British TV manufacturer Cello was the first company to bring a TV to market that had built-in support for the BBC's iPlayer service. Now it's among the first to make 3D technology an affordable option with its 42-inch C42T71DVB-3D TV, which is priced at around £435.
The TV uses passive technology to deliver 3D pictures and comes with four pairs of glasses. So is it the ideal 3D telly for cash-strapped families?
Design and connections
Budget brands rarely excel when it comes to product design and sadly this Cello set is no different in this regard. Its chassis is huge, measuring 112mm deep and the bezel on the front of the screen is very thick at 38mm. The chassis is made entirely from plastic and doesn’t feel anywhere near as sturdy as TVs from bigger name manufacturers such as Panasonic and Sony.
Nevertheless, the piano-black finish on the front doesn’t look too bad from a distance and thankfully the Cello logo on the bottom part of the bezel has been kept relatively small. Overall, though, the design is not going to leave anyone drooling at the mouth.
The TV's line-up of connections is split between a panel on the rear of the TV and one that's mounted on the left-hand edge. On the rear you'll find two HDMI ports, a set of component inputs, a scart socket and a VGA connector. The side panel is home to the USB port as well as phono AV inputs and a s-video port. Two HDMI inputs is very stingy for a 42-inch set; if you have more HD devices than just a set-top box and games console, you're going to waste time plugging and unplugging HDMI leads.
User interface and electronic programme guide
The Cello C42T71DVB-3D's user interface is, perhaps not unexpectedly, quite basic. It doesn't have the flashy animations or neat transitions that you'll find on the latest Sony and Samsung models. However, the simple nature of the menus and their flat structure makes them pretty straightforward to use. When you hit the menu button you're presented with a row of icons across the top for stuff like the tuning, picture and sound options. As you select each icon, the menu entries related to it appear beneath.
You're not given a great deal of control over the various settings, though. For example, in the picture menu you can adjust the noise reduction level and tweak the usual contrast, brightness, colour and sharpness settings, but more advanced picture tweaking options are absent.
The set's EPG is a little bit unusual too. It only covers the right-hand side of the screen, and when you initially call it up it simply shows a vertical list of the channels with the programs that are currently showing on each one. If you want to see what's coming up over the rest of they day you have to press another button on the remote, which is a tad long-winded.
We'd prefer a standard horizontal layout, to be honest, as it's quicker to navigate. That said, once the list of programmes does appear you can skip quickly around them to set up reminders and the like. Also, the now and next information is nicely presented, as it runs across the whole bottom of the screen. You don’t have to scroll down to read more of the programming info, as you do on some sets.
Digital media and internet features
Although the remote control for the TV has a button on it for internet services, this doesn't actually do anything when pressed, as the set lacks any internet features. This is a bit of a shame, especially as Cello was the first TV company to produce a set that had built-in support for iPlayer. It doesn't support digital media streaming either as there’s no ethernet port.
However, if you have a look down the left-hand side you'll find a single USB port next to the AV phono inputs. The good news is that this USB port can be used for playing back digital media files and the format support is actually better than many of the TVs that we see from big name manufacturers. The C42T71DVB-3D handles a range of different video files, including Divx, Xvid and 720p MKV files without any problems, and it also supports MP3 and WMA music tracks, Jpeg images and even simple text files.
The interface for the media player is very basic. You're just presented with four icons for the music, videos, pictures and text features and when you select one of these you're shown a simple file browser. You can line up a playlist of different tracks or video files, and there are preview windows for videos and photos, but that's pretty much your lot.
The second piece of good news, though, is that the USB port also allows the TV to double up as a simple personal video recorder (PVR). You'll need to format your memory key or hard drive to get this to work, but once it's been formatted by the set you can either just hit the record button to start immediate recording of the show you're watching or alternatively schedule shows to record via the set's EPG.
Naturally, the TV only has a single tuner, so you can’t record one channel while watching another as you can on most PVRs. But if you don’t already have something like Sky HD, the feature may come in handy, especially as you can play back the resulting .TS format files on a PC or laptop later using free software like Media Player Classic.
2D picture quality
The TV doesn’t have a high-definition tuner, so unless you opt for an external set-top box, you’ll be left watching standard-definition Freeview channels when it comes to normal telly viewing. Unlike most TVs from bigger brands, the Cello model doesn't have much in the way of picture processing features. The only option that you can call into play from the picture menu – apart from the usual sharpness control – is noise reduction, and that's limited to low, middle, high and default settings.
The set uses traditional cold cathode fluorescent lamp (CCFL) backlighting, and unfortunately it's not one of the better examples of CCFL technology when it comes to black levels. In truth, this TV just can’t produce anywhere near the black levels of even mid-range models from larger manufacturers.
This results in darker areas of the picture suffering from a permanent grey or misty cast. This also has a negative impact on the set's contrast performance; there just isn’t enough breath between the darkest and brightest areas of the image. It's not great at dealing with fast motion either; pans during footy matches tend to leave the screen looking quite smeary.
On the positive side, once you've played around with the picture controls you can get it to produce a fairly natural looking colour palette. Also, as with many cheaper screens, the TV performs much better when dealing with high-definition content than it does with standard-definition material. So while programmes on Freeview tend to look quite rough, there are decent levels of sharpness to be had from movies on Blu-ray or HD channels fed via a Sky HD box.
3D picture quality
The set is built using an LG passive 3D panel. This panel has a polarising filter on the front that works in conjunction with cheap passive glasses. Cello provides four pairs of glasses in the box and these are very light and comfortable to wear although they’re not very sturdy.
Passive 3D technology works by using a polarising filter to split the onscreen image in two, feeding alternative horizontal lines in the image to each eye. This cuts the resolution by half. However, because of the way our brains process images it looks closer to around two-thirds the resolution of Full-HD. Passive 3D has some benefits, though. The glasses don’t cause you to see flickering on ambient light in the room (unlike Active 3D spex); they're much, much cheaper; and they feel more comfortable to wear. Its arguable as to which technology is best. On cost alone, passive 3D is a better option for families, in our opinion.
The Cello's 3D performance isn't actually that bad. When you're sat a normal distance from the TV, the drop in resolution is only noticeable on diagonal edges or rounded objects; you can sometimes see jagged edges on these. As with most passive 3D screens, crosstalk – or image ghosting – isn’t really an issue, so 3D images tend to look very solid, which helps to reinforce the sense of depth.
One word of warning: you have to be careful where you position this TV for the best 3D effect; if it's tilted downwards or you're sitting slightly higher than the mid-point of the display, the 3D effect can break down leaving you looking at blurry pictures.
One of the advantages of the set's huge chassis is that there's plenty of room inside to fit larger speakers. The result is that this model is not a bad performer in the audio department. It can crank out decent levels of bass and clear dialogue. The sound menu only gives you pretty rudimentary control over the audio output, though; there are just treble and bass controls, rather than a full graphic equaliser. Other settings options include a volume limiter that helps avoid jumps in audio level between TV shows and advert breaks, and a surround sound mode. The latter spreads out the stereo image more and manages to do so without muddling dialogue so it's worth turning on.
The Cello C42T71DVB-3D is a very mixed performer. It provides a relatively affordable route into the world of 3D and its performance with 3D material is actually not too bad. However, the panel's poor black levels, the absence of a Freeview HD tuner and its rough-and-ready picture quality when dealing with standard definition material all count against it.