Updated: March 12, 2014
This is going to be an ultra-long review, so brace yourselves. Anyhow, I have never been a great telephiliac. My interest usually lean elsewhere, but I do occasionally like to sit down and watch a nice film. Which probably means that a smart TV is about as far on the spectrum of my fun list as you can imagine. Pretty much like smartphones and tablets.
However, I did decide to buy one, in order to enhance my entertainment portal so to speak, as well as explore the technological aspects of smart television, being open-minded and all that. To wit, you get this super-long, super-thorough review, in the best manner of Dedoimedo, of this brave new stuff sweeping the world. My test unit, LG 42LN570. Let's go, fellas!
We will begin with what this device can do. When purchasing, I considered a simpler device, one without any great network capabilities. In the end, I went for the more capable model, despite the 300-dollar difference. And please, US folks, do not compare to your blessedly cheap market. Remember the car comparison. Your Audi A6 costs about as much as Audi A1 in the rest of the world, so smile, be content, and ignore the price range that is probably twice higher than what you get.
My device is a 42-inch full LED (direct LED) full-HD 1920x1080p television set, with the 120Hz TruMotion refresh rate, which we will discuss at much greater length soon. All in all, it weighs about 15 kg, and it looks like a supersized computer monitor. Or if you will, given its smart capabilities, like an Apple iMac, to some degree. Speaking of degrees, the TV is pretty sleek and handsome from every angle, back and forth, top and side and slant, plus an odd squint-eye. If you like minimalism to accompany your IKEA lifestyle, then you won't go wrong here.
Note: Images above, courtesy of lg.com.
The TV comes with a dual-core processor and 4GB of internal storage. It has seven picture and six aspect modes, resolution upscaling, fancy audio, and still more. The networking capabilities are most impressive. You can connect to the Internet using either wired or Wireless network, plus you get Premium content and applications to support you on your way to the Web. A ton of codecs and formats are supported.
But wait, we have only just begun. Now, rather than dumping ALL of the options and capabilities here, we will explore them slowly as we make progress through the review. Let us not obliterate your mind just yet.
In the store, when talking to a not very bright salesman, he mentioned a single USB connection socket, which sounded wrong. Reading online and checking the official site, I learned that LG 42LN570, well the actual size is not important here, has a huge array of inputs and outputs. It comes with Component Video, RF in, AV in, LAN/Ethernet, a single Digital Audio Out, three USB and three HDMI inputs. Now, that's more like it.
There's nothing to it. You don't even have to read the manual. Remove the device from the box, remove the thin plastic protectors from the frame, screw in the stand, and place the TV wherever you want it to be. Hook in the relevant cables if any, and turn it on. The buttons are located on the right bottom side of the device.
The TV is controlled by the Magic Remote Control, which also supports voice recognition. This little thing is very handsome and supple and fun to use. You shake it to get the pointer to show, and then it's almost like a standard computer mouse, with soft-click yet responsive arrow keys and a scroll wheel. You don't get a million ugly buttons, just a handful, and you remain in the stylish zone.
If you have cable or similar, the TV will scan all available channels and frequency and auto-tune them for you, or connect directly to HDMI devices and such. If not, you will only get static snow, and then you will have to click on the SMART button on the remote to access the more interesting features.
The main view is one of several decks of icons, with little arrows to move left and right. You can see a small-scale screen of whatever is currently showing in the top left corner, Premium content in the center, games to the right, and then, further right, still more applications, and your SmartShare, which allows you to connect external devices to your television set. We will touch upon that very soon.
At the bottom, you have a panel of shortcuts, including inputs, settings, an Internet browser, TV Guide, Time Machine, which allows you to record TV programs, user guide, plus several other useful applications. All in all, the layout is fairly clean and visually pleasing. The exact layout of icons will differ based on regional offerings.
The word premium sure has a nice ring to it, and it is supposed to add glamor to your box. I believe this will have most value for people in the USA, where you do get a lot of HD streaming content. Elsewhere, you will find some value, but not to the full extent of what the television set can do.
LG 42LN570 comes with a regional arsenal of premium software, so what you see in my screenshots may not reflect your reality, at all. I had Picasa, Skype, vTuner, viewster, Youtube, Twitter, Facebook, and a handful more. Some of these require extra setup to get working correctly, and you sure need ample and fast bandwidth for a seamless experience.
This is the most interesting application, I think. You get all of Youtube, right there. And if you know how to search for high-quality content, you can find it. For instance, most of Sergio Leone's spaghetti westerns are available in 720p. Then, there's a whole bunch of great British comedies, all for free. Anything you can find in a standard browser is there, but now with a 42-inch screen, your focus shifts a little. Still, the core principles remain.
Using the Magic Remote can be a little tedious, so you might want to consider a wireless keyboard. Still, with suggestions turned on, you will find your way around rather quickly. Not bad at all, and this is one premium item that really justifies its name.
You do need extra hardware to fully utilize your TV. For example, if you want to Skype with other people, you need a microphone. If you want to use the camera application, you will need a dedicated TV camera for that.
Don't forget your TV is a super-sized tablet with no touch capabilities. But it's a computer in every sense. You have applications and games, and you can purchase and install more, if you want. Now, the repertoire does not compare to a full-blown store like you get with Android, for instance, but it is good enough for the living room fun.
You have a full-blown browser for your Internet escapades. It comes with tabs, bookmarks, search, history, everything you need, although not all sites will cooperate, especially if they have embedded content with various esoteric media plugins. Now, you may not find this too convenient for use, especially with the TV preview in the right bottom corner, but it can be removed. You can also search using voice recognition, and it works really well. It has a fairly high quality of matching, and I find it more accurate than similar capabilities on the few Android devices that I own.
This is probably the most important and interesting part of any smart TV. LG 42LN570 comes with a huge array of connectivity options. It supports your standard network via cable or radio, but it can also do Wi-Fi Direct, Miracast or WiDi, MHL, DLNA, and still more. We shall proceed with caution.
Worked fine and without any issues. The only cumbersome part was using the Magic Remote to control the on-screen keyboard to provide the password for my WPA2-enabled access point, but after that, it was all dandy.
For this test, I used my Samsung Galaxy Note 10.1 tablet. I allowed file sharing with nearby devices, and then I received a prompt to allow a Linux 3.0.13 thingie. There you go, Linux. Bingo. And you can see the full name string, including the kernel version, the LG SDK version, the TV name, and the firmware used. Neat, no.
And you will see a similar prompt on the TV itself:
Then, through the SmartShare, you can enjoy the connect available on your paired devices. I browsed a handful of images and listened to some music stored on the tablet. Then, I also tried to play a full-HD Big Bucks Bunny video, but my network connection signal was not strong enough to allow for a flawless streaming. Both the TV and tablet were about six meters from the access point, and the playback stuttered until a new chunk was buffered. Not ideal, but good enough. Oh, not all image types are supported, by the way. The LG Smart TV did not like PNG files really.
However, network capabilities aside, the image was crisp, and the audio quality was rather good. Surprisingly good, and I am saying that as someone with limited musical skills. Well, my one and only character flaw, because I'm perfect otherwise.
WiDi - Wireless Display - sounds like a cool concept. Alas, it proved too difficult to get working. The actual instructions are far from trivial - you need to install your graphics drivers, your Wireless drivers and the software itself. I tested three different boxes, without much success. Two laptops, T400 and T410 did not have the necessary chips. My latest gadget, an Asus VivoBook had the needed processor for this kind of fun, but the Wireless card was not supported. It's an Atheros, where WiDi only supports Intel and a few Broadcom devices. To be continued.
Worked just fine. I managed to pair the TV with Samsung Galaxy S4 without any problems really. First, I powered on the smartphone and turned on the correct options, and then, made sure that the TV was also configured properly. No worries.
At the moment, I have no videos, nor glasses to test this. Soz. Moreover, not really sure how to demo 3D in 2D in a Web article. What kind of thingie do you expect to see exactly? Exactly. Still, for the sake of OCD, we will test when appropriate.
I still have not tested MHL either, so stay tuned. But basically, it's just HDMI, so it's not really that interesting. However, since I cannot leave any stone remain unturned, we will probably revisit this in some future review or such like.
LG 42LN570 lets you connect external disks. Fairly simple really. Just plug in a USB device, and let it be auto-mounted. This smart TV did not struggle with either FAT32 or NTFS file systems. Once you have the device listed, you can search through videos and music files, recent lists, and so forth. Quite handy and simple.
This is something I have not yet figured out. The LG Smart TV can connect to other devices using DLNA and Wi-Fi Direct, but I did not find a simple way of using Samba shares on other computers. This means you cannot stream video over Wireless just like that. Furthermore, this also limits how much TV shows you can record using the Time Machine, because the internal storage is very limited. Maybe I am missing something, but perhaps there is a simple way to point the recording software to use external media for storage.
The real reason why you would buy a TV in the first place. I must admit I was most pleasantly surprised. I have yet to find a file that this device won't play. Whether it's an ancient movie from ten years back or a brand new HD clip, they all played. Moreover, the resolution upscaling really works well, and there is not that much difference between non-HD and HD content. You get everything you need, plus neat controls.
In my testing, LG 42LN570 handled all of the following without a hitch - MKV, AVI, MP4, and MPEG containers, with an assortment of MPEG2, AAC, MP3, H.264 and many other more or less exotic formats. Subtitles (SRT) are automatically read and loaded, including content embedded inside MKV, which you can toggle on and off in the quick menu. Jolly great.
This sounds like an interesting concept, but the internal storage is tiny. You only have a small portion of the 4GB available for your stuff, and without an obvious option to redirect the recordings to a different device, might not be truly ideal. I have to yet figure this one out in greater detail.
And this was the big and nasty surprise I encountered at first. We go back to our earlier mention of the TruMotion capability. The thing is, like most other smart TVs, LG's box interpolates frames above the standard movie-recording 24fps to match the refresh frequency of its screen. This means you get more content than originally intended, resulting in over-realistic, over-smooth playback, which makes it all feel too close, too soap opera like. For me, the initial experience was one of shock and disappointment. Here I was, using this expensive HD set, and everything looked cheaper than early 80s pr0n. Not good.
I spent some time reading about this. Eventually, I figured it out. In the Settings menu, under Picture Mode, you can change the default profile to a different one. The best option is to use the Game mode, which removes all picture interpolation. This restores your normal, expected movie-like experience. Now, please do note you must configure it separately for your TV channels and for your media content. You can also fine-tune the experience with other settings, including sharpness, dynamic contrast, gamma, and more. You can also turn off TruMotion for any one selected mode individually.
Now, here's a cool thing. You can control your LG Smart TV using an Android phone, as long as the two are connected to the same network. The application is available in Google Play, grab it, provide the six-digit pairing key that pops up on the TV screen, and start controlling the device using a smartphone or a tablet. Fairly simple.
This is Linux, remember. And like any ole operating system, it gets updates. My device came with a very old firmware version, dated almost a year back. So I let it search for new versions, and then update itself. It went fast and true, however my customization to picture settings were gone. Make sure you write down your values before updating.
There is not a great deal of customization you can get here, really. You can shuffle the cards, and add new, personalized ones with your own icons, but you can't really move aside any of the hardcoded content. So you do get a small degree of freedom, kinda, but not as much as you might expect.
And how it all plugs into the ambiance:
LG 42LN570 Smart TV is a very interesting, colorful and capable device. It's a computer is every sense of the word, with premium content, applications, great support for video and audio, tons of peripheral connections, excellent network, and more. Really nice, and worth its price. Some of the stuff takes extra hardware and a good Internet connection, but that's more of a bonus really.
To make this review even more complete, do note I have purchased myself a Raspberry Pi. I will be assembling my own media center, and then we will see how the little thingie handles the smart TV and vice versa. XBMC, plugins, still more video and connectivity options, it ought to be really interesting. Stay tuned. For now, if you're looking for an intelligent telly, this one looks like a good candidate. At least, I'm pleased, from my own pseudo-conservative stand point as a would-be dumb user. Grade we must, and so this box gets its well-deserved 9.5/10, mostly because of its great video support and supreme network features. Well done overall.