The LG 55LM960V proves something we've learned about Korea's two electronics giants: if there’s anything Samsung can do, LG can do it too.
Hard-ish on the heels of Samsung’s splendid UE55ES8000 (a premium, voice-and-gesture-controllable LED-backlit LCD 3D smart TV) comes this LG 55LM960V. which is – you guessed it – a premium, voice-and-gesture-controllable LED-backlit 3D smart TV.
Like the Samsung, this LG occupies the top of the company’s LCD model range. And like the Samsung, it’s designed to showcase the very best of the company’s technological prowess.
But that’s enough of the comparisons – for now, anyway. The LG L55LM960V is a slim, narrow-bezelled device with a stand that puts us in mind of a highly stylised forklift.
LG 55LM960V: voice and gesture control
Its LCD panel is backlit by a full-screen array of LEDs, and it comes supplied with a pair of remotes (one straightforward full-function wand, plus a nicely shaped point-and-shoot zapper with a click-wheel, gesture control a la Nintendo Wii and a microphone for voice-command).
It has analogue, Freeview HD and digital satellite tuners on board, integrated wi-fi and a suite of Smart TV functionality best described as ‘exhaustive’.
As you’d imagine, there are more input sockets than any sane customer will ever need – four HDMI inputs and three USB sockets (one available for recording) are the obvious highlights.
There’re also a gratifying number of 3D glasses included in the deal (above).
The 55LM960V uses the passive 3D technology LG is so enamoured of (another way in which the LG veers away from its Samsung rival), and consequently there are four pairs of lightweight, comfortable and variously coloured 3D specs in the box, along with a pair of brilliantly retro clip-ons for those who are already wearing glasses.
'Dual play' glasses
And just in case you didn’t think that was enough goggles to be going on with, a couple of pairs of ‘dual play’ glasses are included too (below).
These allow players of ‘split-screen’ games to each view their specific pictures on the entire screen, a party-piece similar to that which allows drivers to view sat-nav information while their passenger uses the same screen to watch a DVD.
LG 55LM960V: installation
Thanks to some big, logically ordered and idiot-proof on-screen menus, the LG is an ergonomic treat for all types of owner.
Those who just want to plug it in and get on with it will find getting a workable image from the 55LM960V simplicity itself; custom-installers, incorrigible tweakers and anyone else who enjoys thoroughly investigating a television’s capabilities will find enough adjustability to keep them happy for hours.
The TV tuners are thorough: we specified a ‘blind’ search when setting up the satellite tuner and it came back with 843 channels. A lot of subscription-only stuff, of course, and the usual dozen-or-so regional variations on BBC1, but you get the point...
Once it’s set up and tuned in to your satisfaction, there’s much to admire in the way the LG performs. A big, full-HD screen like this never looks its best with standard-definition TV broadcasts, but the 55LM960V is a lot less sniffy about mediocre source material than some flatscreens we could mention.
LG 55LM960V: picture performance
Daytime-TV staples like 60-Minute Makeover are handled considerately, with reasonably smooth edges, a smattering of fine detail and remarkably little picture noise (unless images are of uniform, light tones – that’s when picture noise settles in and makes itself comfy).
The colour balance errs sensibly on the side of caution, so skin-tones are lifelike, and the LG serves up strong contrasts even if it struggles to extract any meaningful detail from darker tones.
As you’d imagine, the LG’s much happier with a switch to high-def broadcasting – and the BBC’s HD coverage of Golf: The Masters (as it’s called on the EPG) looks outstanding. It doesn’t get much tougher than this for TVs: uniformity of colour, lots of fast camera pans, daunting depth of field and more plaid-patterned clothing than a gathering of the Highland clans.
Stable, convincing picture
Throughout, the 55LM960V remains stable and convincing: it maintains an excellent balance between vibrancy and neutrality where its colour palette is concerned, and the previously rather unknowable black tones gain both detail and tonal variation.
Whites are clean, but don’t glare unless it’s absolutely warranted, and textures (whether of skin or cloth) are described just so. Motion is smoothly rendered – even the super-slo-mo replays beloved of sports broadcasters are unshakeable (although if LG thinks it’s simplifying anything by referring to a ‘Motion Clarity Index’ of 1000Hz it should think again).
And as long as you’ve spent just a moment or two finessing the LG’s noise-reduction options, picture noise simply doesn’t intrude.
A fine upscaler, too
That’s a pretty high bar the LG’s set itself where performance is concerned, then – but at no point does it threaten to let itself down. As an upscaler of DVD discs, for example, it proves a match for the best mainstream DVD or Blu-ray players around.
A DVD of rom-zom-com Shaun of the Dead is a vivid and high-contrast watch, the 55LM960V doing good work with detail levels and not allowing a slight softness to edges to become problematic.
Movement’s handled confidently, noise levels are low and the colour balance, once again, simply looks right.
In the light of all this, it won’t be astonishing to learn that Blu-ray images can, at their best, look thrillingly life-like and natural.
A copy of No Country for Old Men confirms it: the LG’s combination of strong, clean, detailed contrasts and prodigious detail levels make for an absorbing watch.
And in every other significant respect (edge definition, motion handling, skin-tones, apparent depth of field, suppression of picture noise, you name it) the 55LM960V can confidently be compared to the very best of its rivals.
Even the most testing scenes – those that combine rapid motion, complex patterns and high contrast – are handled with the same sort of calm authority.
You’re no more aware of the (considerable) hard work the screen’s doing than you would be when watching the same film at the cinema. And you lose all the crisp-packet-rustling, ice-cube slurpng and other Wittertainment Code of Conduct infringements into the bargain.
As far as other 2D content goes, the LG’s never less than competent – and at times it's every bit as admirable as when it’s doing its 1080p Blu-ray thing.
The BBC’s iPlayer, for instance, accessed via the elegant Smart TV dashboard, is remarkably composed and coherent: even the turbulent combination of colour-saturated motion and shouting that comprises any episode of Top Gear you care to name is handled without alarms.
The 55LM960V does really impressive work with all online-sourced catch-up TV, in fact, delivering clean, crisp and low-noise images that generally wipe the floor with the sort of quality delivered by a standard-definition TV broadcast.
LG 55LM960V: 2D/3D gaming
And it’s safe to say that 2D gaming is, generally, equally well served. Even with the LG’s motion processing algorithms bypassed in an effort to eliminate the dreaded ‘button lag’ (which works perfectly well, by the way. The gap between pressing a button on your control and the corresponding action taking place on the screen is, to all intents and purposes, non-existent), motion is solidly described.
There’s a smattering of picture noise apparent among the strong contrasts and vibrant colours, and edges aren’t immune to a bit of shimmer and crawl in extremis, but while there are, ultimately, better gamer’s TVs out there the LG’s perfectly acceptable.
A switch to 3D content (and we’re yet to get even remotely tired of the thrilling Closer to the Edge) is when the 55LM960V makes the most sense.
LG 55LM960V: passive 3D tech
We’re aware that the passive-3D technology at work here effectively halves the resolution of the image, as it’s only delivering half of the full-HD 1920 x 1080 information to each eye, but in this instance, frankly, we’re not that concerned.
The LG serves up stable, bright and convincing 3D images, and does so in a manner that’s stress-free even as you finish watching the feature and delve into the on-disc extras. Flicker or cross-talk isn’t an issue, and there’s enough detail revealed to make the comparative lack of resolution over active-shutter rivals a moot point.
We’re not so convinced by the LG’s ability to convert 2D to 3D (the company’s website states “now you’ve got no excuse to take off those glasses!”. Presumably LG’s market research indicates some people are desperate to watch TV in 3D all the time, but we’re not among them), but where native 3D content is concerned the 55LM960V’s about as watchable as it gets right now.
That’s equally true of 3D games, where the lack of resolution is offset even more strongly by the relative lack of fatigue the 55LM960V induces.
LG 55LM960V: Smart TV
Elsewhere, the LG remains well up to par. As well as a stack of online content, the usual social networking possibilities and a very useable web browser, there are literally hundreds of apps to be investigated via the Smart TV function, and if you’re prepared to shell out for the AN-VC400 camera you can use the 55LM960V for Skype telephony.
We find the LG’s remote control-derived gesture control to be a good deal more reliable than the camera-assisted alternative of this year’s premium Samsung TVs, too – but although the LG will be controllable by voice via the mic in its ‘Magic’ remote control, at the time of writing the software hadn’t been finalised and so we were unable to test it.
Be assured that as soon as the download is available, we’ll update this review with our findings.
LG 55LM960V: Verdict
There is only one area where the LG 55LM960V fails to be fully competitive: the sound. We know from bitter experience that big, slim flatscreens seldom sound any better than ‘inoffensive’, but the LG sounds thin, hard and sibilant to a remarkable degree.
Our usual advice to those who are planning to spend big money on a big telly (“buy a soundbar at the very least”) can safely been assumed to be written in capital letters in this instance.
LG 55LM960V: Price update
These things are notoriously fluid. When we first reviewed the LG, it was £800 more expensive than the Samsung UE55ES8000, but since then a price drop has put things on an even keel. The LG 55LM960V is an authentic rival for the five-star Samsung.