10 years later, and for 1/3 the price, this engineer still ended up with a notable TV upgrade.
Nearly a decade ago, back in July 2010, I told you that I’d just purchased a 42″ 1080p HDTV, LG’s 42LD520:
And about 4.5 years ago, back in December 2015, I told you about an HDTV whose HDMI input had gotten zapped by a close-proximity lightning bolt. Those two HDTVs I mentioned are in fact one and the same; the 42LD520 served me well for nearly a decade. Yet I recently decided to retire it; I’ll be donating it to either the local Goodwill or Habitat for Humanity (and yes, I’ll tell them about the busted HDMI input when I do so).
Why is one primary theme of this particular post; the other one, of course, is what I replaced it with. But let’s start here: In addition to the completely busted back-side HDMI input, its back-side HDMI twin was starting to get flaky (the one on the side still seems to be fine); roughly half the time I turned the TV on, I’d have to unplug and replug the Roku it was connected to in order to obtain a solid picture and sound that were also free of bogus HDCP handshaking error messages.
The remote control was also getting flaky; I’d have to mash down hard on the power button to convince the display to respond (all of the other remote control buttons seemed to still work fine). And when I pulled the successor TV out of the box, I realized just what a “tank” the nearly 40 lb. 42LD520 was; back in 2010 most LCD TVs still used fluorescent backlights (which, yes, were another sooner-or-later Achilles’ Heel failure point.) To that point, the 42LD520 was seemingly also taking an increasingly long time to wake up.
Of course, buying a replacement display also provided me with the potential to try out the hot new “4K” successors to “old school” HDTV, which from my research were ironically often sold at only $10-or-so markups over their 720p and 1080p siblings (save the “8K” hype for another day, ok?). And what of that successor? My goal was to spend less than $200; for fiscal calibration purposes, realize that back in 2010, even after promotional discounts from both Beach Camera and Microsoft, I paid almost $600 for the LG 42LD520.
At first, perusing both the new and refurbished areas of websites from retailers such as Best Buy and Walmart, I saw a bunch of “smart” TVs. LG- and Samsung-branded options, for example, ran the companies’ proprietary operating systems (a brief aside: LG’s WebOS was originally developed by Palm, subsequently acquired by HP for an ill-fated tablet product line along with presumably also other planned-but-never released products, and then sold to LG). Others ran the Roku TV O/S.
The shortcoming they all shared, however, which for me was a deal-breaker, was a deficit of video inputs. They all had an RF antenna connection, of course, for OTA HDTV, but I usually found only one or a couple of HDMI inputs in them. Analog video inputs were, if available at all, restricted to only a single composite (yuck) source. And USB connections were scant-to-nonexistent as well; while to date I’ve never used one to enable the display of still or video image files on an external storage device, they’re convenient for powering streaming sticks, for example.
Speaking of streaming sticks, at initial thought, the external-input deficit might make sense. It reduces the manufacturer’s bill-of-materials costs, after all, and anyway the TV is already “smart,” with built-in service support, right? Yeah, but as Gizmodo not-so-tactfully noted not too long ago, all but (perhaps) the highest-end “smart” TVs are underwhelming-at-best, with slow-responding and otherwise clunky UIs. Even if a particular TV supports your service of choice today, there’s no guarantee that it will continue to do so in the future. And if your service(s) of choice aren’t handled by integrated support, you’re going to need to get an external “box” anyway; to wit, I’m still getting my TV via an Xbox 360-as-Media Center Extender.
What I ended up buying, for $189.88 plus tax (along with an optional $26 three-year extended protection plan) was RCA’s RTU4300:
What’s it got? It has a 43″ diagonal dimension, scant (in comparison to the LG 42LD520, at least) incremental bezel beyond the LCD itself, and is 3.25 inches thick and 16.9 lbs in weight (thanks in no small part to the LED backlight), less than half that of its predecessor. It has a 3840×2160 pixel resolution, with no “bad” pixels that I’ve yet discerned, and:
No wired Ethernet port or built-in Wi-Fi, of course, because it’s not “smart,” but I didn’t buy it with smart in mind. The built-in speakers are more than a bit “tinny,” but the pseudo-surround mode helps. This is for guest bedroom use; if it was for our primary use, I’d have a hi-fi audio system sitting next to it, anyway. It powers on almost immediately, and handles my 1080p and 4K video devices with aplomb (in an upcoming post, I’ll tell you more about that 4K source). I’m a more-than-satisfied consumer.
It’s quite amazing (IMHO) that for 1/3 the price, and “only” 10 years later, I still ended up with a notable upgrade; call me quite impressed. Sound off with your thoughts in the comments!
—Brian Dipert is Editor-in-Chief of the Edge AI and Vision Alliance, and a Senior Analyst at BDTI and Editor-in-Chief of InsideDSP, the company’s online newsletter.