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.

Models in series (details)
LG 47LW5600 (reviewed) 47 inches
LG 55LW5600 55 inches

Design

Aside from transparent edging, not much distinguishes the exterior of the LW5600.
Design highlights
Panel depth 1.1 inches Bezel width 1.5 inches
Single-plane face No Swivel stand Yes

Photo gallery:
LG LW5600 series

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.

The swivel stand and rectangular base are likewise standard issue.
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.

We liked the big icons and Internet-centricity of the new Home page, and the fact that you customize the Premium section and two of the slots in the bottom strip.

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).

The motion-control remote can navigate menus relatively easily and doesn’t feel as gimmicky as last year.

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).

Features

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
DLNA compliant Photo/Music/Video USB Photo/Music/Video
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.

Count ’em. That’s four pairs of 3D glasses included.

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.

LG 55LW5600 wholesale dealer in China

Wholesale Price:$450

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
Netflix Yes YouTube Yes
Amazon Instant Yes Hulu Plus Yes
Vudu Yes Pandora No
Web browser Yes Skype
Facebook Yes Twitter 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.

The Premium section offers mostly top-tier apps and streaming services.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.

Picture settings
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.

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). Users of the USB Wi-Fi dongle might want a third USB port, but we doubt it.

No extra breakout cables are required for one component and composite input.

Performance
The LG LW5600 is a very good overall performer for an edge-lit LED, matching its Samsung competitor the Samsung UN46D6400 with a “7” in this subcategory–although each has distinct advantages and disadvantages. We were most impressed by the LG’s color, and while local dimming causes blooming and artifacts, the deep black levels and better uniformity were worth the tradeoff. 3D picture quality was, as we saw on the other passive TV we reviewed, inferior to active in key ways, but should still be appealing to less discerning eyes (and people who want to save money on a family’s worth of glasses).Picture settings:
LG 47LW5600

The LW5600 series’ best picture mode prior to calibration was Expert, but it measured worse, (specifically, bluer and with inaccurate secondary colors) than the best default modes on most TVs we’ve tested recently. Our calibration resulted in nearly perfect color in all but the darkest areas, thanks to LG’s excellent grayscale and solid color management controls.

We calibrated both Off and High local dimming settings, but ended up using High in our evaluation because of its black level advantages (in Off we measured 0 percent at an unimpressive 0.0327 fL). We’ve included the picture settings for Off as well, if you’d like to compare.

For our image quality testing we watched “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hollows: Part 1” on Blu-ray and compared the LG to the lineup below.

Comparison models (details)
Samsung UN46D6400 46-inch LED-based LCD
Sony KDL-46EX720 46-inch LED-based LCD
Panasonic TC-P50ST30 50-inch plasma
Sharp LC-60LE830U 60 inch LED-based LED
Vizio XVT553SV 55-inch LED-based LCD
Samsung PN59D8000 (reference) 59-inch plasma

Black level:The LW5600 performed well in this area, outdoing the blackness of the Sharp and Sony, running neck-and-neck with the Samsung UND6400 and falling a bit short of the plasmas and the Vizio. Its 0 percent black measurement was superb comparatively speaking, but doesn’t tell the whole story. In dark scenes with some bright content, like the banquet in Chapter 2, areas like the letterbox bars, the black of the extinguished fireplace and Snape’s cape (4:22) was a bit brighter than the three best in our lineup.

Despite the deep blacks the LG’s contrast or “pop” was also a bit worse than most of the other displays (aside from the Sharp and Sony). The bright areas of dark scenes, like the ice, shiny sword and Harry’s skin in Chapter 22, or the snow in Chapter 20, were dimmer on the LG, robbing them of some impact. In brighter scenes the difference was nonexistent.

Disabling local dimming completely removed blooming and those artifacts, but also caused black levels to worsen significantly and wash out the entire image. The Low and Medium settings also lessened the levels of blooming, but black levels suffered somewhat as well. Of course the UND6400 managed to deliver basically the same black levels as the LG without local dimming or blooming.

The LW5600’s shadow detail fell slightly short of the UND6400, with just a bit less detail in areas like the dark jackets of Harry and the old woman (1:29:00), but matched or exceeded the other displays in our lineup. We also appreciated that the screen didn’t turn off during brief fades to black, like the UND6400 and the Vizio did.

Color accuracy:As usual for an LG the LW5600 excelled in this category. In both bright and dark scenes it beat all of the other displays except for the reference Samsung D8000 plasma. Skin tones, like the faces of Harry and Hermione in the day lit forest of Chapter 14, looked natural, while the green of the shrubs and the colors in their clothing looked just right.

Colors near black were also more accurate than the rest of the LCDs, although the Vizio was close. We really appreciated that the letterbox bars and shadows didn’t look tinges with blue, as they did on the Samsung, Sony and Sharp LEDs.

Video processing:The LW5600 is capable of delivering correct 1080p/24 cadence if you disable dejudder (TruMotion) and engage the Real Cinema setting. Doing so causes the TV’s motion resolution measurement to drop significantly (see the Geek Box), but, as usual, regardless of the difference we measured in our test we didn’t notice any difference in program material.

We tried using the Custom dejudder mode to achieve full motion resolution without smoothing–setting De-judder to “0” and De-blur to “10”–but we still saw some smoothing effect. For that reason we recommend keeping the LW5600 in TruMotion: Off mode if you don’t want to see smoothing.

Fans of the smoothing look might want to choose another TV, because even the Low setting on the LG showed more visible artifacts, for example breakup and halos, than we saw on competing sets like the Samsung and Sony.

Uniformity:Unlike the other edge-lit LEDs the LG had a screen that remained quite uniform across its surface in dark areas. The corners and edges didn’t appear noticeably brighter than the middle, and the blotches we noticed on the Sony and Sharp were absent on the LG. When we turned dimming Off slight brightness variations showed up in corners and along the edges, but they still weren’t bad on our review sample.

When seen from off-angle to either side, however, the LW5600 was the worst in our lineup. It lost black level fidelity worse than the others and also became significantly dimmer–the latter difference was extreme enough that it might be a side-effect (no pun intended) of the passive 3D screen. It kept color fidelity relatively well, however.

Bright lighting:The matte screen of the LG was a boon under the lights, muting reflections better than the glossy Samsung or the plasmas and preserving black levels quite well.

3D:For our 3D comparison we slipped the passive Vizio XVT3D650SV as well as the Samsung UN55D8000 into our lineup and checked out “Tron: Legacy.” As usual we compared all of the displays using their default Movie or Cinema settings in our dark room. The short story is that we liked active better because of its superior picture quality.

The unpowered, passive glasses were certainly easier for everyday use, however. We didn’t have to worry about turning them on, they felt lighter and less intrusive than any of the active specs, and we appreciated being able to look at other screens (like our laptop) without seeing flicker. They also darkened regular eyesight less than active lenses; we found ourselves taking breaks without remembering we had them on.

LG’s squared-off glasses fit over our prescription lenses better than Vizio’s slightly curved version, but as expected both worked interchangeably with either passive TV. A third-party pair of passive glasses from RealD, similar to the ones in most US. 3D theaters, also worked fine with both.

That said we found active glasses comfortable enough over longer periods that we didn’t mind wearing them. More importantly, we didn’t notice any difference in fatigue or discomfort (unrelated to glasses fit, that is) between the two 3D technologies. Active glasses do technically flicker to achieve 3D, but to our eye the flicker was unnoticeable and didn’t feel unnatural or bothersome.

To us the more important factor is active’s clear picture quality advantage, which is mostly due to the every-other-line nature LG’s polarizing technology (see Key Features above). The 3D image on the LG looked a bit softer in finely detailed areas, but worse by far were artifacts caused by visible line structure.

In nearly every scene we could see jagged edges along the visible lines, for example along the edge of Gem’s outfit, the back of the receding girl’s suit and the lit circle in the distance (28:11), or the diagonal lines on the floor of the arena (39:04). The effect was worse and more distracting when movement caused the jagged edges to crawl, as they did during a quick pan over the arena (42:04) for example. Moiré artifacts were also relatively common, for example in the crawling lines of Alan’s tie in Chapter 3 (16:30) and the patterned floor in Chapter 5 (28:22).

Individual horizontal lines were also visible at our preferred distance from this size TV, between 6-7 feet, especially in faces and brighter, flat fields. In most scenes sitting far enough away made the individual lines disappear–for us it was about 9 feet from the 47-inch screen–although we could still make out jaggies and moiré from that distance.

We also noticed that when seen from extreme off-angle, the LG’s 3D effect deteriorated and the formerly fused 3D image separated into its two parts (which looked similar to crosstalk, but was visible everywhere in the image). Normal seating angles, for example from anywhere on our three-seat couch in front of the TV, looked fine however.

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