Kogan LED55 £999
10th Feb 2012 | 14:48
Is this 55-inch LED, Freeview HD TV for £750 too good to be true?
It's fair to say that Kogan is not - yet - a household name in the UK.
But if the Australian brand's LED55 TV (also known as the Kogan KULED551HDAA) is anything to go by, this situation could be about to change fast.
Here's the deal. The Kogan LED55, as the no-nonsense part of its name suggests, is a 55-inch TV that uses LED technology. This isn't new, of course, but here's the fun bit: the LED55 can be yours direct from Kogan's UK website for just £750. Including free shipping - it launched at £999 but was almost immediately discounted to £750.
The expectation from such a price/screen size/technology equation has to be that the Kogan LED55 is going to be a basic television. Yet actually, a scan of its specifications suggests that it's got quite a lot going on.
For instance, it's got a Freeview HD tuner on board, showing that Kogan has taken the trouble to localise its flagship TV for the UK market. It's also got 100Hz processing, suggesting that maybe it's going to spare at least a thought for the small matter of picture quality.
Then there's its built-in PVR functionality for recording from the tuners to a USB storage device, while sound comes courtesy of an SRS TruSurround processing system.
Even the fact that it uses Edge LED lighting to illuminate the 1080p pixels in its monster screen is significant. It's good to know, too, that the other sets in Kogan's current UK range - including the 42-inch KULED42XHDAA, 46-inch KULED461HDAA and 32-inch LEDBD32, the latter of which has a built-in Blu-ray player - all use LED lighting too.
Basically, most things about the Kogan LED55 sound too good to be true.
The Kogan LED55 isn't exactly the prettiest TV you'll ever see. But nor is it ugly - not by any stretch of the imagination.
Its bezel may be a little wider and more angular than most televisions, but the glossy black finish is decent enough. It feels a little 'squeaky' with its build quality during set up, but once it's positioned on its heavy-duty, crystal-finished stand, it looks robust enough.
Some budget TVs tend to forget that most people want a very slim TV these days. But here again the Kogan LED55 gently impresses, with its respectable depth of just 50mm (off its stand).
A quest for connections uncovers a minor but certainly not deal-breaking disappointment in the shape of three HDMI inputs rather than the four now commonly found on big flatscreen TVs.
But you also get some pretty handy compensation from a USB port and its ability to both play back AVI, MP4, DivX4, DivX5, XVID, MP3, WMA, JPEG and BMP files, and record broadcast programming to USB HDDs up to 1TB in size.
As usual, you shouldn't really consider such USB recording systems to be a replacement for a more heavy-duty recording option, but it's great for 'pausing live TV' or simple timeshifting.
There's also a D-Sub PC port for simple computer connection, and a LAN port to support the TV's integrated Freeview HD tuner. It's a pity that this LAN port can't also be used for either taking the TV online or accessing files stored on a networked PC. But then the Kogan LED55 does, after all, only cost £750.
As noted earlier, the Kogan LED55's screen specifications seem mostly quite promising - especially its use of Edge LED lighting rather than CCFL, and the presence of 100Hz processing to reduce potential motion blurring from the 6.5ms response time panel.
However, it's not all plain sailing on the spec front, because neither the claimed 320cd/m2 of brightness nor the maximum 40,000:1 claimed dynamic contrast ratio stack up very well against the sort of numbers routinely trotted out by the more established TV brands. Hopefully Kogan is just being more honest.
Heading into the TV's on-screen menus, it has to be said that there isn't a great deal going on. You get fairly perfunctory - though actually not horrifically calibrated - presets; a trio of colour temperature presets; multiple levels of noise reduction; and actually that's kind of it.
The only attempt to cater for enthusiasts is the presence of a fairly rudimentary colour adjustment system that enables you to adjust between 1 and 100 the levels of the red, green and blue colour elements.
This relative paucity of set up flexibility is really to be expected on such a cheap 55-inch TV, though. And in some ways the only truly aggravating absentee is a dedicated backlight control to accompany the basic brightness adjustment.
It probably won't shock you too much to hear that the Kogan LED55 is hardly a classic performer where picture quality is concerned. After all, lest you've forgotten, it does only cost £999 for a 55-inch Edge LED TV. But is the Kogan LED55 good enough for its money?
Let's start with the good news. First, the picture is surprisingly bright, certainly brighter than the claimed 320cd/m2 brightness figure would have led us to expect. More proof - as if it were needed - that manufacturers' quoted specs really aren't worth the paper they're printed on.
Colours are quite boldly portrayed as well, and combine with what appears - initially at least - to be a pretty satisfying black level response. This latter attribute is a real surprise, since it tends to be pretty much a given with cheap LCD TVs that black levels are average, at best.
Yet here, aside from occasional moments when very dark scenes seem to take on a slight bluish glow, black colours on the Kogan LED55 really do look quite black, with relatively minimal amounts of the usual low-contrast greyness.
It should be said here that you'll need to rein in the Kogan LED55's brightness setting quite considerably (as low as 30-40 on its 1-100 scale) to get the best black level response. But even with brightness this low, you're not left with a picture that's devoid of vibrancy and punch.
The Kogan LED55's motion handling is in some ways better than is typical with budget TVs, too - at least in the sense that the usual motion blur is only moderate rather than excessive.
Presumably this is down at least in part to the TV's 100Hz processing. However, this processing is also responsible for the Kogan LED55's single most aggravating flaw. Because while it might reduce motion blur, it also generates - especially when watching Blu-rays, oddly - some very obvious and distracting unwanted side-effects.
These include haloing around the edges of moving objects, flickering over fast-moving objects and general patches of shimmering and distortion.
Basically, the Kogan LED55's 100Hz engine is a bit of a mess. So you should just turn it off. Um, except you can't, because for some reason, Kogan has decided not to give you the option to deactivate it, so you're left with it on permanently, warts and all. This is a mistake.
Another issue with the Kogan LED55's pictures finds the backlight looking a bit inconsistent. All four corners of the screen, in particular, exhibit clear 'jets' of light creepage, unless you turn the brightness level right down to 30 or less. But there are other more subtle areas of inconsistency too.
Next to cause a little trouble are the Kogan LED55's colours. They're quite punchy, but they're not especially natural or subtle when it comes to portraying minute tonal shifts.
These issues are particularly apparent with skin tones, which look a bit yellowish or wan, as well as looking unnaturally smooth and monotone, with none of the subtle colour nuances and facial minutiae available that stop people looking like mannequins on better-specified TVs.
It doesn't help the skin tone issues, either, that the screen isn't particularly crisp when handling HD material. You can see a step up from standard definition pictures, but the step up isn't as pronounced as it ideally would be on a Full HD 55-inch LED TV. Ramping up the set's sharpness setting can improve the sense of crispness, but only at the expense of an increase in picture noise.
Very bright scenes, meanwhile, look a bit flared out at times, as if the screen can't resolve small differences in white tones.
Input lag measurements from the Kogan LED55 also fluctuate between a respectable 40ms and a disappointing 70ms, resulting in an average figure of 52ms that appeared to marginally reduce our Call of Duty skills.
Sound, value and ease of use
Although the Kogan LED55's carriage of SRS TruSurround processing is quite an eye-catching feature for a budget TV, it does, of course, still remain the case that the SRS system only works effectively if it's unleashed through a decently powerful speaker system.
And it's no great surprise to find the Kogan LED55 without enough audio heat to bring the SRS system - or a potent action film soundtrack - to life.
It must be stressed that it's not a shockingly bad sounding TV by any means, and it's able to cope reasonably cleanly with 'normal'-volume, daytime TV stuff. But it certainly sounds harsh and compressed - with too much treble emphasis - when put under any serious pressure.
Value is tricky to judge, really. Clearly on the one hand £750 is remarkably cheap for a 55-inch Edge LED TV. But, on the other hand, there are a few ways in which you only get what you pay for with the Kogan LED55. Ultimately it's probably fair to say that the Kogan LED55's price is more or less right.
Ease of use
The Kogan LED55 is a bit of a mixed bag in this respect. On the upside, its on-screen menus, while certainly unusual in their presentation and design, are actually pretty straightforward to navigate. Part of this is down to the fact that none of the five sub-menus you can cycle through by pushing right on the remote actually have many features in.
But the no-nonsense, clear text and basic organisational principles are effective enough and should present no major challenges to even the most technophobic of television buyers.
The weak point where ease of use is concerned comes from the set's remote control. It's a deeply utilitarian affair, in that its layout and shape looks and feels like one of those universal remote designs commonly found with budget TVs in place of something that's in any way adapted to the TV's particular feature set and on-screen menu structure.
Some of the buttons are too small for comfort, too, but worst of all is how unresponsive the remote control is. It could be because its squishy buttons don't respond well enough to your presses or, more likely, because the cone of responsiveness of the IR receptor on the TV just isn't wide enough to pick up signals as readily as it should.
The result is much frustration, as time and again the TV fails to respond to remote commands at the first try, requiring you to lean forward or sideways to get your desired result.
It's worth adding, too, that you get no paper or CD manual with the Kogan LED55. Instead you just get a bit of paper with a link to an online PDF manual. This is eco-friendly and all that, but it's not necessarily convenient for everyone.
It's a brave new brand indeed that tries to crack the UK TV marketplace right now. But Australian brand Kogan is having a pretty full-blooded stab at it, especially now that it's got a genuine flagship proposition on its hands in the shape of the Kogan LED55.
This 55-inch set is no ultra-basic lump of plastic, despite its low price. It's got a Freeview HD tuner, it uses Edge LED lighting, it's got a Full HD resolution, and it's even got 100Hz processing to help pictures out.
Its performance isn't the horror show that we might have expected for its money, either. Its contrast range and brightness in particular are good enough to render pictures perfectly watchable. But there are also enough problems to remind you that the set is, after all, a budget model.
The Kogan LED55 is remarkably affordable for a 55-inch LED TV, despite having a respectable core spec sheet. Its Freeview HD tuner is appreciated considering the TV's affordability, as is its facility for recording to USB drives. Black level response is better than usual for the budget world, too, and pictures are generally vibrant and dynamic.
The Kogan LED55's 100Hz system is of a pretty low quality, causing obvious unwanted side-effects. And, annoyingly, you can't turn it off.
There are also backlight consistency problems unless you really slash the television's brightness output, and colour tones don't look especially natural or subtly toned. HD pictures don't look particularly crisp either, and skin tones tend to look plasticky and unrealistic.
Finally, while the TV's audio is mostly OK, loud scenes can start to sound quite shrill.
Kogan has certainly unleashed a startling statement of intent with its LED55. Its 55-inch size shows that the brand has the AV ambitions to take on the more established TV brand names, and its lowly price shows that it's prepared to appeal to our wallets.
Kogan has even managed to underline its raw 'big screen, small price' hook by giving the LED55 a few unexpected features, such as a Freeview HD tuner and 100Hz processing.
Perhaps inevitably, though, while it's better than expected in the contrast and brightness departments, the Kogan LED55 falls short of its more established rivals with its performance, thanks to some backlight consistency concerns and some troubling 100Hz processing that leaves obvious distracting side effects and can't be turned off.
In fact, this 100Hz problem is so frustrating that it ultimately led to the Kogan LED55 only ending up with an overall score of three stars rather than the three and a half it might otherwise have claimed.