HDTVs have long passed the acid test of being what the consumer desires: if you are getting a new TV, it will be high-definition. The trick is to balance your needs against the TV’s features so that you’re not disappointed at a later time. It all comes down to the hardware inside the set, since there’s only so much that can be upgrades. It’s fair to say that your HDTV’s screen size should be big enough for more than 1 person to view comfortably; anything under 42-inches just doesn’t cut it. And if you’re planning on accessing online content, whether “apps” or movies (e.g., Netflix), or music (e.g., Pandora), etc., Internet capabilities must be built in from the get-go.

Insignia’s 42-inch flat-panel provides all of this in a slim design that will not offend anyone’s sense of style or decor. But even better, it provides a view that lets you get sucked into the image being presented onscreen.

The Insignia is lightweight enough should it need to be moved from one location to another on a regular basis. The base attaches to the display using a few provided screws and, as is the case today with most Internet-capable sets, you’ll plug an Ethernet cord into the corresponding socket on its back, with the other end going into your router. The Insignia will take care of all the ‘handshaking” necessary to work with your home network automatically (a bit more effort is needed if using the built-in wireless to connect to your home network, but mostly that’s about telling it the name/password).

The other connections on the Insignia consist of 4 HDMI sockets, along with others such as for a Component cable; along with those for inserting a USB thumb drive or connecting a computer (VGA). Audio provides for external inputs as well as outputs in both digital and analog.

The Insignia goes into standby mode once it’s plugged in. The remote can be used as a “universal” model to control other components and functions using radio-frequency (RF) for the set: this avoids the need for direct line-of-sight control. Backlighting provides a momentary view of the buttons and is a welcome addition.

Turning the Insignia on for the first time, a series of questions are posed (reminiscent of the debut of a new computer operating system on your PC).

Once this is done, you access the main menu using the TIVO button on the remote, which provides a menu choice for searching online for TV shows, actors, etc. There’s even the “Thumbs up/Thumbs down” buttons on the remote that TIVO owners know so well. Of course you can’t actually record anything unless you have a DVR attached, but it’s a nice way to tie in the program guide with online information.

My initial setup consists of a Dish Network DVR satellite receiver in HDMI #1 and a PlayStation 3 (for games and Blu-ray disc playing) in #2. Accessing the menus and scanning the available choices for modifying the image in each input brings up the expected kind of manipulations involving brightness, contrast, color tint and color temperature. I place everything at the mid-way setting except color temperature where I prefer “Cool” because I don’t care for the ruddy flesh tones that appear otherwise (though you may prefer it or something else). There’s also some “advanced features” affecting motion and image enhancement: I found these to be somewhat unnecessary with HD, although noise reduction does have its place with standard-def content. Your opinion as to their usefulness may differ when you try them out, but I suggest you start without them first.

I also went in and upped the volume of the built-in subwoofer while leaving off the volume limiter (good for preventing commercials from blasting your ears off) and the surround sound simulator on (these two have to trade off as they can’t both be used at the same time). Making all of this a bit easier than would otherwise be the case is that there’ll be a PIP (picture-in-picture) window in the corner of the screen to let you continue to watch what is being broadcasted while you do all this; should you access online music instead, it continues to play as well.

Returning to the main screen, I select the satellite receiver on the remote, turn it on, let the Insignia switch to its input and adjust the volume of the internal stereo speakers down while some ad is hyping mops. The built-in sound system is more than adequate for viewing TV, but those watching movies or playing games might find the speaker’s 5 watts and the subwoofer’s 10 watts a bit thin for their tastes. If that’s the case, just output the audio from the analog or digital audio output to a home theater system. I wasn’t bothered at all, but then I wasn’t watching it with a group of people. I can say that the SRS surround audio technology does beef up the audio overall and for the majority of people will create the effect of an enhanced surround sound-field.

The Internet capability is designed around a series of choices built into the set (although additional, approved applications can be added later on). These consist of CinemaNow for renting movies, Netflix for streaming movies, FaceBook, Twitter and Photobucket, YouTube, as well as Pandora and Napster for listening to audio (some of these services require subscriptions/payments in order to use). Each can be quickly accessed after pressing the TIVO button and have the same kind of functionality as found in their computer or mobile device counterparts.

All this is good stuff, but the real value of the Insignia comes through the viewing. Since it’s not 3D-capable, the 120Hz speed of the set should be more than up to the task of stabilizing the video and keeping artifact and other problems that LCDs are prone to (the use of LED backlighting helps with deepening the blacks).

Staying with the satellite receiver, I pull up Edward Scissorhands on VOD because 1) it has lots of bright, primary colors, and 2) the snowflake scenes can make or break the ability of the Insignia to convey fine detail. I find the color intensity to be quite good and the overall detail more than just acceptable — keep in mind that transmitted HD is compressed compared to what comes off a Blu-ray disc. A close inspection of the snowflakes swirling about doesn’t betray any smearing either.

Changing channels to a kick-boxing tournament shot on video continues to provide a clearly defined image; in fact the contrast might be a bit too high so it gets toned down a bit. Blacks, which can be problematic, seem fine — but switching to the Blu-ray disc of Sleepy Hollow (staying with Johnny Depp) will give me a chance to see how night scenes are handled. Surprisingly well as it turns out — due to the Insignia’s backlighting which provides for strong blacks without losing detail as a result of proper contrast levels (the trained eye will find that the Blu-ray disc has the edge on the best image when compared to broadcasted content).

The same can be said for Internet content, such as cartoons played on Netflix. The color intensity here, even in obvious standard-definition, is smear-free and eminently watchable. A wide viewing angle that doesn’t cause significant light loss or a drop in color intensity is a good thing too.

Overall, the Insignia is a well-designed HDTV with a level of brightness and contrast that is well above “acceptable.” It might not have the name panache of one of the “Big Boys,” but where it counts — the image — there’s nothing to complain about. There’s even the ability to link selected sound-bars through RS-232 and a card slot for adding an optional “Rocketboost” audio card for sharing audio wirelessly with other like-designed products.

Now those who want 3D-capabilities will have to look elsewhere. But if a more than reasonably priced Internet-capable 42-inch HDTV with a quality Full HD signal is desired, the Insignia will deliver.

Editor’s Rating:

Rating: ★★★★☆

Great

Bottom Line:

 The Insignia 42-inch LCD flat panel provides a surprising number of features at a very low price. But even more important, the quality of the viewing image is compatible with displays costing far more.

PROS

  • Wireless networking capability
  • Easy menu navigation
  • Wide viewing angle

CONS

  • No 3D viewing capabilities
  • Base assembly requires two people to do safely
  • Side-mounted connection panel limits positioning of other components relative to display.



Marshal Rosenthal

 
Marshal Rosenthal is a Los Angeles-based freelance writer and journalist specializing in technology, consumer electronics and pop culture.