Flat TVs are hot products this summer thanks to the World Cup, and the big brands are shedding the pounds in preparation. None more so than this 50-inch plasma from LG, which defies tradition by slimming down to almost LED-like proportions.
It’s a giddy design indeed, which sees a single pane of glass sweep across the entire front, complete with a TruBlack screen covering that’s designed to cut-out any glare. Previous versions of this design have caused some unwanted side effects - notably some double images behind that covering - but we didn’t notice anything of the kind on this model.
Despite its super-svelte size, LG has managed to squeeze in a Freeview HD tuner, not that you’d know it when you switch the TV on. Tuning-in to digital channels in seconds, there’s no mention of free high-def, and not a Freeview HD logo in sight, but the key HD broadcasts from the BBC, ITV and Channel 4 are all there on the 8-day electronic programme guide.
It’s all very simple to use thanks to the remote - or, should we say, remotes. That’s right; following Samsung’s lead, LG provides a backlit Mother Ship remote and a smaller, lighter handheld for indulging in the simple stuff, like changing channels and volume. Arguably the main remote is too long and rather flimsy, though the rubber material for the buttons is welcome, as is a logical design and generously large controls.
And generous is a good way to describe the 50PK990’s backyard, which is stuffed with ins and outs. A total of four HDMI inputs (one on the side) is accompanied by an Ethernet LAN (a Wi-Fi dongle is also available) and a Common Interface slot (useful if Top-Up TV adds Sky Sports channels), while on the screen’s left is a brace of USB 2.0 ports.
The latter is a hint at the 50PK990’s ambitions with digital media. Able to play DivX and WMV video files, those USB slots can also display DivX HD files. If that’s impressive, it gets better; the software that handles digital files is quite superb - nicely designed, simple and fast - while the quality of the high-def files, especially, is awesome.
The one downside is music; although, again, the software is excellent (pictures can be viewed while you listen to MP3s) for music, the audio from the TV’s speakers is underwhelming.
Also worth shelving for now is the NetCast feature. Like the other brands’ early attempts at broadband TV, its time will come, but the provision of Picasa, YouTube and AccuWeather just isn’t enough to hold our attention.
The all-important picture quality is much more involving. Most TV’s preset picture modes can leave colours and detail off-kilter, but LG kindly supplies an effective THX Cinema mode that puts this set’s 600Hz tech to great use, though arguably there are plasmas out there with deeper black levels. It’s hard to argue with the colour, which helps create dizzying realism and depth, helped out by the almost total lack of blur. Take that, LED.
The LG 50PK990 is a stunningly well-featured screen that puts plasma back on the map; it’s not quite reference-level, but with Freeview HD, DivX HD, Bluetooth and NetCast, this 50-inch is more media centre than movie mogul.