Seemingly from nowhere, set-top box manufacturer Humax is now producing a range of other exciting kit for home cinema fans. In the wake of consumer electronics components including a Freeview box/hard-disk recorder combi, a DVD recorder and several standalone digital TV receivers, the brands has come up with a winning design for its first effort at a television, the 17in LB-17E.
While it doesn't boast the same copious measure of style as, say, one of the new compact LCD screens from Panasonic or JVC, it's a fairly sleek and handsome affair, with curves in appropriate places and a nice overall feel of solidity. The dull gun-metal colour might not appeal to everyone's tastes, but at least it makes a welcome change from the usual unimaginative silver or black finishes. It comes supplied with a tilting desktop stand, although you can detach it from this and wall-mount it if the fancy takes you (you'll need a bracket, which of course will cost extra).
There are several other useful accessories bundled in the box, most notably Scart and PC monitor cables. Obviously, then, the TV has a Scart socket (which is compatible with RGB) and PC inputs, as well as S-video. Perhaps a little surprisingly, Humax has made the decision to leave out a composite video input, and unlike some LCD offerings there is no DVI socket.
Still, on balance the connection selection is pretty decent, and you even get a Dolby Digital 5.1-compatible digital audio output, which will come in handy should Freeview ever start broadcasting in surround sound. Lastly, there's a common interface slot at the back, giving viewers the chance to upgrade the basic Freeview service with the newly launched Top Up TV subscription package.
Setting up the LB-17E is a real doddle, with a menu screen popping up the first time you switch the unit on. This asks you to connect an aerial and press a button, then goes ahead with the laborious process of finding and storing all thirty or so of the Freeview digital channels for you in a matter of minutes. Should you desire, you also have the option to switch to an analogue tuner. However, both tuners use the same aerial socket.
Free and easy
Humax's Freeview receiver is well designed, with clear, easily readable info bars and very little delay when switching between channels. There are a handful of very basic video games thrown in with the usual Freeview trappings (like a 'now and next' EPG and interactive text service). In addition to the TV channels, it also gives you access to a selection of digital radio stations, although listening to these through the LB-17E's fairly puny speakers isn't ideal; therefore the digital audio output comes in useful here.
The image quality offered by the LB-17E is good, if not astoundingly so. The 1,280 x 768 display resolution (1,024 x 768 if you're using the PC input) ensures that it is able to pick |out fine details quite well, and colours are bright and vibrant.
The contrast ratio isn't particularly great however, and darker areas of the picture during a run-through of our Dodgeball test DVD often tended to look quite murky and undefined. Freeview digital pictures are decent, with only a small amount of visible MPEG digital blocking our only real cause for complaint. Moreover, it keeps movement blurring or 'ghosting' to an absolute minimum, meaning this is another candidate for playing PC games.
This is a good first LCD effort from Humax. With useful technology, expandability and a good performance, the low price tops off an attractive proposition.