Polaroid, the brand most famous for producing those instant cameras so popular with partygoers and pranksters, has branched out into LCD televisions. The TLU-03723B is an ultra affordable set and looks that way, with a flimsy and unattractive chassis of matt black plastic, but no-one's ever won five stars just for being pretty.
A short features list is presumably one of the keys to that low price. It's HD Ready, has a digital tuner and a pair of HDMI inputs. And that's about your lot. The frame is detachable from its stand as are the speakers from the frame, which is handy if you want to wall-mount.
Ease of use
You'd think one of the first criteria of an entry-level set would be mass market user friendliness, but in this case you'd be reckoning without some truly bizarre design decisions.
The twin HDMI inputs are, for some reason, tucked away up in the top left corner of the back panel, thereby ensuring that the most important connections are about as far as they could possibly be from any video sources. There's not a hell of lot of room around the jacks themselves, either, which might cause problems for chunky, heavily insulated leads.
The remote, meanwhile, is ugly in black and off-white, with small buttons, obscure labelling and a general lack of pictograms necessitating a quick browse through the manual before setup is attempted. The menu system, with its primitive GUI and blocky type, harks back to less enlightened times, which would be acceptable if the system itself was intuitive and flexible, but it isn't.
Pre-sets are rather uninspired, sliders top out at '63' for some bizarre reason and subsections only remain open for a few seconds before either disappearing or taking you back to the previous screen before you are ready.
You'd think picture quality would be pretty key for a company such as Polaroid, but there's precious little evidence of it here.
There's very little that's right with the TLU-03723B. At a push, the colours are reasonably bold, with our DVD of The Fast and the Furious coming across in suitably brash manner. Blacks aren't too bad either, with Underworld on HD DVD benefiting from a palette able to reach down to a respectable level of gloom.
Before long, though, you'll get around to noticing the set's shortcomings, including a persistently grainy picture (both from standard and high-definition sources), poor shade and brightness blending and a level of detail that peaks around 'ordinary' and doesn't seem to improve, whatever you throw at those HDMI inputs.
Watching the TLU-03723B is like taking a step back five years or so to a time when LCDs at this size were an unconvincing novelty.
The worst thing about the picture, though, is its hideously clumsy way with movement. You won't notice much far wrong when the onscreen action is frenetic, such as the fight scenes in Underworld, or most of whatever is going on at any given time in The Fast and the Furious, but slow things down and everything starts to come seriously adrift.
The faces of actors walking across a medium shot, for example, visibly morph and distort as the panel struggles and fails to keep the changing image fluid. It's not the only thing you'll see if you're looking for it, either: the Polaroid is so sluggish when rendering naturalistic movement that it becomes really quite distracting and the 'spell' of watching and getting immersed in a movie is broken early on and never really gets re-cast.
It would take a pretty heroic audio effort to make up for the set's video shortcomings and make that £650 look worth spending. It's certainly got plenty of oomph: even the lower reaches of the volume dial are enough to fill a small room and you'll find plenty of welly to play with.
One glaring problem we had with our sample, though, was an occasional tendency of the HDMI input to freak out and deliver horrendously mangled audio from HD DVDs. The FACT chappy warning about disc piracy at the beginning of our Terminator 2 disc, for example, sounded like a peeved robot bellowing through a malfunctioning megaphone.
We swapped inputs, tried different discs and cables, all to no avail. After then briefly switching back to DVD, the audio was back to normal. Strange, and not necessarily a fault that will plague production models, but hardly a resounding testament to the quality of the Polaroid's electronics all the same. When working properly the sounds are reasonably competent, but are hardly going to have you reaching for your wallet.
The trouble with LCD as a display technology is that it is still to reach the stage where even the cheapest sets can be relied upon to perform to a certain standard.
It's a shame when democratically affordable televisions such as this Polaroid don't deliver, but try as we might, it's hard to think of a compelling reason to buy this set when there are so many affordable models out there that deliver so much more