You’ll note that I was careful to exclude a Sky HD box from the list of HDMI-sporting sources I provided a moment ago, for the simple reason that anyone buying a Freeview Playback TV will surely only be getting one because they’ve made a conscious decision not to go the Sky digital TV route.
This same argument perhaps defends another limitation of the LP40: its native resolution of 1,366 x 768 rather than the full HD resolution we’re increasingly starting to expect on screens of 40in or more. After all, Freeview channels currently only broadcast in standard definition, so it arguably makes sense for a Freeview-focussed TV like the LP40 to only have to ‘rescale’ terrestrial digital broadcasts up to 1,366 x 768 rather than the more processing-intensive (and therefore potentially more messy) 1,920 x 1,080 level.
Other key specs of the LP40 find a not particularly high claimed contrast ratio of 2000:1, and the facility to play 1080p/24 inputs of the sort now delivered by the majority of Blu-ray players. Plus, of course, there’s the small matter of the LP40’s built-in hard disk drive, which is a 160GB affair able to hold up to 100 hours of recordings depending on what picture quality you choose to record in. Three quality options are available: HQ (the best video standard but the most disk space intensive); SP (a balance between quality and memory); and LP, which offers the lowest image quality but uses the least amount of space.
Initially this sort of recording quality flexibility sounds very likeable. But actually it points towards a potentially quite severe flaw in the LP40’s recording system, namely that it doesn’t simply store away the digital bitstream of whatever Freeview broadcast it is you want to record.
And so unlike LG’s Freeview Playback TVs, which DO record the direct digital stream, there’s potential for the Humax system to reduce the picture quality as it goes through the process of converting the digital bitstream into something its HDD can recognise. Hmm.
In other ways, at least, the Humax Freeview Playback system is pretty much on a par with that seen in LG’s impressive rival sets, with such functionality as Series Link setting, pausing live TV and ‘chasing’ live broadcasts all possible. You also get the same weakness versus Sky’s Sky+ or Sky HD receivers, though, in that you can only record one digital channel at a time, not two.
If I had to pick between the LG and Humax sets in terms of ease of use, though, the Humax would come second, with neither its onscreen menus nor remote control feeling quite as intuitive when trying to make and navigate recordings as those of the LG sets.
Starting our tests of the LP40’s performance with its recordings, our fears about the ‘non-direct’ recording of digital broadcasts are realised. For even using the TV’s top-level HQ recording mode, recorded pictures look noticeably grainier and noisier than the original broadcasts – a far cry from the pixel for pixel perfection of LG’s Freeview Playback sets.
Step down to the SP mode and things deteriorate further, but I guess could still be considered watchable. But I wouldn’t personally use the LP mode at all unless you have a nostalgic fondness for your old VCR.
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