- Review Price: £774.80
The new AT4220 LCD TV from Acer is quite possibly the silliest TV we’ve ever tested. But in a good way. A very good way, in fact. For even though it weighs in at a hefty 42in from screen corner to screen corner, it’s available for the insane sum of just £774.80. Which we believe makes the AT4220 emphatically the cheapest 42in TV solution we’ve ever tested. Surely, though, it’s not possible for such a crazily cheap TV to actually be any good, is it?
If you could judge a book by its cover, you wouldn’t expect much from the AT4220. A boring flat silvery trim sat around a dark grey screen frame with a finish that reeks of plastic is hardly the stuff of AV designer dreams.
Our first impressions leap significantly upwards, though, as we spot among the AT4220’s connections not one but two HDMI inputs – a forward-thinking touch of flexibility that a few rival TVs costing twice as much are still failing to provide. Even better, during our tests these HDMIs actually managed to show 1080p feeds from our resident Marantz DV9600 upscaling DVD player, a feature TVs costing north of £2k don’t routinely offer.
Further investigation reveals that the component video inputs the TV also sports can take 1080p too, making this one of the few TVs around able to show a 1080p output from the Xbox 360 console (and its optional HD DVD drive).
Elsewhere we find the usual complement of a PC input, composite video input and two Scarts. But the set is a couple of jacks short of a full pack, with no four-pin S-Video option, and no CAM slot that might indicate the presence of a digital tuner.
This missing CAM slot does indeed mean the TV does not have a digital tuner onboard. Still, while this is certainly a disappointment, the pragmatist in us is forced to reflect that however good the AT4220 turns out to be as a performer, something will have had to give somewhere on the features front to make a sub-£800 price possible.
Further investigation of the surprisingly attractive and usefully organised onscreen menus reveals, however, that the absent digital tuner is pretty symptomatic of a general dearth of tweaks. To give you some idea of just how limited your options are, really the only features of even passing interest we uncovered were a multi-level noise reduction system, and a few picture presets. Like, wow.
Mind you, given that the remote control is an exercise in unpleasantness, combining grim looks with a cheapo finish and stodgy, slow-acting buttons, it’s perhaps just as well there aren’t that many features for you to explore!
The AT4220’s key claimed specifications aren’t bad, with a fair-to-middling claimed contrast ratio of 1200:1 joining forces with a par-for-the-course 500cd/m2 brightness level and an HD Ready resolution of 1,366 x 768.
The AT4220 does still have two more nasty tricks up its sleeve though. First and worst, the set’s auto-tuning mode fails to remove poor quality ‘secondary’ tuned programmes from its listings, leaving you to have to do the job yourself. Then it fails to sort the channels into any sort of correct order for you. Such unhelpfulness should have gone out with the dodo, frankly.
The other operational glitch is the way the TV doesn’t want to automatically format pictures received via the HDMI inputs, leaving you to have to choose the correct aspect ratio yourself. Tedious.
The clenched teeth inspired by the dismal auto-tuning, HDMI issues and ropey remote do start to relax, though, as we finally check out the AT4220’s picture quality. For while it’s certainly not going to win any awards, it’s also far from the horror show we might have expected for around £775.
Kicking off the good stuff is some really very impressive sharpness during high definition viewing. The set delivers a great sense of the extra clarity and definition inherent to the HD format, helping HD pictures look more believable and solid in the process and making the HD efforts of many large-screen LCD TVs costing twice as much look soft and fluffy by comparison.
Arguably even more surprising on such a budget TV is the depth of the AT4220’s black levels. Obviously dark areas bottom out into greyness sooner than many ‘normal price’ LCD TVs, but there’s certainly a greater sense of blackness than is common in the sub-£1k flat TV bracket.
Good black levels often help a TV produce winningly rich colours too, and so it proves here. The richness of the Hawaiian island of the Xbox 360’s Test Drive Unlimited looks impressively lush, bright and engaging, and there’s also a fair degree of subtlety when it comes to portraying colour blends and subtler hues.
The set’s colour, black level and sharpness talents are enough in themselves to justify £770 of anyone’s money – and then some. But inevitably anyone only willing to shell out such a small sum for such a large screen does have to accept a few picture compromises.
Not least among these is the fact that although reasonably black, dark parts of the picture also lack shadow detail, leaving them looking empty and over-dominant.
Skin tones can look slightly strange at times too, especially during dark scenes.
But by far the TV’s biggest fault is the extent to which its images deteriorate with anything but the highest quality standard definition sources – especially those from its own analogue-only tuner. The sharpness so apparent with HD almost completely disappears, colours become generally less natural looking, and moving objects start to smear very noticeably. Hardly ideal on a TV that’s likely due to its price to appeal most to people with little if any HD interest…
Sonically the Acer is much more consistent, combining a strikingly widespread soundstage with sufficient power and dynamic range to deliver smooth, rounded vocals, plenty of bass, and even some effective, harshness-free trebles.
The AT4220’s troubles with standard definition are definitely a problem on a TV likely to appeal most to a fairly unambitious (in AV terms) audience. But we suspect there will still be people out there seriously interested in being able to get a perfectly adequate HD display of a size they probably never dreamt their limited budget would stretch to.
How we test televisions
We test every TV we review thoroughly over an extended period of time. We use industry standard tests to compare features properly. We’ll always tell you what we find. We never, ever, accept money to review a product.
Score in detail
Image Quality 7
Sound Quality 8