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Humax made a name for itself when it released the first Freeview PVR, and ever since it's clung to the digital terrestrial service like a shipwrecked sailor grasping his life raft. This 32-inch LCD TV has two Freeview receivers as well as a 40GB hard drive for recording digital and anologue channels. And, like one of those annoying kids at school who could turn their hand to anything, the Humax LGB-32TPVR is also HD Ready and has a plethora of connections.
While the ability to record digital TV from one remote is a brilliant feature, picture quality from Freeview recordings on the LGB-32TPVR is poor, and only DVI and hi-def component inputs truly impress. There's an excellent provision of video connections for standard and high-definition sources, and we particularly love the ability to backup your recorded programmes to an external hard drive. If the recording features are the reason you're considering this set, then you'd be better off with a separate box -- 160GB models with three tuners can be bought for under £200 (including Humax's excellent). Likewise, AV enthusiasts who already have a Freeview recorder or Sky+ box would be wise to invest in a higher-quality TV.
The Humax LGB-32TPVR is a handsome LCD with a solid build quality. It comes complete with a desktop stand that keeps the TV low and stable, but it can be wall mounted (although the mount is sold separately). The package comes with two remote controls, one for simple operation and the other with more advanced recording controls. The smaller one wasn't included with our review sample, but the 'advanced' remote was terribly unwieldy -- about twice as long as it needs to be and with a strange balance that makes it uncomfortable to hold. Recording buttons are also inexplicably hidden underneath a panel. Why cover up one of the TV's most vital features?
Connectivity is housed on the back and side of the TV, with no covers to keep the sockets and protruding wires hidden. The back panel includes three Scart sockets, two of which are RGB-compatible for higher-quality pictures. Three Scart sockets are an excellent allocation for a flat-screen TV, and when you consider that the TV already has a Freeview recorder inside, it's unlikely that you'll need all of them. As well as this standard-definition connectivity, there's a digital video connection in the form of DVI, which can accept video from a PC or upcoming HD sources such as Blu-ray. The DVI socket is thankfully HDCP-enabled, and therefore Sky HD-compatible. There's also a VGA socket if your computer's graphic card predates the DVI era, or you could use it for Xbox 360 high-definition gaming with a VGA cable.and
The back panel also has a couple of connections that you don't find on many LCDs -- USB 2.0 and RS-232. The first allows you to connect a USB hard drive and transfer recordings from the LG's internal hard drive, and the latter connects up to a home control system for access from a touch-screen pad. It's a high-end feature for home-cinema enthusiasts and therefore somewhat out of place on a budget LCD, but it's a welcome addition when companies such as Panasonic, Sony and Toshiba don't include it on their screens.
On the left side panel, the TV features component-video inputs, which are high-definition and progressive-scan compatible. Connect up a DVD player with the red, green and blue phono outputs and you'll get a solid, colourful picture from the Humax. You can connect an Xbox 360 this way, too. There are also composite and S-Video connections, but these are low-rent standards that produce poor results on a digital display. They're for use with camcorders or older games consoles only.
With the LGB-32TPVR, Humax has created a template for the TV of the future, and the sheer number of features beats the current crop of TVs hands down. True, media centre PCs such as the have packed PVR functionality into an LCD TV before, but it's obvious that the media centre is a much less attractive idea than Sky+. While not quite as powerful, the recording features of Humax's TV are the equivalent of Sky+ for Freeview, allowing you to set recordings from the electronic programme guide and watch one channel while recording another.
There is a spanner in the works for this potentially world-beating feature though. The Freeview tuners and the hard drive seem to have been linked together in an incredibly haphazard manner, with low-quality video links somewhere along the line (see Performance, below).
Still, at least there are some benefits from the digital integration. There's two tuners, so you can record one channel while watching another, and you can back your recordings up to an external drive via USB 2.0. You can also pause and rewind live TV thanks to the hard drive's buffer, which lasts up to 30 minutes. Scheduling recordings is an absolute cinch, as you can simply reserve programmes from the EPG up to seven days in advance. You can also record analogue TV if you're unlucky enough to live in a non-Freeview area.
Humax's picture quality is passable on Freeview -- the picture is washed out and the colours are flat, but there's only a small amount of smearing and it's stable during fast motion. Step up to a progressive-scan DVD player and the colours become more vibrant and the outlines sharpen up for more detail. There's a noticeable lack of contrast across all sources, however, and the picture never looks anywhere near as alive as an LCD from Panasonic or Sony.
The real letdown is that recordings are massively inferior to the original broadcast -- it's almost as if there were a VHS tape deck in the back instead of a hard drive. True, there are different recording levels that you can set, with HQ, SP and LP levels offering 11 hours, 21 hours and 31 hours respectively. But even the HQ level is vastly inferior to the digital broadcast, and since it allows you to fit only 11 hours of recordings on the 40GB drive, you can record just five films at the most. If you buy a standalone Freeview recorder, even one of Humax's, recordings will be indistinguishable from the original broadcasts, so this cost-cutting exercise seems ridiculous.
Audio reproduction on the Humax is good, with plenty of vocal detail, even if the 14W overall power is underwhelming. There's also SRS TruSurround XT for a more spatial soundstage, and you can output any audio source to a surround-sound system via the television's digital optical output.
Edited by Mary Lojkine
Additional editing by Nick Hide