You may not have ever heard of Kogan products, and much less so its founder Ruslan Kogan, but you would have heard about his effect on one high-profile retail king. It seems Kogan has gotten under the skin of Gerry Harvey who's currently bleating on about GST on imports, which is in a direct response to the former's online business model. Essentially, the majority of Kogan's products are sourced from factories in Asia and sold here at a discount compared to "a brand name".
With the lengthy-but-straightforward "Kogan Elite 32-inch Full-HD 100Hz LED TV with PVR", the company is taking on not only Harvey but also Korean manufacturer LG.
You may or may not remember an advertising campaign featuring a karate-chopping lass by the name of Scarlet in the "best TV series of 2008". While some people missed that it was actually about a physical television, you can bet that Ruslan Kogan didn't, and his Elite looks very similar to that iconic TV.
The TV features a piano-black finish, and some very LG-like trappings such as the clear pedestal and the same red "hole" as the scarlet — though this one doesn't let you poke anything through it. However, the build quality isn't quite up to the same level of the Scarlet, as the plastic surrounding the power button at the bottom of the TV is quite flimsy. Lastly, like most modern TVs, the stand swivels as well.
For a budget device, the remote is actually quite friendly (though we didn't like having to hit Menu at the top of the remote instead of Back to exit each level of menus). The record button is also in a weird place; nestled among a dozen small buttons of the same size and shape.
In 2009, LG debuted its Time Machine models — TVs that included an on-board Personal Video Recorder (PVR) — and since then other manufacturers such as Panasonic have joined the trend. Typically, these TVs offer bare-bones functionality when compared to a stand-alone unit and the Kogan is the same. Connect a USB hard-drive to the back of the TV and it becomes a single-channel recorder that can pause and rewind live TV. While it also offers recording functions there's no EPG or scheduling available.
Not content to mimic the design or functionality of LG's products, Kogan is upfront about the fact that the television inside also contains an LG panel. This isn't that unusual in itself as there are only a handful of LCD manufacturers in the world, and even companies like Sony have to source them from third parties. Companies are usually shy about their sources, but as you've probably guessed shyness is not in Kogan's nature.
Apart from the PVR the feature-set is a little light-on compared to its more expensive rivals with no IPTV, for example. The television does offer up 100Hz, and there is a second USB for playing back media. Supported formats include MP3, WMA and AAC for audio; AVI, MP4, MPG, MOV, MKV and even Real Media RM and RMVB in video; and picture types JPG, PNG and BMP.
Connectivity includes four HDMI ports, a single component input, VGA and two composite connections.
In performance terms, LG televisions typically sit in the middle of the pack, and having tested the Kogan we can say that this TV isn't quite as good as that. While the panel may be an LG the user interface definitely isn't, and who knows where the picture processing — one of the most important aspects of an LCD — came from.
Motion compensation or "100Hz" is quite a polarising technology — picture purists hate it, while others like it for its ability to combat judder. If you buy this TV you had better like the effect, and like it a lot.
We started our adventures with the free-to-air tuner, and had our first experience with the 100Hz mode, which is set to "on" by default. Leading edges showed plenty of ghosting and a haloing effect surrounded by moving figures. Only when we attempted to turn the mode off did we discover that the effect was still there! We found that 100Hz mode would turn itself back on randomly — even when it claims to be off in the TV's settings. Strangely, this also affected the on-screen menus leading to some jerky animations.
Moving on to the PVR we found it to be similarly prickly, and to improve usability we would have preferred dedicated Play controls instead of the shared options presented by the remote. While we were able to Pause and Rewind at most, we did find that on occasion these buttons refused to work. Additionally, recording sessions could take a life of their own and refuse to be stopped — the only way to halt them would be to turn the TV off via the hard switch. The playback menu for the recordings is shared with the USB media controls and it's fairly drab with a red-on-black interface.
The TV performed well in most of the synthetic benchmarks, which indicated competent image processing, and the unit only failed the video mode tests. With 30fps there were substantial moire effects (not good) and when engaging the 24p tests the TV once again crawled back into its default 100Hz mode.
The TV claims to have up to a 3,000,000:1 dynamic contrast ratio, but this could be a result of some skulduggery. Despite turning off all the contrast enhancement gizmos the TV continued to produce "dynamic iris" or what some people call "floating black" effects. In some cases this leads to excessive black "crush", meaning the image was stripped of all its detail. On high contrast scenes we found that dark areas simply became black blobs. On others scenes with lots of mid-tones, the image can look washed out. This effect was most evident in our King Kong DVD tests where Kong's fur became a charcoal-like amorphous smear.
This aside, though, the TV was quite good in other areas with excellent colour reproduction, noise reduction and detail.
Switching to Blu-ray we found another problem — the default sharpness is way too high. In combination with the tenacious 100Hz effect, this made our Mission Impossible III disc look like an animated charcoal rubbing. With the sharpness back off though images looked crisp.
Sound quality was unexpectedly good, and while a little reticent in the mid-range it was able to fill out both the bass and the treble. Despite not being able to provide room-filling volume levels it was still quite easy to listen to, and we'd prefer this to out-and-out distortion anyway.
Inviting comparisons with LG products actually works against the Kogan Elite in this case, as that company's products are already pretty inexpensive. For example, you can now get a 50-inch PK550 plasma for under AU$1000 online. If LG can produce a TV that cheaply why would you settle for a buggy imitation? While the Kogan Elite isn't a bad TV, we'd plump up a few extra dollars and go for one of the brand names instead.