It's been said that you don't miss something until after its gone. Well, it's been awhile since I've spent considerable time with an HD plasma and I must say it wasn't until the LG 50PZ550 arrived on my doorstep that I realized how much I missed having a quality plasma display in my home. The whole world may be turning to LED backlit LCD HDTVs but that doesn't mean there still isn't an argument to be made for the technology that started it all - good 'ol plasma. For instance the LG 50PZ550 reviewed here isn't just your run of the mill plasma, it's a 3D capable, Internet ready 50-inch beauty that just so happens to not cost a fortune. In fact the 50PZ550 lists for $1,299 though its street price is often lower - much lower. Having just finished reviewing some of the best LED-based HDTVs available today, how would the LG stack up?
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The 50PZ550 is one of the more stylish looking HDTVs I've seen, with its minimal bezel and smooth, high-gloss piano black frame. It's outward appearance is that of a finely tailored suit, one that exudes quality and class as opposed to showcasing cost cutting measures, such as using cheap plastics like so many of today's HDTV displays. The 50PZ550 itself measures 46 inches wide by 28 inches tall and two inches deep without its stand. With its included table stand the 50PZ550's height increases to 30 inches and its depth to 11 inches. As for the 50PZ550's weight, it tips the scales at a hefty 60 pounds without its stand and 65 pounds with its stand.
The front bezel is void of any "visible" hard controls; instead all hard controls are touch-based and are located along the bottom right edge of the 50PZ550's bezel. The 50PZ550 has three 3D compliant HDMI inputs located around back accompanied by two component video inputs as well as a host of legacy inputs for both audio and video. The 50PZ550 has RS-232 support as well as an Ethernet port that allows the 50PZ550 to connect to the Internet. There's a Wi-Fi adaptor that can be had as well, though it is sold separately. Along the left side of the 50PZ550 you'll find an additional HDMI input as well as two USB 2.0 inputs and an AV input.
The 50PZ550 has a native pixel resolution of 1920x1080 with a reported contrast ratio of three million to one with a refresh rate of 600Hz. The 50PZ550 is ISF certified and comes with two ISF (Imaging Science Foundation) pre-calibrated picture modes, "Expert 1" and "Expert 2," which I'll talk about later. The 50PZ550 even goes so far as to embed various calibration patterns and tests in the 50PZ550's menus so you can further calibrate its image without having to rely on expensive calibration tools or discs. Another notable image feature includes the 50PZ550's "Just Scan" mode, which preserves the entire image, presenting it pixel for pixel on the screen versus cutting off the side one or two percent as with other HDTVs. Of course I'd be remiss if I didn't discuss the 50PZ550's 3D capabilities, for it is, after all, a 3D-capable plasma. Unlike some of LG's newer 3D HDTVs, the 50PZ550 is not a passive 3D display - instead it relies on active shutter glasses, which sadly are not included in the purchase price. Though depending on where you do your shopping, there are several deals to be had with regards to free 3D glasses with purchase of any LG 3D HDTV. LG will also convert 2D images to 3D as well, though obviously the effect won't be as good or convincing as native 3D content.
With the buzz among HDTVs being LED, it's important to point out that while the 50PZ550 doesn't employ any sort of LED back or edge lighting, it's not a pig on power the way older generation plasmas were. The 50PZ550 draws a scant point two Watts in standby and up to 149 Watts when on. In comparison, a comparably priced and sized LED HDTV from Sharp draws 180 Watts when on. It appears you don't have to go LED in order to go "green." The 50PZ550s is Energy Star rated and even features an APS (Auto Power Saving) picture mode as well as an Intelligent Sensor Mode to maximize the 50PZ550's energy saving potential.
Which brings me to the remote. The 50PZ550's remote control is a long, narrow wand that is cleanly and clearly laid out and features full, push button backlighting. There aren't any direct controls for source selection such as HDMI 1 or HDMI 2, but everything else is present and accounted for, making it easy to use and live with day-to-day. I generally hate remotes but the 50PZ550's remote isn't bad.
Unboxing the 50PZ550 is easy enough for one, though removing it may require a helping hand - though if you've been eating your Wheaties you can probably manage solo. Once out of the box you have to decide whether or not to put the 50PZ550 on your wall or on its included table stand. Since my time with the LG was limited, I opted for the table stand which was easy to assemble and attach to the bottom of the 50PZ550 itself. I placed the 50PZ550 dead center of my Omni+ Vent home theater cabinet that houses my reference gear consisting of an Integra DHC 80.2 AV preamp, Parasound 5250 v2 multi-channel amp, Sony universal 3D Blu-ray player, Dish Network HD DVR and AppleTV. I normally connect all my sources direct to the display for any HDTV review. This time I didn't; instead I relied on a single HDMI cable from Transparent to carry the signal(s) from my Integra processor to the LG 50PZ550. To ensure the Integra wasn't altering or enhancing the image, I turned all of its video processing to "through." Out of the box to ready to watch took about 30 minutes, give or take, but that didn't include calibration.
I went into the 50PZ550 review with high hopes, for I knew it was an ISF certified set. Not wanting to be swayed by its factory settings, I didn't allow myself to look at the ISF picture modes, instead opting for the 50PZ550's "standard" picture mode as my jumping off point for my own calibration tests. Using both my Digital Video Essentials (DVE) disc on Blu-ray as well as my Monster Calibration Disc on DVD, I was able to dial in the 50PZ550's image quite nicely with very little effort. Upon completion of my calibration test, I checked against the 50PZ550's ISF factory settings and found that I was within one or two clicks of their settings, leading me to believe that any casual viewer could pop the 50PZ550 into either of its two ISF picture modes and be good - no additional calibration required. Of course, those looking to extract the last ounce of performance from the 50PZ550 will be able to do so, for the level of control provided to you by the 50PZ550's on-screen menus is staggering.
I did demo the 50PZ550's included calibration tests and patterns and found them to be quite useful, though not quite as exact as some of the tests found on any DVE or professional calibration disc. I should also point out that for the duration of my review I left all of the 50PZ550's energy saving settings off to ensure maximum image performance 100 percent of the time.
I should also mention that the 50PZ550's on-screen menus are a breath of fresh air and an absolute delight to use. Even the 50PZ550's Q.Menu or quick menu is highly functional and intuitive. I thought Samsung had the best OSDs on the market but I think that title now goes to LG, for I found nothing objectionable about the 50PZ550's menus.
Normally I don't dive right into the 3D content but since I generally don't care for 3D, especially active 3D, I thought it best to get it over with. I started with Disney's Tron: Legacy on Blu-ray 3D (Disney). The 50PZ550 doesn't normally include 3D active shutter glasses but the folks at LG included a pair in the box for this review - if only they would do the same for you. I powered up the glasses and waited a few seconds for the 50PZ550 to sync up before proceeding with the film. Upon insertion of a 3D disc you're prompted by not one, but two on-screen warnings. The first alerting you to the fact that you're about to watch a 3D movie and the second, warning you that you could experience some discomfort and should cease watching should you become disoriented or sick. I don't remember 2D coming with any warnings. What would a 2D warning look like - warning you you're about to enjoy your show? Well, not one to heed warnings, I proceeded with Tron: Legacy and you know what? I'm glad I did for the 50PZ550's 3D performance was ... good.
Read more about the performance of the LG 50PZ550 3D Plasma HDTV on Page 2.