Priced at £1,500, LG’s 47LA790 sits two rungs down the ladder from LG’s top of the range 1080p LED TV, but that doesn't mean it skimps on features, though. There's Miracast on board for mirroring smart phone screens to the TV, a strong Smart TV system, local dimming support, passive 3D support and a beefed up audio system. On paper it looks tempting, but how does it stack up against its rivals?
User interface and EPG
Pretty much all of the other big-name TV brands have changed their smart TV interfaces this year, but LG hasn't bothered. It believes its smart TV system is still good enough to cut the mustard, and to an extent it's right.
As with most of today’s smart TV systems it’s based around a homescreen that lets you access most of the TV's key features including apps, AV inputs, settings and digital media streaming. While the system isn’t as comprehensive as Samsung’s offering, it still looks attractive and is fairly easy to use. That said, there are still some annoying quirks, such as the multiple methods you can use to access apps, which only serves to make the system more confusing than it should be.
The settings menu calls up a flat menu system to give you control over picture, sound and tuning. It looks great because LG has made liberal use of graphics throughout. As it includes a colour management system, you’re given fine control over the picture settings. I also like the fact that LG has included an easy-to-follow picture wizard in the settings menu with various test images to help you tweak the TV’s picture settings properly.
Unfortunately, the company has failed to update its EPG, so when you call it up you lose all audio and video from the show you're watching. It’s disappointing that LG hasn't followed the lead of rivals like Samsung and Panasonic by adding a video window to its guide. The guide also lacks a box to give you a summary of the programme you’ve selected on the horizontal timeline. Instead you have to press the Info button on the remote every time you want to view this information, which is somewhat tedious.
Digital media and Internet features
LG’s smart TV system hasn’t changed much from last year. It’s still based around the Home Dashboard, but there are now five panels across the top instead of four. A banner of further icons is also displayed at the bottom of the screen.
The first panel shows premium smart TV apps, such as iPlayer and Netflix, and the second displays content from 3D World, LG’s 3D video streaming service. After this comes the Smart World store that shows the pick of the less popular smart apps and next to it you’ll find the new Game World panel that shows some of the games from the TV’s app store. Finally, the last panel displays icons for photos and video shared to the TV from your computer or smart phone over a network.
The banner below these panels has icons for a range of other features including the AV input list, settings menu, full Internet browser and the TV guide.
LG’s system looks quite pretty and elements of the layout are clever too. The company has made the system more difficult to use than it should be, mainly because there are just too many ways of doing the same thing. For example, you can access apps not just via the Premium, Smart World and Games World menus, but also via a dedicated apps menu and the banner at the bottom of the Home Dashboard.
A single, more simple method of accessing all of your apps would have been preferable. You can edit the My Apps list to achieve something similar, but you still end up with entries in here that you never use as LG doesn’t allow you to delete certain icons from the list.
LG’s selection of apps is fairly good. Naturally it’s got BBC iPlayer on board, but you’ll also find Netflix and there’s a place holder for Lovefilm, which is due to arrive on the platform soon. You also get Napster and Deezer for music streaming, along with KnowHow and Blinkbox for on-demand movie rentals. It lags behind Samsung when it comes to catch-up TV services though, as it lacks 4oD, ITV Player and Demand5.
The TV’s on-board media player is quite good, but does have its problems. It’s got good format support as it plays MKV, DivX and Xvid movie files. The fast-forward and rewind controls don’t work when you’re streaming content across a network though, which is annoying.
As with a lot of mid- and high-end 2013 TVs, this one has Miracast on board, so you can mirror the screen from mobile devices like Android smart phones and tablets to the TV. I tried it with a Sony Xperia Z smart phone and the results were mixed. There’s quite a lot of lag, so you can’t really use it for games that rely on lightning-fast responses and there was stuttering during video streaming too.
The TV has three USB ports and you can plug a hard drive into one of them and record shows from the Freeview HD or Satellite HD tuner to USB drives. As it only has a single tuner it doesn't support more advanced features, however, such as allowing you to record one show while watching another.
Design and connections
Last year LG managed to stun the world by producing TVs that had much narrower bezels than had ever been seen before. This year it hasn’t managed to showing off anything as radical.
The LA790 still has a very narrow bezel, but it feels like a natural evolution of what LG was doing last year other than something breathtakingly new. The side edges are also actually slightly fatter than those on last year's models, probably to enable more even dispersal of light from the edge-mounted LEDs -- something that wasn't quite refined on some of LG's 2012 models. LG has tried to disguise this slightly by tapering the edges so they’re thinner at the front and wider at the rear, and it kind of works if you don't look too closely at the edge of the set.
I’m not so keen on the new circular stand on this model, though. It holds the TV too high so too much of the stand is visible at any one time, which is a shame as it looks quite plasticky. On the plus side, the TV can swivel on the stand, making a rarity among the new TVs from this year.
The set offers up plenty of connection options. There’s Wi-Fi as well as an Ethernet socket, and as we’ve already seen, you can use Miracast with compatible smart phones and tablets. There are also four HDMI sockets on a panel set back from the left-hand edge of the TV, as well as three USB ports. There’s a shared composite and component connector too, as well as an RGB input and an optical digital audio output. The set has both a Freeview HD and a satellite HD tuner on board. The satellite tuner isn’t Freesat compatible, so isn’t all that useful in the UK as it just tunes the channels in a random order and the EPG only shows now and next information.
Peer around the back of the 47LA790 and you’ll see that it bulges out at the bottom. LG has widened the chassis here in order to fit in larger speakers. It’s also added a mini woofer to the rear of the TV. Both of these moves have paid off -- this set is strong when it comes to audio quality. Its bass is still a little bit on the boxy side, but at least it can reproduce the type of low frequencies that many LED sets struggle with. The dialogue cuts through the sound mix cleanly, and the TV produces a wide stereo image for a 47-inch model.
2D picture quality
LG’s picture menu provides comprehensive control of this set’s images, but LG’s picture presets are on the whole pretty good. As a result you probably won’t need to do much tinkering, especially if you select one of the ISF or movie modes.
The 47LA790 can certainly pump out a great deal of brightness ,and this helps it produce vivid and rich colours that are also warm and sympathetic -- to movies in particular. It’s a good performer when it comes to producing deep black levels too, especially for an IPS panel.
If you keep the local dimming feature turned on it actually produces quite deep and inky blacks. Thankfully, it's managed to do this without crushing shadow detail too much, so overall the 47LA790’s pictures have plenty of dynamic range. Even trickier movies with lots of dark and light in the same frame, such as La Vie En Rose on Blu-ray, looked very impressive on this TV
Viewing angles are quite wide too, so colours and contrast don’t shift as much as they when you view Sony sets from side-on.
It also handles motion pretty well by LED standards, and although you can easily overdo it on the processing, LG provides independent de-blur and de-judder controls so you can set it up to smooth out motion without giving movies an overly soap-opera style appearance.
It’s not all plain sailing though, as the 47LA790 isn’t quite as impressive when dealing with standard-definition broadcasts. There’s a noticeable drop-off in contrast performance when it’s dealing with SD material, so darker areas of the picture look dirtier and muddier. It also doesn’t do a great job of upscaling more heavily compressed channels on Freeview, as these tend to look soft and noisy.
3D picture quality
Like all of LG’s 3D sets, this one works with passive 3D glasses.
It’s fair to say that for most people, 3D support isn’t high up on their list of priorities when buying a TV. It’s a shame as we're starting to see some decent 3D movies appearing on Blu-ray. If you're tempted to check out the likes of Scorsese’s Hugo at home, then the 47LA790 will provide a fine 3D viewing experience.
It comes with four pairs of passive specs, but you can buy more for as little as a couple of quid each. The specs are light and comfortable to wear and as they’re passive, they don’t suffer from flicker, helping to reduce the fatigue that you sometimes experience with 3D viewing on active 3D TVs.
If you don the specs and peer up close at the set you can see the scan lines between the stereoscopic images. This is because passive systems essentially split the screen in half, sending alternative lines to each eye. From a normal viewing distance though, the two images blend seamlessly together on this set and despite the drop in horizontal, they still look very sharp.
What’s more, 3D images retain plenty of brightness, which in turn helps to draw out the added depth in the images, making them seem just that bit more real. Pictures in 3D are also pretty much free of crosstalk. In short, I can’t see anyone complaining about this TV’s 3D capabilities.
The LG 47LA790 could do with a few more catch-up TV apps for its smart TV system, and it's disappointing that given its relatively high price, its standard-definition performance is slightly weak. When working with HD sources, however, it's capable of delivering very strong pictures with deep black levels, as well as warm and cinematic colour. Overall, I think it’s sensibly priced for the range of features it offers, but it's still not a stand-out, superb TV.