|LG Electronics 42LB1DR LCD HDTV|
|Home Theater Flat Panel HDTVs LCD HDTVs|
|Written by Adrienne Maxwell|
|Thursday, 01 June 2006|
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The old saying is true: There’s no such thing as a free lunch … or a free DVR. Okay, maybe I added that last part, but it’s worth mentioning. In one way or another, you will pay for the wonderful convenience of time-shifting, be it a lump sum for an external box, a monthly service fee from your cable or satellite provider, or both. A few television manufacturers have decided to try a new approach: build the DVR into the TV itself. It lessens the number of boxes and cables in your equipment rack, and – if said TV is an HDTV – it allows you to record high-definition content without confronting copy-protection issues.
LG Electronics is one such manufacturer; their 2006 TV line includes six models with internal DVRs (four plasmas and two LCD HDTVs). Screen sizes range from 42 to 60 inches, and each model uses the free TV Guide On Screen user interface. I took a look at the new 42LB1DR ($3,400), a 42-inch LCD with a 1366 x 768 resolution, built-in HDTV and Clear QAM tuners, a CableCARD slot and a 160-gigabyte DVR capable of storing 15 hours of HDTV or 66 hours of SDTV.
The 42LB1DR has a healthy number of video inputs: two HDMI, two component, one RGB, two S-video, two composite video and two RF. The remote doesn’t have dedicated input buttons to switch to each input; press the solitary input button and an input list appears onscreen, highlighting the ones that are actually in use. Seldom is the RF input the first one I look at when reviewing a TV, but in this case, it’s one of the most important, as the internal DVR only records signals input through the two RF connections. Why buy this model and not utilize the DVR-equipped inputs? Regarding this, I’m going to spend more time discussing set-up and use through the RF inputs than I normally would.
Like me, LG is betting that the RF inputs will see a lot of use, and they’ve done a fine job of developing an intuitive set-up process and user interface. It takes only a few steps to get up and running. I began with a basic set-up, connecting my Terk HDTVi indoor antenna to one RF input, plugging in the LG’s power cord, and turning on the unit. Upon start-up, I was taken directly to the TV Guide On Screen setup screen, which asked some basic questions about my system in order to begin the process of downloading channel and program info. After this was complete, the TV asked if I wanted to run an “EZ Scan” to tune in channels through my antenna. The scanning process is much quicker than many tuners and tells you how many channels it finds during the process. In conjunction with my antenna, this LG tuner picked up more over-the-air channels than any TV tuner I’ve used to date, including all of the major HDTV channels in my areas. It also did a great job locking on to the stations to give me a consistent picture. The “Channel Edit” function in the LG’s menu kindly divides the tuned channels into TV, DTV, CATV and CADTV; since I began only with over-the-air programming, all of the channels were grouped into either the TV or DTV submenu. Within each, you can easily remove channels from the TV’s memory, so you don’t have to waste time surfing stations you don’t want.
Next, I connected my digital cable signal to the second RF input by splitting the signal coming into the house, feeding one directly into my HD cable box in my living room and the other directly to the LG HDTV in my office. Because this TV has a Clear QAM tuner for digital cable signals, it captured all of my cable channels up to channel 99 (including higher-tiered channels like Comedy Central, CNN, and ESPN), my MusicChoice music-only channels, and even my local HDTV channels. This gave me another room of digital and HD cable without needing another box and it enabled me to use the internal DVR with a lot more channels than an ordinary QAM tuner would (you can’t record the music-only channels). The TV groups these channels into the CATV and CADTV submenus; the numbering system is a bit awkward, so you’ll need to spend some time exploring and removing channels.
One small ergonomic feature that I absolutely loved, and haven’t seen with any other TV tuner, is that the LG intuitively responds when you begin to enter a channel via the remote’s number grid. For instance, when I typed “2,” the TV pulled up a list of every channel 2 in the system, be it digital, analog or cable. It lists the HDTV channel first, so it’s quick and easy to jump to the desired channel. While on the subject of ergonomic perks, this TV also has automatic aspect-ratio detection to correctly size 4:3 and 16:9 content.
The DVR automatically begins backing up content, so you can immediately use the pause, rewind and record functions. The buffer for live TV is a healthy 60 minutes, compared to only 30 with most popular DVR models on the market. The HDTV’s remote includes transport controls for DVR and DVD use; their placement near the top of the remote isn’t very intuitive, but at least the play, pause and chapter-forward buttons glow in the dark (the rest of the remote buttons do not). You can hear the recorder when forwarding or rewinding content, and you may occasionally hear it reset itself when not in use. The onscreen menu lets you turn off the DVR if you find this distracting.
In order for TV Guide On Screen system to access program info, you must turn off the TV for a while. It took about five hours to obtain the program info for my area. Once that info is in place, you can use the TV Guide On Screen menu to surf channels, search for programming and schedule one-time or repeat recordings. The newest version of TV Guide On Screen kindly marks every high-def program with an “HD,” lets you choose regular or weekly repeat recordings and gives you a ton of start- and stop-time options. It didn’t group all of the HDTV channels together in the program grid, but you can do this manually through the set-up menu.
The “X Studio Pro” button on the remote brings up a navigation menu that serves as a good launching pad for everyday use. It tells you how much space remains on the hard drive for both HD and SD material and it includes five navigation options: TV Guide pulls up the program grid; Recorded TV pulls up a list of your recorded content, with thumbnail images of the programs (a design that looks strikingly similar to the user interface that comes with Panasonic DVRs); Schedule tells you what’s scheduled to be recorded; Manual Record; and TV Menu, which takes you to the TV’s general set-up menu.