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LG 55LE8500 calibration report/review
Recently, Chris invited me out to Cleveland Plasma to check out the sleek, new LG 55LE8500 LED LCD TV. As the replacement for the mighty LH90 series, I hoped that LG would be able to maintain or refine the core picture quality while giving the cosmetics a welcome facelift.
The LE8500 is indeed one of the thinnest and beautiful designs out there. However, it is surprisingly heavy, which gives it a sense of very high build quality. The front is covered with a glossy sheet of glass, which, while it seems to offer a high level of durability and protection, unfortunately picks up much more distinct reflections than the LH90's matte screen.
LG's latest models have included some of the most thorough calibration adjustments available, and the LE8500 continues that tradition. In addition to the normal picture adjustments, highlights include a switchable 10 point gamma/grayscale adjustment, a partial CMS adjustment that gives level and hue controls for each primary and secondary color, and new customizable TruMotion controls. There are two ISF Expert modes, which can be locked and renamed ISF Day or ISF Night; and two THX modes, called THX Cinema and THX Bright Room.
I began by measuring the LE8500's performance in the THX and ISF modes before making any adjustments. Other modes may be more watchable in some situations, though for the most part these modes give the most accurate picture. They all had an emphasis of green in the grayscale, which can impart a slightly dingy, drab look to the picture. THX Bright room was tuned pretty well for dealing with a lot of ambient light. ISF Expert would be a pretty good choice for an all purpose mode if you do not prefer to switch back and forth between day and night modes.
The LE8500 holds it's color very well off axis, so viewing angle is not as critical as it tends to be on the Sonys and Samsungs I've worked with. With those others, you loose color and contrast if you move to the sides of the couch; with the LE8500 at least the color is maintained. In addition, the LE8500 has the capability of putting out an extremely bright picture with little to no compromise in accuracy. These two characteristics mean the LE8500 will adapt well to a typical living room.
The first performance difference that I observed between the LE8500 and the LH90 was the slight horizontal lines in the LE8500's image, which showed up mostly in bright, large, solid objects. The lines appeared to be divisions between the LED backlight zones, and they were more apparent while an image was being drawn than after the image fully appeared. Most likely a result of an attempt to reduce the faint glowing or haze around objects caused by the limited number of backlight zones, they seemed to do that and more.
I also noticed the LE8500's backlight zones behave differently than the LH90's. The LE8500's firmware is apparently tuned to fully light up each zone when that zone is displaying a bright object no matter what the size; in other words, a solitary bright star in the black night would cause that zone to fully light up. Because of the increased definition between zones caused by the bands, the exact size and shape of the zone manifested itself more plainly. The LH90, on the other hand, tends not to fully illuminate each zone if only a small dot or line is displayed in the zone. It seems to be programmed to need a larger portion of the zone to be occupied with picture content before the zone is fully illuminated. That, combined with the L90's lack of sharp definition between zones, gives the two TVs a very different characteristic in dark and high contrast scenes. These artifacts are the downside to local dimming technology and are the price paid for dark, inky blacks with rich contrast on an LCD. They are only noticeable in a dark room, and overall I feel they are a small price to pay for the great blacks and contrast.
The LE8500 calibrates well, with very accurate color, gamma, and grayscale after calibration (attachment 4). An Eye One Pro or ColorMunki spectro are the least expensive tools that should be used to do a full calibration. The screen can be totally black in areas that are not displaying a picture. The 10 step adjustment and CMS controls work well. Oddly, though, I was able to measure the effects of the CMS control, even though the visible effects on real program material were virtually unnoticeable. That is not the case with the LH90, where relatively small CMS adjustments can have a big impact on perceived fleshtones and colors. I noticed the TruMotion controls, which give separate judder and blur reduction in up to 10 steps, seemed a little quirky. The judder reduction appeared to be all or nothing with my 1080P/24 test material; any setting from 1 through 10 brought on the too-smooth video look, while 0 looked jerky in comparison. I couldn't see any effect with the blur reduction, though I was looking at movie clips rather than fast moving sports. Though this may sound like a disaster, in reality it's more control than the LH90 provided; and I was perfectly satisfied with movement and pans with judder set at 1 and blur near mid point.
Granted, I've pointed out the nit picky problems I often uncover with a TV. I have yet to find a TV that didn't have one or two. What really matters to a videophile is not the little issues, but the big picture. And the big picture is what floored me about the LE8500. What I saw is probably the most three dimensional 2D image I have ever seen! Familiar scenes gave a wonderful impression of depth and dimensionality. Bright images popped out, and there was an excellent sense of contrast. Shadow detail was superb, with dark images neither sinking into black or looking washed out. Skintones were superb, with a realistic but not overdone ruddiness to faces; on the LH90 they looked just a tiny bit yellowish in comparison, though the LH90 is also excellent in this regard. I did notice, however, that there was a little more graininess in the LE8500's image than I usually see. It was soon apparent, after viewing my familiar The Dark Knight and DVE clips, that the LE8500 even beat the giant-killer LH90 in overall depth, pop, and color. While some may believe these differences are due to the glossy screen, I have compared the matte screen LH90 to the glossy Samsung B8500 without the same impressions. I have to admit I still do not like glossy screens, and I am sad to see glare resistant screen of the LH90 go. My gut feeling is that a good bit of the differences I saw were from the different tuning of the LED backlight action.
I came away with an extremely positive impression of the LE8500. While there's always a wish list of improvements, that list seems to sink into the shadows left behind by the superb image. Keep 'em coming, LG!
Note: the calibration reports erroneously list the display as a 47LH90, because I did not close out the calibration session after calibrating the LH90. I calibrated the LE8500 right after the LH90, and the reports are from the 55LE8500.
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