Insignia NS-55E480 review: Big picture, little money

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MSRP: $899.99

The Good The Insignia NS-55E480 is an affordable 55-inch LED TV with decent picture quality. Colors don't lack for vibrancy, black levels are deep enough for a TV of this size and price, and shadow detail is pretty good. Although it lacks Smart TV, the fairly unique MHL port allows you to add it via a Roku Streaming Stick.

The Bad The Roku Streaming Stick isn't included with the TV and at $99 actually costs more than an external Roku box. Color accuracy is off, with a faintly red color balance and bluish greens.

The Bottom Line Even without considering its innovative Roku option, the Insignia NS-55E480A13A LED TV offers above-average picture quality for the price.

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6.9 Overall
  • Design 7
  • Features 6
  • Performance 6
  • Value 8

When it comes to buying an in-house brand, you might expect some compromises in return for a good price. For $800, do you really expect more than just a big screen when you buy Best Buy's 55-inch Insignia NS-55E480A13A? Surprisingly, there is more to this TV than first meets the eye.

This is not a "feature" TV by any stretch -- there is no 3D playback, PC sharing, or fancy remote as seen on some competitors. There isn't even Smart TV tech onboard, yet that is exactly its main attraction: you can add a Roku Streaming Stick to this television for a better experience and more content than offered by just about any other budget Smart TV.

The question is, is the extra $100 spent on a Roku Streaming Stick worth it, especially when standard Roku boxes cost as little as $50? The savings from just getting a Roku box would go a long way toward a good universal remote like the Harmony 650, for example, which makes an external box just as simple to use as an integrated menu. Then again, there's something to be said for the simplicity of integrated Smart TV.

Even if you take compatibility with the Roku Stick out of the equation, the Insignia is a very good value. It performs better than many similarly priced TVs, with decent black levels and bright, if not entirely accurate, colors. Shadow detail is entirely acceptable for the price, and even backlight uniformity is impressive for an entry-level 55-inch TV.

There are plenty of TVs competing for your attention at under $1,000, and despite lacking a "name," the Insignia performs well for the price -- but see if you can get the Best Buy salesperson to throw in the Roku Streaming Stick for free.

Series info: It's worth noting here that there is a 42-inch Insignia NS-42E480A13, but its design and specifications are different enough for us to not include it as part of a series review.

As TVs have been getting thinner and sleeker, it's unusual to see a 2012-13 TV with visible speakers, but here it is. The Insignia NS-55E480A13A features two 10W speakers flush with the bottom of the piano-black bezel, yet it lacks the top-heavy look of older TVs such as the LG Scarlet 47LG60. As an edge-lit television, it's fairly slim and suitable for wall-mounting, especially as the stand is nonswiveling and unremarkable.

Sarah Tew/CNET

While we didn't get hands-on time with the remote (it wasn't included in the box with our review sample), it looks fairly comprehensive and well-laid-out -- there is even a separate home button to bring up the default screen of the Roku device or Mobile High-Definition Link (MHL) phone.

Key TV features
Display technology LCD LED backlight Edge-lit
Screen finish Glossy Remote Standard
Smart TV No* Internet connection No
3D technology None 3D glasses included No
Refresh rate(s) 120Hz Dejudder (smooth) processing Yes
DLNA-compliant No USB Photo
Other:*MHL port for use with optional Roku Streaming Stick
The MHL port is a perfect partner for the Roku Streaming Stick. Sarah Tew/CNET

While Insignia is far from being a household name, it is one of the better-known in-house brands, and it has a penchant for leading with unique features -- the TiVo-enriched Connected TV is a good example. Not many TVs would call a connection option its biggest selling feature, but on the Insignia NS-55E480 that's the new MHL port. This connector enables compatible devices to display their content on the screen and to be controlled with the TV remote. At the moment the hero MHL device is the Roku Streaming Stick, but phones such as the Galaxy S II and Galaxy S3 also work. Any doubts that the Insignia wasn't made to be partnered with the Stick should be allayed by the color of the MHL port, which one might call Roku purple.

The Roku Streaming Stick interface can be controlled with the Insignia remote. Sarah Tew/CNET

Aside from that, the features are fairly slim. The set has a 120Hz refresh rate, as well as a standard USB port for photo viewing and future firmware updates.

Smart TV: While CNET intends to review the Streaming Stick on its own merits shortly, it's worth making a mention of it in this space. The interface is interchangeable with that of the Roku 2 XS, plus games like Angry Birds allow you to use the bundled gaming remote accessory. Of course, the biggest reason to buy the Stick instead of a standalone Roku or other streaming device is that you want to reduce the amount of cable clutter and just use the TV remote.

The Roku's functions are available from the main picture menu. Sarah Tew/CNET

Of course, Roku has access to a better content selection than any Smart TV, with the arguable exception of Samsung's. Check out the full comparison here.

Picture settings: The number of picture settings is limited compared with what you get from the likes of Samsung and LG. The TV comes with the usual selection of modes -- Standard, Theater, and so on -- but if you attempt to change even basic settings it will create a new "Custom" mode. Advanced picture settings are almost nonexistent, so there isn't much you can do to really hone the image.

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