Anybody still of the opinion that LG merely slavishly follows its lauded Korean rival Samsung is very much mistaken.
For as well as going completely its own way with 3D, by introducing the passive 3D format, LG is also looking set to beat Samsung to the big-screen OLED TV punch. More pertinently for this review, unlike Samsung, LG includes at the top of its TV range models that use direct rather than edge LED lighting in a bid to deliver truly premium performance.
The 47LM960V being tested here is the first of LG’s 2012 ‘Nano’ direct LED sets. And as with last year’s Nano debutantes, it’s a heck of a looker, getting closer than any TV before to being truly ‘borderless’.
Not that the 47LM960V just relies on its direct LED lighting and sensational design for its appeal, though. A huge feature list kicks off with passive 3D support, complete with 7 pairs of glasses – which is, of course, a robust two-fingered salute at the growing trend for active 3D TVs not to supply any free 3D glasses at all.
The 47LM960V is also extremely multimedia savvy, handling an expansive range of multimedia file formats from USB devices or a connected computer. What’s more, unusually for the TV world, this computer can just as easily be an Apple Mac as a PC.
LG’s new Nano baby also lets you connect – wirelessly if you wish – to LG’s Smart TV platform, which this year has benefited from a substantial rise in content, big improvements in stability, and a slinky new interface.
Joining the 47-inch model in the LM960V range is the 55-inch 55LM960V, while if you can’t quite run to the LM960Vs, one step down LG’s range brings you to the LM860Vs, which switch to edge LED lighting and use LG’s MCI 800 motion system rather than the new MCI 1000 system sported by the 47LM960V.
If you’re not hung up on the LG brand, meanwhile, then equivalent TVs out there right now would be Samsung’s ES8000 range and Samsung’s WT50 series.
But right now it’s LG’s turn to hopefully shine with the 47LM960V. So lets start finding out if it lives up to its promise.
LG has already blown us away with the looks of its new LM660V and LM670V TVs, but the brand has stepped things up again with the 47LM960V. It miraculously sports a silver bezel no more than 3-4mm wide around its 47-inch screen, and sticks out less than 38mm round the back – a pretty impressive achievement for a TV that uses direct (rear mounted) LED lighting rather than an edge LED system.
This rear-end slimness is a result of LG’s Nano technology, which shrinks the usual direct LED depth by using a diffusing sheet to spread out the light emitted from the rear-mounted LED array.
Any TV with flagship aspirations these days is expected to serve up a huge number of connections. So it’s no great shock to find the 47LM960V’s rear bristling with such socket finery as four v1.4 HDMIs, three USB ports, a D-Sub PC input, a LAN jack, plus something you can’t actually see: built-in Wi-Fi.
The HDMIs can all be used for receiving 3D Blu-ray images as well as the usual HD fare, while the USBs prove capable of playing back a diverse set of film, photo and music file formats – including Divx HD movies.
The ability to connect the TV to a computer for multimedia streaming via the LAN is particularly noteworthy, too, for the ease with which it lets you connect Apple Macs as well as PCs is applaudable.
This impressive ‘format-neutral’ approach to networking computers is boosted by the 47LM960V’s provision of two separate means of PC communication: LG’s own Smart Share platform, and the increasingly helpful PLEX third party portal.
One final connection trick worth mentioning is the 47LM960V’s ability to record/timeshift from its Freeview HD tuner to USB HDDs.
LG has clearly put a lot of effort this year into improving its online Smart TV service. Right away, for instance, you can see that the Smart Hub menu which lets you access all the sources and content available is a much higher resolution than last year’s version, making it both prettier and more efficient when it comes to handling reams of sources.
LG’s Smart TV content level has ballooned too, with not far shy of 200 apps now available via LG’s Premium and ‘Smart World’ app sections. As its name suggests, the Premium content is by far the most interesting, being based mostly around video services such as the BBC iPlayer, YouTube, BlinkBox, ITN, BoxOffice365, AceTrax Movies, Viewster, RedBull TV, CineTrailer, AutoCar, Stuff, iConcerts, DailyMotion, Cartoon Network, HiT Entertainment, NetFlix and LoveFilm.
Twitter, Facebook and Picasa apps are on hand for social networking and file-sharing, meanwhile, and there’s now a much easier to browse ‘shop front’ for LG’s 3D World service, which provides hours and hours of often weird and occasionally wonderful 3D video sources.
While the Premium features could potentially deliver hours of entertainment to you every week, though, the dozens and dozens of minor apps in the Smart World ‘store’ are for the most part totally pointless, and so not worth the time it takes to browse through them.
Up next on the 47LM960V’s long feature list is its 3D system. This uses LG’s passive approach, based around a polarising filter across the screen’s front in conjunction with simple, electronics-free glasses. What’s more, the passive 3D technology can also be used for allowing two different gamers to enjoy full-screen gaming on the same TV at the same time – a talent LG dubs Dual Play.
This needs games that support it – such as Call of Duty: MW3 – and requires special pairs of passive glasses (which only ‘see’ one side of the polarised images emerging from the TV). But LG kindly includes two pairs of these free with the TV, so that’s OK.
LG has long realised that the way to an AV enthusiast’s heart is through his calibration options. So naturally the ISF-endorsed 47LM960V has pretty much all the picture adjustment tools most folk will ever need – plus a few more besides.
Colour and gamma management; various noise reduction controls with multiple power settings; numerous motion tweaking tools; more ways of adjusting the screen’s contrast/black level than you can shake a stick at; resolution boosters; a new colour manipulation system for adjusting skin, grass and sky colours independently of other picture elements; and so we could go on.
The last feature that needs to be covered in this section is local dimming. This system for independently controlling the light output from individual clusters of the LEDs behind the screen is generally a very good idea, as it can massively improve a TV’s contrast performance.
However, LG slightly bungled it on last year’s Nano TVs, as it caused noticeable blocks and haloes of light around some bright objects. So hopefully the system has undergone a considerable refinement this year, aided and abetted by the 47LM960V’s use of dual core processing.
It’s apparent right away that LG has massively improved the light banding/blocking/haloing situation compared with last year’s Nano sets. In fact, we struggled to make out any such ‘light pollution’ during normal video viewing – and even when feeding the screen test signals containing extreme variations of contrast the problem wasn’t by any means severely distracting. Especially if you avoid the local dimming option’s High setting.
With LG keeping mum about exactly how it’s managed to reduce the light blocking problems, we can only presume it’s down to a large increase in the number of individually controllable LED clusters behind the screen; or it’s a much more sophisticated image analysing system; or it’s a combination of both.
Or maybe, just maybe, the reduced banding and blocking could be down to a rather less welcome development: a reduction in the screen’s black level potential.
It was striking on last year’s Nano sets just how grey supposedly dark scenes looked if you didn’t use the Local Dimming option those sets carried, and this flaw continues onto the 47LM960V. Only now it also seems as if activating local dimming doesn’t have as much of a black level boosting effect as it did last year – even if you use the system on its highest setting.
To be fair, without having one of last year’s Nano sets in front of us for direct comparison, it could be that our impression of reduced black levels says less about any ‘backwards steps’ in the 47LM960V than it does about the great leaps forward in black reproduction witnessed on the latest TVs from Panasonic, Samsung, Philips and, ironically, LG itself, with its LM660T/LM670T mid-range models.
But whatever the true source of our disappointment, the fact remains that as the 47LM960V sits on the test bench, its black level response doesn’t seem particularly great. Especially for a model that uses direct LED lighting.
A strong example of the 47LM960V’s black level problems can be seen with Chapter 12 of the final Harry Potter film. This is an exceptionally dark scene that seems almost tailor-made to catch TVs out, and catch the 47LM960V out it certainly does. During the opening shot of the chapter, showing Voldemort’s army assembled on a hill above Hogwarts, it wouldn’t be an exaggeration to say you could barely see any picture at all on this LG set.
With local dimming off the screen just looked like a grey cloud with some faint blobs in it that were supposed to be faces. Yet with local dimming on, while the greyness subsided and a blacker black colour appeared, the image still didn’t appear to actually have any significant amounts of content – presumably as the local dimming/Nano tech combination wasn’t subtle enough in its light delivery to retain shadow details in anything like the quantities a flagship TV should.
What’s more, trying to fix the problem with the set’s contrast, backlight and brightness adjustments doesn’t get you anywhere; you mostly just end up with different shades of grey or black emptiness.
The Harry Potter scene just discussed is admittedly a pretty extreme example of dark film making. It’s certainly the case, too, that the 47LM960V’s contrast performance can actually look good when watching less demanding footage containing a mix of bright and dark content. But Voldemort’s assault on Hogwarts is hardly the only dark scene you’ll come across in day to day televisual life, so it’s a shame that with all such scenes, the 47LM960V will struggle.
This would be disappointing on any TV, but it’s a crushing blow for a TV that uses direct LED lighting. In fact, it seems to defeat the whole object of bothering with the technology in the first place. This is especially galling when it would appear that the thing that most spoils the direct LED potential is a feature – Nano technology – which appears to have been predominantly created to make sets like the 47LM960V a bit slimmer. Surely if your purchasing decision is motivated by slimness, you’ll get one of LG’s edge LED models? Direct LED is usually the choice of picture quality enthusiasts, so to compromise it for design reasons doesn’t make any sense at all.
Trying to see past the above rant, the 47LM960V unsurprisingly has some considerable strengths too. Colours look explosive, for instance – though not in any rough, cartoonish kind of way. For despite the exceptional vibrancy and rich saturations, the power of the TV’s processing ensures that there’s almost infinite subtlety in the way colour blends are presented. The colour gamut on show is vast too.
While the local dimming system might not perform as well as hoped with dark scenes, meanwhile, it does deliver a welcome boost in bright picture areas, giving them even more punch than they might otherwise have.
The 47LM960V displays HD images with impressive clarity and detailing too, especially as it proves able to handle motion unusually well by LCD standards. Even without any of the provided motion processing systems in play there’s minimal resolution loss or judder as objects move across the screen.
Should you want to try LG’s TruMotion circuitry out, though, the processing power driving it means that you can pretty much entirely dispense with judder and blur without suffering nasty side effects (so long as you use one of the ‘Clear’ TruMotion settings, anyway).
Also endlessly watchable are the 47LM960V’s 3D pictures. The now customary passive 3D advantages of bright, colourful 3D images free from flicker and mostly free from crosstalk are abundantly apparent, and depth reproduction seems accurate and unforced. The impressively direct connection you feel with passive 3D images helps them look crisp and clean too, and you only occasionally feel aware of passive 3D’s weaknesses (jaggedness around some contoured edges, and a slight lack of detail).
These weaknesses are more apparent the nearer the screen you get, and you also need to be careful not to watch pictures from more than a 13-degree angle above or below the screen, or else crosstalk suddenly goes ballistic. Provided you sit sensibly, though, all but the most resolution-obsessed enthusiast should feel exceedingly happy with the 47LM960V’s 3D abilities.
Standard definition pictures aren’t upscaled with quite as much skill as you get with some rival flagship TVs, despite the 47LM960V’s dual-core processing. But there’s still a clear sense of extra detail in upscaled standard def images, and noise is decently suppressed. It’s good to see, too, that you don’t get the same drop-off in colour accuracy with standard definition on the 47LM960V that some other LCD TVs exhibit.
In fact, when not being taxed by very dark scenes the 47LM960V’s pictures can look little short of outstanding. The only visible glitch beyond the black level problems, in fact, is that the screen’s viewing angle seems very limited, whereby sitting anything more than around 30 degrees down the side of the TV can cause major drop offs in contrast and colour.
There is one further ‘invisible’ picture flaw gamers need to be aware of, though. For in keeping with every other LG TV tested in recent times, the 47LM960V suffers with rather excessive amounts of input lag – 80ms on average, sometimes getting as high as 100ms. This is enough to potentially reduce your all-important performance with time-sensitive games.
Sound, value and ease of use
Ease of use
As with a number of other brands this year, LG is shipping two remote controls with its high-end TVs. In LG’s case, accompanying a reasonably effective standard remote model is a ‘magic’ one. This works very well for the most part, allowing you to point it directly at the screen and control a cursor there just by moving it around – pretty much like you would with a Nintendo Wiimote or a laser pointer.
It’s a very intuitive approach given added practical appeal by a ‘spin wheel’ knob at the Magic remote’s centre that lets you quickly scroll up and down web pages or long lists of options.
LG is also to be congratulated for its latest onscreen menu system. The newly designed Smart Hub looks lovely and does a peerless job of handling huge amounts of content, giving you simple one-click jump offs to all sorts of content and sources.
Elsewhere, LG has listened to previous criticisms of its operating system and now provides a dedicated button on the main remote control that takes you directly into the TV’s picture setting menus, rather than you first having to go into the Smart Hub.
The extreme amount of calibration tools carried by the 47LM960V may intimidate some users, we guess. But they’re positioned so that you don’t have to go near them unless you really want to, and LG has included a built-in Picture Wizard system that guides you through a simple but effective self-calibration process.
Yet more good news concerns the ease with which the 47LM960V lets you connect it to both Mac and PC computers. It pretty much happens automatically so long as your computer is already connected to your network – and you can’t ask for much more than that.
LG has done a commendable job of making the 47LM960V sound more than half decent – which is a good few notches ahead of the flat, lifeless audio you get from most ultra-thin TVs.
The main key to its success is a large speaker that radiates straight out of the TV’s rear, handling bass and lower mid-range duties to relieve the pressure of the other left and right speakers. Thanks to this, there’s more bass to be heard during loud scenes than you get with almost any other super-skinny TV; there’s a pleasingly open feeling to the mid-range; and treble details sound clear rather than ‘squashed’ and harsh. Good stuff.
With its huge feature count, peerless design and direct LED picture engine, the 47LM960V has all the on-paper tools it needs to justify its admittedly hefty £2,400 price tag. There are even times when you’re watching it that it performs so well you’ll easily be able to convince yourself that it’s money well spent.
However, there are also times – essentially those involving dark scenes – when the 47LM960V’s obsession with being thin prevents it delivering on the promise of its premium direct LED picture engine. And whenever you witness one of these occasions, that £2,400 price suddenly starts to look more than a little painful.
Given the success LG is enjoying with its mid-range TVs right now, there was every hope as we started testing it that the flagship 47LM960V was going to be some sort of TV masterpiece. Especially as it uses premium direct LED lighting.
It makes a mighty fine first impression, too, thanks to arguably the most stunning, borderless TV design LG – or anyone! – has created to date. The set is stuffed to bursting point with multimedia savviness too, especially when you get into its extremely content rich – and beautifully presented – Smart TV online system.
Its pictures don’t disappoint during bright scenes either, thanks to some outstanding colour and brightness. Heck, it even sounds good, despite its stunning slimness.
All of which makes it crushingly disappointing that the 47LM960V doesn’t deliver on the one picture element direct LED was really invented for: convincing black level response.
LG has pulled out all the stops with the 47LM960V’s design, which is as pretty and ‘science-defying’ as anything we’ve ever seen. Its onscreen menus have been revamped in superb style too, and the inclusion of the Magic Remote provides a great alternative control system for technophobes. Bright scenes frequently look terrific on the TV too, and 3D images are both fun and satisfying. The 47LM960V even sounds good, thanks to its rear ‘woofer’.
As usual with passive 3D TVs, the 47LM960V can go from zero crosstalk to excessive crosstalk if you watch from even quite a slight angle above or below the screen. Side viewing angles are rather limited too. Gamers, meanwhile, will be troubled by the up to 100ms input lag the screen suffers with. By far the most troubling thing about the 47LM960V, though, is its inability to deliver dark scenes with anything like the sort of conviction you would expect to get with direct LED technology.
LG’s designers deserve a serious bonus for the 47LM960V’s looks. It’s stunning. But it doesn’t rely on looks alone to justify its flagship status.
For instance, it also serves up a spectacular combination of online Smart TV features, as well as multimedia playback from USB sticks or PCs/Macs. It’s amazingly easy to use, too, given how many features it’s got, thanks to its innovative remote controls and sumptuous onscreen menus.
Unfortunately, however, it falls at the picture hurdle, as its Nano technology fails to deliver dark scenes with anything like the authority we’d hope to see from a flagship TV – especially a direct LED one.
There are precious few brands doing direct LED TVs right now. One that does, however, is Sony, with its HX923 range. However, while these sets generally produce superior pictures to those of the 47LM960V, they’re let down by a flaw which causes shadowy vertical lines to appear around 1cm in from each of the TV’s sides.
The other two closest rivals are actually both edge LED models. Samsung’s UE46ES8000 is arguably even better in Smart TV terms than this LG, and it also looks great with its ultra-thin bezel. It needs care with its picture set up, though, and there are backlight consistency problems with 3D.
Panasonic’s WT50 series, meanwhile, which we’ll be reviewing here in the very near future, offers some excellent 2D and 3D picture quality, complete with an even backlight – though as with this LG, black levels could have been deeper. And Panasonic’s online services aren’t currently as rich or well presented as LGs.