When the new LG RE-44SZ21RD DLP rear pro TV turned up for review, I concluded that the accompanying documentation must be for a different product entirely. Charging £1,300 for a 44in DLP screen (Comet's actually flogging it for an enticing £999 at time of writing!) just had to be wrong, that or the technology inside this big telly had to be CRT, not DLP. Someone, somewhere had made a mistake. Only they hadn't...
The 44SZ21 really is a giant-sized DLP rear projection TV, and it really does only cost £1,300 - or less. This makes it typically £500 cheaper than its nearest DLP rival, and - perhaps even more strikingly - significantly cheaper than some traditional tube based rear projection TVs. Remarkable...
The 44SZ21 immediately ticks the right aesthetic boxes, thanks to its slick and attractive design; the model is extremely slim, with a light and low-slung frame.
Connectivity is good, if not comprehensive. There are two sets of component video inputs capable of receiving analogue high definition or progressive scan signals. These are joined by three Scarts, plus the usual Svideo and composite video alternatives.
However, unlike many other DLP TVs currently available, there's no PC input, and worse, no digital video input. Consequently, this set cannot be considered HD Ready, and will prove unsuitable for both Sky's upcoming high definition broadcasts, and taking digital feeds from HDMI/DVI-bearing DVD players. I guess LG would argue that something had to give to hit that £1,400 price point, and that removing compatibility with premium (and therefore expensive) sources probably made the most sense given the set's own ultra-cheap price.
Unsurprisingly, the 44SZ21 isn't overloaded with fancy features. There's Virtual Dolby audio (for a surround sound style effect without the rear speakers), picture in picture... but beyond that nothing beyond the universal basics. This begs the question: how many corners have been cut with performance quality to hit the £1,300 price?
The general answer is a few - but not with any really significant consequences.
Crawl in the dark
The key visual weakness of the 44SZ21 compared with higher-end DLP TV sets is the level of green dot crawl in darker picture areas. Black suits or night skies can look slightly 'alive' thanks to this once-common DLP artefact, as well as taking on a slightly green look in tone. What's more, this tinge also creeps into other colours during darker scenes, making people look slightly bilious and giving some low-brightness colours a curious glow.
A couple of other oldschool DLP issues aren't especially well suppressed either. There's evidence of the rainbow effect, for instance, where bands of colour become visible if you flit your eyes around scenes with extreme light/dark contrasts (some people are more susceptible to this than others). Also, horizontal motion or camera pans suffer with fizzing artefacts.
The Texas Instruments DLP chipset inside the 44SZ21 is the established 'Matterhorn' design, a 1024 x 576 resolution DMD. The artefacts described have been associated with this chip, but that said it is a near perfect resolution match for PAL DVD and digital TV sources. The screen's black level response, despite the low-level green dot noise is good - and better than I'd expect for the price.
Pictures are well detailed and textured. This is especially true with high definition and progressive sources, which it delivers with pleasing directness. The texture creates a sense of depth, embroiling you in a pleasingly threedimensional film or TV world. The screen is impressively bright by rear projection standards - and illumination is delivered evenly across the whole screen, avoiding any 'hotspotting' in the centre.
Finally, while I observed occasional tonal problems with dark colours on the 44SZ21RD, bright ones are generally admirable: solid and vibrant and much less afflicted by noise than darker hues, well contained within their correct boundaries, and almost universally natural in tone. Coupled with the decent black level response, this fidelity makes for an agreeably dynamic image overall.
One general point before moving onto its sound concerns the nature of the 44SZ21RD's screen. It's exceptionally glossy, which perhaps help it deliver deeper blacks, but also causes quite severe reflections if you watch it with even a little ambient light in your room. The 44SZ21RD's audio performance is fine. The speakers tucked under the screen serve up plentiful amounts of mid-range bass and dialogue is clear and enjoyable. The soundstage is likeably wide, too, even in standard Nicam mode which predictably sounds better than Virtual Dolby.
Overall the 44SZ21RD is a solid rather than outstanding budget big screen proposition. LG is to be applauded for bringing DLP rear projection to the sub- £1.5k market - but buyers will need to be prepared to accept a few performance compromises along the way. This big screen is great for those looking for a value set primed for DVD, Sky and video games - but it's not future-proof.