Geek Gifts 2012: LG 50PZ550 50-inch 3D plasma TV

If you're shopping for a 3D plasma TV for your home entertainment center, Wally Bahny makes a solid case for why the LG 50PZ550 50-inch is worthy of your consideration.

The LG 50PZ550 is a 50-inch 3D ready plasma TV that provides a great value picture for the price. I recently purchased one as part of a home entertainment upgrade (along with an LG BD670 3D Blu-ray player, an HD DVR from Comcast, and a new entertainment stand). Equipped with four HDMI ports and two each of component and composite as well as a pair of USB ports, this LG TV makes a great centerpiece for a home entertainment center.

The TV not only supports 3D image rendering from 3D sources but also dynamically renders 2D sources into a 3D image. At my first opportunity, I had to try this out. My first test was from a basic HD TV signal. I was heartily surprised to find that the TV did indeed render some depth to the program. We purchased Disney's Beauty and the Beast in the Diamond Edition, which includes a 3D Blu-ray, a 2D Blu-ray, a DVD, and a digital copy, and I began a test to compare the native 3D from the 3D Blu-ray against a rendered 3D from both the 2D Blu-ray and the DVD. (For this test, I defined a couple of terms to describe my experience; I'm not sure if these are standard terms.) The native 3D was the best looking; it had "depth" (i.e., objects appearing behind the surface of the screen) and "reach" (i.e., objects appearing in front of the surface of the screen). Comparatively, both the 2D Blu-ray and the DVD in rendered 3D only had depth without any reach. Also, the DVD was noticeably grainier than the Blu-ray. (Blu-ray has six times the pixels as DVD, so that was not a surprise.)

The 50PZ550's other features include NetCast Entertainment Access, the ability to view media from a USB flash drive, and Simplink (LG's implementation of HDMI-CEC that allows one device to control another device via HDMI cable). I was unable to test the network services on the TV (because my Internet source is too far away to run a cable, and I did not purchase the optional wireless adapter) but I was able to test LG's similar services with the LG BD670 3D Blu-ray player. The USB functionality works well enough, although the TV could not decode the audio in a QuickTime video.

One of the main reasons I chose this model of TV was its exceptionally high rating in Consumer Reports. It scored 82 out of 100 on the overall rating, suffering mainly in the "sound quality" (which most flat panels do) and "on-screen menu ease-of-use" categories. It ranked third last year in the 3D plasma category behind TVs (and ahead of TVs) that were much more expensive.

Product specifications and features

  • Screen size: 50-inch (model series also available in 60-inch)
  • Refresh rate: 600 MHz
  • Resolution: 1080P
  • Contrast ratio: 3,000,000:1
  • Inputs: Rear: 3 HDMI, 2 Component, 1 Composite, CATV, VGA; Side: 1 HDMI, 1 Composite, 2 USB. (Composite and Component inputs are "shared" -- i.e., you can't have Composite 1 and Component 1 connected at the same time.)
  • Output: Digital Optical Audio
  • Network: TV is wired network ready and has an optional, add-on wireless adapter for NetCast and other online services.
  • 3D: Active Shutter 3D, 2D to 3D conversion
  • Price: $1099.99 MSRP (purchased at $899.99)
  • Where to buy: Find an online retailer or a store near you that sells this model.

What I like

  • Picture quality: This model's image quality and clarity is very fine. Then again, I'm comparing it to my old analog, rear-projection TV.
  • HDMI ports: Several TVs I looked at only had one or two HDMI ports. Four HDMI ports was a minimum for me.
  • 3D: I was surprised at the TV's capability to render 3D on the fly from a 2D source. The only flaw is that it had "depth" without having "reach" (meaning the objects displayed at the screen were the objects closest to the viewer). 3D imagery rendered from a 3D Blu-ray player (like the LG BD670 I also reviewed) or a streaming source such as an HD cable box or a site like VUDU rendered as you would expect 3D to render (both depth and reach).
  • Plasma: Due to the arrangement of my living room, it was necessary to have a wide viewing angle, thereby ruling out LCD.
  • Simplink: Simplink is LG's implementation of HDMI-CEC that allows for commands to be passed from the TV to the Blu-ray player and vice versa. Simplink is supposedly compatible with other manufacturers' implementations of HDMI-CEC, but I don't have another manufacturer's device to test that theory.

What I don't like

  • Active Shutter: Many people have a hard time with Active Shutter 3D technology (headaches, etc.). I, fortunately, am not one of those people. I would have, however, preferred a newer technology that doesn't cause such issues for people. (Of course, if I had spent more money on a TV, I could have gotten a more current 3D technology that is less likely to cause headaches for others.)
  • 3D viewing distance: I'm not sure if it's a function of the TV size or the current home 3D technology, but the 3D renders best when the viewer is about six feet away from the screen. My normal viewing distance is 10-12 feet away, so I had to make arrangements to get the optimal 3D experience.

Geek bottom line

If you're looking for a reasonably priced baseline 3D TV, the LG 50PZ550 is definitely a model to consider. LG makes a good, solid product, and it shows with the image quality and clarity offered by this TV. Pair this TV with a Blu-ray player, like the LG BD670, and you have the beginnings of a great home entertainment system.

Geek Gift Score (out of 5)

  • Fun factor: *****
  • Geek factor: ****
  • Value: *****
  • Overall: *****

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