LG has joined that other Korean TV goliath – Samsung  – by introducing its own ‘Smart TV’ models, with 12 new plasma, LED backlit and LCD sets providing web browsing, internet TV channels, movies on-demand, apps and passive 3D viewing via cheap glasses similar to those used at the cinema. Pricing starts at $1699 for a (non-3D) 50 inch PZ570 plasma and top out at $4999 for the 55 inch LW9500 LED backlit model with Cinema 3D.

Web-based content for the Smart TVs include the streaming video from BigPond TV and BigPond Movies service present on select sets since mid-2010, BigPond’s NRL and AFL Game Analyser services, plus catch-up TV from Yahoo7 and select sports channels from Fox Sports. The latter is unique to LG which, like Samsung, also offers a HDTV app store from which you can download extra content as it becomes available. There’s the usual Twitter, YouTube and Facebook offerings here, plus assurances that the current library will grow over time.

While we’ve had ‘connected’ TVs for three years now, they provide entrée to only a walled garden of content – not the ability to roam unfettered across the web, just as you would on a PC. Only a Smart TV allows this, and to make browsing easier LG offers its Magic Motion controller. This works like a Wii Motion Controller, allowing you to simply point at the screen to select where you want to go and what you want to do. This makes back/forward, closing tabs or selecting bookmarked sites a doddle, but is of little assistance when entering text for searches. Here, the QWERTY still rules.

Passive 3D

While most TV nameplates are talking down 3D as last year’s technology story, LG has really struck on something good with the Cinema 3D feature in its LW series of Smart TVs: it’s cheaper to implement than active shutter technology and delivers comparable results, with none of the downsides.

The key to this performance is ‘film patterned retarder’ (FPR), a thin film that overlays the TV screen and polarises light from the onscreen image into two different views. Because each lens in the glasses has a different polarisation, only one image view is seen by each eye, with the brain merging the two to create a 3D effect.

It’s similar technology to that used by commercial cinemas, and you can in fact use the RealD 3D glasses you get with your cinema 3D ticket to watch LG’s passive 3D televisions. Alternatively, you can purchase two pairs for $19, which is much cheaper than the $100-200 charged for active shutter glasses.

The polarised glasses are far lighter than active shutter models, and don’t need to be charged before use. There is no flicker either, and no drop-off in image brightness when wear the glasses. In fact, our first viewings were surprisingly impressive, with side-by side tests against active shutter models showing a brighter picture overall, super-wide off-axis viewing angles and realistic 3D effects.

And addressing the major complaint against passive 3D when it first showed at the 2011 CES in Las Vegas, LG claimed at the Australian launch that images ARE presented in full HD, meaning no loss of picture detail.

With Cinema 3D, LG goes a long way to addressing the limitation of 3D technology, and also makes it more affordable – at $10 a pair, you can actually afford to invite family and friends around to share 3D sport and movies. And in the absence of native 3D programming, LG’s 2D-to-3D conversion does a decent job of creating a third dimension from plain ole vanilla 2D vision to vastly expand your 3D viewing options.

Could this mean that active shutter technology might have only a limited lifespan? Possibly, especially if consumers start voting with their wallets. Alternatively, home cinema purists may adopt it as their preferred option. Only time will tell.

LG Smart TV pricing:

LW Series – Cinema 3D, Smart TV LED and LCD

  • 55″ LW9500 – $4,999
  • 65″ LW6500 – $4,999
  • 55″ LW6500 – $3,299
  • 47″ LW6500 – $2,499
  • 42″ LW6500 – $1,999

LV Series – Smart TV, LED and LCD

  • 55″ LV5500 – $2,499
  • 47″ LV5500 – $1,999
  • 42″ LV5500 – $1,499

PZ Series – Smart TV, plasma

  • 60″ PZ950 – $2,899
  • 50″ PZ950 – $1,999
  • 60″ PZ570 – $2,599
  • 50″ PZ570 – $1,699