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The emergence of flat-screen TVs, with their space-saving designs, has led to increased demand for larger screen sizes -- the bigger the screen, the better the experience, especially if you watch loads of films.
If the TV's image quality isn't great, however, there's nowhere to hide in a large screen and that's the problem with LG's 42LB1D. It's a reasonably well-specified model that's HD Ready, with two HDMI connections and integrated Freeview. It can be found for a very affordable £1,200 online. But although it sounds like an outstanding deal, its picture performance is disappointing compared to the latest LCDs we've seen this year.
Heavily lacquered or 'piano key' black has been this year's most popular finish when it comes to flat-screen designs, especially among inexpensive models. This could be because the dark, glossy surrounds afford a sophisticated appearance that often disguises average assembly elsewhere.
From the front, the LG 42LB1D looks sleek and striking, its large dimensions exaggerated by a wide, swivelling stand and a pair of sizeable speakers integrated at either side. But around the back, the thickset, plastic construction reveals a more basic build quality.
Apart from a set of easily accessible AV inputs at the side, all connections are spaciously arranged across the rear panel. This is the only LG model that features two HDMI digital inputs, which offers future-proof convenience for your high-definition sources. Dual digital connectivity means you can connect a hi-def DVD player and a Sky HD box, for example, at the same time without having to frustratingly switch cables. This is especially important as the number of hi-def devices continues to rise.
You can also use the analogue component inputs to display high-definition (and progressive-scan) signals, but conventional connectivity is limited to three Scart terminals. This sounds substantial, but only one of these is RGB-enabled for the highest quality and another is restricted to outputting TV to a separate screen or recording device.
A standard RGB PC input is supported by a dedicated audio input and a RS-232 terminal that allows the screen to be controlled from your desktop. Sound options are enhanced by an optical digital output that can be connected to an external home-cinema amplifier to boost the sound or process surround effects in films.
The silver remote is reassuringly weighty, with soft, responsive controls that are comfortable to use. Primary control keys are sensibly arranged within easy thumb's reach, while less important controls are concealed beneath a flip-down panel.
The screen features a typical WXGA (1,366x768-pixel) resolution that will support standard 720p and 1080i high-definition formats. The 1080i signals (used by Sky's HD broadcasts) will be slightly downscaled, but the effect on overall image quality is minimal. However, this resolution will not display the latest 1080p format used by Blu-ray/HD DVD players -- for that you'll need a compatible 'Full HD' resolution screen, and they're still significantly more expensive.
Integrated analogue and digital Freeview TV tuners offer flexible terrestrial viewing options, while an integrated CI card slot means you can also receive limited subscription channels from TopUp TV. The electronic programme guide that details digital broadcasts allows you to quickly scan schedules, search for programmes and set up reminders or even recordings using compatible equipment.
The 42LB1D boasts the latest version of LG's XD Engine technology, which uses a variety of picture-processing systems to enhance individual elements and claims to upgrade standard-definition images to close to high-definition quality (see Performance, below).
The menu systems are neatly presented using graphical icons and there's an extensive range of options to play with. Although you can customise and save your own picture settings there are also several preset modes, including an Artificial Eye mode, which uses a sensor to automatically adjust settings according to your room's brightness. The XD Engine has advanced settings for altering individual colour tones and noise reduction, so you can fine-tune the image if you have the patience.
The sound system deserves mention, as the front stereo speakers are accompanied by two dedicated woofers at the rear, which allows the sound more presence and impact than your average flat-screen TV. There's also an SRS TruSurround XT sound mode that attempts to recreate spacious effects to enhance films.
Finally, an elaborate picture-in-picture system lets you view two inputs on the screen at the same time using a smaller window or split screen, although there are some restrictions, such as not being able to view HDMI inputs while watching Freeview TV. There's also a system that lets you search channels using three separate windows, which is useful for flicking through while you're still watching a programme.
Although you can improve image quality by fine-tuning the exaggerated default settings, the 42LB1D's picture performance left us largely unimpressed.
The backlight seems to bleach out the blacks, depriving images of density and contrast. This would be easier to ignore if images weren't plagued by considerable instability, with even HDMI sources suffering from graininess, shimmering edges and stuttered movement. True hi-def content appears cleaner, but still struggles to compare with some of the similarly priced models, such as Samsung's LE40N73B, although that's only 40 inches.
Terrestrial broadcasts, especially the almost unbearable analogue channels, suffer from the same problems and it's only reasonable detail and an extensive colour spectrum that save the screen from embarrassment.
Sound performance fares far better, with an expressive midrange supported by low-frequency depth from the woofers that gives the audio more authority than flat-screen speakers are typically capable of.
Edited by Mary Lojkine
Additional editing by Nick Hide