After taking an eternity to get its LCD act together, Thomson has hit the ground running with a raft of highly affordable, prettily designed and strong performing screens. The only problem is that so far they've been slightly too small to really pique a home cinema enthusiast's interest. But that's set to change with the arrival of Thomson's first 30in LCD TV - the 30LCDB03.
Setting the Scenium
The 30LCDB03 is part of Thomson's longrunning designer Scenium range - and as such it's a typically smart looking affair. The high-gloss, deep black bezel (a silver version is also available) offset by a silver stand and features isn't exactly revolutionary, but the cleanly sculpted lines give the 30LCDB03 an extra little je ne sais quoi.
Connectivity initially looks a bit disappointing in that there are only a couple of Scarts and no component video input. Yikes. Thankfully, though, the lack of component video inputs does not prevent this screen from taking high definition and progressive scan. The catch is that to enjoy these high quality options you unusually have to use the TV's 15-pin PC jack (with the necessary component-to-VGA adaptor, of course). Alternatively, you can use the HDCP-compliant DVI jack for pristine digital video feeds.
The screen doesn't present the friendliest face to the world. When trawling for features you've got to contend with the GUI. And unless you've got hawk-vision and/or you stick your nose right up against the screen, you'll struggle to read the ridiculously small onscreen menus. There aren't many features for you to have to get to grips with anyway - only black expansion, noise reduction, Virtual Dolby and a backlight adjustor warrant a passing mention. This isn't surprising given the 30LCDB03's approachable price.
While I'm in a grouchy mood, please allow me to moan about the 30LCDB03's instruction manual, too. It's so incomparably dire and packed full of pidgin English mumbo-jumbo that you'd swear Thomson was based on Mars, rather than in France!
Thomson manages to restore a little of my customary good humour with the 30LCDB03's picture performance. The first thing to put a smile on my face is the richness of its colours. They blaze off the screen, especially with graphics heavy studio-shot DVB fare like Sky News. But even with trickier propositions, like a juicy, predominantly night-shot episode of Buffy, the 30LCDB03's saturations have a vitality few 30in-plus rivals can match.
The in-your-face appeal of the colours is not harmed by the 30LCDB03's outstanding brightness either. It's rated in Thomson's specifications as 500cd/m2, compared to the 400-450cd/m2 offered by most similar-sized rivals.
Consequently, with sympathetic, high grade sources, the 30LCDB03 can look great. But unfortunately one or two characteristics prevent it from scaling the same dizzy heights as its key, big-brand rivals. The main problem is a lack of contrast. Darker parts of an image fade away into greyness far too early. This grey mistiness also has a tendency to lose colour fidelity. Low-lit skin tones can take on a slightly greenish pall.
Picture detail is comparable to screens which don't employ proprietary detail enhancers, such as Pixel Plus and the latest Wega Engine technology. That's to say it's good without being outstanding.
Like many LCDs, subjective image quality is dependant on the source. The 30LCDB03 drops the picture quality ball with some of the low-quality sources like the more feeble Sky digital channels. Compared with high-definition and progressive scan feeds, noise levels increase hugely, and motion smearing is more acute. Route in DVD from a suitably equipped DVI player and you'll be pleased though.
Sonically, the 30LCDB03 is outstanding. Seldom have I heard the (necessarily) skinny speakers on an LCD TV deliver the sort of dynamic range and soundstage width I enjoyed with this Thomson.
Ultimately, I came away from the 30LCDB03 feeling a touch frustrated. The set gets lots of things right including looks, sound, colours and brightness - but it also has limited contrast, a poor instruction manual and miserly onscreen menus. So from where I'm viewing, this puts it in the second tier rather than the top of today's LCD Premier League. Guy Cocker