Insignia NS-55E480A13 review

The Insignia NS-E480A13 series is a bare-bones HDTV line that offers 1080p video and a 120Hz refresh rate at a cut-rate price. You can get better picture quality for the price, though.
Photo of Insignia NS-55E480A13

Better known as Best Buy’s house brand, Insignia has been offering affordable electronics to budget-conscious consumers for years. When we last reviewed one of the company’s HDTVs, the NS-42E859A11, we gave it props for its wallet-friendly price, but found its overall picture quality disappointing. Not much has changed since then. The NS-E480A13 series is also inexpensive ($449.99 direct for the 42-inch NS-42E480A13 we tested), and its picture quality is less than stellar. It does boast an LED-backlit LCD panel with a 120Hz refresh rate, however, and you get a decent selection of I/O ports (for the 42- and 55-inch versions) compared with other similarly priced sets. However, there are better-performing HDTVs out there for less than $500, like the Editors’ Choice RCA LED42C45RQ, which offers a superior picture.

Editor’s Note: This review is based on tests performed on the Insignia NS-42E480A13, the 42-inch model of the series. Besides the screen size difference and the presence of four HDMI ports, the $899.99 55-inch NS-55E480A13 is identical in features, and while we didn’t perform lab tests on this specific model, we expect similar performance.

Design
The NS-42E480A13 uses a 2.3-inch-thick black cabinet with thin (1-inch) piano black bezels to house the 42-inch panel. The bottom bezel is slightly wider (1.5 inches) and bears an Insignia badge in the center. It’s a minimalist look that will work in any room. 
The 34-pound cabinet can be hung on a wall using a VESA-compliant mount or you can use the included black rectangular stand which is sturdy, but doesn’t have a swivel mechanism.

You get a decent selection of connections on this set. Left-facing ports include composite A/V jacks, one HDMI port, a digital audio output, VGA and PC audio inputs, and a cable/antenna coaxial jack. Harder-to-reach, downward-facing ports include two more HDMI ports, component A/V jacks, one USB port, and a headphone jack. In comparison, the 42-inch RCA LED42C45RQ has only two HDMI ports and its component/composite jacks are shared. [Editors' Note: the NS-39E480A13 has four HDMI ports.]

The right side of the cabinet is home to the Volume, Channel, Menu, Input, and Power buttons. You can use these controls to change the picture settings, or use the included 8-inch remote. The remote is a basic black wand containing 40 buttons plus a four-way rocker. The Menu and Info buttons are conveniently located next to the rocker, which makes it easy to change settings without changing your thumb position. None of the buttons are illuminated.

You get six picture presets: Standard, Vivid, Energy Saving, Theater, Game, and Custom. Basic luminance settings include Brightness, Contrast, Color, Tint, and Sharpness. The Advanced menu lets you enable/disable the 120Hz motion technology, select an aspect ratio, change color temperature, and enable noise reduction. There are also Adaptive Contrast and Dynamic Backlight settings; the former automatically adjusts brightness and contrast levels based on screen content, while the latter helps enhance contrast ratio between light and dark areas of the screen.

Performance
We measured the NS-42E480A13′s brightness and black levels using a Klein K10-A Colorimeter, images from the DisplayMate HDTV diagnostic software, and SpectraCal’s CalMAN 5 calibration software. The panel managed a peak brightness of 245.23 cd/m2and a black level of 0.10 cd/m2, resulting in an overall contrast ratio of 2,435:1. That’s better than the 1,796:1 we got from the RCA LED42C45RQ, and the Westinghouse UW40T2BW’s 1,514:1, but unimpressive picture quality and color here are cause for concern.

In my tests, the out-of-the-box Standard and Theater preset modes produced a washed-out picture while displaying scenes from Black Swan on Blu-ray. Colors lacked pop and the picture was not very bright. Skin tones showed a bit too much blue and could have used more red. Results were similar while watching the BBC’s production of Planet Earth. Enabling the Dynamic Backlight and Adaptive Contrast features helped some, but the associated artifacts were distracting. The picture still couldn’t match the quality of the aforementioned RCA set in a side-by-side comparison. What’s more, the NS-42E480A13′s viewing angle performance was only so-so; there was a noticeable loss of luminance when viewed from extreme side angles and colors appeared flat and uneven.

The NS-42E480A13′s tinting problems can be traced to its overall color accuracy, which is lacking. Blues are very oversaturated and greens and reds miss the CIE mark, as seen on the chart below.

On the plus side, the panel handled fast moving images with aplomb. The action while watching 2012 on Blu-ray was smooth with no apparent lag or jaggies. Panning scenes from Planet Earth also looked clean, and the fast motion sequences appeared fluid.

Energy usage was typical for a 42-inch LED backlit HDTV. The NS-42E480A13 used 64 watts of power during testing, which matches up with the 42-inch RCA LED42C45RQ (67 watts) and the Sony Bravia KDL-42EX440 (68 watts). As was the case with the RCA set, the Insignia’s Power Saving mode had no noticeable effect on power usage.

Conclusion
The Insignia NS-42E480A13 won’t overwhelm you with features or stunning performance but it does offer a 42-inch full HD picture and 120Hz refresh technology for under $500. You get a nice selection of video ports for your money, including three HDMI ports and dedicated component and composite A/V inputs, while the similarly priced RCA LED42C45RQ comes up short in that department. That said, the RCA delivers a better all-around picture, which is why it is our Editors’ Choice for under-$500 HDTVs.

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Specifications
Video Inputs Component, Composite, HDMI, USB
Width 49.8 inches
Depth 10.6 inches
Weight 50.4 lb
Diagonal Screen Size 55 inches
Pixel Refresh Rate Speed 120Hz
Height 30.6 inches

Verdict
The Insignia NS-E480A13 series is a bare-bones HDTV line that offers 1080p video and a 120Hz refresh rate at a cut-rate price. You can get better picture quality for the price, though.
Published under license from Ziff Davis, Inc., New York, All rights reserved.
Copyright © 2012 Ziff Davis, Inc