if you're looking a screen to access media without adding an additional box then you'll appreciate the extra mile LG has gone here. There's access to Netflix, Vudu, Amazon, MLB.tv, YouTube, and more services built right in, along with apps that bring channels like Revision3 easily accessible from the main menu. The latest firmware update added the ability to view YouTube 3D videos which greatly enhanced the amount of available video and Hulu Plus is supposed to arrive later this month.
Most of the keystone apps mentioned above are well made and load in about the same amount of time as other devices, although so far the rest of the app store is populated by junkware that was slow to load and largely useless. What we found useful was LG's inclusion of a Plex Media Server client. While we wouldn't put it on par with a competitor like Boxee, once we got the server software up and running on our PC (the server runs much more reliably on 32-bit Windows 7 than 64-bit) we were browsing through our media with additional metadata and well-designed menus everywhere we looked.
If you don't want to set up a Plex server, the LG can also pull up video, music or pictures from other devices on the network via DLNA. If there's a server available it pops up just like another input and the frontend provided here made for some of the speediest browsing we've seen from the technology. It played back most of our clips including AVIs and MKVs although as always YMMV depending on audio and video codecs used.
As far as the picture quality, the LW5600 has 16 zones of LED lighting on the 55-inch model we tested, and while they still couldn't match a plasma for precise backlighting in dark scenes, they came closer than ever to local dimming sets. Watching movies like Tron or The Dark Knight revealed minimal light bleed during the darkest scenes and while videophiles may want to opt for other technology to get the most striking image, we were impressed by its ability to be dark in one area and bright in another without ruining the scene. The screen also handled glare well, and was viewable in a brightly sunlit room without being washed out. The out of the box picture settings weren't perfect, but switching to the cinema preset corrected most of the issues beyond the aforementioned 120Hz issue. If you absolutely must use the TV speakers, it has two of them that are well hidden along the bottom edge, and that's the best thing we can say about that.
One of our main questions before we reviewed this TV was this: how will it perform on 3D content? While the future of 3D is still uncertain, the potential of FPR-based displays is that users can buy a TV and share in cheap passive glasses to be tossed around and shared among friends but the technology does limit the resolution viewable per eye. After watching Blu-ray 3D movies, broadcast 3D TV shows and sporting events, and playing videogames in 3D and have come away with the opinion that it depends on the conditions. In general, high quality sources like Blu-ray 3D movies take the least hit compared to active shutter 3DTVs, since they're in 1080p the reduction in resolution isn't particularly noticeable, and after a recent firmware update changed the algorithm for video processing (more detail from Ultimate AV Mag is available here) it improved some minor artifacts we'd seen at CES. Sitting up close revealed the aliasing caused by missing pixels, particularly on elements popped up to appear in front of the screen, like the ESPN 3D score bug in the corner and if you're close enough, there can appear to be lines in the picture.
The effect is more pronounced on broadcast TV like ESPN 3D and certain videogames since they're already compressing to a lower resolution before the TV cuts it in half again, but we found again that sitting at a Kinect-friendly distance the 3D effect more than made up for the lost resolution. Our ability to notice the difference while playing videogames varied depending on the title. Call of Duty and Wipeout HD in 3D on this TV look about the same as they always do mostly because they often run at sub-HD resolutions already and the art is designed for that, while NBA 2K11 was unacceptably grainy. One other issue is that while the viewing angle is wide side to side, if your TV is mounted in a place where you'll be looking down at it or staring up outside of the normal viewing angle you'll start to experience crosstalk.
If you've been to a movie theater to see a flick in RealD 3D then you've basically experienced the glasses, we found that they fit easily and were lighter than their active counterparts. The other advantage here is that if you want more glasses than the four that were included all you have to do is keep them after you leave the theater, or buy compatible replacements from a number of outlets. We still believe active shutter 3D provides the best picture available without cutting the res, but if your viewing experience is only complete with more people watching then fear of a lost pixel shouldn't keep you from this TV -- assuming you have the space to watch from a decent distance and angle.
The TV industry's love affair with 3D and connected TV features doesn't appear to be waning any time soon and this set's features keep it in line with the expectations of a midrange display. Retail prices are currently floating between $1,700 to $2,100 for the 55-incher we reviewed, which puts it in the range of similar models from Panasonic and Samsung like the TC-P55GT30 and UN55D6000. In terms of 2D performance this set is as good as any we've seen with edge LED lighting, and its 3D will keep most viewers satisfied without requiring expensive accessories. Despite the number of menus, its performance on the most important apps for streaming our own media or from other sources like Netflix make it as capable as many of the external add-on boxes available. Matching some plasma or local dimming sets in 2D performance and resolving every pixel of 3D feeds is out of the question due to the technology, but for slim design and ease of viewing it's hard to beat and should be considered by anyone looking at a TV with this size and specs.http://www.engadget.com/2011/06/03/lg-l ... tv-review/