- Review Price: £547.00
After LG blazed the trail for Freeview Playback TVs earlier this year with its critically acclaimed LT75 models, we really expected to see a glut of similarly featured ‘TV recorder combis’ burst through our doors.
But the expected stampede just didn’t happen. In fact, we can think of only one other Freeview Playback (recently rebranded as Freeview+) TV that’s come our way since the LGs, and that’s Humax’s slightly underwhelming LP40-TDR1.
Now at last, another TV brand is stepping into the Freeview Playback arena; namely JVC with its impressively affordable LT-32DE9BJ.
This sub-£550 LCD model combines a 32in LCD TV screen with a built-in 160GB HDD able to record programmes from the digital tuner while providing all the specifications required to earn the official Freeview Playback seal of approval.
For those of you not aware of what those specifications are, they go like this:
1. At least an 8-day Electronic Programme Guide.
2. Series Link support allowing one timer to record an entire series.
3. The facility to record split programmes such as movies interrupted by a news broadcast as if they were one programme.
4. The ability to offer to record related programmes.
5. The ability to spot and record an alternative showing of a broadcast if there is a time conflict.
6. The ability to update schedule changes even while a TV is in standby.
7. ‘Accurate recording’, whereby programmes are recorded based on data from a broadcaster rather than simple time settings.
Prior to today, JVC hasn’t had a particularly obvious heritage in the Freeview recording market, so I don’t mind admitting to a few nerves on the 32DE9BJ’s behalf. But after delving into the digital recording menus, I felt much better since there are some really striking similarities between the TV’s menus and those of Humax’s top-level external Freeview PVRs.
A little delving around confirms my hunch. Apparently, JVC has effectively stuck a Humax 9300T PVR into the 32DE9BJ – a pretty good choice if the almost universal critical acclaim afforded to its 9200 predecessor is anything to go by.
While we’re on the subject of the 32DE9BJ’s digital PVR capabilities, it’s worth adding that while the 160GB HDD size is the same as that found on LG’s Freeview Playback TVs, the JVC model gets one over on its Korean rival by enabling you to record two digital streams simultaneously. Excellent.
Please note, however, that you can only record digital channels on the built-in PVR. Sadly, stuff coming in from the AV inputs and even the analogue tuner is off limits.
Turning to other matters, the 32DE9BJ provides a reasonably attractive home for its Freeview Playback functions, thanks to a slightly retro style wrapped up by a distinctive little blue light stripe underneath the JVC logo.
Connectivity is passable, I guess, thanks to the provision of three HDMIs and a digital audio output alongside all the other TV essentials. But I have to say I was rather surprised to find no D-Sub PC jack provided; pretty much every other TV around now supports PC as well as video use, so this has to count as quite a strike against the 32DE9BJ.
There are a trio of disappointments lurking in the TV’s specifications, though. For starters, its maximum contrast ratio of 5500:1 looks significantly lower than the sort of figures we’re now coming to expect from 32in LCD TVs. Though as ever, it’s worth pointing out that such figures can be measured in different ways, and so are notoriously unreliable.
Another thing some folk might hold against the 32DE9BJ is the fact that it doesn’t have a full HD resolution, instead topping out at an ‘HD Ready’ 1366×768. However, we reckon there’s actually sense in this resolution decision given the TV’s obvious Freeview bias, since 1366×768 panels commonly deliver better picture quality with standard definition digital broadcasts than full HD ones.
One rather less forgivable factor in the 32DE9BJ’s makeup is that it can’t take 1080p feeds. Setting our Sony Blu-ray player to 1080p resulted in a depressing blank screen, with the image only appearing when we switched the output down to 1080i. We guess JVC might argue that 1080p just isn’t necessary on a 32in screen, and they might have a point. But we’d still like it to be there, all the same!
Probably the main potential plus point for the TV’s pictures is its carriage of JVC’s DynaPix Plus Picture Engine. This contains elements for enhanced upscaling of standard definition sources, boosting colours, and improving contrast – though it’s a level down from the DynaPix HD system JVC saves for its full HD LCD TVs.
Starting our tests with a look at the 32DE9BJ’s simple picture performance, we find a lot of good work undone by a single aggravating problem, which I’ll come to in a moment.
Probably the most significant strength of the TV’s pictures is their sharpness and detail. The DynaPix system really does a great job of making standard definition sources look crisp and surprisingly noiseless, while HD sources are stunningly full of texture and fine detail. In fact, during a run-through of test-room favourite ”Casino Royale” on Blu-ray, detail levels during the early free running sequence are as high as I’ve ever seen them on a 32in TV.
I was also rather taken with the 32DE9BJ’s colours. As with many previous JVC TVs we’ve seen, they’re very aggressively saturated, helping the picture achieve a richness and solidity that’s rare in the 32in marketplace. As a result, sun-drenched, tropical sequences in ”Casino Royale” such as the scene where Bond emerges from a swim to ogle a lady with a white horse have simply never looked better on a 32in TV. Honestly, the 32DE9BJ really can be that good.
What’s more, although very rich, colours are also determinedly natural in tone for 99.9% of the time, as can be seen in the impressive way the TV deals with all the tricky skin tones on display during ”Casino Royale’s” card game sequences.
And as for that aggravating problem I mentioned previously, it’s a familiar one with JVC TVs: a disappointing black level response. For no matter how much I tinkered with the 32DE9BJ’s menus, I just couldn’t manage to get a black level response that really looked convincing.
With the TV’s backlight set to its default High level, for instance, dark scenes look really very greyed over indeed, with even a few extra-bright ‘hotspots’ near the image’s edges. Yet although it’s possible to considerably reduce the impact of this greyness by dimming the backlight to its medium or low levels, doing so results in dark scenes that look devoid of detail, and so more like flat black holes ripped from the picture rather than a natural part of the film as a whole. It should be added here, too, that the set’s rather limited viewing angle doesn’t help matters, as quite severe extra greyness creeps in as soon as you get past 35 to 40 degrees off axis.
One further, albeit more minor concern is the 32DE9BJ’s motion handling. During HD and standard def viewing alike there’s definitely a little blurring when objects pass quickly across the screen, and this is joined when watching HD sources (in 1080i, not 1080p don’t forget!) with the slight judder associated with LCD screens that don’t use potent 100Hz or other motion compensation processing.
Turning now to the 32DE9BJ’s recording capabilities, there’s actually not much that needs to be said. We’ve covered the main features available, other than mentioning that the TV can also ‘chase playback’ (AKA pause live TV). And in terms of recording quality, the 32DE9BJ’s HDD actually records the direct digital bitstream, meaning that, so far as we can tell, the quality of its recordings is absolutely identical to that of the original broadcast. And you can’t really ask for more than that.
The 32DE9BJ’s audio rates as a success too. The slimline oblique cone speakers the set employs prove remarkably powerful, producing a combination of high volumes, rich dynamics and harshness-free treble detailing that serves ”Casino Royale’s” action scenes very well. A bit more bass would have been nice, I guess, but overall, I’m impressed.
With its superb colours, great sound and impressively implemented Freeview+/Freeview Playback functionality, the 32DE9BJ is a good TV that occasionally manages to be truly spectacular. It’s just a damn shame some average black levels and a missing PC port stand between it and a TrustedReviews recommendation. Grrr.
Score in detail
Image Quality 7
Sound Quality 8