Pros: picture, design, price, HDMI to optical DD pass.
Cons: remote, connections panel, no program guide.
Finally a TV that works well and doesn't cost a fortune. I suspect a lot of people will ignore the brand without even giving it a look and it will be their loss. This TV offers a lot for as little money as it gets, and adds a very important to me feature that I haven't seen even on the most expensive sets.
Insignia is one of Best Buy's brand names for cheap electronics and despite their employees claims that these TVs are made by LG, I seriously doubt that. In my book, however, not being made by LG is a good thing considering my previous experience with an authentic LG set, which was the absolute worst display I have ever owned or seen.
If it wasn't for the sign on the front, I think a lot of people would mistake this TV for a much more expensive brand. It certainly doesn't look cheap, in my opinion much better than any other budget brand. It is about 3" thick, very light, and the fashionable glossy black.
There is a good number of connection options: 2 HDMI inputs, 1 component video, one VGA computer input, one composite/shared with S-video, an optical digital out, and a headphones out. Two relative standard options missing are an analog audio out and a side panel video input of any type.
The feature that this model has, which no other TV I've seen can do is full pass through of multi-channel audio from the HDMI input to the optical digital out. The Xbox 360 owners out there know how cool this is. Various TVs I've tried have had different approach to this connection, most passing some audio, some not passing any, but not one other passing (except other Insignias of course!) the full Dolby Digital signal from the HDMI input.
The picture quality is very admirable, especially considering the conservative specifications. Despite a relatively poor 800:1 quoted contrast ratio, I found the black levels and contrast to be very acceptable, with very slight hint of blue, unlike most other budget brands I've seen. An LG model with I tried before with the same quoted contrast ratio produced abysmal picture with practically non-existent black levels.
The NS-LCD26-09 model is the updated version of last year's model, which had the same model number without the last two digits. I tried the older one as well, and I was quite happy with it too, though there seemed to be a problem with the sound so I had to return it and they didn't have any more of those.
The new model improves on the first in almost every way. The most important addition I think is the added back light control. This allows for achieving even better black levels and contrast. The new screen also seems to have a lot less light leakage around the corners of the screen.
Other areas of improvement are the overall design, weight, thickness, speakers, advanced picture controls, and most importantly image quality. As I said the old model wasn't bad, but the new one is much better.
The only thing I was disappointed to see gone was the electronic program guide. Oh, one more thing, the old model had a fairly nice universal remote control while the new one a simple remote, which looks much cheaper.
One problem I found with the TV was its over-the-air tuner performance. It wasn't very good, receiving only 7 of the usual 12 channels that I get with my DVD recorder, and the ones it did tune were not very stable. With the basic cable connection though it did much better finding all available channels, including the clear QAM ones. Despite the lack of a program guide, the basic info panel includes the name, running time, and brief description of the current program for both digital and analog channels (if provided by the network of course).
Another little design flaw is the connections panel. All inputs are located on the back with the cables sticking out straight from the TV. Though the set itself is quite thin, the cables protruding from the back add another inch or two, which could be a problem for wall mounting. I would've preferred sideway or downward facing connections.
And of course there is always the question of reliability. A lot of people would assume that a better brand would come with a better quality support, but after my recent experience with Sony's technical support I wouldn't pay a dime more for it. If anything, I feel better knowing that the support for this Insignia is provided by Best Buy, it's most likely if anything went wrong during the warranty period they'll just replace it at the store.
Overall I must say I am very happy with this TV. I wouldn't recommend it as the main display for movie watching, but then again I wouldn't recommend any LCD TV for that. To me there is only one way to go - a cheap and decent flat panel for games/TV/computer/whatever, and a nice front projector for anything important.