televisions

LG 50PA6500 Plasma TV Review

Unfortunately, the best thing about this TV is its glow-in-the-dark remote. Pass.

$899.99 MSRP 50 in.
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Overview

The PA6500 is LG's lower-end plasma line for 2012; the 50-inch we reviewed is entry-level, with an MSRP of $899. Like Panasonic's rather excellent U50 series, LG's PA6500 is a no-frills, picture-focused product: If you're looking for the basics in features and design, this plasma likely won't disappoint you.

If you're looking for the best of the best in picture quality, though, this LG ain't no Kuro. While its color performance is passable, its black level—like many of LG's 2012 plasmas—is very poor. Considering many people buy plasma TVs for their deep black levels, this is disappointing. You're better off shopping for one of LG's LCD variants, or a similarly priced Panasonic plasma.

Hardware

The PA6500 won't make the neighbors jealous, but you won't need to hide it in an entertainment center either.

This LG plasma has a very standard design, about the same thing you'll find throughout the entry-level end of the industry. Because it's a plasma display, it's quite heavy, no matter which screen size you're working with—however, considering this series' is available no smaller than 50-inches, we doubt anyone's going to try and lug any of them around regularly for use in multiple rooms. Adorning this standard design are on-set control buttons and a larger-than-average array of ports.

"While it doesn't allow for 3D viewing or any smart content, the PA6500 is a decent candidate for a home theater."

The 50- or 60-inch PA6500 is probably best suited to a comfortable, permanent spot in your living room. While it doesn't allow for 3D viewing or any smart content, it's a decent candidate for a home theater.

On the back and left side of the TV, you'll find ports and source connections for three HDMI inputs, one USB 2.0, two component inputs, one composite input, VGA and PC audio, digital audio out, and a coaxial jack for an antenna or cable connection. In total, there are more high-definition inputs here than usual, making the PA6500 even more eligible for home theater use—its ability to swivel about 20° to either side gives it some welcome flexibility, too.

This TV's most notable feature, however, is actually not a part of the TV at all. The included remote, despite being overly crammed with buttons, is pretty cool in that it makes use of a blue backlight, allowing its keys to glow in the dark. This feature makes dim-room use that much easier. Remote backlights are nothing new; what's so cool about this one is that it automatically detects the level of light around it, and glows accordingly.

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Software

LG's overly-optioned menus: Too much of a good thing?

LG's high-end 2012 TVs are quite easy to use due to the inclusion of an infrared-motion "Magic Remote," and menu software tailored to complement its functionality. The PA6500 ships with a regular, button-heavy remote control, however, and the plethora of software options, quick menus, AV modes, and single-use buttons on the remote itself is more than a little confusing.

"Television hobbyists will likely be thankful for this degree of control, but everyone else is going to end up with a headache."

In short, we don't like this TV's software. It gives the user ample options—to the point of erring on information overload—and multiple ways to approach accessing those options. Compared to higher-end software, it's confusing, and visually unappealing. While everything you need to get your TV's picture and audio "just right" is in the menu somewhere, you'll probably still find yourself feeling too hot or too cold as you attempt to find it. Television hobbyists will likely be thankful for this degree of control, but everyone else is going to end up with a headache.

Like so many modern TVs, the LG PA6500 series allows for photo, music, or video playback from a connected USB flash device. That way, if you want to build a playlist and play it through the TV's speakers, or watch a slideshow of images that had previously only lived on your PC's hard drive, you can use the TV to take advantage of higher screen real estate and (possibly) better speakers. This isn't really anything special, but it is one of this TV's only extra features.

Performance

The PA6500 gets an A for motion, but its black levels need to stay after class.

If you're going to buy a plasma, you're going to buy it for one of two reasons: A) You know something about TVs, and want the best picture quality possible, or B) You just bought the TV that was on sale, and it happened to be a plasma. The average consumer goes for an LCD when they see it on the retail floor: It's brighter and thinner, making the plasma beside it look dim, sad, even a little emo.

While there's a time and a feature article for that discussion, the bottom line is this: Plasma TVs sell for their picture quality, and are an entirely different animal than LCDs. LG makes great LCDs, but they can't seem to get their plasmas perfect yet. One of the biggest draws of plasmas is their deep, realistic black and shadow detail—and that is where the PA6500 falls short. Compared to similarly priced 2012 plasmas, the PA6500's black level is pathetic, and it has awful falloff problems, meaning it's going to noticeably brighten and darken from scene to scene. This is a big no-no, and really dragged down this TV's score.

"The PA6500's black level is pathetic, and really dragged down its score."

One place where this LG performs admirably, though, is in motion performance. The PA6500 has no motion smoothing or motion enhancing effects, and yet it did very well during our set of motion tests, maintaining image clarity and shape integrity with more efficacy than the average TV. In that same vein, its color integrity—the accuracy of its colors, and the spectrum of colors it can display—was quite good. Unfortunately, these two things aren't enough to redeem this TV's failing black level grade. At the end of the day, it's a mediocre performer.

Conclusion

Too dim to be a good LCD, not dark enough to be a good plasma, the PA6500 is doomed to telepurgatory.

The PA6500 is LG's entry-level 1080p plasma series for last year's market. In a time where almost every HDTV is 3D-capable, and almost every 3D-capable HDTV is smart, we often find it refreshing to test and review the less frilly products. However, compared to many entry-level 2012 TVs, the PA6500 does not redeem its lack of features with a quality picture.

For a plasma display, its black levels just aren't dark enough. The only advantage to having a dimmer TV is in black level integrity—the PA6500 is too dim to watch in a bright room, but stubborn users won't be rewarded for their light-snuffing efforts with the shadow detail they deserve. While its color reproduction is just fine (not great) and it handles fast-motion content well, its lack of contrast will sour content that would benefit from its motion performance, namely video games or sports.

While almost no TV is useless, this series is just a little too expensive for the quality and features it offers consumers. The coming 2013 swarm is putting many 2012 models on sale, which means you can probably find a better, cheaper TV than any in LG's PA6500 plasma series without looking too hard.

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