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An attractive TV, if a bit on the plain side.

Without even turning the screen on, the LG 50PZ550 is very easy on the eyes. With a smooth minimalist bezel and a clean-looking swiveling anodized metal stand, the 50PZ550 may not be the most drop-dead gorgeous TV we’ve had in the labs this year, but it’s definitely a sleek addition to any entertainment center that places high value in a modern look.

A sleek addition to any entertainment center that places high value in a modern look.

We were impressed with the array of connections in the back of the 50PZ550. Many companies are starting to phase out the analog ports, but we are not sure that analog is obsolete yet. Many people cherish their older devices, and many more have a working Wii, cable box, or Xbox 360 that uses component video cables to connect to their televisions. This LG has four full analog connections (two component, two composite) as well as four HDMI ports to serve just these people.

Sleek menus make for a great user interface.

The Home button on the remote brings you to the main menu, a hub with access to the various inputs, internet streaming, LG apps, and picture and sound settings. Your content gets scaled into a smaller screen so you can continue watching while you make selections here.

In the Home menu, there is a “Premium” section where you will find a well organized list of streaming video providers in two rows of icon boxes. You, the user, get to decide which boxes go where, but when you start this LG up for the first time, preloaded are some of the streaming video greats: Netflix, Vudu, Hulu, Facebook, YouTube and a few others. The extra streaming features are nice, adding value to the set if you don't have an internet-connected gaming console or Blu-Ray player already.

Underwhelming contrast and color, but at least the motion is good.

For a plasma, the PZ550 doesn't have the great black levels we were hoping for. On top of that, its resulting contrast ratio is notably narrow compared to plasmas from other heavy-hitters like Samsung and LG. This is one of the most important areas of display performance, especially for a plasma TV. Perhaps the biggest problem, however, is that the PZ550's ability to display the correct spectrum of colors is wholly underwhelming—there are no huge flaws, but this TV's overall performance is certainly below average.

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This TV's overall performance is certainly below average.

When we test the performance of a TV in relation to how well it handles motion processing, we look mainly at motion smoothness and what kinds of artifacts the moving picture creates. The LG 50PZ550 does manage to maintain a startlingly good level of detail in its image while in motion, but it does have some odd artifacting issues. The processor seems to have trouble with refresh rate, making square objects more of a rhomboid parallelogram than a square to go along with some jagged edges where curved lines should be.

You work hard for your money, and you shouldn’t have to spend a good hunk of it on a television that just can’t output a proper picture.

The LG 50PZ550 ($1099 MSRP) is not completely worthless. When you buy an LG smart TV, you get one of the best menu systems in the game, with great online content accessible through an easy-to-use interface. The viewing angle, like most plasma screens, is very wide; a group of viewers could be spread across the room and see a reasonably unaffected picture. Furthermore, the motion processing was really top notch. Moving pictures will have no problem getting across the screen.

But the list of cons for this set is long and severe. Both the color performance and the black and white values have such a limited range because they have been so crushed on either end of the spectrum. The result is a pretty big loss of detail in both shadows and highlights, flattening out detail and providing only dull color that lacks differentiation. Our recommendation is to simply avoid this set, as there are far better values out there.

The PZ550's performance was hindered greatly by its narrow contrast ratio—which, in turn, is the prime victim of the TV's underwhelming black level and peak brightness. This is a large flaw for a plasma television, as it directly affects the range it uses to stretch its color palette. The PZ550's performance is hamstrung by these poor performances, outweighing any good its expansive feature set may have provided.

The PZ550 tested with a black level of 0.09 cd/m 2.

This might be considered acceptable for a bright, vivid-colored LCD television, but within the dim realm of plasmas it's a poor result. It also tested with a very dim peak brightness of 103.80 cd/m 2.

This is a problem, as the PZ550 must then allocate its 256-step within a heavily reduced range of luminosity possibilities. The lack of peak brightness also makes the set extremely difficult to see when in a bright room, as the picture will look flat and washed out.

This lack of range with which to work directly affects the PZ550's color detail, as well. If the differences in light levels between a string of greys are very minimal (concerning the amount of luminosity your eyes can see), then the edges of objects and their shadows in a 3D plane are going to look blocky and unreal—just downright bad.

This is a cause for very lackluster display, and is a problem for the entire PZ550 series.

Meet the tester

Chris Thomas

Chris Thomas

Staff Writer, Imaging

@cthomas8888

A seasoned writer and professional photographer, Chris reviews cameras, headphones, smartphones, laptops, and lenses. Educated in Political Science and Linguistics, Chris can often be found building a robot army, snowboarding, or getting ink.

See all of Chris Thomas's reviews

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