Your average upper middle-class kid toting a branded mobile phone invariably tends to scoff at Indian brands offering the same experience and features as his expensive smartphone at dirt cheap prices—with a little help from our Chinese neighbours, of course. As a gadget reviewer trained to appreciate quality of workmanship/materials and fine engineering, I should be inclined to concur. However, I beg to differ in this case. In a nation where wealth is greatly concentrated in the metros, these affordable mobile and tablet manufacturers reach out to a much wider demographic beyond these few cities and provide access to an experience that would otherwise be out of their reach.
If you draw parallels with the pharmaceutical industry, this is akin to Indian manufacturers' reverse engineering, say, a $70,000-a-year cancer drug and making it affordable enough for developing countries. While the idea of cheaper smartphones and tablets may not be as profound, it's good to know that these Indian brands truly enable modern technology to be the great social leveller it's touted to be. Micromax is one such brand empowering the working class and broke college kids across India to consume technology in the same way as the more fortunate ones do.
The understated angular design looks inoffensive
One can only assume this has been a profitable business model for the manufacturer, especially considering its rapid expansion. After successfully taking on the behemoths in the mobile and tablet world, the company has now set its sights on the consumer entertainment market with a brand new range of LCD television sets. Within a product portfolio starting from Rs 15,990 for a 24″ LED TV to Rs 1,29,990 for a 55″ 3D LED (edge lit) Smart TV, we have chosen the middle-of-the-rung 42″ LED42K316 model for review.
Surprisingly, its Rs 47,990 sticker price puts it in direct competition with alternatives from big TV players such as Samsung, Sony, LG, and Panasonic, which cost just a couple of thousand more. The television's premium price tag drastically changes the equation and the consumer's expectation from it. Unlike its smartphone cousins that could get away with poor engineering, the Micromax TV must match the performance and quality levels of the existing LCD players to prove its worth.
Design and build quality
While the 42″ Micromax LED42K316 LED TV may not charm your pants off with its looks, the TV's sharp silhouette harbours an inoffensive shape devoid of any rounded edges or elaborate accents. Unfortunately, any pretence of understated subtlety is dashed by the visibly and palpably cheap plastics. The matte finish of the rear half and the glossy piano black plastics on the front fascia look cheaper than what you'd expect from a display costing almost half a lakh. However, I must admit that the transparent plastic extension to bezel at the bottom gives it a fair bit of character.
All I/O ports are perpendicular to the rear panel for wall-mount friendliness
The large rectangular stand stays true to the general geometric theme and bears a pivot mount that can handle the panel's 18kg heft with ease. A wee bit of wobble is evident, but that's usually par for the course at this price range. The TV seems much thicker than average thanks to a pair of large speakers that jut out at the rear. It supports the ubiquitous VESA mounting standard, and all I/O ports are thoughtfully oriented downwards and to the sides. This should keep the cables clear for hassle-free wall mounting.
The important Power, Source, Menu, Volume, and Channel buttons are tucked away neatly out of sight behind the panel on the right-hand side. Unfortunately, this will prove problematic if you opt for a wall mount configuration. Speaking of improper button placement, the master power switch is hidden a tad too well for comfort. The annoyingly inconspicuous little toggle switch is set in the bottom edge, which will leave most users dumbfounded. On the bright side though, the panel is neither overly glossy, nor annoyingly matte—it strikes a good balance between an anti-glare roughness and glare-inducing smoothness.
The remote control looks and feels cheap and generally seems like an afterthought, with no real sense of purpose or logic behind its button placement and overall ergonomics. A cluttered design, lack of illumination, and a confusing array of uniformly shaped buttons makes the remote control quite challenging to operate in the dark.
Three HDMI ports and a two USB inputs should be enough for most users
Features and UI
Despite a premium pricing, it's a pity that Micromax doesn't deem it fit to include a VESA mount. Fortunately, the LED42K316 makes up for that in the connectivity department with inputs for three HDMI, two USB, one component, one composite, one VGA (D-Sub), one 75ohm RF, and one 3.5mm audio jack. It also packs in digital coaxial (S/PDIF) audio and composite video outputs. The only interconnect missing here is DVI. Then again it's not usually obligatory, so no points deducted for that.
The UI is simple and easy to use, but looks decidedly downmarket and pales in terms of presentation when compared to its contemporaries. While Micromax offers the standard brightness, contrast, colour, sharpness, and colour temperature controls, none of that is enough to fix the panel's colour inaccuracy. An advanced picture menu with separate RGB adjustment would have been a godsend in this case. It does, however, pack in a noise-reducing comb filter that's best left switched off—that is, unless you're still on the archaic 75ohm cable connection.
The manual controls at the rear will be difficult to use when the TV is wall mounted
I particularly appreciate its backlight adjustment option, which lets the display retain correct gamma values without having to endure a bright backlight under darker viewing conditions. Even if you are too lazy to adjust it yourself, this TV can automatically set the backlight intensity based on ambient lighting conditions with the DCR function. I personally didn't like the accuracy of the adaptive backlight control system and preferred to keep it switched off instead.
The audio section is well appointed with an inclusion of the AVC feature, which compresses the dynamic audio range for night-time viewing. This way you can listen to dialogues clearly, without waking up your family when the explosions cue in. Since most movie rips feature 5.1 channel audio, the TV provides a coaxial (S/PDIF) output, along with a convenient option in the sound menu to feed an external amplifier/receiver with either a bitstream or linear PCM audio feed. The addition of a 5-band graphic equaliser and SRS audio enhancements is a great idea that lets you fix the built-in speakers' limitations to a great extent.
The inbuilt media player claims to handle a whole load of video codecs and containers ranging from the usual XVID and MPEG2 codecs in AVI and DAT containers, to the more popular codecs such as H.264 and MPEG4 in Matrovska (MKV) and Flash Video (FLV) containers. Additionally, proprietary formats such as Quicktime and Real Media are said to be supported as well. In reality though, the player had issues recognising and playing back some of the video formats in my collection. Audio playback, however, is restricted to MP3 only. The TV detects flash drives, in addition to portable hard drives. The player UI may be slow, clunky, and unrefined, but it gets the job done.
The million dollar question is: does this Full HD (1080p) panel priced at almost half a lakh deliver the performance of a panel costing, well, almost half a lakh? Unfortunately, the answer is a resounding no. How bad is it, you ask? Well, if right now you could run over to Compare India and look up LED-backlit LCD TVs from Sony, Samsung, LG, and Panasonic priced between Rs 45,000–52,000—absolutely every single result coughed up by the website would provide better video fidelity than the Micromax LED42K316 LED TV.
The picture quality disappoints
Even before I ran my battery of tests, I could tell that the TV's colour and gamma values deviated significantly from the ideal range. However, what's even worse is the panel's inability to deliver a sharp image. The display was consistently blurry when I connected it to any PC through the HDMI port. It's the same kind of blurriness you experience when a display is set to a non-native mode. I tried different systems with onboard and discrete NVIDIA/AMD graphics, but the problem persisted with varying levels of fuzziness being recorded across different systems.
Going purely by performance, the display exhibits the characteristics of a 6-bit TN panel. The Micromax LED42K316, however, took extensive fiddling around with the display profile using Datacolor's Spyder colorimeter and calibration software to achieve acceptable picture quality. That's a pyrrhic victory though. Since the TV doesn't allow individual adjustment of RGB values, this correction cannot be ported to non-PC devices that lack the advantage of customisable display profiles. To put it bluntly, unless you plan to use this 42″ TV as a PC monitor—which you most likely will not—there is no conceivable means to salvage its poor picture quality.
The display's true calibre, or the lack of it, was laid bare thanks to a battery of image tests from Lagom.nl and DisplayMate. The viewing angles were less than spectacular, with a significant colour shift being apparent even for small deviations from the perfect seating position. The black detail levels were sub-par, while the saturation across the various grades of white wasn't uniform or pure either. The greyscale gradient pattern revealed a worrying amount of banding and discolouration/impurity. On the colour front, the TV had a hard time distinguishing the last 30% of the gradient spectrum.
The TV suffers from a significant amount of backlight bleed
This poor showing points towards a combination of factors such as bad LCD panel, excessive and inaccurate dithering, poor colour lookup table, and overall weak image processing hardware. No matter what the cause, at the end of the day though you're left with an unsatisfying picture quality. To make matters worse, the TV displayed a noticeably high degree of backlight bleed. This was all the more conspicuous in movies and games with an abundance of darker scenes.
The Descent Blu-ray, with its subterranean cave setting, was a perfect example of how annoying the backlight bleed can get. The TV's anaemic black levels made a mess of the greyscale detail within Alien, Pandorum, and Underworld Blu-rays. Skin tones and whites were noticeably off in the rest of my test suite as well. It is only in Blu-rays such as Suck, where the colours are deliberately desaturated, was the display able to put up acceptable performance. However, the bottom-line remains that the Micromax LED-backlit TV isn't the best choice if you seek better black levels and colour fidelity.
On the audio front, the TV fares just as poorly as most modern flat-panel displays. Fortunately, the inclusion of SRS modes and a 5-band EQ gives you enough room to tweak the audio output to your tastes. Having said that, you're better off buying speakers separately, and that's true for any flat-panel television.
The UI is simple and easy to navigate
Verdict and Price in India
Micromax's main USP, and arguably the sole reason for its success, is its penchant to deliver top-end features and functionality at bottom-end prices. Micromax LED42K316 LED TV, however, deviates wildly from that winning formula. At an MRP of Rs 47,990 (and the best street price of Rs 46,490 that I could find), it is priced dangerously close to similar offerings from established players such as Samsung, Sony, LG, and Panasonic. Just think about it: why would a consumer spend almost half a lakh on an unproven brand when he can buy a 42″ LED from LG (LG 42LS4600) for nearly the same price, give or take a few hundred rupees? I just don't see the incentive here for someone to put their money down on this particular TV, and not the other half-dozen alternatives from well-known LCD TV players.
Micromax clearly doesn't offer better build and design, or improved image quality to compel a purchase. Neither is it highly regarded for cutting edge R&D or solid after sales service. The only reason why it would have made sense, is if it were cheap—significantly cheap, to be honest, considering its poor performance. Bottomline? Don't buy this TV unless you stand to get a massive discount. Even then, I'd recommend pulling your couch closer and buying a smaller, but higher quality TV set.
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