Who's it for: Those looking for a spare bedroom or playroom TV.
The LG 32LB5600 gets many things right, including generally great video quality, for about $250. Audio is also refreshingly good for a TV of this size. But if smart TV functions are important to you, check out models such as the Vizio M322i-B1, which sells for about $50 more.
(Click images to enlarge.)
Design: Form over Function
The LG 32LB5600 is easily the most fashion-forward TV in its class, with a stylish pair of angled legs on either end. Unfortunately, those good looks make the set a nonstarter for some buyers, as it can only be placed on a surface at least 29 inches wide, and ideally larger. (For reference, a pretty standard Ikea Malm dresser is just 27.5-inches wide.)
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Otherwise, it's attractively designed, with a thin black bezel and a discrete LG logo centered on the bottom. I'm partial to having hardware-control buttons as a backup for a lost remote, but that's not an option with this TV. At the rear are two HDMI ports (one pointing out the back and one to the side), as well as analog inputs for video and audio, an optical audio output, and USB.
Ease of Use: Vintage (In the Bad Sense)
Earlier this year, I tested out one of LG's WebOS Smart TVs, which has a fantastic, colorful and thoughtful interface for navigating both the TV and other video content. Sadly, the LG 32LB5600 lacks that design savvy, and it feels like a leap back a decade.
I appreciate that menu items are big and easy to read, but the setup scheme is clearly designed by an engineer, forcing you to go through autotuning channels even if you select cable as an input (which makes no sense, as you aren't using the TV's tuner), and that takes ages. You can force the autotuning to quit, but it's alienating, as are the multiple redundancies for adjusting picture and audio settings. The result is that I never quite felt like I understood the right way to control the set. It only got worse with the remote.
Remote: A Land of Confusion
The 32LB5600's remote is comfortable enough to hold and manipulate, but LG has packed buttons in like proverbial sardines. Coupled with ambiguous labels, this clicker is destined to befuddle users. To wit: What should the user expect to control when selecting between the Audio or the Sound buttons? How about AV Mode or Ratio? Settings versus Menu?
It's as if LG simply purchased a generic remote without any thought as to how someone might want to use the device. To top it off, from about 6 feet away I had trouble getting my button presses to register; I had to be careful about line of sight, unlike with any of the other remotes we used at the same distance.
Image Quality: Near the Top of the Heap
LG's set produced a wonderful picture, with the 1080p resolution proving a real asset. Still, a few recurring picture issues crept up, knocking the TV's score down a bit. (For details on our evaluation methodology, please see How We Test TVs.)
Color: Close to real life
The LG 32LB5600 has seven picture modes to choose from, and similarly to other sets, the warmer Cinema option produced the most pleasing balance of brightness, color and contrast. (The default APS: Auto Power Save mode had a blue tinge.) In Skyfall, for instance, white skin tones were rosy to slightly but acceptably yellow, and dark skin was natural and not orangey. Even when watching a football game, I preferred Cinema mode, which tamed the generally over-saturated color palette and seemed surprisingly lifelike, if slightly dark.
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Black levels were a pitfall though, due to the LG's LED edge lighting. In some scenes in Gravity, the set produced deep blacks without clouding or covering up shadow detail or the stars. But at other times light bled at the edges, and the letterboxes (dark bars) at the top and bottom of the screen would be charcoal grey. The LG also suffered from stuttering during camera pans, when fast-moving items onscreen took on a stop-motion effect. This is likely due to to problems with LG's Real Cinema 24p processing, which is mean to sync playback to the original 24fps that most movies are shot at.
Detail: Fine across the board
Using the Cinema mode on the 32LB5600, I was happy with the sharpness and level of shadow detail for all the media I watched. Onscreen text and graphics looked sharp and legible without the stairstepping (jagged edges) found in 720p sets. I did come up against a bit of what's called "judder" when playing Need for Speed, when, in this case, images with vertical lines would flash as the camera panned across them. But it happened rarely, and most viewers won't notice it.
In particular, I was impressed with how good standard-definition DVDs looked, as the LG softened the graininess that plagued other sets. But then again, fine detail was relatively obliterated: Bond's obituary seen on a computer screen in Skyfall is perfectly legible on the Blu-ray, but a fuzzy mess on DVD.
Audio: Rich and Enveloping
The 32LB5600's audio performance was impressive. In Surround mode, it produced an expansive soundscape with nice separation of different elements and extremely fine detail that I didn't notice with any other 32-inch sets I've tested. For instance, as Sandra Bullock's character in Gravity uses an electric wrench to unscrew a bolt, I was able to clearly hear its muted tone as it revolves, a little Easter egg by the sound editor. (There's no sound in space, after all.)
I really like the performance of the LG 32LB5600, despite the minor edge-lighting issues and inconsistent black levels. However, competing sets, such as the Vizio M322i-B1, offer similar performance, with the addition of Smart TV capabilities, for not much more.
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