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There's plenty of competition in the 32-inch LCD TV market, which has brought the average price down to around £600, from around £850 only 18 months ago. JVC's latest, the LT-32DG8, is a typical entry-level model that features integrated Freeview and standard high-definition compatibility supported by two HDMI inputs. It's a more than competent screen for anyone looking to upgrade to a flat screen for the first time.
For a relatively low-cost screen, the design looks attractive -- even if the build quality is distinctly average. The screen is framed by the ever-popular glossy black surround, with a slanted speaker system and fixed pedestal stand beneath. Practically the entire unit is constructed from lightweight plastic, however, which gives it an inexpensive and unsteady feel.
The front panel has been kept clean by hiding the main controls away at the right-hand side. They let you turn the TV on and adjust channel and volume -- but there's no access to menu systems or input sources without using the remote. The black remote is equally lightweight, but the oversized controls and ergonomic arrangement mean it's comfortable and easy to use.
All connections are spaciously arranged across the rear panel. At the left side is a CI-card slot for receiving subscription-based TV services and an optical audio output that can be connected to a separate amplifier.
Video connections are arranged at the centre of the rear panel. Basic AV inputs such as composite and S-Video have been left out, although you can still make a composite video connection using one of the component inputs. There's no PC connection either, so you won't be able to use this screen as a monitor.
Otherwise, there are two RGB-enabled Scarts, component inputs that support progressive-scan video and two HDMI inputs. Dual HDMI inputs are a must for high-definition enthusiasts -- but models such as Samsung's LE32R87 offer three for a similar price.
Like most budget models, the LT-32DG8 carries a standard WXGA (1,366x768-pixel) resolution that will display 720p and downscaled 1080i high-definition signals -- but not the latest 1080p format. There are integrated analogue and digital TV tuners, while the underlying technology features the latest DynaPlus picture-processing system.
It only takes a matter of minutes for the screen to automatically scan and store channels. The on-screen menu system appears dull and dated, but it is simple to use, with blocky graphics instructing you on which buttons to press.
The usual custom picture and sound settings are supported by a choice of preset modes -- in most cases the Bright picture mode and Cool colour mode work best. The default settings are typically exaggerated -- reducing backlight brightness and colour produces more realistic images.
There are also a surprising number of advanced settings. These include various noise-reduction and picture-management modes, but it's unlikely that most people will explore them -- and it's difficult to see what difference they actually make.
The extra sound options are more useful, including a virtual surround and an ambience system as well as a set of bass-enhancement modes that add oomph to low frequencies.
The electronic programme guide that accompanies digital broadcasts is neatly presented, but not especially user-friendly. Only programmes for one channel are displayed at a time, which means you can't quickly scan a group of listings, and there's an irritating delay when you change between channels. There aren't any thumbnail images or sound to keep you occupied, either.
As always, digital TV broadcasts outperform their analogue understudies. Freeview programmes are solid and stable, with reasonable detail and rich colours. The LT-32DG8 has a bright picture that suits the harsh studio lighting used in daytime TV programmes -- but the backlight needs toning down to deepen black levels if you're watching anything else. Images are generally clean, but edges occasionally appear frayed and movement staggers during slow camera pans.
High-definition performance is impressive for the price, without being exceptional enough to trouble the best models from the likes of Sony and Panasonic. Upscaled images introduce more detail and reinforce edges, while colours appear cohesively gradated and evenly balanced. This is especially apparent while watching Pixar's The Incredibles, where the vibrant reds of the superheroes' suits share the screen with natural skin tones and textures. Backgrounds and straight edges occasionally shimmer, but these flaws are forgotten when you turn to true high-definition content.
Using Toshiba's HD-E1 HD DVD player produces even deeper black levels, which enable precise detail and good contrast. Playing Batman Returns produces impressively bold and pristinely clean images without losing detail in dark scenes, such as the entrance to the Bat Cave -- where you can pick out individual bats hanging from the ceiling. And movement is decent whether it's trying to keep pace with the destructive, rooftop Batmobile chase or the more sedate scrolling of the final credits.
Despite a new oblique cone speaker system, the sound is underwhelming for a flat-panel TV. It's reasonably detailed and expressive enough to enjoy TV programmes, but film images this good deserve to be complemented with more substantial sound.
You can use the bass enhancer to make special effects seem more explosive, but dialogue clarity suffers as a result. The virtual-surround system does produce a more expansive and involving sound stage that can enhance films, but also sounds muddled at times.
Performance is reasonably impressive too, especially if you're using high-definition sources, although the sound is not of the same standard. Since this is such a competitive market, however, you can get better performance for around the same cost with models such as Sharp's Aquos LC32GD8E and our current favourite, Panasonic's Viera TX-32LMD70.
Edited by Jason Jenkins
Additional editing by Nick Hide