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

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

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Ty Pendlebury
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Ty Pendlebury

Editor

Ty Pendlebury is a journalism graduate of RMIT Melbourne, and has worked at CNET since 2006. He lives in New York City where he writes about streaming and home audio.

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5 min read

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.

Insignia NS-55E480A13A
6.9

Insignia NS-55E480

The Good

The <b>Insignia NS-55E480</b> 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.

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.

Insignia NS-55E480A13A TV (pictures)

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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.

Design
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.

"="" bgcolor="#CCCCCC">Key TV features "="">Other:*MHL port for use with optional Roku Streaming Stick
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

The MHL port is a perfect partner for the Roku Streaming Stick. Sarah Tew/CNET

Features
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.

Connectivity: The MHL port is the highlight here, and of course it also acts as a vanilla HDMI port, which brings the HDMI port complement to four. If you're looking to hook up an external sound source, then the analog-out won't work with the MHL port in use, but the optical digital audio output will. If you have further video needs you'll find a composite video, a component video, and a VGA input.

Picture quality
Despite using different lighting systems, the Insignia NS-55E480 (LED) and the Samsung E550 (CCFL) we compared it with performed similarly in terms of color balance and black levels. The Samsung was a competent TV but a disappointing downgrade from the D630 that preceded it, and the Insignia sits in a similar middling category in terms of picture quality.

The Insignia was able to deliver relatively deep black levels and lacked the distracting backlight intrusions of some of the other LED models. Color was another matter; although colors were vibrant, they weren't always the most accurate, with some skin tones looking a bit too rich and greens a bit too dark. As a result, it's definitely an above-average performer for the money, but no threat to many LCDs in the $1,000+ range, much less equivalently priced plasmas.

Click the image at the right to see the picture settings used in the review and to read more about how this TV's picture controls worked during calibration.

"="" bgcolor="#CCCCCC">Comparison models (details)
Sony KDL-46EX640 46-inch LCD
Vizio M3D550KD 55-inch LCD
Panasonic TC-P50U50 50-inch plasma
Samsung LN46E550 46-inch LCD
Panasonic TC-P65VT50 (reference) 65-inch plasma

Black level: The Insignia had fairly good contrast, with shadow detail above the level of most budget TVs. While it did crush the top of the grayscale, or the "whites," the only place this was obvious was on test graphs -- it wasn't really detectable in real-world content.

Compared with the Panasonic TC-P50U50, the Insignia had significantly worse blacks, but it actually performed well against the other TVs arrayed against it. It was a toss-up between it and the Vizio M3D550KD in most of our tests. While the Vizio was able to get blacker on dark scenes because of its smart-dimming system, it couldn't compete on complex, highly contrasting ones.

During "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part II," Harry is pursued into a room lined with junk (57.32) and the camera tracks him from above as he moves through the magical detritus. The Vizio could make the scene "pop," but its heavy-handed dimming system meant that areas supposed to be black were sometimes grayer, whereas the Insignia had a similarly dynamic edge but kept the dark areas darker. The difference between the two TVs was essentially that the black level of the Vizio changed dynamically while the Insignia stayed the same regardless of content.

Color accuracy: Color saturation is the second-most-important picture component after black levels and here the Insignia does very well, with colors that are bright and bold, yet still quite natural in isolation. If you're watching an animated film or a colorful movie like "Hugo," it will look very good on this television -- though cartoons do tend to be flatter on most TVs.

Where the Insignia falls down slightly is in the next-most-important category: color accuracy. Skin tones and some greens could look overcooked, especially when compared with the other TVs in its price range. This was most apparent on "The Tree of Life" Blu-ray (chapter 5) with its suburban lawns and closeups of faces. Some of the greens could look a little too dark and blue-tinged, while faces could look a little ruddy. Additionally, some solarizing or "banding" could occasionally be visible on skin in shadow with the dark areas breaking up into green and red bands, but this was quite minor. Overall the color balance of the TV was slightly red and the secondary colors were fairly true, with only yellow tending more toward orange.

Video processing: It's always a pleasant surprise when a cheaper TV passes the video-processing tests, and so I'm happy to note this was the case with the Insignia. In the 24p film test, the Insignia was able to loop the flyby of the aircraft carrier from "I Am Legend" without stuttering, and hence demonstrates that it's capable of replaying Blu-rays in their native frame rate. The TV was also able to display the film resolution test without jerking or moire in the video of the stadium stands.

Though the Insignia's performance was quite similar to the Samsung's, it thankfully lacked the motion blurring I saw with the E550.

Uniformity: The Insignia demonstrated above-average uniformity for a budget TV, with only some minor discoloration in the top-right corner. This proved nowhere near as distracting as the spotlighting prevalent on some LED TVs, and even though the tested Sony EX640 is better than most, the Insignia was even better still.

When viewed off-axis, the TV was capable of displaying decent colors, though blacks were quite purple; with a completely black screen you could see a definite "oil slick" pattern appear.

Bright lighting: The Insignia features a semi-matte screen that was less reflective than the Vizio M3D550KD's, and proved to be fine to watch under lights. The picture retained its blacks without them turning blue or purple, and shadow detail was intact.

Geek box: Test Result Score
Black luminance (0%) 0.0111 Average
Avg. gamma 2.2322 Good
Near-black x/y (5%) 0.3008/0.2821 Average
Dark gray x/y (20%) 0.3134/0.3205 Poor
Bright gray x/y (70%) 0.3048/0.3264 Poor
Before avg. color temp. 10327.6171 Poor
After avg. color temp. 6941.3543 Poor
Red lum. error (de94_L) 7.7533 Poor
Green lum. error (de94_L) 4.0963 Poor
Blue lum. error (de94_L) 5.7789 Poor
Cyan hue x/y 0.217/0.2849 Poor
Magenta hue x/y 0.3457/0.1617 Poor
Yellow hue x/y 0.4546/0.4888 Poor
1080p/24 Cadence (IAL) Pass Good
1080i Deinterlacing (film) Pass Good
Motion resolution (max) 600 Average
Motion resolution (dejudder off) 320 Poor

Insignia NS-55E480A13A

Insignia NS-55E480A13A
6.9

Insignia NS-55E480

Score Breakdown

Design 7Features 6Performance 6Value 8
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