Customizable LG Infinia 50PK950 HDTV Delivers Grainy Images
At a Glance
LG Electronics Infinia 50PK950 50-Inch Plasma
The LG 50PK950 offers good color and extensive customization options at a reasonable price, but the consistently grainy image makes it hard to recommend.
With features like 20-point white balance and built-in connectivity through LG's NetCast services, the LG Infinia 50PK950 sounds like an excellent HDTV for people looking to update their home-theater setup at a reasonable price ($1500 as of October 1, 2010)--especially for plasma HDTV enthusiasts who crave deep blacks and vibrant colors. Unfortunately, a few quirks in the image quality bring the 50PK950 down from champion to contender status in its category (50- to 55-inch HDTVs).
In our image quality jury testing, the 50PK950 excelled in many ways typical of a high-end plasma TV. The 50PK950 managed to finish narrowly ahead of the Sony Bravia KDL-52NX800, an LED-backlit LCD set of comparable size, in our tests for brightness and contrast and for color and skin tones--not bad, considering that it costs about $1000 less than the Sony set. Unfortunately, it achieved mixed results in motion-heavy scenes, effortlessly handling scenes from Mission: Impossible 3 and The Dark Knight that often gives other sets problems, but consistently posting subpar scores for detail and sharpness, and rendering one of our motion tests (a scrolling static image of a city) a blurry, jagged mess.
In addition to its motion problems, the 50PK950 displayed a rather grainy image, regardless of the source media we used. The grainy image is a bit more subtle than the motion blurriness and jaggies; but it's always there, and once you notice it you'll see it everywhere you look on-screen.
On the positive side, calibration mavens will appreciate the 20-point white-balance tweaking options, which give you very fine control over your TV's image. Less fussy viewers will have to make do with a handful of preset modes that make the TV look good enough. Either way, the 50PK950 will save each configuration to the input port that you're using, so you can employ different settings for different devices.
The 50PK950 has a handful of easy-access ports on the left side--an HDMI port, two USB ports, and one composite input-- and a full complement in the rear: three HDMI ports, two component inputs, one composite input, one VGA port, an RF connector, a digital optical audio port, and an ethernet port for wired networking. If your house isn't wired for ethernet and you want to use the built-in NetCast features, you'll have to shell out $50 extra for a Wi-Fi adapter that occupies one of the USB ports.
Of course, the USB ports serve primarily to accommodate USB storage devices that you plug into the TV and use to play or display movies, music, and photos, or to combine the latter two into an impromptu slideshow. The built-in menus work well enough, though navigating a long list of files could get tricky with the remote. Unfortunately, this HDTV doesn't support any audio or image formats besides JPEG and MP3.
The included remote is unremarkable.Gripping it feels natural, its button placement doesn't impede your viewing experience, and the inputs are reasonably responsive. Some of the TV's software functions use the colored buttons at the bottom of the remote, which makes operating them feel clumsy.
The 50PK950 is one of LG's NetCast connected TVs, affording access to Netflix; YouTube; HD video rentals from Vudu; online photo albums via Picasa; and access to weather, Twitter, news headlines, and the like through Yahoo Widgets. Hardcore home-theater enthusiasts won't be wowed by the selection, but it's a nice extra for casual owners who don't have an Internet-connected set-top box for their TV.
Setup is fairly easy, though you'll have to take some time at the beginning to update your firmware. Fortunately, all you have to do to perform the update is connect the TV to your network and wait. Once you're up and running, you can stream to your heart's content.
Yahoo Widgets is for people who wish they could change the CNN tickertape to display their Twitter feed instead. So far, the list of options includes widgets for sports scores, financial data, Flickr, video through Yahoo Video, and games like Texas Hold ‘Em and Sudoku. The widgets we tried worked adequately but were a bit slow to respond at times--and frankly, the selection wasn't all that compelling.
YouTube is a pain to navigate via remote, mostly because if you want to watch something that isn't on the front-page portal, you have to type your search query with the number pad (as if you were texting on a cell phone). Also, I couldn't get YouTube videos with 720p or 1080p sources to stream at any higher rate on the set than 480p, which made the video look painfully blurry.