Just how little can an HDTV cost? About $550 is the answer provided by the Insignia NS-30HTV, a 30-inch direct-view CRT sold under the house brand at Best Buy. This is one of the least expensive HDTV-compatible televisions on the market, costing less than both smaller flat-panel LCDs and name-brand CRTs of the same size. And yes, it can display HDTV sources and even includes a tuner to receive over-the-air digital and high-def broadcasts.
The Insignia NS-30HTV looks attractive enough from the front, with a thick black border around the wide screen, speakers and controls below, and a thin silver border edging the black. While we like the presence of front-panel inputs, we'd prefer them to be concealed behind a hatch of some sort. The controls handle volume, channel, and power, but there's no menu key; thus, you can't adjust other settings without the remote.
Insignia piled all of the remote's keys into its top half, which provides fine access for your thumbs, but the jumble of similar buttons can't be easily navigated by feel. We also found the lack of separate keys for volume and channel--they're integrated into the directional keypad--difficult to get used to. The internal menu system, identical to the one found on Toshiba's CRTs, was relatively simple to use.
One of the biggest disadvantages of the Insignia NS-30HTV, at least compared to flat-panel LCDs and slimmer CRTs such as the Samsung TX-S3082WH, is its size. It measures 31.3 inches wide and 21.6 inches high--compact enough for a 30-inch wide-screen TV--but its depth is 22.2 inches. Most LCDs are about a foot deep on their stands, and the Samsung, by comparison, has a depth of 16.3 inches. Obviously, the Insignia will fit into fewer tight spots than the others, but if you have the room, that might not be an issue. The NS-30HTV weighs 117.7 pounds--almost exactly the same as the Samsung and more than twice as much as a typical 32-inch LCD.
As you might expect from a budget TV, the Insignia NS-30HTV is missing a few features. There's no picture-in-picture, and although we liked the five aspect-ratio modes for standard-def sources, the set can't switch aspects when fed high-def. The Insignia does include an ATSC tuner and offers the convenient ability to relabel inputs. You have more options when it comes to tweaking the picture; there are three presets, as well as one custom slot that's independent for each input, and three color-temperature presets.
Although the set has ample standard-def inputs--two A/V with S-Video on the back panel and a third on the front, along with the antenna/cable RF input--it has only one, the component-video jack, that can accept HD sources. The single component-video input will necessitate an external switcher, such as a component-video-equipped A/V receiver, if you have more than one high-def source (such as an Xbox 360 and a high-def cable box).
The Insignia also lacks an HDMI input. While HDMI usually provides higher-quality video, the main issue is that HDMI's copy protection makes it the most future-proof jack. Should movie studios decide to enable image constraint on HD-DVD or Blu-ray discs, for example, Insignia owners will have to live with the downconverted component-video resolution. Then again, with the Insignia's relatively low resolution, we doubt most viewers will be able to tell the difference.
We put the set through its paces in the lab, and as you can imagine, it fared worse than many higher-priced HDTVs we've reviewed. Its overall image quality was significantly softer than that of any LCD we've tested recently, and we doubt many people would be able to tell the difference between DVD and HDTV resolutions on this set. Switching back and forth between 480p and 720p modes on an ESPN HD baseball game, for example, we didn't see extra sharpness in the grass, the dirt around home plate, or the mesh protecting the spectators from foul balls. The Insignia has a menu item that allows you to switch between 1080i and 540p; we saw no difference between the two on either program material or test patterns.