While OLED and massive 4K TVs are on offer from LG this year, its bread-and-butter remains the LCD TV with LED backlighting. The top of the line up this year in this range is the LA8600 series. There are two models available: the 55 and 60 inch versions. Here I have a look at the ‘smaller’ one of the pair.
Fifty five inches comes to 139cm, which is a very large screen. Full HD resolution is on offer, and a reasonably thin border of 10mm around three sides of the picture. The panel is only a hair (literally) over 34mm thick and the stand conforms to the modern ideal of a smoothly curved sweep of metal. It can nonetheless swivel thanks to little wheels underneath the stand.
The panel offers LG’s passive 3D, in which you surrender a little vertical resolution (only with 3D, mind) for virtually ghost-free 3D picture performance, and lightweight eyewear that needs no batteries.
The TV has four HDMI inputs, plus three USB sockets. One of these is USB 3.0, so you can fit a fast hard drive for multimedia playback or the recording of live TV. The TV can actually record a modest amount of live broadcasts to its inbuilt memory (although this is shared with the Smart TV apps, so there’s a trade-off to be made there).
One other connection of note is that the TV now has a 3.5mm analog audio output again, re-instated after its removal last year. That opens to the TV to the use of a wider range of external speakers, should you wish to connect them.
The TV is super smart, with a dual core processor to run it. One of the bugbears of some smart TVs is that they offer high-end computer style functions … without the high-end computer processor to make it move along at a reasonable clip.
I’m pretty used to a lower level Smart LG TV from last year, and while its functions are quite usable, the responsiveness of this one for the most part makes it a pleasure to use.
LG provides some streaming content via the internet, but there’s also the ABC and SBS TV catch-\up services, YouTube, and Bigpond TV. You can watch pay-per-view movies from Bigpond movies as well (Bigpond content is unmetered if that company is your ISP).
There are games, a wide range of apps, social media apps, and even some pay-per-view 3D video content available for streaming (you need pretty fast internet to make that work smoothly).
The organisation of the enormous range of content could be improved a little. LG’s ‘Premium’ category provides a neat shortcut to the TV’s most compelling apps, but it’s not always the first place you’ll look if accustomed to searching for content by genre.
For example, the excellent internet radio app vTuner is sits in Premium alongside the free AFL Game Analyser and Skype (this uses the built-in camera, which slides up to the top of the TV), and pay-stuff like Bigpond movies.
In addition to a regular IR remote control, the third generation of Magic Motion remote is supplied with this TV.
It is an improvement even on last year’s, which was itself very good. Which means that this TV has the best out-of-the-box remote control presently available.
You move the remote and the arrow on the screen moves in response. It is fast to select stuff, and remarkably precise. The only complaint I had was that it sometimes took a stern shake to get it to wake up.
Still, ‘better than the rest’ doesn’t mean perfect. If you’re doing text-heavy smart TV stuff – say, using the web browser or twittering or Facebooking – then you’d do better plugging a mouse and keyboard combo (a wireless one, preferably) into one of the USB sockets. With those the unit became a quite decent web-based terminal.
The Magic Motion remote includes a microphone for issuing voice commands to the TV and it does a reasonable job of understanding words.
It doesn’t strictly control the TV, so you can’t say things like ‘channel up’. It is for use with the Search function and entering search words into the internet search feature. I could say things like ‘ABC TV’, which yielded results for several ABC-related things in the search box (including a Bing internet search), but not the actual ABC free-to-air channels.
Given that the voice recognition was fairly good, it’s a pity it only worked on a word by word basis, so it wasn’t much good at entering text into comment boxes and such.
Again, for significant amounts of text entry, go for a keyboard.
In addition to Skype, the built-in camera (it slides up to peer over the top of the screen) can be used for some motion control (that is, you wave your hands and the TV responds), but this was limited in operation.
You can change TV channels and the volume and inputs, but it cannot be used on the Smart function screens. Which is bit of a pity because it worked reliably, except only for a wait of a couple of seconds for it to bring up the onscreen indicator once you’ve raised your hand to the necessary position.
The TV was very strong on the modern multimedia connectivity.
Miracast works with most recent premium Android phones to allow you to mirror their video playback – indeed, all screen contents – to the TV. Unfortunately this worked optimally with mirroring static screens.
Video and even still photos suffered from reduced resolution and compression effects (smeared colour gradients, for example) and marked stutters during video pans when used with LG’s premium Android phone.
In its favour, Miracast works via WiFi Direct, so you don’t need your home network (nor do you load up an existing one’s bandwidth capacity) to use it.
But if you do have a decent WiFi facility, then for significantly higher quality wireless video playback or photo display from an Android phone it was better just to use the DLNA share facility (whatever it’s called on the particular phone – Smart Share in the case of LG).
Your phone videos and photos can’t look any better, even if you use an MHL (Mobile High-Definition Link) cable instead to connect directly to the TV.
The 3D streaming facility was disappointing, at least in my office, but I can’t bring myself to blame LG for it.
It offers a dozen family-friendly Disney flicks in 3D, from Wreck it Ralph through to John Carter. They are expensive ($6.59 or $7.69 each) and in my setting the picture quality was, well horrible.
I’ve got about 6Mbps via ADSL2+ (that’s about the video bitrate of a well done DVD). The trailers I tested were pretty soft, but colourful and nicely deep in their 3D and so quite watchable … until any kind of moderate movement occupied a large part of the screen. Then they became awfully blocky.
It reminded me a bit of what YouTube used to be like four years ago.
When we’re all on 25Mbps links I suspect this will be a viable way of watching, and indeed might be the case already for those with access to such fat internet connections.
The free iOS/Android app not only controls the TV, but can act as a second screen, showing what’s on the TV (free-to-air broadcasts only).
As a regular 3D TV, the 55LA8600 was excellent. The blacks were deep, the colours bold and accurate, and the thin border around the image often made it seem as though the picture were simply floating in space.
There was a little subtle inconsistency in the blacks in extremely dark pictures when watched in a dark room, but that was about it for performance limitations (having tweaked the ‘Sharpness’ control way down).
LG doesn’t actually say whether the TV is backlit or edge lit. The thin panel suggests the latter, but the performance suggests the former.
Using a test pattern with bright white circles on a black background resulted in an even glow around the dots, suggestive of the use of an array of LED backlights, but it could possibly be an extremely well-engineered edge LED system.
Either way, the important thing was the results, which was that the TV allows fairly accurate differential lighting of different parts of the screen, which is important for the dark scenes in many movies.
The 3D was up to LG’s usual extremely high standards with objects appearing properly rounded and the depth of the image popping nicely.
Banishing 3D ghosts almost guarantees a high level of 3D performance. But the reduced vertical resolution in this mode meant that just occasionally there was a perceptible loss in detail, and some slightly jagged diagonals.
Dual Play and audio performance
The flip side of this is that LG can pull some interesting tricks. The TV comes with a ‘Dual Play’ gaming mode and two pairs of glasses to match.
If you’re playing a dual player game on the Xbox 360 or PS3 (or whatever) which has split player views, one at the top and one at the bottom, this mode stretches both of these views to the full screen height, but displays each to only one of the two eyes.
Or that’s what it would do if you were wearing 3D glasses.
But one of the Dual Play glasses only allows the left eye view to be seen by both eyes, while the other pair does the reverse. The net result is that each player sees their view, and only their view, occupying the whole screen (albeit, vertically stretched).
The TV has a 2.1 channel speaker system. As is the case with many modern panel TVs, the wonder isn’t that the sound produced is great, but that it isn’t all that horrible. It was quite serviceable for watching the TV news and daytime TV.
If you’re going to enjoy a HD movie, I’d strongly recommend that you connect just about any sound system for an improvement in quality.
If you have a home theatre receiver you can use optical digital audio out, or even the Audio Return Channel of a HDMI cable on recent models.
With the 55LA8600, LG has maintained its position in the front rank of quality LCD LED televisions.