When LG launched the first Freeview Playback LCD TVs earlier this year, we felt confident many other brands would quickly follow with their own Freeview-recording TVs.
But actually, for whatever reason, the £600 JVC LT-32DE9 we're considering today is the first time a big brand has tried to tread on LG's toes. So let's hope it offers up some much-needed competition in the TV-PVR combi market.
There really is no overstating just how cool it is to have two key AV products wrapped up inside the 32DE9BJ's diminutive and really rather stylish body. For not only do you not need any external recording box, you also don't need any messy cables.
It's great to find, too, that the 32DE9BJ has been afforded full Freeview+ accreditation (Freeview+ being the new name for Freeview Playback), meaning it's been tested on such key features as series link, eight-day electronic programme guide support, and the ability to record 'split' shows (for example, films interrupted by the 10 o'clock news) as a single seamless event.
Despite carrying a 160GB digital recorder inside, the 32DE9BJ doesn't scrimp on its video socketry. It still offers the de rigueur three HDMIs, a component video jack, and all the customary analogue, standard-def fallbacks.
Considering it's really not at all expensive for a 32-inch TV/PVR combi, it's a surprise to find the 32DE9BJ carrying JVC's DynaPix Plus image-processing engine. This focuses on boosting detail levels, colours, contrast and noise reduction, and delivers some very impressive results.
Particularly striking is how formidably sharp the 32DE9BJ's pictures are. High definition looks exceptionally detailed and crisp, raising a dismissive two fingers to anyone who doesn't think you can really appreciate HD on a screen as small as 32 inches. But DynaPix also does a great job of adding detail to standard-definition sources -- and it does so without introducing excessive processing artefacts or glitches.
Another strong point of the 32DE9BJ's pictures is their colour response. The fullness of saturation on show helps images look unusually solid and three-dimensional. Crucially, this richness does not come at the expense of colour tones, which are impressively natural for 95 per cent of the time.
More good news concerns the quality of the 32DE9BJ's recordings. The TV effectively uses a Humax PVR-9300 to do its Freeview+ duties, and its recordings look, for our money, identical to the original Freeview broadcasts. We were also impressed by how easy it is to use the Freeview+ system via the TV's menu and remote.
The last entry in the Positives section belongs to the 32DE9BJ's audio, which is surprisingly potent, clear and dynamic for such a small flat TV.
The first piece of bad news with the 32DE9BJ comes with the realisation that, unlike practically every other flat TV around today, it doesn't carry any PC connectivity. You can get a DVI-to-HDMI converter, but if your PC only has D-Sub, you'll get no joy from this TV.
Then there's the fact that 32DE9BJ can't handle 1080p/24 outputs from Blu-ray players, meaning you'll have to set your Blu-ray player to output the less pure '1080i' format.
It's a slight shame too -- if hardly a surprise -- that the built-in PVR will only record Freeview broadcasts and not the analogue tuner or AV inputs. Without doubt the single most disappointing thing about the 32DE9BJ, though, is its black-level response. Using any of the TV's standard picture settings, dark scenes look really quite grey and flat.
You can get rid of much of this greyness if you hammer the backlight-dimming option in the TV's menus, but this causes a problem of its own, as the picture gets so dark you can't actually see much background detail in dark corners.
There's room for improvement, too, with the 32DE9BJ's motion handling. For although it's not as bad as it might have been considering the TV doesn't have 100Hz processing, there are definitely moments when a sprinting footballer or fast camera pan causes the picture to blur a little.
JVC's debut Freeview+ TV handles the PVR-combi technology so well you'd swear it had been making them for years. And sometimes the 32DE9BJ's pictures look absolutely out of this world. But the set's problems with black levels and motion blur mean it's just not consistent enough to be considered truly great.
Edited by Nick Hide