LG first sent us, and several other European reviewers, a version of the new TV back in September 2011. We decided not to publish our review then because we were disappointed by the low contrast ratio and very prevalent clouding that were evident on the prototype.
It wasn't long before we got to the bottom of the story. Instead of using 288 banks of LEDs for backlighting, the LW980 only had 96 individually controllable elements. The change of strategy came down to a question of money, with production costs higher than initially expected.
To make sure we were getting the real deal, we decided to wait until the LW980 actually went on sale before conducting our final review.
Build Quality and DesignThe LW980 that we're reviewing is identical to those that are on sale now. It has Nano Full LED backlighting with 96 separate LED units, around 80 fewer than on the excellent LEX8; of course, we're expecting the results to differ accordingly.
LG hasn't paid as much attention to detail on the outside either, with the frame made of flimsy plastic rather than the LEX8's stylish brushed metal. It's thicker, too, but at 2.8 cm, it's still very slim. Samsung's D7000 and D8000 series TVs are just as thick, but there the LEDs are hidden round the outside, rather than spread out behind the whole screen like on the LW980.
Another annoying change is that the matte display has disappeared in favour of a glossy finish. You might as well have covered your TV with a mirror if it's facing the light, so you need to keep it away from any direct sources.
The whole thing is controlled via a simple, workable menu based around animated icons. Two remotes are included: the first is pretty standard and has backlit buttons, while the second is much smaller and has fewer buttons—it could do with a back button, for instance—and works like a Wiimote. Th 'LG-mote' is great for web browsing.
Speaking of the Internet, the LW980 is compatible with version 1.5 of the DLNA standard and can connect via Ethernet or WiFi to a new Smart TV portal from LG which offers VOD, apps and online services from sites like YouTube, Picasa and others. It's a very rich offering but the fact that the apps take so long to load can be very frustrating. Some take five to ten seconds to get going, and even then are only available in SD. The days of the 'connected television' are still a long way off if this is anything to judge by ...
Glossy panel picks up reflections
You can connect an external storage device like a USB key or hard drive to the USB port, and the built-in media player can access both NTFS and FAT32, meaning you can get files larger than 4 GB. During our tests, it could handle most of our HD videos without a hitch. On the other hand, M2TS, MTS and internal and external subtitles still aren't supported.
Ghosting and Input Lag
The IPS display that LG has chosen for the LW980 is no better than the one in the LW650. We measured a ghosting time of 16.5 ms, which is cutting things pretty fine when you remember that the best of its rivals get that figure down to 8 ms. In concrete terms, that means ghosting will be visible with games. LG hasn't improved the input lag either, meaning this, its top of the range TV, introduces 99 ms of latency before showing an image, a whole six frames. That's far too long for gamers to wait!
Image QualityWith the default settings, the picture is pretty easy on the eye—and is nothing like reality! Fortunately, you can get a more realistic representation of the director's intentions by switching to 'IFS Expert 1' mode.
Colour handling in IFS Expert 1 mode: average deltaE: 2.0
The first big change is that the colour reproduction is accurate, with the deltaE falling to 2. The colour temperature still leaves things looking too blue, at 8000 K instead of 6500 K, and that's something we couldn't fix.
Compared to competition from TVs like the Sony Bravia 55HX923 or the Toshiba Cevo 55ZL1, LG's dynamic backlighting is pretty disappointing. Dark areas where there should be no backlighting aren't situated accurately, and if light areas are nearby, then some of the backlighting leaks across. As a result, we measured average black levels of 0.14 cd/m², giving a contrast ratio of 1400:1. That's far from impressive when other TVs can produce blacks as dark as 0.05 cd/m² without dynamic backlighting.
HD films look quite simply excellent thanks to the TruMotion 400 Hz mode, which is a combination of a 200 Hz refresh rate and a 200 Hz backlight sweep. We recommend switching to user mode, and then setting both Judder and Blur to 0. Although that might seem counter-intuitive, even at zero jerkiness and ghosting are both eliminated so there's no need to go any higher.
Clouding and banding
On the subject of settings, we don't recommend taking the dynamic backlighting beyond 'low', otherwise you'll end up with white areas that are overexposed and lose detail in darker areas. That way, the LEDs are never fully turned off, leaving a small problem with clouding in the corners of the screen. Fortunately, there's no problem with blooming during movies.
The LW980 did prove itself susceptible to banding with some of our test cards, visible as horizontal lines that are darker than other parts of the picture. However, when we tried with actual content, rather than just a static test card, we couldn't pick it out.
Image Quality: 3DSwitching from active to passive technology for 3D viewing has several advantages, but one major disadvantage. In order to cram two pictures into a single frame, the polarisation of each individual line alters so that it can be seen either by the left eye or the right. As a result, the effective resolution is halved from 1920 x 1080 pixels to 1920 x 540 pixels. Furthermore, until you're sitting around three metres back, the 540 black lines are all visible on the screen too.
Once you're sitting in the right place, content that has been converted from 2D to 3D doesn't look great, but with a Blu-ray 3D disc, the results are excellent. You really feel you're watching in three dimensions. The problems are there too, though, including crosstalk, or interference between the signals for each eye, which is nevertheless pretty minimal.
Here's what we saw through the glasses (LG 55LW980 above, Sony HX923 below):
Audio QualityThe LW980 has good quality speakers. The results aren't perfect, but unlike on most other TVs, manage to contain some bass, filling the room with sound. Buying a set of external Home Cinema speakers isn't essential, but will certainly add a little extra.
Energy ConsumptionThere's no other word but 'excellent' when it comes to describing the energy consumption. While switched on, the 55'' TV we reviewed uses around 120 W. On standby, it does even better with a paltry 0.1 W!
- Great picture in 2D and 3D
- Accurate colour reproduction: average deltaE: 2.0
- Powerful TruMotion 400 Hz filter
- Light, comfortable 3D glasses
- Low energy consumption: 120 W
- Slightly disappointing contrast ratio: 1400:1
- Dynamic backlighting is less accurate than we first thought, with 96 banks of LEDs instead of 288
- Some crosstalk visible with 3D content
- Glossy panel can pick up reflections
- Media player doesn't support M2TS or MTS files
More than six months after we first heard about it, the LG LW980 TV is finally something of a disappointment, with dynamic backlighting that isn't really worth the hype, producing contrast ratios that are scarcely much better than Edge LED TVs from the same manufacturer! We're left wondering just what the point is ...