Cello C42T71DVB-3D £599
31st Aug 2011 | 09:01
Cut-price 3D TV mixes new tech with old
Cello may not be a household name, but this UK-based operation has found a niche producing budget TVs with a high-tech twist.
The C42T71DVB-3D is its first 3D-ready offering. It uses an FPR (Film Pattern Retarder) Passive 3D panel sourced from LG, rather than Active Shutter technology, and includes four pairs of passive glasses in the box.
Despite fashionable 3D compatibility, the set uses an old school CCFL backlight. This means it doesn't have the slender profile of rival LED 3D sets. The cabinet is 107mm deep. Of course, viewed front-on you wouldn't really guess it's so lardy.
The design is steadfastly generic; a wide, glossy bezel measuring 39mm, frames the matt screen. Build quality is lightweight and plasticky. The display sits atop a pedestal, which swivels to suite your viewing position.
The C42T71DVB-3D doesn't have access to any IPTV content. Unlike Cello's iViewer screens, there's no Ethernet, so no BBC iPlayer and its ilk. The unit does however have a multimedia USB reader, allowing audio and video files to be played back. It will also record TV shows directly onto an external USB drive.
The 42-inch C42T71DVB-3D sits below the brand's look-a-like 47-inch C47T71DVB-3D, which sells for between £699 and £799. There's no difference in specification between the two models.
One area where price-cutting compromises have been made with the Cello C42T71DVB-3D is connectivity. This set only has two HDMI inputs. It also offers a PC D-Sub connection with matching audio, one set of component video inputs and a SCART.
To the left hand side of the display are AV phono inputs plus an S-Video DIN, headphone jack and single USB port. While there's a CI (Common Interface) card slot for Pay TV services, there's no provision for Wi-Fi or Ethernet.
Surprisingly, the screen features only a standard definition DVB tuner. That means you don't get Freeview HD - an omission which will disappoint many potential buyers. We suspect Cello has omitted it to keep the price low, but we fear such cost-cutting may be a false economy.
On the plus side, there is a USB reader which is quite accomplished, covering photos, music and video. Our test selection of video files, including AVI, MOV, MP4, AVCHD and MKVs, were all successfully negotiated; SRT subtitle support is also included.
Music compatibility covers MP3, WMA, WAV and AAC file formats. Unfortunately, there's no support for album art. JPEG photos can be viewed singularly or in a slideshow format.
The TV also records onto an external USB hard drive. Provided the attached drive passes an initial inspection, you'll be able to use the TVs single tuner to timeshift. However, the Now & Next nature of the electronic programme guide (EPG) makes using this less convenient than might otherwise be the case. In some instances you'll need to set a timer programme, complete with Start/Stop times and channel selection – much like an old school VCR.
Recordings can be played back before they've finished, while a single button pulls up your library. This feature doesn't really replace a fully functional PVR, but it does provide a welcome safety net should you need to pop out for a jar or two, and your regular digital recorder is busy doing other jobs.
There's another key benefit to using the Cello's PVR: recordings aren't locked to the set, but are recorded as DRM-free .ts files. This is in stark contrast to the TV PVR functionality on most top-tier TVs. Typically, their recordings can only be played back on the set that made them. Cello's approach is considerably more versatile.
It takes some patience to get this screen looking as good as it can. Set up is cranky and there's not a great deal of resident tech to help out.
The Picture menu offers four viewing modes: Standard, Soft, User and Dynamic. It's only possible to change the picture parameters in the User preset. Unfortunately, the TV has a short term memory and tends to forget what you've set.
The Sharpness gauge should be restricted to a 0 or 1 – anything else adds glowing white edge enhancement - but wander around the menus after you've set it, and unwanted edge emphasis awaits your return. The numerical gauge number may not have changed but the enhancement returns none the less; you have to nudge the settings to restore your chosen balance.
The CCFL backlight doesn't allow for deep blacks; at best it manages a moody dark grey. Contrast isn't particularly high either. Blu-ray test footage of Tokyo at night confirms a low level of noise amid the engulfing grey, although it is certainly possible to extract shadow detail. You can apply various levels of noise suppression, which keeps a lid on general picture fizz.
The set's colour fidelity is a tad gung-ho. Unless you like reds verging on luminous orange, you'll need to dial down the colour range. Take the slider to around 31 for more authentic hues. Also adjustable is colour temperature, with individual levels of R, G and B control.
After calibration, challenging HD test footage of glinting brass instruments and lustrous violins becomes pleasingly believable, while reds that verged on atomic are brought back to healthier levels.
It should be noted though that the picture is over-scanned by default, and none of the settings offer a 1:1 mode. Consequently, edge-image is lost behind the bezel.
The screen itself does not feature any fast framerate technology to improve motion clarity. We measured moving resolution at around 600 lines at 6.5ppf (pixels per frame). This means that motion blur is unavoidable, making this TV a poor choice for sports fans and gamers.
A test pattern which comprises scrolling English and Japanese text confirmed this clarity loss. At 6.5 ppf, text is bleary at 100-, 50- and 30 per cent luminance; clarity deteriorates further at 2.5 ppf.
On the plus side, at least viewers don't need to worry about the 'soap opera' sheen created by high frame rate processing, wherein even blockbusters look like they were shot on cheap camcorders.
While the screen's Freeview tuner limits over the air definition, the TV looks considerably better with 1080p Blu-ray content.
Cello is the third set manufacturer we've seen to use LG 's FPR (Film pattern retarder) panel technology (after LG itself and Toshiba). It won't be the last.
Passive Polarising technology makes for an interesting alternative to Active Shutter. Rather than put the onus on expensive shuttering glasses to create 3D, filtering is done by the screen itself, allowing inexpensive polarising glasses to be used.
In terms of depth, the 3D works well. However the Passive approach ensures that the vertical resolution of incoming 3D signals is effectively halved. This is evidenced by jaggy edges on diagonals and curved surfaces. However, those intending to use 3D primarily to pacify small 'uns are unlikely to be bothered.
Similarly, brightness and colour are largely undiminished by the glasses supplied. Cello's over-large, lightweight specs may not be the height of fashion, but are comfortable to wear. The set is compatible with other inexpensive polarising eyeware from RealD and others.
One characteristic of Passive 3D which does impact general viewing is the very narrow field of view. As long as you're face-on to the screen, double imaging (aka crosstalk) is not a significant issue. However, move vertically off-axis by as little 15 degrees and the 3D picture will quite quickly fall apart. This means that care needs to be taken when it comes to TV placement. Do not position this set high, because if you're watching at an angle, the 3D effect will be compromised.
Curiously, we also noted some double imaging evident at the left and right edges of the screen itself. Parallax can be altered by a 3D Scene adjuster, variable between 1-10.
The TV automatically adjusts to frame sequential 3D from Blu-ray. However, side-by-side 3D content seemed to cause the set problems. Pronounced double-imaging made homebrew 3D footage created by AVCHD camcorders largely unwatchable.
Rather helpfully the manual warns against watching 3D 'on an open staircase or balcony with cables or other articles that might cause you to stumble.'
It goes on to advise that 'this product is designed to make you feel personally in the scene on the film, some true-to-life 3D videos might make you take evasive action, resulting in stumbling or falling which may lead to personal injuries.'
Well, there's nothing like being optimistic. Confidentially, the 3D effect is not really that convincing.
According to the manual there's also a 2D-to-3D conversion. However, when engaged this makes no attempt to dimensionalise flat footage. Instead, the screen image flips into a weird banded mode that looks like nothing you'd want to watch, with or without stereoscopic eyeware.
Sound, value and ease of use
Audio performance is best described as servicable. The C42T71DVB-3D's Standard setting is a little on the hollow side. There's rudimentary control of treble and bass, as well as presets for Music, Movie, Sports and User.
We found that the best option is actually to engage the set's Surround mode. While this doesn't create a surround field as such, it does spread the soundstage wider the usual and makes the most of the modest eight watts of amplification on tap.
The Cello TV brand is clearly predicated to compete on price. By cleverly juggling features the C42T71DVB-3D hopes to attract an audience keen to save money yet eager to try out some of the latest tech toys.
And when you look at the set's headline specification it does indeed seem to hit all the right buttons: 3D, USB media playback and PVR recording are all hot buttons. The devil is in the detail though. The set's CCFL backlight is a style-killer and the lack of a Freeview HD tuner is nothing if not short-sighted. We also found the set's overall 3D performance to be wanting.
The C42T71DVB-3D exists to fill a low cost niche. The problem facing this screen is that bigger brands are already subject to heavy price cutting. Consequently, it's really not going to be too long before a more compelling proposition, from a household name, is discounted to below the anticipated selling price of this model.
Ease of use
The C42T71DVB-3D uses a clear graphical user interface to guide you through the set up menus. However, its Now & Next programme TV guide is largely hopeless. This throwback really doesn't stand comparison to contemporary wide-view programme guides. You can't use it to plan your night's viewing and it's limiting when it comes to using the USB PVR.
The set's remote control can also control a Sky set top box, but it's not particularly responsive. There's a lot of button stabbing required.
The C42T71DVB-3D is not a TV with a wealth of setup controls to master. It has the usual Channel, Picture, Sound and configuration menus, but they don't go into any great depth. The screen also offers a Sleep Timer, adjustable between 10 minutes and four hours.
The C42T71DVB-3D is a fascinating television, albeit not always for the right reasons. The set's lack of a Freeview HD tuner will cause a good number of discerning users to pass on by without further ado, and its CCFL backlight is a style and technology faux pas. The last thing you need when you buy your next TV is for it to look like a time traveler from the late noughties.
On the plus side, the screen's Passive 3D implementation is easy on the pocket when it comes to glasses, and if you're looking to 3D primarily as kids entertainment, then its technical shortcomings are unlikely to prove problematic.
The set's strongest feature though is its USB media player and PVR recording feature. The latter actually outperforms similar functionality from better known brands, and will certainly get the thumbs up from those who like to archive TV shows onto NAS devices.
We liked the 3D performance from Blu-ray, the low cost 3D glasses, the strong multimedia file playback from USB and the DRM-free USB PVR recordings.
We disliked the bulky CCFL backlight, the lack of Freeview HD tuner, the limited EPG, the average picture performance, the poor motion resolution, the ordinary sound and the chunky remote.
Not quite the 3D bargain it might first appear to be, the C42T71DVB-3D is hampered by its retro standard definition DVB tuner and outmoded design - and the price tag just isn't competitive enough to compensate.
However, its Passive 3D implementation is a welcome alternative to high-cost Active Shutter models and the integrated USB media reader and PVR recording functions are a cut above.
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