Test Report: LG 50PM9700 3D Plasma HDTV

For a company whose supposed emphasis is LCD TV manufacturing, LG sure makes some good plasmas. Its 50PZ950, which we reviewed in the September 2011 issue, earned a Certified & Recommended stamp, both for its accurate, eminently tweakable picture and for its innovative Magic Motion remote-controlled “Smart” GUI. New for 2012 is the 50PM9700, which follows in its predecessor’s footsteps by being THX 3D-certified, Smart, and also Magic Motion remote-controlled. There are a number of other differences between the two models, but here’s one that immediately stands out: At $1,299, the 50PM9700 sells for about $300 less than the 50PZ950.

Like other 3D-capable plasma TVs, the 50PM9700 uses active technology. (LG’s optional active glasses will set you back $45 per pair.) It’s got onboard Wi-Fi, and its Smart GUI provides a decent amount of streaming options, including obvious ones like Netflix, Hulu Plus, Vudu, and YouTube, and some not-so-obvious ones, like MOG. Streaming music, photos, etc., via DLNA is easy to set up — the TV recognizes any DLNA servers you have running on networked computers and they appear in the Smart Share menu.

The 50PM9700’s looks are well above average: Its bezel has a dark gray brushed-metal effect, and the whole thing is edged with a thin aluminum frame. While many recent plasmas come with a glassy reflective screen, this one has a matte finish that does a great job of reducing screen glare caused by interior lights or undraped windows. Control buttons are set inconspicuously on the TV’s bottom left. The set comes with a shiny — perhaps too much so — aluminum stand that swivels 20° in either direction. Its four HDMI inputs (including one with ARC) are spread between back and side panels on the set’s rear, with a pair of USB ports arrayed near the side-facing HDMI jacks.

Along with the Magic Motion remote, LG gives you a standard remote, which you’ll probably want to use once for setup and then stow away for good. Why? Because other than controlling picture adjustments, the Magic Remote basically does everything the standard remote does, and better. Once you pick up the wand-like remote, an arrow cursor appears onscreen that’s controlled by making slight wrist gestures. (Range and responsiveness are surprisingly precise; you don’t have to use sweeping, Kinect-type gestures.) Upon first use, onscreen prompts guide you through configuring it to control your cable/satellite DVR — something it does in a very effective manner. The Magic Remote’s onscreen cursor also makes it a superior option for navigating streaming apps and other features in the Home menu. I wish more TVs came with Magic Motion remotes.

Setup

Part of the whole THX-certified thing with TVs is that the setup menu provides a THX picture mode — in this case, one each for 2D and 3D inputs. Such modes sometimes draw heat for locking the user out from making adjustments; with THX mode active on the 50PM9700, you can’t even tweak basic settings like brightness and contrast, let alone more advanced ones like white balance or noise reduction. Fortunately, in the LG’s case its THX modes turned out to be mostly accurate: Grayscale showed a slightly too- warm bias, but color points were about spot-on the HDTV standard spec. Most viewers could simply select THX and be done with it.

Another setup amenity on the LG is “Picture Wizard,” a sort of interactive guide with built-in images/test patterns to step you through basic picture calibration. There are also two ISF Expert picture modes, both fully tweakable. Using the 2- and 20-point white balance, variable gamma, and color management system adjustments in the ISF mode’s Expert Control sub-menu, I was able to do grayscale one better than THX without messing up the gamma and also improve the accuracy of secondary colors, though the changes there were slight bordering on negligible.

One note to anyone who buys this TV: You will need to upgrade its firmware. Immediately — I suggest you do it before using it for any viewing whatsoever. For some reason, LG shipped the set with TruMotion, a feature that employs interpolation processing to reduce picture judder, in “full-on” mode, and it can’t be turned off, even when you switch TruMotion off in the setup menu. It’s even active in THX mode! (Not sure how they let that one by slip by during certification....) Since TruMotion has the side effect of making images look like they were shot with a handheld camcorder, this is a serious problem. Fortunately, LG’s firmware upgrade gives you the ability to shut TruMotion off.

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