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While it lacks the brand presence of Sony, Samsung and LG, local Aussie brand Kogan has been working under the same basic modus operandi for the past couple of years; importing Chinese-produced AV equipment, rebadging it with the Kogan name, and selling it directly to consumers at a lower price than many of the overhead-bearing brand names can manage. TVs have been a particular speciality of the company, and so it's not surprising to note that the first thing that leaps out at you about the Kogan 42-inch 1080p LCD TV is the price.
Why are we talking about the price in the space where we should be mentioning the design? Well, largely because the design is the area where, fairly predictably, you won't be seeing too much innovation, simply because that kind of stuff costs extra. The 42-inch TV isn't as stunning as, say the crystal design of Samsung's latest LCD TVs or the straight up elegance of many Sony Bravia models. Equally, it's not actively unpleasant. Sometimes a TV just needs to look like a TV, and thankfully that's exactly what the Kogan does look like. It would make a very poor toaster, after all.
One design decision that does make the Kogan a little tougher to like than a number of other comparable 42-inch units is the location of the AV ports. They're all at the rear, they all point upwards, and they're all slightly recessed behind the back panel, which makes them a right pain in the posterior when you're trying to plug in new components. Some people will set up only one or two boxes to the Kogan and never notice some of this stuff, and it's a problem that's hardly unique to Kogan.
The 42-inch Kogan LCD is 1080p compliant, which means, not that shockingly, that it has a top resolution of 1,920x1,080 pixels. The details on Kogan's website suggests that it's an LG panel at heart, although as the company does sell direct and changes its offerings from time to time — depending largely on what it can source from its Chinese factory partners — that might not be true by the time you read this review. The TV supports a 100Hz refresh rate, in step with most modern HD panels, as well as Kogan's take on signal processing, which it refers to as Kogan MotionMax.
All so far, so good — but where's the catch that keeps the price low? Well, at least partially, it's in the ports, or relative paucity thereof in the HDMI space; two HDMI, two component and a single D-Sub, composite and S-Video is your lot. We're getting very used to seeing TVs with three or more HDMI ports, which is very handy for the family with a Blu-ray player, games console and, say HD PVR such as a TiVo. Only having two HDMI ports means that quality compromises may have to be made. Again, tastes and needs vary.
The Kogan 42-inch 1080p panel's performance was, to put it politely, mixed. Direct HD free-to-air was acceptable but not spectacular — the unit does come with an in-built HD tuner — but once we started throwing true 1080p HD content at it, we did see some problems emerge.
While we admire the chutzpah that has the founder slapping his name not just on the front of the TV, but also on the signal processing unit, we can't say that we were that thrilled with Kogan's MotionMax performance. Picture control is managed via four profile choices: Standard, Mild, Dynamic and a single user-configurable setting. The Dynamic setting was very busy trying to keep up with our test discs, and as such gave us constant headaches tracking all the contrast changes it tried to foist on us.
Rather than being a complex sea-green, Pirates Of The Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest ended up looking like a bath full of GI cordial on Dynamic. Standard was acceptable but not great, and Mild was OK for most purposes. Still, to get the most out of this panel you're going to have to get your hands dirty and come up with a best-case User profile. Sadly, as video sources and quality differ, the fact that there's only one user profile means you're most likely going to have to compromise somewhere, unless you feel like twiddling your profile for every movie you watch.
The other, more troubling video aspect we noticed on our test panel was some light spill-over from the top of the LCD, which made itself known in the form of two bright spots at the top left and top right of the panel. In full video scenes they tended to vanish, but any kind of black backdrop (or credits roll) made them rather painfully obvious.
The TV remote is a touch on the busy side, and virtually identical to the remote used in Kogan's Blu-ray player, which led to some interesting moments of confusion when we tested both side by side. More genuinely problematic was the fact that, even after several changes of fresh batteries, we found that the remote and TV didn't want to talk to each other all that much unless we were on a very direct facing to the TV itself, which we suspect is a sensor problem at the TV end.
One other oddity with the remote is that the volume buttons are printed with the volume up/down controls going left to right. We've no idea why, and while it doesn't affect the actual use of the buttons (which are still vertically oriented relative to each other), it's mildly off-putting if you're looking at the remote and expecting the same pattern that every other remote in the history of the universe has used.
Like the earlier Kogan 1080p camcorder, and even the more recent Blu-ray player, the Kogan 1080p 42-inch LCD TV is a unit of compromises made in the name of affordability. You won't get a best-of-breed solution here, but equally you're not paying for one at this kind of price — at least until the general price of 1080p LCDs tumbles a little.