We've often wondered why multimedia-friendly TVs don't let you record programmes via their built-in SD-card or USB slots. It's a welcome surprise to find that Cello's C3298FR (also sold under the Murphy and Soundwave brands) does. It's an especially pleasant revelation considering this 32-inch, HD Ready LCD TV only costs around £450, despite also including a built-in DVD player.
For a TV sporting a genuinely ground-breaking feature, the C3298FR doesn't look very cutting-edge. It's just a glossy, plasticky black rectangle, like any other bog-standard TV. The only vaguely interesting aesthetic aspect is the speaker bar that runs along the bottom edge, separated from the main bezel by a slim silver divider.
The C3298FR becomes more interesting as you check out its connections. Tucked away down the set's side, beneath a couple of HDMI ports and various other standard TV sockets, are two SD card inputs. Both can be used for recording programmes from the TV's two built-in Freeview tuners.
The fact that there are two means the TV can record two channels at once -- one to each card. Having two slots also doubles the C3298FR's maximum recording capacity. Stick two 4GB SD cards in the slots and you'll be able to record up to 7 hours of Freeview footage.
That sort of figure doesn't rival the recording potential of TVs with built-in hard-disk recorders, many of which can record hundreds of hours of footage. But raw capacity isn't really the point of the C3298FR. Rather, it provides a simple way for people to watch recorded shows on the hoof, by simply taking the SD cards out of the TV and using them in a laptop or portable video player.
This aspect of the C3298FR could also appeal to people who like archiving favourite TV shows, especially since you could transfer the highly compatible MPEG files that the TV records onto your PC's hard drive, rather than end up with a pile of SD cards.
In case your portable video player won't play the files exactly as the TV records them, we should say that we had no problems converting them to other video formats via our fairly basic PC-based video-manipulation software.
Even if you ultimately archive your files on a PC, don't forget that SD cards don't come cheap. For instance, 32GB cards cost around £70. The TV's £450 price tag potentially isn't the end of your outlay, then, especially as no SD cards are included for free.
In terms of recording functionality, the C3298FR lets you record what you're watching, pause live TV, or set timer events via the TV's slightly ugly Freeview electronic programme guide. The TV will also tell you if there are any SD-card memory-space issues, or recording clashes. But the recording engine isn't sophisticated enough to earn the official Freeview+ badge, with its most striking omission being series-link support.
The TV also has a HD Ready screen with a 1,366x768-pixel native resolution, a rather disappointing 2,500:1 claimed contrast ratio, and the ability to play back CDs, picture CDs, and MP3 and WMA files stored to CD-R/RW discs via the DVD player.
The C3298FR's recordings are unexpectedly good. In fact, they're identical to the original broadcasts. Unfortunately, though, the quality of the recordings is undermined by the screen's rather average picture quality.
Particularly noticeable is the way moving objects blur as they cross the screen, especially with standard-definition material. High-definition pictures tend not to look as crisp as we know they can -- they scarcely look any sharper than standard-definition material as delivered by the merely adequate built-in DVD drive.
Colour tones often look over-saturated too, especially where human skin is concerned, and colours don't tend to look finely blended. Disappointingly, the C3298FR is also unable to play 1080p/24p feeds from Blu-rays, requiring you to switch your Blu-ray deck's output to 1080i/60i before any pictures appear.
The C3298FR's sound quality is the source of more bad news. The promising speaker bar delivers precisely zero more audio power and dynamism than your bog-standard 32-inch LCD TV.
The C3298FR isn't a total AV-performance washout, though. It produces black colours surprisingly well, avoiding the clouding effect over dark scenes that we'd expect to find on such an affordable TV. Making this all the more surprising is the set's striking brightness, which helps it deliver pictures with more than enough punch to be engaging in even a very bright setting, like a conservatory or kitchen. Colours are also likeably vibrant, as if the TV is trying to distract you from the occasional rogue tone and unsubtle blend.
The Cello C3298FR offers surprisingly good SD-card recording capability. It's just a pity that the TV's rather average AV standards effectively render it a niche product for people who are particularly excited by its recording functionality.
Edited by Charles Kloet