The 32LD490 is a perfect example of the South Korean firm’s bang/buck philosophy, with a full HD resolution, Freeview HD tuner, USB input with surprisingly extensive multimedia playback support and even access to LG’s online NetCast platform.
The sheer scale of LG’s current lineup makes it difficult to place this CCFL-lit set in any kind of meaningful context, but if you’re after something larger, but similarly value-oriented, there are 42in and 37in versions of this set available. The LD690 series adds 100Hz and more elegant styling to proceedings, while stepping up from there to the LD790 series brings 200Hz processing.
If you’d rather have an edge LED backlight, meanwhile, the equivalent models in LG’s range are within the LE4900 series.
The 32LD490 is nowhere near as pretty as the majority of LG sets. Its bezel is both unusually chunky and rather plasticky and there are precious few curves or flourishes to help it stand out from the crowd.
Things quickly pick up with the connections; while the three-strong HDMI count is merely good, rather than great, there’s impressive multimedia support in the shape of a D-Sub PC input, a USB 2.0 slot and an Ethernet port.
The USB socket can play DivX HD video files as well as the more predictable JPEG photo and MP3 stuff, while the Ethernet doesn’t just provide the obligatory potential means of accessing future interactive services associated with the Freeview HD tuner. It also gives you access both to files stored on a networked DLNA PC (Nero’s MediaHome 4 Essentials software comes bundled with the TV) and to LG’s relatively new NetCast online platform of ‘ring-fenced’ service providers.
While the DLNA and USB multimedia playback features all work well, though, the NetCast system is currently unimpressive. In a world already spoiled by the high content levels and slick operating systems of other brands’ online systems, finding just three content providers on NetCast at the time of writing comes as a bit of a disappoinmment.
Those three providers are AccuWeather.com, the more or less universal YouTube portal and support for the Picasa Web Albums online photo storage service.
It goes without saying that LG needs to improve on this content support fast if it wants to challenge its rivals in what will become an increasingly important part of the TV marketplace.
Heading into the 32LD490′s onscreen menus uncovers a strong list of further features, especially if you’re the sort of person who likes tinkering with settings. If, on the other hand, you prefer the idea of getting someone with a professional qualification to optimise your set, the 32LD490′s endorsement by the Imaging Science Foundation (ISF) means that you can pay for an engineer to calibrate the TV for you.
As this option might cost not much less than the TV is worth, though, you might well prefer to have a crack at calibrating things yourself. And if you do, you will find you’ve got a startling array of tweaks at your disposal.
If you’ve got some sort of calibration aid, such as the DVE HD Basics calibration Blu-ray, you should definitely start your calibration efforts with the 32LD490′s pleasingly comprehensive colour management tools. These improve pictures by toning down the rather garish look most of the 32LD490′s presets present you with when you first get it out of the box.
Also occasionally useful are digital and standard noise reduction tools (though don’t set these too high if you don’t want to make pictures soft and blurry), a skin tone adjustment, a series of gamma presets, a black level booster and the option to tweak the white balance.
Note that some of the options mentioned are only available if you first choose the ISF Expert picture preset.
For all these handy tweaks, though, one thing the 32LD490 conspicuously lacks is motion processing. You don’t even get 100HzThough, to be fair, this isn’t entirely unexpected at the TV’s deflated price.
The 32LD490′s pictures, as is so often the case with LG TVs, make a seriously strong first impression. They are both extremely bright and richly coloured for a set of this size and price. It used to be the case that LG’s focus on retina-searing hues played havoc with tones, leaving them looking overwrought and unnatural.
But the 32LD490′s colour tones look pretty authentic, even when considered alongside a much more expensive, pre-calibrated set such as Panasonic’s P42G20.
The aggressive approach the 32LD490 takes to pictures also initially creates the impression that the set has a decent black level response. Certainly, during normal TV fare (which tends to emphasise bright, colourful environments), what dark patches of the picture there are appear to be rich and able to provide a strong contrast counterpoint to the extremely bright, colourful stuff.
Watching hi-def on the 32LD490, meanwhile, shows that it’s capable of reproducing good detail levels from crisp Blu-rays and that it doesn’t suffer as badly from judder as might have been expected, given its lack of serious motion processing. There’s a bit more judder than just the natural levels that you might anticipate from a Blu-ray, but only seldom does this extra stuttering appear brazenly enough to be truly distracting.
On some levels, the 32LD490 does a better job than many of its similarly priced rivals at upscaling standard definition, too. Non-HD Freeview broadcasts look really quite sharp and detailed, with precious little sign of that overt softness that often afflicts standard def on cheap LCD TVs.
It’s also nice to see that the 32LD490′s colours don’t slide off-key in the switch from HD to standard-def, thereby sidestepping another common cheap LCD failing.
However, its standard-def performance also kicks off a few issues with the 32LD490. For while the aggressive picture stance the TV takes helps to grab your attention despite the relatively small screen size, it can also leave standard-definition pictures looking rather noisy, slightly exaggerating MPEG noise if it’s there in a source (which it certainly is in most standard-def Freeview broadcasts) and generally making pictures look a touch bitty, especially if you don’t rein in the contrast and backlight settings.
Once you’ve become accustomed to the sheer vibrancy of the 32LD490′s colours, meanwhile, it may also strike you that they’re not painted with any great subtlety. What should be immaculate, smooth blends instead are prone to look rather stripy or blotchy, which, in extreme cases, can leave pictures overall feeling a little flat and cartoon-like.
The generally good sharpness levels of the 32LD490 also get reduced during action-packed sequences by the appearance of some gentle motion blur. But this is seldom truly distracting, and rates as not bad at all for a £400 set.
Poor black level response and a limited viewing angle are distracting flaws, though. The former point might sound contrary after the statement earlier to the effect that dark parts of mostly bright pictures look convincing. But the reality is that whenever there’s a predominantly dark scene, you can see clear evidence of grey clouding over the parts of the picture that should look black.
The seemingly respectable black level response during mostly bright scenes is something of an optical illusion, having more to do with the extremes of brightness and colour the set can produce than any really impressive black level ability.
As for the viewing angle, the screen starts to lose contrast quite drastically if you have to watch from an angle wider than 35° or so.
Sound, value and ease of use
Despite being one of LG’s cheaper TVs, it still benefits from the same exemplary onscreen menu system found on the brand’s higher-end TVs.
The presentation of the menus is first rate, with extensive use of HD-grade graphics and wording ensuring that you’re never in doubt as to where you need to go to achieve a particular end.
The menus are superbly well structured, too, once you’ve realised that some of the more in-depth picture tweaks only open up if you first choose the ISF presets. What’s more, there’s no hint of sluggishness or unresponsiveness when navigating through all the options on offer.
Making this all the more impressive is the fact that there are so many features for the TV to deal with, something that would doubtless lead to much scratching of heads with a less accomplished operating system.
The remote control is also a cut above the efforts usually found with such affordable TVs. The elongated design is elegant and effective at separating out different sections of buttons, while little touches like the raised section where the volume and programme shifting buttons sit and the rocker switch approach to the navigation buttons, both help you find your way round the handset, even in a darkened room.
Perhaps because it’s a bit chunkier than most of LG’s TVs these days, the 32LD490 produces a slightly better audio performance than the average, affordable 32in screen. There’s a tad more reach at the bass end of the spectrum, slightly more openness in the mid-range and treble details are reasonably clear without tipping over into harshness as readily as often happens with smaller TVs.
There’s nothing outstandingly good going on here, just something that’s pretty easy to listen to, which in itself is quite unusual with LCD TVs.
If you’re into multimedia, the fact that the 32LD490 has so much to offer in that department for so little money will make its price seem very attractive, especially as it’s a solid performer and has a built-in Freeview HD tuner.
Anyone focused purely on picture quality might consider spending just a little bit more to get superior performance from some similarly specified Samsung or Sony rivals, but there’s not much around below £400 that can perform significantly better than the 32LD490.
The 32LD490 is one of LG’s classic ‘tick all the boxes’ TVsIt first catches your eye with its price, which is aggressive right away for any 32in TV from a leading brand. But it reels you in further with a tantalising mixture of surprisingly expansive multimedia talents and the sort of hardcore picture adjustment flexibility that some brands reserve for their professional-grade screens.
Its pictures seem expressly designed to leap out from the affordable 32in crowd, with their almost indecent amounts of brightness and filthy rich colours.
With all this in mind, it’s hardly surprising that when you look past the surface sheen a few cracks appear, such as black level and video noise issues. But while these cracks are wide enough to stop the set from being a true budget classic, they certainly don’t stop it from being worth at least an audition, especially if you can find it discounted to an even lower price.
The price is appealing and more than fair for what’s on offer with the 32LD490. Being able to play photo, music or video files via USB on such an affordable set is a boon, as is having a Freeview HD tuner. But even better is the fact that you can access material stored on your networked PCs.
In performance terms, the 32LD490 sounds better than most 32in LCD TVs, and scores highly on picture vibrancy and sharpness.
The picture breaks down badly if you have to watch from much of an angle. The black level response is found a touch wanting during very dark scenes too, and colours lack a little subtlety.
Feature-wise, the only disappointment is the lack of content on LG’s NetCast online platform, though LG could argue that any online features at all should class as a bargain on a TV as cheap as the 32LD490.
- Decent value for the features on offer
- Bright and colourful pictures
- Weak online service
- Limited viewing angle
- Some black level issues
- Motion blur
The 32LD490 isn’t the prettiest, cleverest or highest-performance TV LG
has ever made, but the aggressive price (considering the amount of spec)
and eye-catching brightness and colour levels will almost certainly win
the 32LD490 more than a few multimedia-loving fans.
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