Introduction to the LG PZ550 3D Plasma HDTV
To follow up my review of the passive 3D LCD LG TV, LG sent me their 50” PZ550 3D Plasma TV to check out. This was a great opportunity for me to compare both the active shutter and passive approach to 3D from the same manufacturer. The LCD set benefitted from the passive approach by allowing its users to purchase many cheap sets of glasses for large gatherings. However, the film-patterned retarder cut the resolution in half and added a shimmer to the image that was too distracting. Another major issue was with the frame creation upconversion that was always on in 3D mode. This gave movement an artificial look and feel and I was worried that might be associated with all 3D sets including the PZ550 plasma and was anxious to find out. Continue reading to hear how this LG TV performed.
LG 50PZ550 3D PLASMA HDTV SPECIFICATIONS
- Design: 3D Plasma HDTV
- Screen Size: 50″ Diagonal
- Native Resolution: 1080p
- Brightness: 1,500 cd/m2
- Contrast Ratio: 3,000,000:1
- Light Source Life Span: 100,000 hours
- Film Mode Processing: 3:2 / 2:2 Pull-Down for HDMI 1080p 24p
- Picture Modes: Vivid, Standard, APS (Power Save), THX Cinema, THX Bright Room, Sports, Game, ISF Expert 1, ISF Expert 2
- Weight: 65 Pounds
- MSRP: $1,799.99 USD
- SECRETS Tags: HDTV, Plasma, 1080p
Design and Setup of the LG PZ550 3D Plasma HDTV
The hardest part about setting up the PZ550 was waiting for my wife to get home to give me a hand. From there it was just a few screws to attach the panel to the base and lift it onto our TV stand.
There are plenty of inputs to connect your devices on the LG: four HDMI, a couple component and USB inputs. The HDMI inputs are solid and my cables fit snuggly into them. The USB inputs are used to charge the 3D glasses or to view media off a USB drive. However, with only two, I’m not sure how you would charge a family of active 3D glasses. Perhaps a cheap USB hub to charge more than 2 at a time would do the trick. On the plus side, the glasses never ran out of juice for me and the longest session without charge was about 3 hours. However, they would occasionally turn off at random times for no reason.
The picture modes are nearly identical to the LW5600 LCD with vivid, standard, cinema, sport, game, ISF expert1 and 2, and the addition of a power saving APS mode. I’m not sure when one would actually use the APS mode as the brightness is greatly reduced, thus saving on the voltage needed to light up the phosphors.
The LG PZ550 3D Plasma HDTV In Use
Having set up the PZ550 in our family room, I was able to make use of the TV as my primary display during the review. The LG replaced my Panasonic G25 plasma set, of which I have been very happy with except for the fact that it exhibits a buzzing sound that is usually only audible when the room is quiet. Since this was my first plasma TV, and my friend also has a Panasonic plasma with the same buzzing sound, I figured it must be a side effect inherent in the technology and most likely, all plasma TV’s suffered the same issue. This however, turned out to not be the case as when I initially fired up the LG and throughout my viewing time with it, I never once heard any sort of buzzing coming from this set.
A couple other general comments about my experience with the LG are related to the remote and overall usability. First off, the remote included with the TV is very unresponsive. You really have to be pointing directing at the TV and even then the buttons on it to access the menu are a bit sticky and unresponsive. The second thing that bothered me was the classic problem almost always associated with plasma TV’s and that is room glare and reflections on the glass front. Panasonic has done a terrific job at adding an anti-reflective coating to their latest sets that really cuts down on glare. The LG didn’t seem to have any such coating and thus daytime viewing was definitely hampered. If your room is brightly lit with lots of windows, then I probably wouldn’t recommend this TV. However, images at night on the calibrated ISF Expert mode were stunning.
One thing that I found very odd was the inability to select ISF Expert Mode when viewing 3D content. I am not sure the reasoning behind this, and I suspect the answer is very technical, but I was very sad to switch over to 3D mode, and have the LG switch from ISF Expert to Vivid mode. My calibrated settings made normal 2D content so enjoyable to watch, that I was excited to see how 3D would look. It was quite a bummer to not have this option. Instead I watched 3D content in either Standard or Cinema mode.
Plasma is often recommended for sports fans because of its high refresh rate and lack of motion blur and I will say that after watching some football on the PZ550, it looked marvelous and I too, would recommend this TV for the sports fan. Colors were accurate and motion was crisp without any of that artificial “creative frame creation” seen on most LCD TVs. The blacks in the Pittsburgh Steeler’s helmets were dark, without crushing any shadow detail.
The Dark Knight looked absolutely fantastic on the calibrated ISF mode. About as much depth to the image as you could get from a mere 2 dimensions. Colors were very natural and the amount of detail in the 70mm shots was beautiful. Switching to some of the picture modes like standard yielded a brighter, but overly saturated picture (and don’t even get me started on Vivid mode.. shudder!). The default ISF Expert Mode is very good, but I was floored by how natural the image looked after proper calibration.
Towards the end of my review period, my cable provider was kind enough to release several movies in the 3D format via OnDemand. I did not hesitate to load up the wonderful movie Tangled, and check out its beautiful animation in 3D. Although the cable box does not provide full 1080p resolution in 3D like Blu-ray, and instead uses side-by-side images squeezed into the same frame, I was shocked at how good it still looked. The image was sharp, detailed, and free of macroblocking and compression artifacts. I never saw Tangled in the theater, just in regular 2D Blu-ray, so this was my first time seeing it in 3D and I really enjoyed it. I have been a critic of this whole 3D fad since the beginning, but after having a 3D display at home, I will now say that I wouldn’t mind experiencing more 3D content at home. Since Tangled is a fairly bright and colorful movie, most scenes looked very good, with nice depth and only occasional ghosting. However, when the ghosting did appear it was very poor and distracting. The scene where the two love birds are out on the water at night, watching the lanterns float away, was hard to watch due to ghosting.
Avatar has been the benchmark for 3D since it was released in the theaters, and I was floored when I saw it available On Demand. I wasn’t quite as impressed with the LG’s 3D performance with Avatar, as the ghosting was very straining on my eyes and led to a less than optimal experience.
Megamind, on the other hand, looked fantastic and I could tell this movie was created with 3D in mind. This was the best looking piece of 3D material I got to view on the PZ550 and pretty much sold me on eventually investing in 3D technology.
I was also able to fire up Killzone 3 on my Playstation 3 and give it a shot. Unfortunately, it left me frustrated as there was just too much ghosting going on for my eyes to properly focus on the 3D image. It was just so close to being a true immersive experience and something that really added to the gaming experience.
I gave Tron Legacy 3D a quick spin and felt that the 3D just didn’t add much to the movie, although the overall image quality on the LG was pretty good.
LG included the IMAX Under the Sea 3D Blu-ray disc with the review equipment so I also gave that quick look. I remember not enjoying it on the LW5600 LCD set as a result of its film pattern retarded and the “creative frame creation” feature that could not be disabled. Overall, it just had a very artificial look to it and lack of detail in the busy textures of the sea floor. On the PZ550 this movie was an entirely different experience. I actually found myself watching most of the movie because the 3D was more natural, detail was off the charts, and motion was smooth and lifelike.
Since the LG includes the ability to “convert” 2D to 3D viewing, I decided I should probably give it a try. Even with my very low expectations, I still turned the feature off after about 3 minutes of viewing the US Open. The feature is just not ready for prime time.
For the gamers out there, I tested out Call of Duty Black Ops on the LG’s “Game” picture mode and noticed absolutely no lag. The images looked great and I would definitely recommend this TV to anyone that wants a cheap 50” gaming display.
The LG PZ550 3D Plasma HDTV On The Bench
LG has been very good about including two ISF Expert modes on their TV that makes calibrating them much easier than many other models. They also include a Picture Wizard that walks the user through setting certain controls (brightness, contrast, sharpness, color, tint) on their own with test patterns and blue-only modes. This will get you closer than you would otherwise be by leaving it at the defaults, but it still doesn’t fully adjust the set.
For the calibration, I used the ISF Expert Mode 1 with 100% windows, and then used Expert Mode 2 with 75% windows. I started with the Warm color temperature, as it was the closest to 6500K, but still measured relatively high in the blue and around 7200K. The LG offers the choice of 2 or 10-point calibration, and after the last LG I used I made sure to start with the 2 point instead of the 10. Once the calibration on these points was done, the tracking of the grayscale was very good across the spectrum except for that spike of blue at 70 IRE. Going to the 10 point might have allowed us to fix this issue, but with our overall dE coming in at 2.6 and only two outliers (40 and 70 IRE), we were overall happy with the grayscale.
This does give me a chance to point out something that LG needs to correct in the future. Their on-screen calibration controls utilize a large, bright box on screen that causes errors in readings. Grayscale and color dE would be 0.5-1.0 different with the menu on the screen compared to when it was off the screen, making it a bit of a pain to get correct readings. Additionally, the menus didn’t remember where you were so you would have to get it close, close the menu, take a new reading, then navigate back in the menu to make a further adjustment if the new reading was off. This makes the process take longer than it should and in ISF Expert modes, I imagine everyone would be OK with small, white on black controls that don’t interfere with your instrument readings.
After the grayscale was dialed in, we went to tweak the color decoding as well. This is another area where I have an issue with LG, and with the ISFccc label. LG provides color and tint controls, which seem to interact with Luminance and Hue, but not with Saturation at all. This 2D CMS lets you make some coarser adjustments to the colors, and in cases where there was a huge error (Magenta with the 75% windows), to dial it back to something respectable. However, it doesn’t give you the precision that you would want in a calibration, and with the ISFccc label I would expect more.
Despite the lack of full CMS controls, we were able to pull down the average dE across the colors from 4.9 to 2.3 with 100% windows, and from 7.5 to 2.1 with 75% windows. The largest error is in blue, which is the most acceptable place for color error. The reason for calibrating with 100% and 75% windows was to see if one provided better results in the end, specifically hoping to eliminate that 70 IRE bump in blue if possible. While the overall averages for color and grayscale look very comparable, when you look at the color saturations, you see that 100% should be your target. All the primaries and secondary’s have very similar dE values no matter which you calibrate for, with blue having a bump at 75% saturation on both. However, Magenta goes from a dE of around 1 at 100% saturation using 100% windows to an error of 14 with 75% windows. As this is the only real change, and it’s for the worse, we would use 100% windows for calibrating this display.
LG provides multiple gamma options, and we were able to dial in the display at an overall gamma of 2.22. This did require going back to the white balance controls to adjust the brightness and contrast, which then affect the gamma for those points, but after doing that the gamma was very good overall. Not perfectly flat, but never dropping below 2.05 or above 2.34 across the full spectrum.
Once calibrated, the LG put out a very nice, natural picture with plenty of pop. I’d consider using the 10 point IRE calibration if you really want to eliminate that bump in blue at 70 IRE, though with the LG menu that interferes with readings, it can take a long time.
Color Space Handling
The LG did an exceptional job with the color space handling tests, passing every one with ease. The LG produced one of the better Luma and Chroma Zone Plate images that I have seen.
Conclusions About the LG PZ550 3D Plasma HDTV
Overall, I really enjoyed my time with the LG 50PZ550. The set is very slim, with a small bezel and an attractive design. The default ISF Expert mode looks good, but after a proper calibration, the LG not only tested well, it looked amazing. Broadcast HD programming and Blu-ray material just game to life with beautiful, accurate colors, and deep blacks. Although its 3D performance was nothing to write home about, I would still choose the natural motion and full resolution images with the active shutter glasses over LG’s passive approach. As an entry level 3D display, premium performance should not be expected, but for the price, this LG does a wonderful job with 2D content, and a decent job with 3D. As I have recently seen this TV for sale online for what I would call “crazy low prices,” if you are in the market for a cheap 50” TV with some 3D abilities, the LG cannot be beat.