If you’re looking for a very thin 40- to 42-inch HDTV that will fit seamlessly into a minimalist design, the 42-inch LG 42LE5500 might capture your fancy. This LED-backlit LCD HDTV ($1400 as of October 8, 2010) is just 1.2 inches thick. The 1080p, 120Hz 42LE5500 produces indifferent but not awful picture quality, and the TV comes with a fantastically light and comfortable remote.
The LG 42LE5500 sports a shiny black bezel with a very faint hint of purple on the outer edges. It sits on a plain, black rectangular stand (the hint of purple recurs on the neck of the stand). When you turn the set on, a number of lights—for channels, volume, Enter, menu, input, power controls, and the LG logo—appear along the bottom part of the bezel. These remain lit briefly and then disappear.
The lights on the bottom (except for the logo) indicate the locations of corresponding touch buttons. To get them to reappear after they vanish, simply tap beneath the words (they’re labeled in a very tiny font). The lights are soft and not at all distracting; and when you aren’t using the touch buttons, only the logo and power button remain lit. Another option lets you turn off this lighting completely (the controls will reappear if you tap the unlit power button).
Unfortunately, most of the ports on the 42LE5500’s incredibly thin stand are located on the back surface, and any wires you attach to them will stick out perpendicular to the screen, an undesirable complication for wall-mounting. A few ports—including a couple of mini-jacks (LG provides conversion cables) to preserve the thinness of the screen—are located parallel to the screen. The side ports consist of two USB ports, two component mini-jacks, a headphone jack, and an HDMI port. The ports on the back include two component-in sets, an A/V-In set, three HDMI ports, a wireless port, a LAN port, a video-in, an RS232C-in, and an antenna/cable port that faces downward (parallel to the screen).
The remote is long, thin, and shiny, and it features a big control pad and a finger rest on the back. The remote is light and very comfortable to hold, thanks in part to a well-placed finger rest (a finger-size indentation beneath the volume and channel buttons).
The remote has buttons at the top to control the remote backlight, to access energy-saving mode and A/V mode, and to change the input. Surrounding the control pad are dedicated buttons for Menu, Back, Exit, Quick Menu, Widgets, and NetCast.
Turning on the 42LE5500 for the first time launches a startup wizard that sets the clock, language, mode (home or demo), and tuning for channels. Establishing a network connection is reasonably straightforward, but my first pass at it required a software update. Luckily the download was only a couple of minutes long, and rebooting took no time at all. After that, I simply pressed the NetCast button on the remote to start LG’s NetCast and chose my city to get the relevant weather information.
NetCast comes preloaded with five applications: Netflix, Picasa, Vudu, Yahoo Widgets (also accessible via the dedicated Widgets button), and YouTube.
If you’re disappointed by the paucity of Internet apps, you can head on over to the Game section (via the Menu), which offers a number of simple games such as Sudoku and Whack-A-Mole.
Pressing the Menu button on the remote brings up a transparent grid of options, including Channel (for auto-tuning), Picture, Audio, Time, Option, and Network. Though LG dims the rest of the screen when the grid comes up, the grid’s transparency makes it a little hard to read anyway. If you have anything complicated on the screen (such as a Blu-ray Disc menu), you’ll have a tough time navigating the initial on-screen menu.
Pressing the Quick Menu button brings up a wheel of shortcuts, including Aspect Ratio, Picture Mode, Sound Mode, and Sleep Timer. The wheel remains in a transparent grid, but the wheel and its associated text are on a solid background that makes them pretty easy to navigate and read.
In addition to various preset picture modes, LG provides a Picture Wizard that walks you through all the steps of calibrating your HDTV for optimum picture quality. The preset picture modes include Cinema, Game, Intelligent Sensor (which automatically adjusts image brightness in response to the level of ambient light surrounding the TV), Sport, Standard, and Vivid. LG also sets aside two slots, called Expert1 and Expert2, where you can save advanced custom settings.
In every mode except Intelligent Sensor, you can play with the image quite a bit. You can tweak backlight, contrast, brightness, sharpness, color, tint, and temperature; and you also have access to Advanced Control, for adjusting the gamma, black level, noise reduction, and skin color setting (among other things). The Expert1 and Expert2 modes extend your options even further, with controls for H and V sharpness, and an Expert Control panel where for tweaking the red, blue, and green contrast; red, blue, and green brightness; and full-color management system.
Overall, in our juried testing, the 42LE5500 finished closer to average than above average. A scene from Mission Impossible III showed a bit of shimmering in a brick wall (though nothing so drastic as bricks jumping back and forth), and a slight halo around Tom Cruise as he ran up that brick wall.
In our horizontal and diagonal panning tests, we noted some minor blur and flicker. The 42LE5500 performed relatively well in our Phantom of the Opera (DVD upconversion) tests; in the scenes we played, the HDTV generated nice, bright skin tones and only slight artifacting. Viewing this set from an angle isn’t especially unpleasant: The images lose brightness, but their colors and contrast say fairly true.
LG supplies five preset audio modes: Standard, Music, Cinema, Sport, and Game. It doesn’t offer a Clear Voice mode, but you can turn on Clear Voice for any preset mode and then adjust it on a scale of -6 to 6. Otherwise, audio is fairly standard. You can adjust the balance, treble, and bass—and nothing else. The built-in speakers are acceptably loud, though the audio is generally flat and lacks depth.
The 42LE5500 comes with a skimpy 37-page physical manual, but LG bundles a disc containing a much more extensive (198-page) PDF manual that is nicely illustrated and walks you through the steps for setting up the perfect picture to suit your needs.
Though the LG 42LE5500 is far from perfect, and its picture quality is merely average out of the box, it does has a rather astonishing number of picture controls—and after playing with a couple of them, I found that the picture quality had improved somewhat. Still, for a pedestrian HDTV with minimal internet applications the 42LE5500 is rather expensive. Check the competition before you commit to buy any HDTV.
[For details on our testing method, and a description of what our lab results mean, read “How we test HDTVs”.]