Whatever the case, the PB6600's deplorable contrast performance absolutely ruins this TV's chance for a good score—despite great color, motion, and viewing angle results.
It's official: Plasma TVs are on the 2014 endangered species list. Thanks to declining production, the beloved technology is more scarce than ever this year.
It would be nice if the LG 50PB6600 (MSRP $699) stood as a dazzling reminder of the powerful reign of plasma TV, but that's simply not the case: One of the technology's biggest draws has always been the ability to produce a stunning black level—and this LG TV does nothing of the kind. It seems the PB6600 meandered down the same ill-fated path as LG's 2013 iteration.
We believe it's important to tell you two key things about every TV we test: how well it performs straight out of its box, and how well it's capable of performing with some informed calibration. To get you this information, we run tests, collect data, and score each TV prior to calibration.
Afterwards, we calibrate each TV (ITU standards) to find out what its full potential really is. Unfortunately, no amount of calibration can repair a shallow minimum luminance level, so the LG PB6600 plasma TV's fate remains sealed—with or without calibration.
Nevertheless, I went about fine-tuning this LG's color, gamma sum, and grayscale for good measure. Starting in the display's "Cinema" mode, I altered its gamma, raised its backlight slightly, and made adjustments to primary and secondary colors in its CMS, as well.
When in doubt, wear all black.
The PB6600 goes with the classic flatscreen dress code: black bezel, black trim, black stand. The elements are a bit rounded and out of date, but the appearance is otherwise unoffensive, if somewhat dull. Because it's a plasma, this LG is on the heavy side—so be sure to recruit a second set of hands to help with setup.
The connections are ample. Peek around the back left side and you'll find basically everything you need: two USB ports and a HDMI input to the side; digital (optical) audio out, ethernet (LAN) in, a coaxial jack, shared component/composite, and two more HDMI inputs further back.
Of course, it wouldn't be a cookie-cutter TV without a cookie-cutter remote. LG's small clicker features rubber buttons and shortcut keys to make app and menu navigation a bit easier.
Everything you need—in an outdated package
While the PB6600 is packed with plenty of great apps, the presentation is yesterday's loaf of bread. LG really wowed the tech world at CES 2014 with its brand-new webOS smart platform—but unfortunately, the LB6600's abbreviated interface is the 2013 version.
So the good news is that the PB6600 comes with dynamite apps like Netflix, Amazon, Hulu, and YouTube; but the bad news is that the interface is outdated and abbreviated (no cable integration or recommendation features, for instance). To make things worse, the dinky remote is a nightmare to type with.
On the upside, the menus are great. The design is sleek and easy to read, and the layout is logical and simple to navigate. The settings include basics like Brightness, Contrast, and Sharpness, and an Expert Menu includes controls for gamma, white balance, a customizable motion-smoothing mode, and more.
The fact that every LED LCD panel we've tested this year earned a better score on black level than this LG plasma really says it all. How did this happen? The black level and average peak white are so poor that the overall contrast ratio is 193:1. That's insanely terrible. A contrast ratio of 1000:1 is below-average, 193:1 is bordering on unheard of.
The PB6600's average peak white level of 54 cd/m2 is dim even for a plasma display, and its grayish black level of 0.28 cd/m2 is just hopeless.
This LG isn't completely a "non-plasma" plasma. Since this technology requires no backlight, light travels a shorter distance before reaching your eyes—and shorter distance means less opportunity for light to scatter and dissipate, resulting in a killer total viewing angle of 166º.
So from just about angle, the image won't notably degrade. Too bad the image quality is so poor to begin with.
Good performance—except for poor black levels, which sinks the whole ship
It's time to talk picture quality. This LG performs well enough in most categories to earn a solid overall score, but it fails miserably in a crucial area of performance: black level.
A deep black level truly constitutes the crux of great image quality—and plasmas are known for excelling in this regard, but not the PB6600. This display's black level is the worst I've ever measured on a plasma TV. Inky black scenes look gray and shallow on this panel. Little cinematic details that should come together to form a lifelike picture just don't pop. To make things worse, like many plasmas, this one doesn't ramp up powerfully in brightness, either. The result is a fairly dull image that fails to impress with dazzling highlights or deep-dark shadows.
This is a real shame, too, considering that this TV produces fairly accurate colors and the smooth motion that plasma TVs are lauded for. And the viewing angle? Nearly perfect. You can sit from just about anywhere and the image quality doesn't degrade. Nevertheless, the grayish black level puts a damper on everything, causing the picture on this TV to look more muted and shallow than it should.
The LG PB6600 handled the color gamut test with ease. When we test this performance aspect, we're determining how close to international standards a TV's color production is.
Though its primary colors aren't flawless, this LG still does a standup job on this test. The only notable troubles impacted its secondary colors (cyan, magenta, yellow). Luckily, this plasma comes equipped with the necessary controls to nearly perfect its color performance.
A plasma TV without plasma's hallmark perk
The LG PB6600 is the first plasma we've tested this year, and it's a huge letdown. This TV isn't just disappointing for a plasma, it's disappointing in general. Things seemed promising at first, with great streaming apps, accurate colors, a massive viewing angle, and adept motion handling—but this display's grayish black levels crash the party completely.
I'm not sure how a plasma TV wound up with this problem; inky black shadows are what the technology is loved for, after all. Whatever the case, buyers would be wise to point their wallets elsewhere and avoid this LG entirely.
For TVs, there are different ways to ramp up out of total darkness into grays, and up to white levels—and the gamma sum illustrates a panel's chosen ramp-up behavior. Some televisions ramp up too quickly, others erratically, others very slowly.
To score this performance, we measure against an ideal, dark-room gamma sum of 2.4. I ran a test to see what the LG PB6600 was up to and found that it had a gamma sum of 2.27. By altering its gamma in the Expert Menu, I got this panel a bit closer to the home-theater ideal—with a final gamma sum of 2.34.
A common problem we see in TVs is that black, gray, and white values sometimes carry unwanted tinges of color—bluish highlights, reddish grays, and so forth.
To test this performance aspect, we measure the total error within the grayscale (DeltaE) and we look at how the TV balances its red, green, and blue sub-pixels.
In the case of the PB6600, I noted overemphasis of the blue sub-pixel throughout middle to high steps of the grayscale (50 IRE to 100 IRE). The result is that middle grays and bright whites can sometimes appear a bit blueish. On the whole, grayscale error amounted to 8.42 DeltaE—that's well above the acceptable upper limit we look for (DeltaE 3). Happily, some simple calibration lowered the LG's error to a more acceptable total of 2.16.
Meet the tester
Former Managing Editor@
Virginia is a former Managing Editor at Reviewed.com. She has a background in English and journalism. Away from the office, Virginia passes time with dusty books & house cats.
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