For a start, black levels are pretty average. Even with the backlight nudged down to pretty much zero there’s a marked pall of greyness over parts of the picture that are supposed to look black. And with the backlight set this low, it also has to be said that dark pictures lack vibrancy and shadow detail.
We personally found that using a backlight setting of around 30-40 gave the best balance of black level and brightness, but we couldn’t arrive at any setting for the picture that might produce a contrast performance to match our edge LED hopes.
It also has to be said that colours aren’t as vibrant and punchy as we see with many big-screen edge LED TVs, and colour tones don’t always look entirely natural when watching standard definition fare.
Pictures don’t look especially sharp either. This isn’t so bad that the set can’t clearly reproduce the difference between standard and high definition sources, especially with relatively static footage. But pretty evident judder and motion blur can certainly reduce the sense of crispness during action scenes.
We’re all too aware at this point that we’ve been pretty negative about the Acer AT2358ML’s pictures, so it’s high time we introduced some balance. For the reality is that while the issues we’ve discussed so far have disappointed us in the context of the TV’s edge LED lighting, if you consider the set against the wider small-screen LCD marketplace, its pictures really aren’t bad.
For instance, compared with your average sub-£300 CCFL LCD TV, the AT2358ML’s contrast, colour and even motion handling efforts actually shape up reasonably well.
The set is also not as bad at upscaling standard definition fare from its tuner as we’d expected, in that the picture doesn’t look unduly soft, and while MPEG noise is certainly apparent with low-quality channels, it’s not thoughtlessly exaggerated in the upscaling process, as we’ve seen happen all too often with budget, small-screen TVs.
Another picture plus is that the backlight is more consistent than we see with many small LCD TVs. There’s a very faint line of light ‘seepage’ around the outermost centimetre or so of the picture. But this is only visible during pretty much completely black footage, and is far less distracting than the big ‘bubbles’ of light inconsistency that are currently commonplace in the LCD marketplace.
Unfortunately for Acer, though, we can’t manage to finish our review of the AT2358ML on a high. For its sound quality is very uninspiring indeed, delivering exactly the sort of compressed, bass-free, muddy little audio performance we’re depressingly starting to expect almost as standard from small LCD TVs. The set struggles to handle fairly tame stuff like Emmerdale, in fact, so you can imagine the problems you’ll encounter during the opening beach assault scenes of Saving Private Ryan.
Our love of TV picture quality pretty much by default prevents us really raving about the Acer AT2358ML, for its imaging flaws are numerous and obvious. And it compounds them with an audio performance that sounds thin and muddy even under relatively little strain.
However, it would be grossly unfair to just write the set off. For its pictures are actually decent enough in the context of the sub-£300 market as a whole, it has a cute (though not revolutionary) design, and best of all its multimedia and PVR features are surprisingly comprehensive, making it a potentially excellent affordable second-room option for people who value multimedia convenience, cheap pricing and to some extent design ahead of raw AV quality.