It's a crowded year for affordable, mid-range HDTVs, and LG is very much in the mix. The LG 39LB5600 (MSRP $399.99) is a modest, 1080p television that makes up for its lack of features with an attractive price tag.
Unfortunately, the 39-inch LB5600 (also available in 32- and 42-inch models) is a lackluster performer. While most of its flaws can be mitigated with professional calibration, we can't see consumers going the distance for a $400 mid-range TV.
Poor out-of-the-box performance coupled with a complete lack of smart features mean the LB5600 is only a great choice for bargain hunters.
If you're not careful, you might mistake the LB5600 with another entry in LG's 2014 mid-range lineup. The company has outfitted a number of these LED TVs with similar design features, but considering their good looks, we're not complaining.
The panel, which sports a silver-colored trim, rests atop two wide-set feet that elegantly hold the TV a few inches above its surface. It's refreshing to see a manufacturer dress up even the cheaper models with such unique design elements. Alas, the remote control is as basic as they come, though it works just fine.
All of the LB5600's connection ports are located on the back of the panel. You'll find most of the usual suspects here, but nothing out of the ordinary: two HDMI ports, shared component/composite inputs, RS-232, a digital audio output, and a coaxial jack. You're not going to find an ethernet port on the back of the LB5600 or WiFi connectivity in its menu software since this TV lacks smart features.
We test each TV before and after calibration to highlight the difference between its out-of-the-box performance and what amounts to its full potential. The LB5600 is a middling performer before calibration, but thanks to an extensive selection of picture customization options, it shines with the proper adjustments.
LG's "Expert" picture mode (with the "Warm2" color temperature preset) is a great place to start. Working my way forward, I brought the gamma setting up from 2.2 to 2.4, lowered the backlight to 61, and fine-tuned the white balance using the 2- and 20-point controls.
We consider televisions to be, at their core, art reproduction machines. Healthy televisions reproduce a director or video game designer's vision, and color is their primary instrument. If the color doesn't translate accurately, you are not experiencing a piece of art the way it was intended.
Unfortunately, the LB5600's suffers from the same symptoms that plague most TVs on the market today: Low-, mid-, and high-range televisions can't seem to shake their blues. Scenes appear cooler than they should, gray tones (like Gandalf's beard) are tinged with teal, and white just doesn't look right.
If you're hoping to gather friends and family around this TV, you might want to hold off. Due to a narrow viewing angle, the amount of real estate people can occupy in front of the LB5600 while still getting an uncompromised picture is mighty small. If you find yourself shunted to the side, the contrast ratio will appear to take a big hit.
If we factored its calibrated performance into our final scores, the LB5600 would have fared much better: After some tender loving calibration, the LB5600 really starts to look like a middleweight prizefighter. The question consumers have to ask themselves is whether it's worth it to spend the time and money calibrating a $400 TV.
For my own calibration results and the rest of the hard data, check out the Science page.
Measuring a TV's grayscale is an integral part of the calibration process. A TV's picture is comprised of red, green, and blue sub-pixels working together to create a spectrum of color. Since neutral shades (black, gray, and white) are representative of all three of these sub-pixels, we measure a grayscale to determine how evenly (or unevenly) the TV emphasizes red, green, and blue.
The LB5600 struggles to emphasize its sub-pixels correctly out-of-the-box, but with some proper calibration via the TV's 20-point white balance menu, it settles in nicely. We visualize the results on a graph plotting each shade of gray from black (0 IRE) to reference white (100 IRE), with DeltaE being the amount of error present at each level. An average of DeltaE of 3 or less is ideal, but the amount of error can drop significantly at the deft hands of a calibrator.
Prior to calibration, LB5600 had an average DeltaE of 4.34. After taking care of business, I was able to bring this down to a measly 0.49. Take that, improperly emphasized sub-pixels!
A closer look at the pre-calibration RGB balance paints a blue picture. The LB5600 over-emphasizes its blue sub-pixels out-of-the-box. A byproduct of this issue is under-emphasized reds.
Contrast ratio is a nifty stat that divides a display's reference white (100 IRE) by it's black level (0 IRE). Deep, rich black levels are a fundamental aspect of excellent pictures, so it stands to reason that the bigger the contrast ratio, the better the experience.
The LB5600 packs a so-so contrast ratio of 3579:1 thanks to a black level of 0.04 cd/m2 and a reference white of 175.4 cd/m2 . Its black level isn't the culprit here since 0.04 is commendable. Instead, it's the reference white of 175 cd/m2 that's pretty stingy.
Calibrate your expectations
Depending on your needs, the LG 39LB5600 could make a fitting choice for your living room or bedroom. If you've already got a gaming console or Blu-ray player equipped with smart features, and (more importantly) if you don't mind a merely passable picture quality, the LB5600 has a price tag worthy of consideration.
However, if you're looking to maximize your dollar in the picture department and size isn't a priority, the Samsung UN32H5203 is significantly cheaper and packs a mightier punch out-of-the-box.
If basic smart TV features are a must, Sony's KDL-40W600B might serve you better. It's available online for a little under $100 more than the LB5600, but its performance is stellar and it ships with a handful of smart capabilities.
If you're planning on having your TV star as the main attraction for a party, you might want to consider its viewing angle, which describes how far away from a head-on angle someone can watch and still enjoy a quality picture. LEDs are notorious for their poor viewing angles, and the LB5600 is no exception to this rule.
What we've got here is a paltry total angle of 25°, or ±13°. That cone is not conducive for movie night.
A color gamut is the visual representation of a television's color accuracy based on the Rec. 709 standard that all manufacturers strive to meet. It's broken up into three primary color points, three secondary color points, and a white point.
LG's LB5600 is pretty accurate right off the bat, but some minor adjustments to the TV's color management options did wonders for its green point. Blue, unfortunately, is this gamut's fatal flaw, and no amount of calibration could correct its lack of lumination.
If you're noticing a distinct lack of detail in your picture (particularly in the darker areas), you might have a gamma problem. Gamma tests reveal how quickly a TV jumps from black to white and at various stages in between. Poor gamma can crush detail to a noticeable degree, so it's one of the most important aspects of our testing and calibrating process.
While a gamma sum of 2.2 is generally regarded as the standard, we calibrate for 2.4, which is considered the ideal for dark rooms. After adjusting the LB5600's gamma setting, it went from sporting a gamma of 2.19 to a gamma of 2.42.
Meet the tester
Senior Staff Writer@Reviewed
Michael Desjardin graduated from Emerson College after having studied media production and screenwriting. He specializes in tech for Reviewed, but also loves film criticism, weird ambient music, cooking, and food in general.
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