Chances are that you won't have heard of Japanese brand Funai unless you shop online. However, the company boasts an expanding range of flat TVs and other home cinema kit, and so promises to appear on the high street in months to come. But will it be a force to be reckoned with, or simply a budget brand that can't compete with the big boys?
The brand's new 27in LCD, the T27004, manages to give a good first impression, despite not being the most stylish set we've seen. That's because it's fully HD-ready (thanks to a native resolution of 1,280 x 720 and a DVI input with HDCP compatibility), and yet costs just £700. We have to admit that 27in isn't the ideal size of screen on which to enjoy high-definition pictures in their full glory, but the fact that the option is there on a set of this price is impressive.
What's more, the T27004 boasts just about every other connection you're likely to need, including component video and two RGB Scarts for good-quality analogue pictures, and a PC input.
Out of tune
Other features are thin on the ground, however. There's no built-in digital TV tuner - something that's becoming increasingly common on flat TVs - and we couldn't even find a sleep timer or child lock. The only extra that's worth mentioning is a picture-inpicture facility, which allows you to view any other input while watching TV broadcasts.
Still, at least the T27004 is a breeze to use. Despite the remote control's unexciting styling, it is responsive and provides easy access to a straightforward on-screen menu system.
Beginning our tests using the T27004's analogue tuner, we found that terrestrial TV channels were easily received and allocated to their corresponding presets. The screen's factory-set colour levels are respectable, and little tweaking was required for contrast and brightness. But, as is the case with many LCDs - and especially 'budget' models - the T27004 struggles with low-resolution TV signals. There was a loss of detail, and considerable motion blur and smearing with the slightest of head movements during even fairly static news broadcasts. This made TV programmes pretty difficult to watch.
Reaching for heaven?
As we'd expect, the Funai's performance improves with higher-resolution sources via its DVI or component video input from a progressive scan-compatible DVD player. Giving Kingdom of Heaven a spin in our DVI-outputting DVD player, we found that images boasted more fine detail, and were better resolved.
This said, however, pictures are still far from perfect. There was a considerable amount of grain apparent during our test movie's various low-lit sequences, and motion still looked jerky with camera pans or during the fast-paced battle scenes. Still, it's nothing like the unwatchable images from the Funai's analogue TV tuner.
Sadly, the T27004's poor picture performance is matched by its audio from two 5W speakers. TV programmes sounded rough and distorted, even at reasonably low volume, and the surround sound mode is anything but, and served only to stretch the soundstage to the sides of the room, leaving a hole at the centre of the screen where voices should be.
While the T27004's HD-ready status may make it an attractive option at first glance, its mediocre DVD performance and dire TV pictures - not to mention poor sound - make even £700 look a little too much to ask. A low price isn't everything, and Funai is going to have to up its game if it's to make an impression on the competitive flat TV market.