Finlux 55S9100-T £999.99
31st May 2013 | 11:30
Unbeatably priced but under-powered 3D TV
A 55-inch 3D TV currently reduced to £999.99 - say what? The born-again budget TV brand may have impressed us with the cheap 32-inch Finlux 32F8030-T and 40-inch Finlux 40S8070-T, but we weren't prepared for this humungous slice of home cinema real estate arriving from Finlux for such a low price.
The Finlux 55S9100-T is actually slightly dearer than 2012's Finlux 55S9090-T, an even more budget-orientated attempt at a 55-inch LED-backlit TV, but the brand new version we have here features an updated smart TV platform. Even its full price of £1,299.99 is very competitive.
The Finlux 55S9100-T is also a 3D TV arriving with a stunning eight pairs of passive 3D glasses. And you've probably got a few more pairs at home from that trip down the multiplex to see Avatar in 3D a few years ago.
If 3D is waning on most TV buyers' shopping lists, design and slimness certainly are not. The Finlux 55S9100-T ticks all the right boxes here, with a depth of just 36mm (1.4 inches) and a mirrored chrome bezel that's a mere 5mm (0.2 inches) in width.
However, the finished look isn't nearly as impressive, slender or as eye-catching as the bigger brands' premium efforts, being rather bulgy. This is because the Finlux 55S9100-T's 5mm curved chrome bezel is added to by a strip of black plastic that measures 10mm, with a further 5mm of empty space to where the image actually begins.
It's certainly not a 'frameless' design, but instead it's an attempt at creating an illusion, and it doesn't really work. A Finlux logo juts out from the bottom of the screen, while a mirrored, chunky spider desktop stand further adds to a slightly industrial look.
Arguably much more important is what's inside the Finlux 55S9100-T. There's a Freeview HD tuner, catch-up TV and social media access via a smart TV platform, and the inclusion of Wi-Fi connectivity. We're just thankful that the days of the dongle have all but disappeared.
Built around an LED-backlit LCD panel, the Finlux 55S9100-T has a Full HD resolution and 100Hz processing, too.
Finlux has developed a vast pantheon of affordable TVs over the last year or so. It takes a slightly different approach to the bigger brands, in that though it regularly updates and upgrades its lineup, the previous models remain available - and often receive regular and drastic price cuts.
It makes getting hold of last year's fine-at-the-time TV - such as the 32-inch Finlux 32F8030-T with Freeview HD and BBC iPlayer, which is now reduced to a paltry £270 (around AU$429 / US$410) - uniquely possible.
The 55-inch Finlux 55S9100-T isn't alone in the brand's S9100-T Series, either. It's accompanied by the 42-inch Finlux 42S9100-T and 47-inch Finlux 47S9100-T, which currently sell for £600 (AU$953 / US$912) and £750 (AU$1,191 / US$1,140) respectively.
Other 55-inch competitors from inside the brand's stable include the Finlux 55S9090-T, which is broadly similar in terms of 3D compatibility, but requires using a Wi-Fi dongle for smart TV antics. It's available for £100 less than our Finlux 55S9100-T sample, but more savings can be had for plumping for either the Finlux 55S8090-T or Finlux 55S7090-T, neither of which offer 3D. Both cost less than £800 (AU$1,270 / US$1,217).
With 3D, Full HD, Freeview HD and PVR recording, the Finlux 55S9100-T looks hard to beat if judged on pure features alone.
The rear panel of the Finlux 55S9100-T is equally generous, with video ins and outs including three HDMI inputs, two Scarts - increasingly a real rarity on HD TVs - a set of component video inputs, a VGA input for a hooking up an older PC or laptop and a wired Ethernet LAN slot.
Also back there is an optical audio output for attaching to a home cinema system, a dedicated subwoofer output, an RF aerial port for powering that Freeview HD tuner, and a pair of phono inputs.
Then there's also a side panel, which adds a fourth HDMI input alongside composite video, a headphones jack and two USB slots.
Those last two power the Finlux 55S9100-T's PVR recording feature, as well as its ability to play back digital media files. Recording live TV is a rather limited experience when the TV only has a single Freeview HD tuner. And though it can be useful to hit pause or record if you suddenly have to stop watching something - perhaps for a phone call - we're not convinced many people use it that much.
It's a tad manual, and demands some preparation (buying a USB flash drive of the correct size, formatting it, inserting it into the TV's side... what a drag).
Whenever you buy a TV with such a feature on its website, there is an option to buy a SanDisk 16GB USB flash drive. We like that everything is made simple and the size of stick mooted is spot-on (each gigabyte equates to around an hour of live TV recording or pausing), but the cost is rather high, at £29.99. Dig around online and you'll quickly find that a 16GB USB stick can be had for under a tenner. It's also worth considering buying a standalone USB flash drive if recording from Freeview HD becomes a habit.
Though many a brand has experimented with smartphone apps, we hadn't expected the budget end of the market to get involved quite yet. We're proved wrong once again by Finlux, which has developed its free Smart Remote app that enables gesture control, but not file interaction with the TV. It only works on iPhones, iPads and iPod touches though, so if you have an Android or Windows Phone device it can't help you.
Picture and sound quality
3D picture quality
The reason for buying a TV this big is for the on-screen action to be extra involving, and on the Finlux 55S9100-T that means 3D. However, that's not where this budget big screen excels.
In fact, with our passive 3D specs donned, the opening sequence of our test 3D Blu-ray disc Hugo is disappointing, with the horizontal lines of the picture very visible. This is the effect of the polarising filter, but there are other weaknesses to the 3D image.
We didn't notice any crosstalk, which is a bonus, but this is clearly a rather dated panel. Camera pans are imbued with blur and judder, so much so that the hi-definition detail is completely lost and any sense of realism is instantly suppressed.
Virtual 3D, which is easily engaged from the remote control's Quick Menu - and works on both DVDs and live TV, though not digital video files - adds a slight depth effect, though only in the middle of the image.
2D and HD picture quality
Those same weaknesses affect 2D playback, too, but here they're less irritating. A play of Hugo in 2D reveals excellent detail in still images - as good as any high-end television - but again, as the camera moves there's a definite judder.
The Finlux 55S9100-T's 100Hz panel has just about enough processing power - at this huge size - to prevent distracting amounts of motion blur from popping up, but it is detectable. One example was on the film's closing credits, where the bottom-to-top progress was ghosted by image lag.
However, HD on the TV is much more impressive than 3D, since it's smoother and includes a lot more detail. Brightness is impressive and colours, though slightly overcooked on skin tones (we'd recommend cooling the picture a tad), are overall impressively rich and well saturated.
Elsewhere the image is average, with black areas of images featuring little detail within. There's a rather 'black hole'-like look to black coats, cars and corners in Hugo, while engaging anything other than a tweaked version of the Cinema preset creates an even less convincing greyness to these sectors.
Talking of tweaking, the Finlux 55S9100-T's advanced settings are anything but, with just an ineffective Film Mode and HDMI True Black setting, which doesn't appear to make any noticeable difference. Rather oddly, all picture parameters, such as contrast, brightness and colour, are counted from 0-63.
Standard definition pictures are watchable, but there's clearly not much upscaling going on here. At 55-inches it's a big miss; it might be wise to stick to HD fare as much as possible.
The Finlux 55S9100-T's audio certainly isn't a highlight of the television. By default the sound on offer is very poor, and although an AVL mode for levelling audio successfully expands and widens music fairly well, it lacks the capability to handle big movie soundtracks.
Whatever you're watching we'd recommend activating the Dynamic Bass option - otherwise there is none - and avoiding the Surround Sound option, which is nothing of the sort.
In fact, all that that feature appears to do is suppress detail in the centre of the audio mix.
Still, at least there's an optical digital output to route everything to an external sound system or soundbar.
Usability and value
The Finlux 55S9100-T isn't the easiest TV to use. The blame goes not to the rather basic user interface, but instead to the remote control. Although it's well designed in theory, it's not nearly as responsive as it should be. Granted, nor is the TV as powerful as it needs to be, and in many ways that proves that the current trend towards dual-core processors in smart TVs is an essential evolution.
The Finlux 55S9100-T has simply taken too much on. Its smart TV interface is slow to load, and when it does appear it has few apps available. OK, so the essential apps are here - including both the YouTube and BBC iPlayer ones - but the likes of Joomeo, CineTrailer, World of Red Bull, Viewster, Flickr, PlayJam, DailyMotion and AccuWeather are hardly essential.
We're also far from sure that anyone needs Twitter or Facebook on a TV, but both are given a rather prominent place under the the smart TV interface's live TV thumbnail, as they are on many brands' smart TV platforms.
That last feature at least gives the Finlux 55S9100-T's smart TV interface one-up on the TV's built-in Freeview HD electronic programme guide (EPG). It shows 10 channels in a basic list, and schedules for two hours of TV, but to inspect it means cutting out both pictures and sound.
It's another huge reason to consider the Finlux 55S9100-T only as a partner to a TiVo, Sky+ or similar set-top box, and thereby avoid relying too much on its user interface and built-in features.
That impression is further enhanced by the frequent freeze-ups, general slowness and plenty of inconsistencies (for example, the Exit button to back out of features is not always operational) that make the Finlux 55S9100-T an often frustrating TV to operate.
What we do like about the remote control - as well as its sleek design - are the dedicated smart TV buttons, which include shortcuts to YouTube and the BBC interactive red button service, as well as to apps and the media browser.
The Finlux 55S9100-T's media browser itself is a mixed bag. The design is simple and clean, but file playback during our tests proved unpredictable. Video file support is initially impressive, with the likes of MOV, AVI, MPEG-2 and MPEG-4 files all supported, but we did have trouble with MKV files. Some played perfectly (those created by DivX7), some not (DivXPlusHD), while others suffered from poor audio format support.
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These files can be scanned through at 8x speed, but aren't always stable and can look a tad jumpy. Wireless streaming over a home network worked fairly well from an iMac, though each file did take over 30 seconds to load.
Music suffers from the Finlux 55S9100-T having poor speakers, and only covers the MP3, M4A, WMA and WAV formats.
We've got few qualms about value on the Finlux 55S9100-T when judged against other Edge LED-backlit LCD TVs, especially since it's already been marked down from its initial full retail price of £1,299.99 (around AU$2,065/US$1,977).
At a penny under £1,000 (around AU$1,588 / US$1,520) it's comfortably the most affordable 55-inch TV of any technology we've seen, though there are other options.
For instance, we know of a bevy of 50-inch plasma TVs - mostly from LG and Samsung - that sell for closer to £500. Most don't feature 3D, Full HD resolution or smart TV features, and are barely promoted by the Korean brands themselves. However, if you're merely after a DVD or gaming screen and are searching for the biggest pound-per-inch TV around, it's not Finlux that provides it.
Still, with all the premium features onboard - at least in their basic form - and with a design that no £500 plasma can match, the Finlux 55S9100-T is a decent value LED-backlit TV.
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Any TV that puts BBC iPlayer, apps, 3D and Freeview HD on a 55-inch screen for under £1,000 has to be seriously considered, although we're not convinced that the Finlux 55S9100-T is the bargain big screen television it initially appears to be.
The remote control is well designed, if underpowered, and the user interface is at least functional. The media browser is easy to use, and file support is mostly impressive, as is network streaming. Freeview HD channels and 2D Blu-ray playback impress, while engaging 3D mode is a cinch. It's always good to see the BBC iPlayer and YouTube apps, too.
The 'premium' design only just qualifies as such - it's a few years behind the times - and that impression carries on elsewhere. Disappointing 3D, ropey standard definition pictures and poor audio take some gloss away from its low price, while a paltry selection of apps and a generally slow, stubborn operation makes the Finlux 55S9100-T far from the slickest TV around. The images feature some judder and need some careful processing, but overall a TV of this size simply needs more grunt.
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Underpriced but also underpowered, this attempt at a big screen TV bargain from Finlux would best suit someone who is desperate for as big a TV as possible to pair with a smart HD source such as a Sky+ box, TiVo or a Freeview HD recorder.
Granted, its provision of Freeview HD and BBC iPlayer are handy, but the Finlux 55S9100-T is slow to operate and its user interface is way behind the times. Despite this being a screen that's well-sized for 3D, it's with 2D that it excels. Those with this money to spend who are after pure picture quality but not interested in 3D would be wiser considering a 50-inch plasma.
Forget finding another 55-inch LED TV that costs so little, but if you're set on such a large screen it would be wrong not to test drive a plasma TV, the most affordable - at around £1,300 (AU$2,065/US$1,977) - top quality option of which is the Panasonic TX-P55ST60B.
If money is less restricted, a top-end plasma is in order - and that means the Panasonic TX-P55VT50B, or the about-to-replace-it Panasonic TX-P55VT65B. Either way, a plasma TV such as this still - in our humble opinion - represents the last word in home cinema picture quality.
In the LED ranks is the affordable Panasonic TX-L55ET60, whose stylish good looks disguise a mid-range status. Our bias towards Panasonic as the most viable alternative to this Finlux 55-inch TV is primarily to do with price, but the brand has also developed the easiest to use, most feature-packed and most polished-looking smart TV platform in 2013.
However, there are some cracking LED-backlit choices at the high-end, but you'll need deep pockets. It's worth considering the Sony KDL-55W905A, which uses new Triluminos technology to deliver a much improved colour performance while preserving awesome contrast.