A good plasma TV can transform your home cinema into an experience that rivals that of the movies. The subtle colours and deep blacks they offer form a contrast to the bright and vibrant world of the LED TV.
They aren’t cheap, though: a top of the line Panasonic, Samsung or Philips is going to set you back well over a grand. LG thinks it can do differently with its 50PM970T. So how does it handle? Is this the door to affordable big-screen plasma? Or are you better off looking elsewhere?
For the most part, television design has gone the route of the smartphone. Making everything thinner and more compact appears to be the order of the day. The LG is no exception, measuring just 1168 x 765 x 297, which for a 50-inch plasma is fairly impressive.
But who watches their TV from its side? Unless you prefer your Top Gear with a side of squashed Clarkson, we doubt many. So then, it is thin, but does that really matter?
To us, what keeps a set exciting is the size of its bezel. The smaller, the better the illusion that the image on the television is floating. It's a trick that Samsung is a fan of and one which is particularly impressive upon first glance.
Sadly, the LG doesn’t manage it. Its bezel certainly is thin, but not as impressive as some of the more expensive competition. To be fair, getting a bezel smaller on a plasma set is incredibly difficult.
Wrapped around the screen is a top-notch black brushed-metal edge. It looks great and, particularly when watching the TV in a dark room, frames the image nicely. We personally prefer a black border to our image than the shiny silver approach of some other sets, but that's a very personal thing, and everyone feels differently about it.
The set has a simple yet sturdy stand below, which looks good without offering some of the design wizardry of LG’s other televisions.
If you are going in for a 50-inch plasma set, chances are you hope to use it as part of a home cinema set-up. This means lots of connectivity options are crucial.
With the 970T, you get four HDMI connections, two on the back and two on the side. Then there is a pair of USB slots, a component, a scart, an RF in and an AV in. There is an optical out, component in, RGB in, PC audio in, LAN and a CL slot.
Enough connectivity choices? We do wonder what the back of the set would look like should you have something plugged into every one of its multiple slots.
The set also uses DLNA and Wi-Fi, to ensure you can send as much content as possible to your screen. Built in Wi-Fi also means you can connect straight to your home network to interact with Smart TV content, but we will talk about that later.
We aren’t massive fans of dazzling you with numbers here at Pocket-lint, but for those who want to know, the LG has a claimed contrast ratio of 5 million to 1, with a 600Hz sub field drive.
What does this translate to? In practice, the possibility of a fantastic picture, but one that lies behind quite a painstaking set-up process.
You see the LG 50PM970T has an incredible sweet spot, it just takes a long time to find. For those who want things like motion smoothing and noise reduction, it is here, but you won’t be getting anywhere near the image quality this television is capable of producing.
Fiddle with the settings enough - you could go straight in for the game mode as it turns off image processing - and the LG looks fantastic. We got a balanced, clean and detailed image that was very good indeed when viewing HD content. Whether as good as the more expensive Samsung and Panasonic options, we aren’t so sure. But it's close enough that those who pick up the LG won’t think they have miss-invested.3D is also good on the set and mostly free from ghosting and judder. For those with the content, 3D Blu-ray takes a good advantage of the set's HD capabilities.
The real issue we have with the LG’s picture relates to its matte screen. During the day, it does a fantastic job of getting rid of reflections. The knock-on effect of this however is that it loses a lot of contrast and colour. White in particular takes a big hit, appearing grey and muddy. This sort of negates the need for the matte screen, because if the only way to get a great picture from the LG is to put it in a dark room we would rather it wasn’t there.
Don’t let this put you off though, as we have already said, for those who put the time in to set things up right, they will find a very good viewing experience can be had with the LG.
Smart TV content
Thankfully all that setting-up is done through LG’s excellent Smart TV menus. The set ships with the LG Magic Remote, essentially a Wii nunchuck with which to control your television set.
It sounds clunky, but it isn’t. The remote is a nifty piece of kit which is simple yet functional. You get a cursor on screen to scroll through menus, as well as grab and move about apps on the LG Smart TV home page.
Having become accustomed to all the major manufacturers' Smart TV offerings, we have to say, LG’s seems easily the most logical. It steals a bit from Mac OS X, giving you a customisable app drawer. You can operate the entire TV with just one button on the remote and a cursor on the screen. It isn’t the quickest way of doing things, but we like its laid-back feel.
Despite being thin, the speakers in the LG pack quite a punch. Again set-up is key here to get the most out of them, but nail things and you get a detailed and bassy sound.
Most will likely be hooking up the LG to a set of speakers, but it's nice to know that even without, its audio experience matches the picture.
So then, all in all a good plasma set at a decent price: £1,049 for a top of the line 50-inch plasma is definitely a persuasive offer.
The problem with the set is, if you can do a bit of saving, televisions not that much more expensive can make for an astounding viewing experience. If it has to be a plasma, Samsung’s 51-inch E8000 is around £1,450 and very good indeed.
Don’t be put off though, once set up, LG’s 50PM970T is a plasma to be proud of. Throw in the intuitive controls and a decent 3D picture and you have a package that is well worth looking at.