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Not so long ago, paying less than £1,000 for a large, flat-screen TV would have been deemed an absolute steal. But times they are a-changing and nowadays there's plenty of competition at around this price -- especially from the likes of Samsung and LG. Plus the latest affordable screens no longer suffer from the same compromises that afflicted earlier models.
LG's 32LC2D has added an integrated Freeview tuner to an impressive specification that includes high-definition compatibility, XD picture processing and enough features to embarrass more expensive alternatives. Our only gripe is its slightly limited connectivity, with just one RGB Scart and digital HDMI input -- which might distance high-definition devotees.
Picture performance at this price -- less than £800 if you hunt around online -- isn't going to equal the class leaders, but if you can ignore a few subtle flaws then you can save some money without being too disappointed.
For a design constructed almost exclusively from plastic, the screen carries an air of elegance that belies its budget price. The matte-black finish and discreet styling may not be as immediately eye-catching as some recent glossy designs -- but it's less likely to impose on your living space or appear gimmicky in a few years' time.
The screen arrives with a self-assembly stand, but wall-mounting options are also available. LG has graciously included all the necessary nuts and bolts with the package, while the rear panel has been cut away to make connections easier to access from a hanging position.
There's a comprehensive array of connections to cater for a full variety of analogue and digital devices that will comprise most home entertainment setups. They include three Scarts (although only one is RGB-enabled and another can only be used for outputting DTV), progressive-scan compatible component inputs and an all-important HDMI digital input.
Ideally, we'd like to see dual HDMI options, which would allow you to simultaneously connect separate high-definition sources without having to switch cables or use expensive adaptors. There are similarly priced screens that afford this convenience if you want to accompany a hi-def TV receiver (such as Sky HD) with devices like an upscaling DVD player or Xbox 360.
Nonetheless, a connection count that also includes side-access AV inputs, a VGA PC input with audio and an optical output for surround-sound systems shouldn't be shirked at, especially at this price.
he reassuringly weighty remote is also a cut above the typically unsubstantial units that are often associated with such screens.
Anyone interested in upgrading to a new flat-screen TV should ensure it's going to stand the test of time. And the 32LC2D's future-proof specification is guaranteed to keep you entertained for a good few years to come.
High-definition compatibility is essential if you want to subscribe to Sky's HDTV services and play upscaled DVDs now -- or use Blu-ray or HD DVD devices in the near future. In preparation for the eventual digital TV switchover, the screen has also been fitted with a Freeview tuner and accompanying CI card slot for receiving limited subscription channels from TopUp TV.
LG has incorporated its latest XD Engine processing system, which supposedly improves standard-definition signals to 'almost' high-definition levels using a variety of technologies to enhance individual picture elements. The system doesn't exactly scale the heights it claims, but it does make a difference, which can be judged first-hand using a split-screen demo mode that emphasises the improvements in detail and depth.
Elsewhere, on-screen menus are neat and unobtrusive with extensive adjustments largely based around preset sound and picture modes -- although you can also customise and store your own settings. You can even make unusually advanced adjustments to colour tones and noise-reduction systems to fine-tune images. Sound options are equally versatile with several preset modes depending on the type of programme you're watching -- such as sports or movies -- and a SRS TruSurroundXT mode, which adds a sense of spaciousness to the stereo speakers.
For the price it's hard to fault this wide range of technological and user-friendly features, and not many screens costing less than a grand can offer as much for your money.
Images on the LG 32LC2D exhibit some common LCD flaws such as background instability and jagged gradations, especially apparent in TV broadcasts. Class-leading screens such as Sony's V2000 and Panasonic's LXD60 models can cope with these imperfections better -- but they are more expensive.
Nonetheless, the 32LC2D's decent detail, depth of field and a lustrous colour palette are alluring enough to divert your attention away from what are only subtle shortcomings. DVD images, especially using an upscaled 720p or 1080i signal, eliminate most problems altogether -- offering an improved insight into black levels that sharpens detail and deepens definition. Overall, picture performance is on a par with the best screens at this price, such as Samsung's LE32R74BD.
Like most LCD screens, sound performance is typically limited, but if you keep the volume levels down it's fine for everyday TV viewing. If used in the right circumstances, the sound presets can be enjoyably effective.
Edited by Mary Lojkine
Additional editing by Nick Hide