Pros: Amazing price, solid visuals, nicely finished, easily changed Aspect Ratio
Cons: Thin and somewhat tinny sound
When my GE 46" rear projection TV bought the farm a several weeks ago I suggested to my wife that we start looking for a replacement. Unfortunately, our entertainment center was built specifically for the dimensions of the old GE.
With Wide Screen HDTV being all but standard these days it became clear that we could put no more than a 42 inch LCD or Plasma in the center. This didn't please the lovely Mrs. Xeno. She was certain that a 42" screen would be too small. And, with our viewing distance being just over 20 feet I didn't want to argue with her. While I don't have a problem with that viewing distance I didn't want to wind up spending $1,500 on something that she wasn't going to enjoy.
So we started planning a more ambitious project. Tear out the entertainment unit--faux marble is looking a little dated afterall--and build a truly spectacular home theater.
It didn't take us too long to talk ourselves into a 65 - 73 inch matte screen plasma mounted on a black wall that spans 12 feet. A modular components credenza and shelves would be designed such as not to take away from the massive screen.
I was loving it! But, I had yet to work out the numbers.
The Effects of Market Meltdowns on Home Theater Dreams
By the time I had a good handle on the costs I figured I could swallow hard and spend the $7,500 - $8,000 for this project. But while the ink on my plan was drying, the stock market went to hell in a hand-basket and suddenly this project was starting to look irresponsible.
I hadn't yet shown the red ink to the ever-enthusastic Mrs. Xeno. But this project was looking DOA. But Newwegg.com was about to come to the rescue.
Part of my daily early morning ritual is to scan Newegg.com for deals. Admittedly, I'm an easy touch for anything electronic...at a price.
About two weeks ago I noticed the Digital Lifestyles FA2B-4223 42 in. LCD TV being offered for $499! At 41 inches wide and 29 inches high, it would just fit the opening in our entertainment unit. This was starting to show some promise. Since I had received a $150 Newegg gift certificate last month for my birthday from a couple of friends who know my tastes well, I was looking at the prospect of only having to reach into my pocket for $350 plus shipping. Okay, the TV was only 720p, but at 42" it wasn't going to matter much.
Having experience with Newegg, I knew this deal couldn't last more than a few hours. A 42" LCD HDTV for $499? No way. I quickly read a handful of mixed reviews and decided it was worth a shot. At this price the sales job on Mrs. Xeno wasn't going to take much effort.
Five days later it was at the door courtesy of Big Brown.
Digital Lifestyles FA2B-42323 42in. LCD HDTV
When I hit the "add to cart" button I knew there were going to be some compromises. 720p rather than 1080i/1080p was one that I figured I could handle. The LCD Response Time of 8 ms. seemed adequate if not ideal. Brightness was rated at 500 cd/m2, borderline good for an LCD. Interestingly, Digital Lifestyles does not publish a Contrast Ratio. This was where I figured the trade-off was going to be found. A cheaply made LCD with a low CR would produce a dull muddy image rather than eye popping colors and contrast. But at worst, I figured guests would at least be able to turn on the game when they came over.
The 59 pound unit was surprisingly easy to install. Despite several reviews that had scorched the unit for poor user documentation, my TV was delivered with a well written User Guide and Quick Reference Guide. With 2 HDMI recepticles and an assortment of Composite AV inputs and outputs as well as S-Video, I had everything I needed to incorporate it ino our existing Onkyo 5.1 Home A/V System in less than half an hour.
Picture Quality : Very Good
The unit produces rich, well saturated yet realistic color. Brightness was a very pleasant surprise easily improving upon the GE projection system it was replacing. The increased brightness has made viewing distance less an issue. In fact, I find that viewed from 20 feet the picture is great.
The mysteriously missing Contrast Ratio hasn't proved to be a problem either. Blacks are rendered more than adequately for an LCD. The contrast ratio while still a mystery is apparently within our comfort zone.
Only minor tweaking of the video, easily accomplished from the menu was required to produce the kind of picture we prefer.
Sound Quality - Fair
Here's where the compromise is felt. If used as purely a standalone unit without a supporting A/V system the sound is shallow and tinny. It's probably adequate for a bedroom or cozy den, but clearly in a room our size this units 2-10w speakers just couldn't go it alone. But then, honestly, even a much more expensive system while better, would be incorporated into our theater system.
Response Time - Very Good
Not being hardcore gamers (we're Wii junkies), the 8 ms response time is largely a non-issue. No blurring or ghosting can be observed during high speed scenes or game action.
Remote - Good
The remote control here is pure vanilla, but quite intuitive and has functioned well at 20 feet. Here too I found a number of reviews complaining about the remote. While it's not a Universal, the manufacturer provides the most common codes for this unit if you want to control it with another Universal Remote.
The remote also allows you to easily alter the Aspect Ratio which is intended to display images at 16:9. When displaying HD widescreen images this ratio is ideal. But I'm sure many of you have seen the effects when a Std. Definition (480p) is forced into the 16:9 format. Suddenly, faces and bodies are distorted in such a way you'd think that all subjects have OD'd on steroids. Fat faces and thick bodies are very unflattering. The remote allows you to use the zoom function, that while cropping the picture somewhat allows it to appear more "normal". When viewed from a distance, the picture is far more pleasing. The Aspect Ratio can also be set to Standard which reduces the size to the Standard 4:3 ratio that we are more familiar with, but produces black bars on the sides of the image to simulate a Standard Definition Screen. The picture, from a quality point of view is superior to the zoomed version discussed above, but not (in my opinion) enough to warrant the much smaller image displayed. Your preference may be different.
1 year parts and labor
Clearly, this unit can't compare to the $4,000 65" - 73" Plasma it is filling in for. But augmented by a decent external sound system you'll have a difficult time distinguishing it from a $1,200 - $1,500 42" LCD from almost any other manufacturer. While predictably, Newegg sold out in less than a day, this unit is available at other sites for about $600. At that price the Digital Lifestyles FA2B-42323 42in. LCD HDTV is a score. At this pricepoint, this unit is highly recommended.
When the market recovers this unit will find its home in the armoire of our bedroom and hopefully that 73" beast will have come down in price. One can always hope.