In 2010 you can prepare to be confused by two familiar yet relatively complex TV technologies: 3D and LED backlights. Before you ask, no, 3D is not available on the LG LE8500 series reviewed here–that perk is reserved for the more expensive 9500 models–but an LED backlight is. More important, the LE8500 has a full-array backlight with local dimming, meaning hundreds of independent cells behind the screen can brighten or dim independently, which can really help improve picture quality. In contrast, most of other LED-backlit TVs available today have either no local dimming ability or attempt to mimic the dimming of a full array by creating zones from an edge-lit configuration. We know the former has little impact on picture quality, we haven’t tested the latter (which we’re calling “edge with local dimming” for now), but we can tell you after reviewing the LE8500 that full-array local dimming still works great, for the most part.
Unfortunately the 8500’s picture has a flaw, absent on other local dimming displays, that will be difficult for some viewers to overlook: uneven uniformity across the screen. On the other hand, if you go by the most important ingredients of a good picture–black levels and color accuracy–the LG LE8500 is the new ruler of the LCD roost, and it sets a high bar for other 2010 TVs. If you don’t give a hoot about 3D and are willing to pay more for an excellent-performing LCD, it belongs near the top of your wish list.
Series information: We performed a hands-on evaluation of the 47-inch member of LG LE8500 series, but this review also applies to the other screen size in the series. Both sizes have identical specs and according to the manufacturer should provide very similar picture quality.
LG threw everything but the kitchen sink at its next-to-flagship LCD for 2010, and with the exception of 3D and a fancy remote, the LE8500 sails competitively against the best-featured models on the market. Local dimming of its full array of LED elements is the big selling point, similar to the scheme used on some of the top LCD of 2009, like the LG LH90 and the Samsung 8500. LG tells us the 47-inch LE8500 has 216 independent, dimmable zones, while the 55-incher has 240 (Samsung doesn’t divulge the number of its zones).
Other notables 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 by press time.
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 standard-issue. There are no major missing links, however, aside from any kind of audio service like Pandora or Slacker radio. We didn’t test USB or DLNA network streaming.
The selection of nonstreaming Internet features is solid on the LG, and most of the utilities, with the exception of Picasa, come courtesy of Yahoo widgets. At the time of this writing, the LE8500 has access to ten widgets. Speaking of, that platform is somewhat more usable than in the past, 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.
The 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–the less said, the better about these pointless exercises in frustrating gameplay. Of course you’ll need to buy the external speakerphone kit to use Skype. It hasn’t been released (or priced) yet, so we didn’t test it for this review.
For 2010 LG added a couple of improvements to the industry’s best suite of user menu picture controls. It now offers the ability to adjust dejudder processing, a welcome extra pioneered by Samsung last year (although it doesn’t work nearly as well; see Performance for details). There are also specific gamma settings (1.9, 2.2 and 2.4) in the excellent 10-point IRE system available in the Expert menu, as well as a second THX picture preset; now you can choose from THX Cinema or THX Bright Room, although neither is user-adjustable without inputting a special code.
As with last year all of the adjustable picture modes can be separate for each input. We also liked the improvements made to the Picture Wizard, which consists of a series of test patterns that can help nonexperts adjust basic controls and get the gist of what picture setup is all about.