Oh, how other TV brands must hate the Acer AT4220. Every time we visit a manufacturer these days they moan about how it's nearly impossible to make a profit given how fast flat TV prices are plummeting. Yet here's Acer sticking the knife in again, by remarkably offering a 42in LCD TV for just £1,000. Strewth. If Acer can actually ally any quality to this price, the likes of Sony and Panasonic will have to start quaking in their boots.
Perhaps not surprisingly, the AT4220 is nothing special to look at. Its combination of dark grey screen bezel with silvery outer trim and speaker section falls flat thanks to the lack of any gloss or metallic finish, and a rather plastic feel.
Connectivity is fine, though; not least because the TV's lowly price point hasn't stopped it sporting twin HDMIs - great news for HDTV fans. What's more, these HDMIs can take 1080p feeds - as, we're chuffed to say, can the component video jacks. It means you can get 1080p feeds in from an Xbox 360 games console.
Elsewhere there's a PC D-Sub interface, two Scarts (both RGB compatible), and a composite video input. This does leave a couple of notable omissions, namely a fourpin S-video option, and a CI slot for adding subscription channels to a built-in digital tuner.
This latter omission is hardly surprising though, given that the AT4220 doesn't actually have a digital tuner! We guess this must be one of the sacrifices Acer has had to make to hit the £1,000 price.
The AT4220's quoted specifications bode reasonably well. The 1200:1 contrast ratio is higher than we might expect, the brightness is in line with the rest of the LCD market at 500cd/m2, and the native resolution is an HD-ready 1366 x 768.
Working our way through the AT4220's features, the first thing that strikes us is how unpleasant its remote control is. It looks butt-ugly, feels horribly lightweight, and features squidgy, unresponsive buttons. Yeuch.
Just as well, then, that the onscreen menus are really pretty good, being clearly presented and well organised. The only problem with them, in fact, is that they don't actually contain many features; in fact, all we could spot of even passing interest were a three level noise reduction system, and a few picture presets. Still, this seems forgivable given the AT4220's aggressive price.
Considerably harder to let slide is the way the set's auto-tuning fails to either remove low quality 'ghost' channels from its finished listings or sort its findings into channel order. It leaves a level of manual tuning input we thought had gone out with the dinosaurs.
No disaster movies
Provided you feed it a strong source, the AT4220's pictures are far from the disasters we might have expected for £1,000. Particularly striking while watching the high definition HD DVD transfer of King Kong is how sharp and detailed the picture looks.
As Carl Denham films his movie on the deck of the ship, for instance, the Acer picks out all the ripples in the sea and, even better, all the subtle textures of the rusting deck. Dark Kong scenes, like those where Ann is offered up as a sacrifice, enjoy at least decent black levels, with less greyness than we usually see on budget LCD TVs.
This helps the AT4220 produce better colours than we might have anticipated too, as they combine solid, reasonably vibrant saturations with a pretty natural tone - at least during the bright scenes.
During darker scenes skin tones can adopt a slightly orangey feel, and although black levels are passably deep, dark areas can look a bit hollow thanks to a shortage of shadow detail subtlety. But we'd still say HD looks eminently watchable overall.
Shame the same cannot be said of some standard-definition sources. The picture holds up OK with a really strong, noiseless standard-def source like a good quality DVD or a particularly pristine Sky Digital broadcast. With anything received on the TV's own analogue tuner, or lower-quality digital broadcasts, it breaks down quite badly.
The picture gets very soft; motion becomes smeary; and the largely natural colours experienced with HD suddenly become strangely muted and off-key.
Another little glitch we noticed during tests was that sometimes the HDMI jacks don't format the picture properly when you switch to them, requiring the HDMI source to be switched off and back on again.
Sounds a bit harsh
Sonically, the AT4220 is pretty good. The soundstage goes remarkably wide and there's plenty of treble clarity with voices sounding rounded and rich, and backed up with solid levels of bass. Things can get slightly harsh during really full-on action scenes, but overall the performance again surpasses expectations for a £1,000 42in LCD TV.
There are definitely enough things wrong with the AT4220 to make us recommend that you spend more on something better, if you can afford it. If a grand is as high as you can go, the AT4220 can deliver some serious bang for your buck.