Even though 30 and 32inch LCD TVs are plummeting in price, you can count the number under a grand on one stump (Akai's LM-H30CJSA, basically). Instead, the more budget conscious of us have to downsize, although, to be honest, when it comes to viewable area, I find there's very little difference between a 27 and 30inch screen anyway.
Typically, the major difference appears to happen around the back of the set. Few smaller screens are HD Ready, usually opting for the most basic connectivity in a bold assumption that anything less than 30inches will be consigned to the bedroom. So I took a look at two of the latest, one huge brand and one less so, to see if they're capable of meeting the needs of home entertainment enthusiasts without the living room space for larger displays.
On launch, this LCD TV sold for £1,300, but it has quickly become apparent that it can't compete at that price point. There are too many quality 32inchers available, even from other large brands, for the same price. So its price has dropped to around £750 (you can even find some internet suppliers offering the KLV-27HR3 for even less).
The 27HR3 is an aesthetic joy. Curved edges and a gentle integration of the inbuilt speakers make it a pretty little number, but it's also available in black, should its femininity scare you.
However, when you look around the back you realise that looks aren't always everything. Two Scart connections are offered, with only one of them RGBenabled, the other is restricted to S-video and composite video, but that's about it for picture feeds. There's no component, no VGA PC input and not a whiff of a digital socket whatsoever.
For a screen that carries a 1,280 x 720 native resolution, it comes as a shock to find out that there's no way of exploiting it with anything resembling a highdefinition picture. Even progressive scan is beyond its means which is a serious restriction by any standards.
In operation, there's little else to whinge about, mainly because its feature list is reasonably slim. Sony has dispensed with the superb Wega Engine, so there's not many video enhancements apart from the basics; noise reduction, backlight brightness and RGB centring. And as for audio, there's BBE Digital Sound processing, which attempts to provide a more natural feel to the stereo soundstage.
But they all do a good, if not truly spectacular, job. Colours are searingly bright and rich, without losing subtlety on tonal blends and greyscales. Like most LCD TVs though, skin-tones can look a tad unnatural with image processing in fullflow. There's also a small problem with black levels too. While the KLV-27HR3 has pleasing black levels comparable with many equivalent LCDs there's a slight bluish glow to them. Also, bright edges can shimmer a small amount. Neither is overly obtrusive, but it's worth mentioning nonetheless.
Sound performance is solid and rounded. The two housed 10W speakers provide clear, focused audio that works well with both speech and aural effects. The mid-range bass is more than reasonable too, and for such a tidy package, sound levels can be racked up to above what would ever really be required before any distortion is audible.
Unfortunately, despite the highlights of this pretty set, I just can't get that enthusiastic about a TV that has no digital, component or even PC inputs (and has only an analogue tuner, to boot). For half this price you can invest in a decent 28in CRT TV that does, basically, the same job but also has a superior picture performance.