The 42" TV category hits the sweet spot for most people in the market for a reasonably large primary display without breaking the bank. If you have Rs 52,000 to spare, you have a reasonably large choice between popular brands such as Samsung, LG, Sony, and Panasonic—all accomplished marques well known for manufacturing quality panels. Take Rs 4,000 off that budget and the market opens with even more choices from not-so-well-known brands such as VU, Micromax, Lloyd, and AOC for the asking price of Rs 48,000. The five crore question is, how much of an impact does this small saving have on the overall quality and experience? Not long ago, we learned that the performance hit is just too profound in case of Micromax 42" LED. This time around I managed to get my paws on the AOC LE42A3320/61 LED-backlit LCD TV (or AOC LE42 for the sake of brevity) to see if it can successfully juggle performance with value.
The TV looks quite handsome for a product that's essentially being sold at the lowest entry point. The 11.5mm bezel looks handsome thanks to its piano black finish. The combination endows the TV with a lithe and stylish look. The bottom end of the bezel is extended with a section bearing brushed plastic finish and housing the remote IR sensor and the company logo. The AOC logo is surrounded by a wraparound LED status light that shifts between blue and green illumination to signify sleep and power states, respectively. The rear of the TV sports the standard matte plastic finish that looks alright. It's a pity then that it feels quite flimsy when rapped gently. The panel is neither too glossy nor too matte, which means that it doesn't cause much glare or reflection, while at the same time letting the colours pop unhindered. The overall build quality seems good enough to show no signs of aggressive backlight bleed, which is generally par for the course for 42" TVs in this price range.
This is a surprisingly good looking and well-built TV for the price
Being 7cm at its thickest point, the AOC LE42 isn't exactly anorexic, but it doesn't look too flabby at all. The square stand supports its relatively light 13kg weight well. Unfortunately, the whole shebang is susceptible to wobbling. AOC has provided wall mounting option, but the retail package doesn't include a bracket. Although the I/O ports have all been designed with wall mounting in mind, the all-important HDMI and component ports should have been placed in the convenient location along the side, and not facing downwards and deeper towards the centre of the TV. The power connector isn't your standard IEC C13 type connector, but the significantly smaller IEC C7 connector commonly used with smaller appliances. The provided cable is just too short, so unless your electrical outlet is close by, you may have to use an extension cable or a power strip.
The TV seriously lacks on the connectivity front for something as big and relatively expensive. Instead of the industry standard three HDMI connectors, you only get two ports. This means, if you own a console and an HDMI set-top box, you have no choice but to connect your PC to the D-sub (VGA) port, or the Blu-ray player to the component input. This is a serious compromise, because an average home has at least three HDMI-enabled devices these days. The rest of the connectivity options are standard with a 75-ohm RF input, composite (RCA), headphone out, digital coaxial (S/PDIF), and 3.5mm PC audio input. Also provided are two USB ports for playing back movies, music, and photographs. With these, you can attach your USB drive and play back most popular audio, photo, and movie formats, as long as they are smaller than 720p. Like all integrated media players on TVs, this one is a hit-and-miss affair with a slow, clunky interface. You're better off with a dedicated media player if you seek serious performance and compatibility.
Although the TV bears wall mounting provision, it doesn't ship with mounting brackets
The UI may be spartan, but it looks classy and minimalist. It's a bit slow to respond, but what we are looking at here is a substantial lag between hitting the button on the remote and the time it takes for the command to get executed in the menu. The remote control itself is quite unreliable at registering inputs itself, which is a pity because it's otherwise quite intuitive and ergonomically designed. When the TV does register an input, the UI goes through the motions with fluidity and grace, so it's not as bad as the TVs where the UI resembles a stuttering mess. The picture and sound adjustment controls are quite basic, and offer only the bare minimum contrast, brightness, colour, sharpness, and colour temperature adjustment settings. Fortunately, the all-important backlight control feature hasn't been omitted. However, if you wish to adjust sound EQ values and tweak individual RGB colours, this isn't the TV for you. Those seeking to hook this up to the PC should know something rather important. Although selecting the DVI mode allows the TV to enter the deep colour mode and attain a 1:1 pixel mapping (a very important feature), doing so shuts off HDMI audio. This is a serious caveat for those who want to use the TV as a PC or console display, because this foresight forces one to choose between best picture quality and HDMI audio.
The AOC LE42 didn't quite impress me with its picture quality in the uncalibrated mode, but the image became acceptable only once it was properly calibrated with Datacolor's Spyder colorimeter and calibration software. Make no mistake; the lack of individual hardware RGB adjustment means that the calibrated image quality will only be restricted to the PC and will not be relevant across your Blu-ray or DVD players, consoles, and set-top boxes. With or without image calibration, the TV never really excelled in my suite of test images. The black levels are a major issue, because setting the brightness sufficiently high brings in a massive amount of discolouration, whereas bringing it down to an acceptable level simply obliterates all black detail. Needless to say, I noticed quite a bit of banding and colour casting in the greyscale gradient test. On the bright side, viewing angles are decent, white saturation isn't bad, and the panel doesn't outright disappoint at distinguishing between colour gradients. I realise that the last statement sounds dire and smacks of lowered expectations, then again that's mainly because that's really the case. I don't expect much from this panel in terms of picture quality.
Just two HDMI ports aren't nearly enough
Black crush became the single predominant issue with every single movie that possessed an abundance of dark scenes. The sheer inability of the AOC LE42 to distinguish between greyscales and eke out black detail is a serious issue. It's a problem that can neither be ignored, nor is it easy to fix. Setting the brightness value higher introduces a noticeable colour cast in the greyscale, and the overall picture quality is greatly diminished. Every single Blu-ray I tested—from The Descent and Pandorum to Doomsday and Sucker Punch, the dark scenes were just unbearably devoid of any detail. This was evident even in games such as Tomb Raider and Far Cry 3. The skin tones were alright, while the brighter scenes in Kick-Ass, Scott Pilgrim, and Serenity Blu-rays fared much better. The sound quality is just what you'd expect from inbuilt speakers characteristic of flat-panel TVs—not really worth it. While the TV does a decent enough job with motion, it's not really ideal for movies or gaming, or rather anything that requires black detail.
This brings back to our primary question. At an MRP of Rs 47,990, is it really worth by opting for the AOC LE42 and saving Rs 4,000 over 42" TVs from reputed brands such as LG, Samsung, and Sony—all of which can be purchased at an MOP of Rs 52,000 and thereabouts. The answer is a resounding no. The inability of this TV to render blacks makes it a unacceptable compromise; especially if you plan to use it for watching movies or hooking it up to a console. This just might make sense as an everyday TV meant to watch the mindless Saas Bahu cable programming; that is, provided the salesman is willing to give you a good discount over its MRP. For anyone more serious about their TV purchase, you are better off spending the extra Rs 4,000 on a decent brand.