With every new technology release, LCD tries to catch up to plasma in the picture quality race, but never seems to succeed. The biggest potential equalizer attached to LCD’s engine is LED backlighting with local dimming, a technology first marketed widely by Samsung two years ago that’s slowly spread to other brands’ flagship LCD TVs since. LG’s 2009 entrant is the LH90 series, and it closes the gap considerably compared with the best plasma displays.
The LH90 models evinced superb black-level performance and LG’s characteristically accurate color, helped in large measure by the company’s best-in-class user-menu adjustments. This is easily the best-performing LG TV we’ve tested, and despite a few flaws, it’s a worthy member of the flat-panel elite.
Series note: We performed a hands-on evaluation of the 47-inch LG 47LH90, but this review also applies to the other sizes in the series, namely the 42-inch 42LH90 and the 55-inch 55LH90. All sizes share identical specs and features and should provide very similar picture quality.
Editors’ note: Many of the Design and Features elements are identical between the LG LH90 series and the LG LH55 series we reviewed earlier, so readers of the earlier review may experience some déjà vu when reading the same sections below.
A sleek, rounded, glossy-black frame surrounds the matte screen of the LH90 series, and its curvaceousness extends to a semitransparent, blue-tinted stand stalk that supports the panel above the circular, swivel stand. The extreme edges of the panel are lined in similar semitransparent blue that’s subtle enough to retain plenty of sophistication. The only other prominent details are the smallish LG logo, the chrome-edged, illuminated power indicator, and the three letters “L E D” stenciled onto the bottom-left edge. Overall the look is classy and understated, if a shade bulbous in person.
The swivel stand is accented by a silver disc surrounding the stalk.
LG’s improved the remote for its higher-end TVs like the LH90, with backlit buttons and more spacing between keys. Buttons are grouped logically and although we didn’t like their similar sizes and shapes from an ergonomic standpoint, we did appreciate that most functions were represented by dedicated keys (aspect ratio being the major exception). There’s a prominent button labeled “Energy Saving” key that directly accesses said control and a little energy saving graphic to provide enviro-geeks a warm fuzzy. The remote can’t control other brands of gear directly with infrared commands.
The menu system is quite extensive, so the easy-access quick menu for aspect ratio, picture, and sound modes, the timer, and other oft-used functions, is welcome. The main menu is laid out the same as last year with the addition of a new onscreen “simple manual” that provides basic setup and function information. One miscue: we’d really like to see explanations of menu items appear onscreen, too, especially since many of them are so advanced.
The big addition with the LH90 series is LED backlighting with local dimming. This LCD-based TV employs groups of LEDs (as opposed to the standard fluorescent lamps behind most LCD screens) that can be individually dimmed or even switched off in different areas of the screen. The system is different from edge-lit LED-based LCDs, such as the 6000, 7000, and 8000 series sold by Samsung, because the LG’s LEDs are arranged behind the screen as opposed to, well, along the edges. In general we’ve observed improved contrast, along with some tradeoffs, with local-dimming technology, so check out Performance below for the full skinny.
One big omission from the LG LH90’s spec sheet is Internet-connected interactive capability, which is prominently featured on competing models from Samsung, Sony, and Panasonic for example. LG’s only LCD models with that included interactive action is the LH50 series.
The LED-equipped LG does offer a 240Hz refresh rate, which is designed to combat blurring in motion. There are two species of 240Hz and LG employs the “scanning backlight” variety, which augments the usual 120Hz technique of doubling the standard 60-frame signal with a backlight that flashes very rapidly on and off (much faster than humans can perceive) to help reduce motion blur. In our tests the other 240Hz technique, which actually quadruples the standard signal and is used by Sony and Samsung, produced slightly better results than LG’s method, which is also employed by Toshiba and Vizio. Unlike Toshiba, which carefully calls the scanning backlight a “240Hz effect,” LG’s marketing department has no qualms about touting its method as unqualified 240Hz.
LG’s implementation of dejudder processing is similar to past 120Hz and 240Hz displays, which force you to engage the smoothing effect if you want to enjoy the benefits of reduced blurring. The 2009 models from Samsung and Toshiba, on the other hand, allow you to separate the two functions, an option we really prefer to have. The LH90 series offers two strengths of dejudder, Low and High, and also offers a separate “Real Cinema” function designed to work with 1080p/24 sources.
Like other LG displays, the picture controls on the LH90 series surpass most of the competition. The company included even more adjustments than last year, starting with a well-thought-out Picture Wizard that uses internal test patterns to help you perform you own basic calibrations of the controls for brightness, contrast, color, tint, horizontal, and vertical sharpness, and backlight. Once you’ve finished, your settings are saved to the Expert1 picture memory slot for your choice of inputs.
The THX mode doesn’t allow adjustment, and it was less accurate overall than previous such modes we’ve tested.
The LH90 series includes a THX picture preset not available on lower-end models, which supposedly offers improved accuracy. Unlike THX on Panasonic TVs like the TC-PV10 series, THX on the LG cannot be adjusted at all.
Six other picture memory slots are all independent per input, and we appreciated that all of them, aside from the two Expert slots, indicate whether they’re in the default settings. A ninth mode, called Intelligent Sensor, reacts to ambient lighting conditions and automatically sets picture parameters accordingly. Advanced controls abound in even the nonexpert modes, with three color temperature presets, settings for dynamic contrast and color, noise reduction, three levels of gamma, a black-level control, wide and standard color spaces, edge enhancement, a room-lighting sensor, and even an “eye care” setting designed to prevent the screen from being too bright (it’s disabled in Vivid and Cinema modes).
Those Expert modes, which bear the logo and the input of the Imaging Science Foundation, offer a passel of additional controls. Our favorite, first introduced by LG last year and still exclusive to the company, is a 10-point white-balance system that can really help get a more accurate grayscale. The company upped the ante for 2009, adding the capability to target a 2.2 gamma, internal test patterns, and even color filters for blue-only, green-only, and red-only to help set color balance. A full color management system is also on-tap, and we love the capability to apply Expert settings to all inputs or just one at a time. Of course, most of these settings will appeal only to pro calibrators and HDTV geeks, but either way, LG’s 2009 models offer the most complete suite of user-menu picture adjustments we’ve seen on any HDTV to date.
LG touts the efficiency of this set, and rightly so, according to our tests (see below). In addition to the “home use” and “store demo” initial settings common to the Energy Star 3.0-qualified televisions, there’s a quartet of progressively more aggressive Energy Saving settings that reduce the backlight–and thus light output along with wattage consumed. Another setting turns off the screen completely. Engaging the Energy Saving settings disables the standard backlight control.
The LH90 series is missing picture-in-picture but does provide plenty of aspect ratio control, including five modes or use with HD sources and four with standard-def. Two modes are adjustable zooms, and there’s a “set by program” mode designed to automatically choose the correct aspect ratio setting based on the signal. We recommend using the Just Scan mode with 1080i and 1080p material, which assures zero overscan and proper 1:1 pixel matching for this 1080p display.
with a USB port for digital photos and music.
Connectivity is fairly extensive on the LH90, beginning with four total HDMI ports: three on the back and one on the side. The back panel also offers two component-video inputs, an AV input with composite video, an RF input for antenna or cable, an RGB-style analog PC input, an optical digital audio output, and an RS-232 port for custom installations. In addition to the fourth HDMI port, the side panel has a second AV input with composite video and a USB port for display of digital photos and playback of MP3 music files. Our one connectivity complaint is the lack of any S-Video inputs.
The LG LH90 series is one of the best performing LCDs overall we’ve tested, and earned the same rating in this category as the best models from Samsung and Sony. It delivered excellent overall black-level performance and superb color, and video processing overall was very good, but we’d love to see the ability to separate dejudder and antiblur effects. It does suffer from poor off-angle performance and some blooming–issues common to all LED-based LCDs we’ve tested–but if you sit in the sweet spot the LH90 looks great.
Prior to setup we always measure every picture mode to determine the most accurate for our “Before” (pre-calibration) Geek Box numbers, below, and in doing so we were surprised to find that THX mode on the LH90 was less accurate than on any other THX-equipped TV we’ve tested in the past. It had the characteristic dimness we’ve seen (28.7ftl max light output) and gamma was excellent (2.22 versus an ideal of 2.2), but its color temperature was quite blue (8164K average). We ended up using the default Expert 1 settings for the Before numbers instead, which was very slightly more accurate than THX.
Calibration improved things quite a bit, thanks in large part to the LG’s excellent selection of user-menu controls. We increased light output to our nominal 40ftl, removed the blue cast from the grayscale and ended up with excellent gamma (2.19), and tweaked the color management system ever-so-slightly.
Setup completed, for our comparison we lined the LH90 up next to a few comparable sets. From the LCD camp we included the local-dimming-equipped Sony KDL-55XBR8 and the Samsung LN46A950 from 2008, the LED edge-lit Samsung UN46B7000, and the standard CCFL-backlit Samsung LN52B750, while the plasma sets were the Panasonic TC-P50V10 and the reference Pioneer PRO-111FD. We used “Watchmen” on Blu-ray for most of our image quality tests.
Black level: Like the other displays in the room, the LH90 evinced a very deep shade of black. The initial scene in the Comedian’s apartment at night, for example, was reproduced beautifully, with inky shadows in the background and realistic depth in black areas like the letterbox bars, the black ninja suit of the assassin, and the night sky outside the windows. In fact the LG’s blacks were nearly indistinguishable during dark scenes from those of the Samsung B750, A950, and B7000 LCDs, and not quite as deep as those of the Sony XBR8, the Panasonic V10, and the Pioneer–but again the differences were subtle, even in a dark room in side-by-side comparisons.
The LG also delivered very good shadow detail. In Drieburg’s walk home after visiting Hollis, for example, we noticed that the LH90 appeared a bit more realistic and closer to our reference when rendering the dark steps of the brownstone than did the B750 or the B7000, and roughly equal to the other LCD displays, although not quite as good as the plasmas.
Differences in black-level performance came out in lighter scenes, however, when the letterbox bars of the LED displays, especially the Samsung B7000 but also the LG, became brighter than they appeared during dark scenes. Darker bars improve perceived contrast ratio, and the Samsung B750 and the plasmas’ bars remained constant and darker than the others during the brightest scenes. Between the three local-dimming LEDs, the LG showed the most variation: it had the brightest bars in bright scenes, and it also faded to a darker black than the others between the bright scenes during the opening credits, for example (although it didn’t turn off completely and distractingly, as did the B7000). That said, the brightness variations of the LG’s backlight as a whole were subtle and didn’t impinge on our appreciation of the film.
We also noticed some blooming in certain scenes with white objects against black backgrounds. It appeared as a sort of brighter cloud around the object against the black, and was most obvious in the menu text and onscreen indicators of our PS3 or on credits against a black background, for example. Bright areas on the screen also occasionally spilled over into the letterbox bars. When Rorschach shines the flashlight around the Comedian’s apartment, for instance, the bottom bar brightened slightly near where the picture of Nixon and the Comedian was illuminated, then darkened again as the light faded. The effect was more obvious on the LG than on the other two local-dimming LCDs, and, as expected, none of the other displays showed such blooming effects.
Color accuracy: The LG was superb in this category, delivering color accuracy on par with our reference display and better overall than the most of the others. The consistency of the LG’s grayscale was a major strength, enabling it to maintain a relatively neutral cast to blacks and dark scenes–without the bluer cast of the Samsung sets, but still not as true as the Sony XBR8 or the plasmas. In brighter scenes we appreciated the realism of the LG’s skin tones, seen in close-ups of Laurie in her mom’s living room both backlit by the bright window and in the normal room lighting. The green in the plants outside and the red of her sweater vest looked nearly identical to the colors on our reference display. Colors were just a bit less rich and saturated than on the plasmas and the XBR8, but again, the difference was quite subtle even side by side.
Video processing: In terms of blur-reduction, the LH90 performed slightly better than LG’s LH55 series of standard-backlit 240Hz TVs we tested earlier. Whereas that series delivered between 700 and 800 lines of motion resolution, the LH90 came in between 900 and 1,000–comparable with the best sets in our lineup, including the 240Hz Samsung, albeit not as good as the Panasonic plasma. Disabling the LG’s dejudder processing by setting “TruMotion 240Hz” to Off caused the test to register between 300 and 400 lines, which is typical of a 60Hz LCD. Of course, in our experience the blurring seen in test patterns, despite the large numeric differences in the motion resolution, is quite difficult to perceive in real-world program material. As we noted above, it’s impossible to get the improved motion resolution of the LG’s antiblur effect without also engaging dejudder processing–one advantage of the Samsung B750 and B7000 models.
As usual, with film sources like “Watchmen” we preferred the look of the picture with dejudder turned Off as opposed to either Low or High–only Off preserves the look of film the director intended–but if forced to choose between the latter two, we’d take Low in a heartbeat. It produced fewer artifacts, as usual, although we did notice some unwanted effects nonetheless. For example, in Chapter 13 we see a taxi pass by the open doorway to Edgar Jacobi’s apartment, and its rear half appears to subtly detach as it slides by. We also saw the telltale “halo” occasionally, such as when Dreiberg exits his kitchen and creates subtle trailing ripples in the door and wall in the background. As usual, such effects were worse in High. Comparing Standard on the LG to the same setting on the Samsungs’ and Sony’s dejudder modes, we noticed a few more artifacts on the LG, and motion looked smoother (and less film-like) on the LG than on the Sony.
We did appreciate the LG’s Real Cinema setting, however, which functioned as advertised to preserve the true frame rate of film as long as the 240Hz function was disabled. We set our Blu-ray player to 1080p/24 output mode, turned the Real Cinema setting on, and fed the LG our favorite test clip for evaluating film cadence, the helicopter flyover of the Intrepid from “I Am Legend.” The LH90 showed the proper amount of judder without the slight hitching motion characteristic of 2:3 pull-down, which returned when we set Real Cinema to Off.
Finally, the LH90 series delivered every line of static resolution and properly de-interlaced video-based sources, but, like other LG sets we’ve reviewed (and unlike most other current 1080p HDTVs), it failed to properly de-interlace film-based sources.
Uniformity: Blooming notwithstanding, the LG LH90 was able to maintain a consistent image across the screen, with no brighter areas as we saw on the B7000 and, to a lesser extent, the B750. LED backlighting does seem to provide better consistency in this regard than its standard fluorescent counterpart.
The biggest challenge of LED backlit (and edge-lit) technology we’ve noticed so far is poor black levels and color fidelity when seen from off-angle, and the LH90 was no exception. The issue was clearest in dark scenes, such as Rorschach’s slow-motion walk among the ladies of the night. Sitting just one seat to the right or left of the sweet spot in front of the screen made black levels significantly brighter. Blacks on the A950 and B7000 looked slightly worse when seen from off-angle, however, while the other displays better maintained black-level integrity (and naturally the plasmas didn’t change at all when seen from the side). The LH90 also showed more color shift, specifically appearing bluer in dark areas, than did any of the others except for the B7000. Finally, the effects of blooming were exaggerated from off-angle, with the brighter cloud around objects on a dark background even more obvious.
Bright lighting: Like the Sony XBR8, the LH90 is blessed with a matte screen that reflects in-room lighting less intensely than the shiny screens of the Samsungs or the plasmas’ glass. As a result it was generally better suited to situations where a light or window was reflected in the screen. The Samsungs did maintain black-level integrity a bit better than the matte LCDs, but the difference wasn’t major.
Standard-definition: The LH90 delivered very good SD performance. It resolved every detail of the DVD format, and the grass and stone bridge in the detail section appeared as sharp as we expected. Jagged edges in moving lines and a waving American flag were smoothed-out well, and noise reduction worked properly to reduce or eliminate moving motes in low-quality shots of skies, sunsets, and flowers. It also handled 2:3 pull-down properly, removing moire from the grandstand.
PC: Via digital HDMI, the LG performed as expected, delivering every line of a 1,920×1,080 source with no overscan or edge enhancement. Via the analog PC input, we experienced some slight ghosting along the edges of lines that we couldn’t quite eliminate, but otherwise the picture was the same as via digital.
Power consumption: The LG 47LH90 is more efficient than the one local-dimming equipped LCD near its size we tested last year–Samsung’s LN46A950–and just a bit less efficient than the most miserly flat-panel we’ve ever tested, the Samsung UN46B6000. It out-conserves similar-sized standard-backlight LCDs by a couple bucks per year, and of course trounces plasma. In short, it’s one of the most efficient HDTVs on the market.