Monday, April 02, 2012

LG Smart TVs are kind of stupid

Here are some stupid things about the 47LW5600, a 2011 LG "Smart TV":
  • In SmartShare (USB and DLNA mode) only a short bit of the file name is initially visible. When episode file names start with the show name (like Plex recommends), I only see the show name. My photo folders start with the date, and there I only see the date. To see more, it's necessary to highlight one item and wait for text to slowly scroll.
  • When switching between photos in SmartShare, the screen abruptly goes black and stays black until the next photo appears. Loading of 4MP photos takes over a second. That's ridiculously slow! They could have made it instant by pre-loading the next photo. It's a lot better in LG Media Link. There, only very large photos display a loading animation, and the slide show has fades.
  • High bitrate spikes will cause playback interruptions when streaming over the network via SmartShare or LG Media Link. The TV can peak at around 86% network utilization, but it can't sustain that and there is very little buffer space to accommodate peaks. Sustained H.264 bandwidth exceeding 50 MBps is sufficient to cause video interruptions. These problems don't happen when playing from USB.
  • The lack of DTS support is stupid because the format is popular. It can be transcoded while streaming, but that doesn't work correctly. When using Serviio, seeking becomes impossible. This seems to be because the TV can only seek based on file offsets, but those are not known while transcoding. When using Plex Media Server, video gets transcoded. Even when that is fixed, there are pauses, apparently due to excessive CPU usage and inefficient multithreading in the server. The only good solution is transcoding audio beforehand. When using MKV files, that's easy to do via MKV2AC3. It kind of makes sense because AC3 offers almost the same quality at less than half the bitrate, but I don't like transcoding from one lossless format to another. The best solution is encoding the DTS-HD lossless track to AC3 when ripping, but I'm not sure how to do that.
  • The TV mysteriously rejects some AVI files. Fortunately, that's easy to fix by converting to MKV using mkvmerge. As a bonus, that decreases file size a bit without losing anything.
  • When playing files, it's not possible to switch audio tracks or use MKV chapters. Subtitles embedded in MKV files are only supported when playing from USB. When a file of sufficient length is played from USB, the red remote button can be used to switch chapters, but those are just the file divided into 10 equal sized parts; they have nothing to do with MKV chapters.
  • No idx/sub subtitle support. (The "*.sub (MicroDVD, SubViewer 1.0/2.0)" mentioned in the manual is not the same thing.) You must use OCR to convert graphical subtitles to text-based subtitles such as .srt.
  • The web browser is slow and it lacks Flash support. You can't stream any video using it, and so you're forced to rely on what's available via apps and LG Media Link. If you just want to look up some basic information, it's certainly usable. However, getting up, waking a computer from standby and looking it up on the computer is faster.
  • The YouTube app does not show much information about videos, so it's hard to choose which video to play. Again, LG Media Link does it better. There is one good thing about the built-in YouTube app: it will play YouTube 3D content in 3D.
  • SmartShare seems to occasionally drop frames even when playing 30fps SD content and not experiencing any buffering issues. It's not a big deal; I just think it ought to be perfect. I wonder if it's just an AVI issue. It's possible to play 640x480 H.264 at 60 fields per second interlaced in an AVI in both SmartShare and LG Media Link, but both result in horrible frame dropping. If I simply remux it to MKV, it's super smooth. (The TV also seems to deinterlace really well. The image is so good that I'm very happy with my decision to encode NTSC video to interlaced H.264.)
  • Some settings are not remembered properly. Audio can become un-muted when switching between modes. In LG Media Link, all files start playing stretched to the whole screen, requiring a few clicks to get the proper aspect ratio.
  • The interface is inconsistent. Different modes have different looks and different ways of changing settings. Most notably, SmartShare and LG Media Link have two different video playback screens (overlays). That's understandable because they're two different applications. However, they're built in applications in the same product. The user interface should be consistent. (I'm not complaining about how the file browsing screens are different. That's part of the fundamental nature of the applications.) 
  • There is no support for common Bluetooth or USB devices like headphones or keyboards. The TV does have Bluetooth for the Magic Motion Remote. It would be nice to be able to use Bluetooth headphones or wireless keyboards. That would be truly smart.
  • It's not possible to zoom 4:3 content while preserving the aspect ratio. This means if you encounter 16:9 content that has been letterboxed to 4:3, you can't expand the content to fill the screen. (No, it's not really a Smart TV issue, but it is definitely a software issue.)
The only really impressive part that deserves to be called smart is LG Media Link and Plex Media Server. It can present beautiful indexes of content, with covers, other artwork, and various information. Plex also provides a gateway to many sources of online streaming video. Even in Canada, many full TV shows can be streamed from TV channels via Plex. However, there are various bugs and issues. Also, Plex isn't very nice when it can't find online data about a show, making SmartShare better in those cases.

I like the picture quality. The higher black level of the IPS panel can seem a bit disappointing in bars around the image, but the image is vivid and not washed out. It's so good it can feel like actually being there.

The LG passive 3D is great too. The glasses feel like cheap crap that would deserve a bad review on DealExtreme, but they're light and very comfortable. If they break, they would be inexpensive to replace. As long as you're within the very limited vertical viewing angle, there is no crosstalk. The horizontal viewing angle is wide.

Overall, it's a nice TV, except for the "Smart" features. They feel more like an alpha or maybe beta, and definitely not like a final release. While they are usable, they can't fully replace the direct connection of a computer to the TV. The hardware is certainly capable of much more, but I don't think any TV manufacturer is going to spend much effort on improving firmware once a model isn't sold anymore.


leoarmada said...

Thanks for the review.
Got myself a LG 47" 5700 series a couple of days back and I am extremely furious and dumbfounded with the LG's media player because it only able to play 30% of my movie collections. It doesn't have DTS pass-through, don't play many avi files, and the youtube app sucks. Now, i have to invest on an external Media player.
BUT love the Picture Quality - it so unreal. The magic wand is also a fantastic tool. Navigation & browsing on the TV made so much easier.

Boris Gjenero said...

I think it might not play AVI files with AC3 audio. Simply remuxing such AVI files to MKV using mkvmerge made them play. Serviio with this profile allows many things to be played via DLNA. I have a message in that thread with some suggested changes. The only downside is that seeking is impossible when Serviio is doing transcoding. It seems the TV can only seek based on file byte offsets, which are unknown when transcoding.

If you haven't tried Plex Media Server and LG Media Link, check it out. It's currently not a good choice for when transcoding is necessary, but the bugs are being worked on. Plex has support for various online sources including YouTube. You might like that YouTube client better.

BEEz said...

Your comments about the lack of a zoom feature for SD (digital but not HD) pictures that are letterboxed (so they are in 16:9, but have black bars on all sides) is spot on. I tried contacting LG about this and they blamed my cable box (BS, as this is the case when you get a digital channel via the tuner too). Then, they seemed to actively keep me from posting my concern on their troubleshooting page (saying I violated policy... which I didn't). Why they don't upgrade the software to fix this issue is puzzling. I love the TV otherwise, but I may not go back to LG next time because of this one issue.

Unknown said...

very nicely said!

on the first bullet it says that I can see the long file names like this:

"To see more, it's necessary to highlight one item and wait for text to slowly scroll."

how can u highlight items? I have the LG LW750 and that doesnt seem to work for me at all... not with the magic remote and not with the standard remote...
can anyone help? I have to start the video..

Boris Gjenero said...

With the 47LW5600, the file under the magic remote cursor becomes highlighted and its file name scrolls. Alternatively, this highlight can be moved around using arrow keys on a remote. The magic remote has arrow keys on the circle around the main button, so you can use it in either of these two ways.

In other words, this is how one starts playback, except I just choose a file, without pressing a button to start playback. It's an excessively time consuming way to see the rest of the filename, but it always works. I can use it both with USB and DLNA.

Unknown said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Milkos said...

hey, great blog :-)
I am willing to buy a LG 50PM670S. please let me know why you say that there is no flash support on web browser while the data sheet says the opposite and from what I read should support a wireless keyboard.

sorry for my english

Boris Gjenero said...

It seems that 2012 LG TVs have Flash 11. That means practically any Flash content should be usable now. However, don't count on LG ever updating them to future newer versions of Flash. LG is not updating any earlier TVs to Flash 11.

Anonymous said...

oh my god,
so weird,
LG Smart TVs are spying on you while you change channels ?
why lg do that?

Kevin said...

I've been very annoyed that medialink is not capable of playing embedded subtitles. It works from USB, so why not while streaming? The other annoying thing is the constant full screen in medialink. The aspect ratio shows up properly while viewing video via Smart Share, so why not medialink. I tend to agree with you that it's more like a "beta" for most of the features. Does some nice stuff, just doesn't do all of it quite right.

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