The recent explosion in inexpensive lower-end HDTVs has put the ‘Full 1080p HD’ experience in more homes of fans and videophiles than ever before, and it shouldn’t come as any surprise to see Best Buy’s own Insignia brand helping to lead the charge. It was only a natural progression from LCD to its far-skinnier LED successor, and with that reduction came boosts in color and display performances – and price. Consumers seem to love paying for less (space), but that doesn’t mean that there isn’t room for smaller, less-expensive LED-LCD screens as well, does it? Our hands-on evaluation of Insignia’s 32″ and full 1080p ready NS-32E570A11 explores if such a combo can compete with other established brands, most of which reserve their sleek backlit models for more pricey packages. There’s plenty to like, even if the emphasis on style makes for some expected sacrifices in features.
Insignia’s line of inexpensive HDTVs are known for their no-nonsense appearances, and despite a shift to the skinny with its LED screen, the NS-32E570A11 keeps this tradition alive with a pedestrian glossy plastic bezel that neither stands out, nor offends. While it may not make the strongest design statement, its real depth (or lack of) can be seen from the side which the panel comes off as relatively thin at around 1.7/8” deep, and continues the trend by hiding the speakers underneath accompanied by a rectangular low-profile stand that doesn’t swivel. Despite its modest looks, the fact that its LED-backlit should slience most nitpickers quickly.
There’s more draw to the NS-32E570A11 than just its slimmed-down size (and price), especially if you’re ready to to dive into a fully digital and HD-ready world. On its left-hand rear side are four HDMI inputs, one component input (including L/R audio), and a single USB port for quick ‘n easy JPEG picture viewing. The rear features a VGA (PC) with audio port, optical digital audio output, and a coaxial/antenna for RF configurations. There’s even a headphone jack (a nice Insignia staple) if having one available is important for you. There might be a problem if analog inputs are still a priority for you, as there aren’t any traditional composite (RCA) connections to speak of on this unit. This omission is a little disappointing, but considering how underwhelming standard definition looks on most flat panel screens, even with processing enhancements, the analog inputs may be missed only for those reluctant on getting a AV switcher.
As long as you’re not trying to watch from the most extreme angles, the picture quality was rather good after calibrating the color accuracy, which initially leaned more in warm hues. They don’t look terrible, but more eagle-eyed enthusiasts will balk at the initial reddish blends and their tendency to produce minor bleeding against more dynamic contrasts. Speaking of contrast levels, differences between deep blacks and the brightest whites was better than expected, especially when compared to most entry-level LCDs, thanks to its edge-lit backlighting technology. This helps produce better lights and darks, particularly on the sides with the lighting automatically adjusting itself depending on what’s actively shown.
This feature is mostly for energy-efficiency first and quality second, as the backlights will alter the picture quality between scenes and without the subtle transitions of higher-end models. If anything, it’s more distracting than welcome, and we’d have preferred to keep the brilliance to a minimum.
Other areas of picture quality such as clarity were as expected. Those looking for ‘Full HD 1080p’ will get it with the NS-32E570A11, as it supports an impressive 1920 x 1080 maximum resolutions…as long as you’ve got the content. It bears repeating those most HD content (especially games and movies) max out at 720p, and most people probably wouldn’t even notice the extra pixels of fully-enabled 1080p programming anyway on a display of this size.
Regardless of how many pixels were displayed, HD-equipped games and movies were remarkably sharp and easily came close to more expensive models, with refresh rates playing at (forgive the pun) refreshingly quick clips thanks to the speedy 120hz refresh rate and preselect Game Mode setting. Blu-ray movies looked great, naturally, though you’ll definitely want to fiddle with the various settings to keep them from looking caffeinated (i.e. sped-up) due to the overuse of special modes and ‘features (see below for a better description).
Lower resolutions (480p/EDTV), such as the Nintendo Wii, were just adequate as jaggies and softer detailing were more prevalent – a common occurrence when displaying some SD-content on HD displays. Still, the colors looked vibrant on its LED screen and lacked that obnoxious ‘smear’ effect so common in inferior models. Again, if you’re planning on using this display with either a Wii or other non-HD ready console or device, make sure you’ve got compatible cables or converter box, as there’s no composite (yellow/white/red) inputs to help you out.
Motion fluidity – the bane of most lower-end displays – is a somewhat mixed-bag here, and you may want to play around a bit with Insignia’s 120Hz motion dejuddering feature, which is supposed to add a smoother, though less cinematic, refresh rate to movies and games running through it. From our testing it really only seemed to affect movies and not much else, and whatever your personal preferences on experience ‘improvers’ like these, true videophiles will probably want it off (it’s on by default) or just switch to the far-superior Game Mode.
Something that has always bugged me about Insignia’s HDTV line-up has been their strange menu displays, which seem to be placed in the most inconvenient place of all – right in the center of the screen. Needless to say, this makes trying to play with and configure just the right picture quality a hassle, and I’m really surprised that such an interface continues to plague what’s an otherwise fine experience. Insignia people, if you’re reading this, it’s time to ditch the in-your-face approach and make tech-heads like myself sleep better.
Another problem that continues to bring down the appeal of Insignia’s otherwise compelling displays – and this model – are the abysmal speakers that, despite boasting a full 16w output (8watts individually) and the integration of SRS TruSurround HD and Audyssey volume control, sound mediocre and less than satisfying. Nevertheless, I don’t usually concern myself with the audio output of televisions but for those whose budget doesn’t include a standalone AV receiver the lack of a decent sound experience does sting a bit. Hey, there’s always that handy headphone jack!
If you want to get in on the slimmer appeal of LED-based LCD HDTVs usually reserved for higher-end displays, Insignia’s NS-32E570A11 is an attractive alternative that rivals most of its closest lower-end challengers in terms of picture quality and price for the size. It’s not the most stylish unit around, and connectivity isn’t well-rounded (no composite video inputs), but still a decent addition if your strictly using it for ‘Full 1080p HD’ performance in a small bedroom or office space. The poor audio quality and unusual overcompensation that the backlight portrays in-between scene contrasts doesn’t do it any favors, and you’ll definitely want to spend some quality time calibrating the color hues and motion ‘enhancing’ options before settling in. Still, there’s not much to complain about with a 32” LED this cheap, but you can probably due better if having a thinner display has become an obsession.