LG Electronics 42LB1DR LCD HDTV 
Home Theater Flat Panel HDTVs LCD HDTVs
Written by Adrienne Maxwell   
Thursday, 01 June 2006

The old saying is true: There’s no such thing as a free lunch … or a free DVR. Okay, maybe I added that last part, but it’s worth mentioning. In one way or another, you will pay for the wonderful convenience of time-shifting, be it a lump sum for an external box, a monthly service fee from your cable or satellite provider, or both. A few television manufacturers have decided to try a new approach: build the DVR into the TV itself. It lessens the number of boxes and cables in your equipment rack, and – if said TV is an HDTV – it allows you to record high-definition content without confronting copy-protection issues.

LG Electronics is one such manufacturer; their 2006 TV line includes six models with internal DVRs (four plasmas and two LCD HDTVs). Screen sizes range from 42 to 60 inches, and each model uses the free TV Guide On Screen user interface. I took a look at the new 42LB1DR ($3,400), a 42-inch LCD with a 1366 x 768 resolution, built-in HDTV and Clear QAM tuners, a CableCARD slot and a 160-gigabyte DVR capable of storing 15 hours of HDTV or 66 hours of SDTV.

The 42LB1DR has a healthy number of video inputs: two HDMI, two component, one RGB, two S-video, two composite video and two RF. The remote doesn’t have dedicated input buttons to switch to each input; press the solitary input button and an input list appears onscreen, highlighting the ones that are actually in use. Seldom is the RF input the first one I look at when reviewing a TV, but in this case, it’s one of the most important, as the internal DVR only records signals input through the two RF connections. Why buy this model and not utilize the DVR-equipped inputs? Regarding this, I’m going to spend more time discussing set-up and use through the RF inputs than I normally would.

Like me, LG is betting that the RF inputs will see a lot of use, and they’ve done a fine job of developing an intuitive set-up process and user interface. It takes only a few steps to get up and running. I began with a basic set-up, connecting my Terk HDTVi indoor antenna to one RF input, plugging in the LG’s power cord, and turning on the unit. Upon start-up, I was taken directly to the TV Guide On Screen setup screen, which asked some basic questions about my system in order to begin the process of downloading channel and program info. After this was complete, the TV asked if I wanted to run an “EZ Scan” to tune in channels through my antenna. The scanning process is much quicker than many tuners and tells you how many channels it finds during the process. In conjunction with my antenna, this LG tuner picked up more over-the-air channels than any TV tuner I’ve used to date, including all of the major HDTV channels in my areas. It also did a great job locking on to the stations to give me a consistent picture. The “Channel Edit” function in the LG’s menu kindly divides the tuned channels into TV, DTV, CATV and CADTV; since I began only with over-the-air programming, all of the channels were grouped into either the TV or DTV submenu. Within each, you can easily remove channels from the TV’s memory, so you don’t have to waste time surfing stations you don’t want.

Next, I connected my digital cable signal to the second RF input by splitting the signal coming into the house, feeding one directly into my HD cable box in my living room and the other directly to the LG HDTV in my office. Because this TV has a Clear QAM tuner for digital cable signals, it captured all of my cable channels up to channel 99 (including higher-tiered channels like Comedy Central, CNN, and ESPN), my MusicChoice music-only channels, and even my local HDTV channels. This gave me another room of digital and HD cable without needing another box and it enabled me to use the internal DVR with a lot more channels than an ordinary QAM tuner would (you can’t record the music-only channels). The TV groups these channels into the CATV and CADTV submenus; the numbering system is a bit awkward, so you’ll need to spend some time exploring and removing channels.

One small ergonomic feature that I absolutely loved, and haven’t seen with any other TV tuner, is that the LG intuitively responds when you begin to enter a channel via the remote’s number grid. For instance, when I typed “2,” the TV pulled up a list of every channel 2 in the system, be it digital, analog or cable. It lists the HDTV channel first, so it’s quick and easy to jump to the desired channel. While on the subject of ergonomic perks, this TV also has automatic aspect-ratio detection to correctly size 4:3 and 16:9 content.

The DVR automatically begins backing up content, so you can immediately use the pause, rewind and record functions. The buffer for live TV is a healthy 60 minutes, compared to only 30 with most popular DVR models on the market. The HDTV’s remote includes transport controls for DVR and DVD use; their placement near the top of the remote isn’t very intuitive, but at least the play, pause and chapter-forward buttons glow in the dark (the rest of the remote buttons do not). You can hear the recorder when forwarding or rewinding content, and you may occasionally hear it reset itself when not in use. The onscreen menu lets you turn off the DVR if you find this distracting.

In order for TV Guide On Screen system to access program info, you must turn off the TV for a while. It took about five hours to obtain the program info for my area. Once that info is in place, you can use the TV Guide On Screen menu to surf channels, search for programming and schedule one-time or repeat recordings. The newest version of TV Guide On Screen kindly marks every high-def program with an “HD,” lets you choose regular or weekly repeat recordings and gives you a ton of start- and stop-time options. It didn’t group all of the HDTV channels together in the program grid, but you can do this manually through the set-up menu.

The “X Studio Pro” button on the remote brings up a navigation menu that serves as a good launching pad for everyday use. It tells you how much space remains on the hard drive for both HD and SD material and it includes five navigation options: TV Guide pulls up the program grid; Recorded TV pulls up a list of your recorded content, with thumbnail images of the programs (a design that looks strikingly similar to the user interface that comes with Panasonic DVRs); Schedule tells you what’s scheduled to be recorded; Manual Record; and TV Menu, which takes you to the TV’s general set-up menu.

A/V Adjustments
Let’s talk about that set-up menu, as it features many options to tailor the video and audio to your room and tastes. For each input, you can choose from seven picture modes: three presets for Daylight, Normal and Night Time; two user modes in which you can adjust the controls for brightness, contrast, color, sharpness and tint; and two Expert modes that are set closer to videophile standards and can’t be altered. In the preset and user modes, you can also choose a cool, medium or warm color temperature or go one step further and adjust the individual red, green and blue controls to match your exact taste. That’s a lot of options for a flat panel. The component and HDMI inputs default to the Expert 1 picture mode, a darker mode with subdued but accurate colors. The sharpness control is set rather high in this mode, creating visible edge enhancement, so I opted for a user mode instead. With test patterns from the “Video Essentials” (DVD International) and “HDTV Calibration Wizard” (Monster) DVDs as my guide, I adjusted the video parameters for both the HDMI and component video inputs. I should note that a bit of edge enhancement was still visible, even with the sharpness control set to zero. For the RF inputs, I also selected user modes and eyeballed the adjustments for contrast, brightness, etc. The TV’s onscreen menu covers a good portion of the screen; it’s translucent, but making video adjustments was still a bit of a challenge.

One feature that’s surprisingly absent is an adjustable backlight, a now-common inclusion on many LCDs that lets you alter the TV’s overall light output to improve brightness or black level. The 42LB1DR does have a basic black-level setting for the HDMI input that you can set to high, low or auto, but this really only affects brightness within the TV’s existing light output. This TV features LG’s XD Engine video processing, which allows it to automatically adjust contrast, color and noise, depending on the image. The default setting for XD is auto, and you can’t disable it if you use one of the preset picture modes. If you select a user mode, you can set it for manual and turn each individual setting (contrast, color, noise) on or off. I turned off all three settings, as I prefer to set up a TV exactly how I want it and not deal with constantly shifting parameters.

On the audio end, you can choose between six sound modes: Normal, Stadium, News, Music, Theater and a user mode that lets you alter treble and bass and turn on the SRS TruSurround XT or 3D EchoSound pseudo-surround modes. Two thin front speakers reside to the sides of the TV screen and two additional speakers rest on the back panel for the simulated surround sound. The speakers are robust enough for a smaller room, but I had to push the volume to fill my large living room. If you want to send audio, like the Dolby Digital 5.1 track in an over-the-air HDTV signal, to an external A/V receiver, an optical digital audio output is available on the back panel and LG has included a menu setting to turn off the TV’s audio system.

Television and Movies
The 42LB1DR’s image quality was fairly consistent from input to input, with some minor variances. Detail is usually the first thing to jump out at me when I look at an LCD flat panel, and the LG doesn’t disappoint in this area. The picture isn’t as razor-sharp as a 32-inch LCD, but it’s detailed enough to clearly render all the gory details in CBS’s 1080i “CSI” broadcast or the crowd faces in an ABC 720p broadcast of NBA basketball. The “Video Essentials” resolution test pattern shows that the TV can render all of the detail in DVD sources.

The second thing that usually jumps out at me – and sometimes even blinds me – is brightness. Like most LCDs, this TV has ample brightness to watch programs in a well-lit room, but it’s not excessively bright. And, like most LCDs, the 42LB1DR sacrifices some black level in the process. Blacks are somewhat gray, but the detail in blacks is good. Overall, the 42LB1DR strikes a good balance between brightness and black level that suits it for multiple viewing conditions. Darker content, like the opening battle sequence in the pilot episode of “Firefly” (20th Century Fox Home Entertainment), had solid depth in a dark room, yet was still visible in a bright one.

It’s not uncommon to see exaggerated color in an LCD, but the 42LB1DR avoids this temptation. In Chapter Three from “Kill Bill, Volume 1” (Buena Vista Home Entertainment), colors were rich without looking unnaturally vibrant. Greens, in particular, can border on cartoonish, but the outfield grass in ESPN’s “Sunday Night Baseball” 720p broadcast was not oversaturated. With both DVD and HDTV sources, skintones looked accurate, with no red push.

The combination of good color, detail and contrast makes for a generally attractive picture through higher-end inputs like component and HDMI, and the upconversion of standard-definition TV signals is done fairly well. SD images are obviously softer, but this TV produces less upconversion artifacts than many I’ve seen. Through the RF inputs, HDTV looks very good, but the SDTV channels don’t fare as well.

The Downside
Certain performance issues, such as viewing angle, screen uniformity and motion blur, are common to LCD HDTVs. To address the viewing-angle issue, LG uses the new Super In-Plane Switching LCD technology in the 2006 LCDs. This is the second Super IPS LCD I’ve looked at, and it has the same interesting dichotomy. The technology does create a much wider viewing angle with normal to brightly lit scenes; however, with darker scenes, the picture loses saturation even 45 degrees off-axis, and parts of the screen look purple at that angle. I could also see a bit of light spill around the screen’s edges, where the LCD’s backlight makes itself known.

Motion blur is evident during faster-moving scenes. In Chapter Seven of the “HDTV Calibration Wizard” DVD, a white cue ball rolls quickly across a pool table. With this TV, the ball’s shape is more oblong than round, as a white blur trails behind the ball. Likewise, in my 720p NBA demo, the detail that allowed me to make out the faces in the background vanished whenever the camera panned across the arena.

I like my digital displays to look as un-digital as possible; I don’t want to see pixilation or shimmering in solid colors and grays. This often occurs because a TV doesn’t have the dynamic range to smoothly render every step from white to black. The 42LB1DR’s image isn’t as noisy as some LCDs I’ve reviewed, but it doesn’t render deeper colors and grays as cleanly as I’d like. In Chapter 10 of “Ladder 49” (Buena Vista Home Entertainment), our hero Jack moves through a dark, smoky room as he tries to rescue a young girl. The smoke hangs a layer of gray over the entire image. With this TV, some areas within the smoke looked more like digital pixels than actual smoke. The same was true with the solid red seat in Chapter Eight of “Kill Bill.” I found that the image was slightly smoother through the component video input than through HDMI, and turning on the XD Noise feature helps a little. HDTV signals through the RF inputs had even less noise.

Lastly, there’s the small matter of deinterlacing. Through the HDMI input, the 42LB1DR did a fine job of deinterlacing a 1080i signal from my Sony DVP-NS75H DVD player, picking up the 3:2 sequence in the “Video Essentials” Snell & Wilcox test and cleanly rendering the flyover of the Coliseum in Chapter 12 of “Gladiator.” I can’t say the same for the component video input; when displaying a 480i image from my Onkyo DV-CP802 player, the TV did a very poor job deinterlacing the “Gladiator” scene, creating a ton of jaggies and stair-stepping artifacts. This is ironic because, of the two inputs, the component input is the one with a setting to turn on 3:2 detection with 480i content, but the setting doesn’t appear to do anything. If you choose to use the component video inputs for your DVD watching, you will definitely need a good progressive-scan DVD player.

Despite a few shortcomings in the performance arena, the 42LB1DR has a lot going for it. It renders a generally good picture, the unit itself is attractively styled and well built, it has plenty of inputs to accommodate current and future sources, it’s easy to set up and use, and it has the necessary internal tuners to make the most of the DVR.

Remember how I said that DVRs always come at a cost? Well, in this case, that cost is built into the price of the TV. The MSRP for the 42LB1DR is $3,400. That’s several hundred dollars more than other big-name LCD HDTVs in the 40- to 42-inch range, and it’s about $1,000 more than plasma HDTVs of the same size. The money you’ll save in DVR monthly fees or equipment upgrades may balance out the cost over the life of the TV and there are certainly aesthetic and connection benefits to having an internal DVR. Whether or not that convenience is worth the extra money is ultimately up to you.
Manufacturer LG Electronics
Reviewer Adrienne Maxwell
Diagonal Screen Size 37 to 42-inches

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