“It's hard to pass over the specs and performance Insignia has managed to load into a television in this price range.”
- Stacked with inputs
- including 5 HDMI; matte screen eliminates glare; attractive front bezel; relatively high-quality sound; respectable image quality for the price
- Still some motion blur in games; color palette produces banding in gradients; can't muster much volume
Insignia probably isn’t the brand you see commercials for on TV, go into the store planning to buy, or frankly, brag to your friends about after you buy. But after strolling the show floor and getting a dose of name-brand sticker shock, it’s the type of brand you’ll probably think twice about. Best Buy’s little-known store brand ranks high on the features-for-the-buck scale, falling beside the likes of Vizio and Westinghouse on the peculiarly low end of the price range where shoppers can’t help buy wonder what they’re giving up for the price. We pried open the 42-inch NS-L42X-10A Insignia, which sells for $850 and boasts many of the same bells and whistles from spendier TVs, like 1080p resolution and 120Hz refresh rates, to find out whether Best Buy has a deal with the devil, or just a solid bargain on its hands.
Features and Specs
As modern LCD television go, the Insignia L42X boasts all the essentials, and then some. The matte 42-inch panel offers full-HD 1080p image resolution, 120Hz refresh rates for smoother motion, and a 15,000:1 dynamic contrast ratio (. Around back, it a boasts a solid array of inputs, including one composite, two component, one S-video, one VGA and three HDMI video inputs, along with a similarly impressive stripe on the side: one composite, one S-video, and two HDMI. There’s also an RF input for the built-in HD tuner. In other words, if you own it, or possibly two or three, you can connect it to this television. A total of five HDMI inputs really put this particular set a notch above many competitors in the same price range, which pare back on connectivity to reduce cost.
The L42X comes with a pre-attached tabletop stand, remote control with batteries, owner’s manual, and a green microfiber cloth for keeping the reflective bezel clean. It’s a small touch, but a practical one, and helps boost first impressions of the TV beyond "budget" as well.
Insignia eschewed the typical gloss-black design that 90 percent of HDTVs seem to adopt to go for a design that’s slightly different. A pieced of smoked black acrylic forms the front bezel, which looks opaque around the middle where it sits in front of a solid backing, but translucent around the edges, where it overlaps. It doesn’t look quite as classy as Samsung’s Touch of Color designs, or Toshiba’s Infinity Flush, but for a budget model, the translucent look definitely sets it apart.
Only a tiny blue power indicator and a light-up Insignia logo interrupt the other-wise clean front face. The L42X also offers the option to dim the lighting on the logo or turn it off altogether, which can be handy if you find it distracting in the dark, or just don’t want to advertise the decidedly inexpensive brand name in your living room.
At 37 pounds, the L42X is no heifer, but it’s no fashion model when you break out he measuring tape, either. Its 5.5-inch-deep body looks a bit bloated beside this year’s crop of waif ultraslims from major manufacturers, but unless you plan on wall mounting it in a chic room comparable to an Apple store, the extra beef probably won’t make much of a difference. The manual TV controls have been situated on the right side of the panel, while the side connector panel occupies the left. A fairly nondescript black swiveling stand makes it easy to swing the TV to the side to add additional connections after it’s in place.
The remote that accompanies Insignia’s L42X doesn’t really make much of a statement, but it does the job. Clear "menu" and "exit" buttons make it easy to pull open the on-screen menu and leaf through the pages with the directional pad, and dedicated buttons for each type of input make it quick to select your device without much hassle.
Like most televisions, the L42X comes a little too amped up right out of the box in vivid mode, but switching settings to standard alleviates most of scorching brightness and brings out a more balanced, true-to-life image. A little tweaking further seasoned the image to our taste. While it can’t quite match the vibrancy of top-shelf Sony LCDs or many plasma sets for contrast, it hangs right alongside similarly priced brand-name LCD sets for image quality, like Sharp’s LC-42SB45U, which we compared it with head-to-head.
A feature called DCM Plus leverages the L42X’s 120Hz refresh rate to smooth out motion by generating artificial frames in-between the native frames of source content (which is typically 30 frames per second). Insignia calls it DCM Plus, and offers low, normal and high settings, along with the option to turn it off completely. Unfortunately, because the frames must be artificially generated using algorithms, jerky, fast-motion content can sometimes throw it off, producing artificacts around the edges of moving objects and a spacey sense that film is slowing down or speeding up. We found it tolerable during slow-paced scenes on low and normal, but even normal became unacceptable when we moved onto faster-paced scenes, like shoot-em-up sequences from Robocop. The high setting almost uniformly produced artificial-looking motion that we couldn’t stomach for long. While all 120Hz motion-smoothing systems suffer from a certain degree of this effect, Insignia’ seemed slightly less refined and more intrusive to us.
Gamers beware: Despite the increased 120Hz refresh rate, we continued to notice a blur effect when making jerky movements in games like Killzone 2. The increased refresh rate may help improve this rate from 60Hz sets, but it hasn’t resolved it entirely, at least not here. We suspect the real issue lies with the panel response time of 6.5ms. More expensive 120Hz sets typically boast quicker response times, like LG’s $900 42LH40-UA (street price), which hits 2.7ms, and even standard PC monitors usually manage around 5ms. We also noticed a slight deficiency in the color palette on the L42X, which manifested as banding in some gradients, like the default menu background on the PlayStation 3.
Insignia’s matte screen does an excellent job reducing the reflection from ambient light and making the TV watchable even in very brightly lit room with overhead lights, and outside sunshine.
We’ve seen some pretty bizarre measurement scales for volume on televisions and other devices, but a scale that arbitrarily tops out at the magic number 63, as the L42X does, pretty much takes the cake for weirdness. It’s almost as if an engineer lopped off the top half of a scale ranging to 100, taking those volume levels with it, because the noise this Insignia manages to squeak out at full blast just barely edges past what we consider listening volume for casual TV watching. It scores high for quality relative to other built-in TV speakers, with a presence that many other budget sets lack, but for gut-busting action flicks, you’ll need to pair it with a home theater system or soundbar to really make your living room quake the way it should.
Originally priced at $850 and now selling for a reasonable $700 flat, it’s hard to pass over the specs and performance Insignia has managed to load into a television in this price range. Although it doesn’t reach the kind of spectacular image quality that home theater aficionados will spend years and retirement funds chasing after, the L42X makes an extremely practical buy for the price-conscious consumer that wants a bargain without stepping back to last years’ TV technology.
- Stacked with inputs, including 5 HDMI
- Matte screen eliminates glare
- Attractive front bezel
- Relatively high-quality sound
- Respectable image quality for the price
- Still some motion blur in games
- Color palette produces banding in gradients
- Can’t muster much volume