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'Bargain' HDTV offers solid performance

  • Story Highlights
  • Insignia's 32-inch NS-LCD32-09 LCD TV has a fine performance for the price
  • Biggest weakness is keeping consistent brightness across the screen in dark areas
  • It produces a depth of black that is perfectly acceptable in a budget TV
  • Primary colors measured quite close to the HDTV standard
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By David Katzmaier
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CNET.com

(CNET) -- The Best Buy house brand Insignia can be found on some of the cheapest, er, least-expensive HDTVs available anywhere, and judging from the company's terrible NS-PDP42 plasma, you might be tempted to write these sets off entirely.

Not so fast, bargain hunter.

The 32-inch NS-LCD32-09 LCD TV fared a lot better in our tests, owing to fine performance for the price and more inputs than anybody expected.

If you're looking to save cash on a smaller HDTV, there's no reason not to audition this li'l bargain.

Design

Glossy black has migrated down to the lowest end of the LCD market, making the Insignia NS-LCD32-09 look much like a more-expensive Samsung.

A graceful curve along the panel's bottom edge adds a bit of additional class, and we were surprised when the included stand swiveled a bit.

The 32-inch NS-LCD32-09 is average size, measuring 30.8x22x8.7 inches including stand, and weighing a feathery 24.5 pounds.

Don't Miss

The remote feels light and cheap in-hand, but the size is nice and all buttons are well-spaced and accounted for. A row of four keys along the top edge allow direct access to four input types.

The bare-bones menu gets the job done with minimal fanfare, and we didn't have any issues once we figured out that the "preset" selection actually reset the picture settings.

Features

Albeit inexpensive, the Insignia NS-LCD32-09 cuts no critical corners. The set's native resolution of 1,366x768 is perfectly fine because the advantage of a higher pixel count, say 1080p, is completely wasted at this screen size.

Picture adjustments are relatively basic. The NS-LCD32-09 lacks picture presets such as Movie and Dynamic, but we did like its independent input memories and the inclusion of a backlight control to adjust black levels and overall light output.

The Insignia buries its three color temperature presets in an Advanced menu under the Feature tab instead of the Video tab where it belongs, but at least it's there, along with a couple varieties of noise reduction and dynamic contrast, which are best left turned off for critical viewing. The 3D Y/C control, which cleans up composite-video sources, should be left on.

We appreciated the four aspect ratio choices with both HDTV and standard-def sources. The Insignia lacks picture-in-picture, although it does have a freeze-frame option.

The biggest surprise came when we counted not one, not two, but three HDMI inputs on the NS-LCD32-09.

Two are located on the back panel--along with two component-video inputs, a VGA-style PC input, and an AV input with composite and S-Video ports--while the third can be found along the left side of the panel, along with a headphone jack and a second AV input with composite and S-Video.

All in all, connectivity is superb on the NS-LCD32-09, especially at this price point.

Performance

Calibration was relatively simple since the NS-LCD32-09 lacked fine controls for color temperature.

We didn't have any directly comparable TVs available at review time, but we did set the Insignia up next to a couple of larger sets, namely our reference sets for black level and color along with a couple of recently reviewed budget models, the Vizio VO47LF and the NS-PDP42 from Insignia itself. We watched "Man on Fire" on Blu-ray for most of our image quality tests.

• Black level performance: The Insignia NS-LCD32-09 produced a depth of black that was perfectly acceptable in a budget TV, appearing a bit deeper than the Vizio and the other Insignia in areas such as the shadows of Denzel Washington's room. Details in shadows appeared distinct enough, although not up to the level of higher-end sets. We did notice that darker areas were tinged bluish, much like with the Vizio, which definitely detracted from the realism of dark scenes.

• Color accuracy: The Insignia's color wasn't bad, exhibiting relatively accurate skin tones thanks to its close adherence to the color temperature standard in Warm mode--at least in brighter areas. Primary colors measured quite close to the HDTV standard, although the greenery around the mansion, for example, was still tinged noticeably bluer than it should have been. We also had to turn down saturation a bit to deal with the Insignia's slight red push, which took some punch out of the colors.

• Video processing: According to resolution patterns, the NS-LCD32-09 truncated more detail from 1080i sources than many 1,366x768 displays we've tested, but watching the sharp Man, that loss wasn't noticeable at all. We also didn't notice the set's improper 1080i de-interlacing. The Insignia couldn't take 1080p from our PlayStation3, but on a smaller TV of this resolution that's hardly a knock.

• Uniformity: The Insignia's biggest weakness was in maintaining a consistent brightness across the screen in dark areas. We saw brighter corners in the letterbox bars above and below the film, and the edges of the screen, especially the right side, looked noticeably brighter in dark scenes, such as when Denzel drives through the tunnel. In most scenes, these uniformity issues weren't visible, however. The screen also lost lots of depth in black when we moved to either side, while the darker areas took on a red tinge.

• Standard-def: The NS-LCD32-09 didn't quite resolve every detail of the DVD format, and the stones in the bridge and the blades of grass looked a bit softer than we'd like to see. We also saw quite a few jaggies in moving diagonal lines. The High noise-reduction setting cleaned up the shots of sky and sunsets quite well, and the Insignia engaged 2:3 pull-down quickly and effectively.

• PC: When we connected the Insignia to our test PC via HDMI, our video card drivers identified the display as a "Zoran Matrix," which basically doesn't exist according to a Google search. No matter, the set passed all of the resolution of a 1,360x768 source perfectly, as we expect from any LCD. It also performed the same via VGA.

© 2009 CBS Interactive Inc. All rights reserved. CNET, CNET.com and the CNET logo are registered trademarks of CBS Interactive Inc. Used by permission.

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