Kogan is a budget brand from Australia that has made a name for itself in its native land by selling TVs and other electronic kit directly to the public at bargain basement prices. The company has recently started plying its wares in the UK via its online store.
The 55-inch Kogan Full HD Elite is the largest in its current line-up of LED screens, yet priced at £849 (including free shipping), it's much cheaper than similar-sized models from bigger name brands.
User interface and EPG
The menu system may be relatively basic, but Kogan has added large, chunky icons to each of the main settings screens to add a touch of visual interest. However, when you enter the main menu, it's odd that it opens at the channel scan page -- most other TVs open at the picture menu.
Nevertheless, the simple menu structure makes it pretty quick to navigate around and you're given a decent amount of control over the picture. For example, along with the contrast, brightness, colour and sharpness settings, you can also adjust individual red, green and blue levels via the Colour Temperature screen.
The EPG also looks quite inviting, but unfortunately it's not as straightforward to use as it could be. The problem is that it uses a vertical layout rather than a traditional bricks-in-the-wall type design.
In the standard view, it displays only the currently showing programme across nine channels at a time. If you want to see what's coming up later, you have to press the Index button on the sluggish remote control and switch to the channel view. However, even then, this only displays what's coming up on a single channel over an evening, so you can't easily spot programme clashes across the channels.
Design and connections
Kogan hasn't produced any surprises on the design front. The set is neither particularly ugly to look at nor very inspiring either. The chassis is hewn entirely from plastic, so it does creak when you're taking it out of the box and attaching it to its pedestal. Nevertheless, once it's in place, it feels fairly solid.
The bezel around the screen measures around 43mm wide, which is larger than I'm used to seeing on LED screens. It's not particularly slim for an LED model either, as it has a panel depth of 48mm. Nevertheless, the glossy black finish means it will blend in quite nicely in most homes and I do like the transparent effect used on the edges of the stand.
Most of today's 55-inchers come with at least four HDMI ports, but this model makes do with three. Given that it's aimed at budget-conscious buyers, I don't think this will be that much of a problem, especially as it's also got a mini-jack component input, VGA port and full-sized Scart socket. There's a CAM slot on the left-hand edge, as well as both a USB connector and Ethernet socket on the rear.
Unfortunately, the Ethernet port apparently serves no purpose and only seems to be present because it's a minimum requirement for TVs that carry the Freeview HD logo. As a result, this model can't be used to stream digital media across a network, and nor can it be used to access video on-demand services such as Netflix or Lovefilm. However, given its low-ish price, this is not exactly a surprise.
The USB port is put to much better use. Once you attach a memory key or drive to it you can use the TV to playback various media files, including MP3 music tracks, JPEG pictures and Xvid, DivX and MKV video files.
The media player is slightly awkwardly accessed by selecting USB as your input source. Once it loads up, you can choose between movie, music or photo modes via the very basic-looking opening screen. That said, it does include a preview window for files that you select in the file type browser and the fast-forward and rewind controls are quite zippy, which is not always the case on budget TVs.
What's more, you can also record programmes from the set's Freeview HD tuner to disc. This feature is especially well implemented, as the remote has dedicated recording and playback controls. Also, recorded shows are accessed via the Rec List button on the remote. This screen shows you not just the name of the recorded programme and the channel it was recorded from, but also a video preview window of its contents.
Making recordings is very straightforward. You can just press the Record button on the remote while you're watching a show, or alternatively call up the EPG and schedule a recording by highlighting it and hitting the red button on your remote.
Of course, as the set only has a single tuner, you can't watch one programme while recording another, so it's not a replacement for a full personal video recorder. However, it's still a handy feature to have at your disposal if you don't have a Freeview PVR or Sky HD box.
This set has two down-firing speakers that are rated at 8W each. It's fairly loud, as even at the halfway mark it was comfortably filling my average-sized lounge with booming audio. From the set's Sound menu, you can flick between presets such as Sports, Movie and Music, or alternatively select the User option that allows you to individually adjust the treble, bass and balance settings.
You can also turn on and off the Surround Sound option, but unfortunately it seems to have very little effect on the audio, as it doesn't expand the stereo image all that much.
Despite the control that Kogan gives you over the audio, this set's sound quality is relatively poor. The down-firing speakers tend to sound quite tinny and harsh, but at the same time, they're also muffled and indistinct in the mid-range, so dialogue doesn't really shine through.
The sound issues are nothing compared to the picture woes I endured, but before I jump to the negatives, let's discuss some of the positives first.
Kogan may only quote a brightness level of 320cd/m² for this panel, when other manufacturers generally claim around 450cd/m² for their LED TVs. However, this model still produces bright pictures. Granted, its presets tend to turn up the levels a little too much for my liking, which compromises its blacks. Nevertheless, if you tone the brightness down to around the 45 mark, the screen still has plenty of punch, while also delivering more satisfying blacks.
There is a tinge of blue on some of the darkest scenes and there's also some backlight pooling around the four corners of the display, but given the modest asking price, I don't think it's too bad a performer in this area.
Elsewhere though, things are much less impressive. On the spec sheet, one of the things that raised my eyebrow was Kogan trumpeting this model's 100Hz processing. This is still relatively rare to find on budget TVs. The benefit of 100Hz processing is that it usually smoothes out motion, so you get less of the blur that you often see on cheaper TVs.
While the 100Hz processing does help to reduce blur slightly, it introduces more problems than it solves. It causes very noticeable flickering and tearing around moving objects on the screen, which is very distracting, especially as it occurs when you're watching standard-definition as well as HD material.
I'm not even talking about very fast-moving objects here -- even a person walking around in a static scene will cause the TV's motion processing to freak out. It also seems to cause haloing on certain shapes and edges. Worse still, there's no way to turn this processing off, so you can't, for example, decide to live with more motion blur instead of these processing artefacts.
Another problem is that HD pictures tend to look very soft. There's still a jump in clarity between standard-definition channels and HD channels, but it's not anywhere near as pronounced as it should be. Fine detail -- such as on grass, trees and leaves in outdoor scenes -- just doesn't have the sharpness that I'd expect to see.
And while the TV's high brightness levels help to make colours appear quite vivid, they never actually look that natural. Skin tones tend to have a slightly yellowish cast and lack the fine graduation between hues, resulting in faces that look flat and plasticky.
At £850, this is perhaps the cheapest 55-inch LED screen on the market at the moment, but I'd be hard pressed to describe it as a bargain buy. The flickering and tearing on moving objects and the muffled quality of the sound make it hard to recommend. Kogan really needs to come up with a better picture processing solution, as I also complained about this problem on its Elite 40LED.
Update 11 April, 2012: Kogan recently sent me a firmware update for this TV that adds an entry in the Options menu to give you control over the set's MotionMax motion processing. It allows you to turn it off if you want to. The company says that this firmware is now loaded onto the set at the factory so it should be included on all the TVs that ship to UK customers.
When I tried this new firmware I found that turning off the processing introduced a lot of motion blur and judder into the set's pictures. Turning it back on -- even at its lowest setting -- caused the flickering around the edges of moving objects to return.
The upshot is that there seems to be no happy compromise between motion processing artefacts and motion blur and judder on this set. As such, the original star rating remains valid.