When you buy into a budget brand you usually get what you pay for, and we admit to having passed over Soniq in the aisles of our local JB Hi-Fi before dismissing them as "just another cheapie". However, after a positive experience with a Soniq iPod dock we were keen to try its latest 40-inch television, a product which is going for less than AU$800.
That's right, half the price of a "name" brand. Insane. With three exclamation points. The sound of glass breaking.
Design and features
Squint at the picture of the Soniq QSL400XT and you would swear this is a Samsung product with its glossy black bezel and maroon accents. The TV is quite solid and a bit bulgy at the back, but at this price you can't expect the super-slim stylings of the LED crowd. The attention to detail is higher than on the iPod dock with nice touches including a black metal speaker grille and a chrome power button that no-one will see as it's mounted on the back. The swivel stand is also piano black.
The remote control is large and friendly — the way we generally like them — and most functions are placed intuitively and within easy reach.
As a budget model there are none of the fancy 100Hz modes or "green" motion sensors. This is simply a television: you turn it on and you watch stuff.
The panel itself features a 1920x1080 resolution, or full-HD for the number phobes, and a rather honest 3000:1 contrast ratio — not the 10 kagillion:1 figure we're used to seeing.
Connectivity is in keeping with models of its size by providing three HDMI ports, two component inputs, an S-Video connection, a VGA port, and unusually for a budget TV just a single composite connector. One small issue is that the HDMI ports aren't labelled and it may be initially confusing working out which port is 'number one'.
For sound the TV provides stereo 8W speakers and includes an optical audio out so users can listen to the TV's onboard HD tuner through their stereo systems.
We don't usually start with an examination of a TV's audio performance but feel in this case it's warranted. When we turned the TV on we thought we could hear a cooling fan operating, and the noise was louder than the PlayStation 3 we were using for testing. On closer investigation we found that the noise was coming from the speakers, and this static does sound like a cooling fan. You need to turn the speakers up a little to overcome it which is fine, as the TV features better sound than the price would have you believe. While it's not able to convey dynamic material such as action movies very well, it does a very good job of making voices intelligible and soundtracks full and rich.
The panel also acquitted itself with very good performance. In fact it performed on a similar level to some of the Toshiba's we've seen of late, though at half the price.
The TV was a bit of a hard to set up, though, as some of the controls were a bit strange. For example, instead of a colour control the TV offers four different modes and the ability to change the amount of the Red Green and Blue Gain. This is way beyond the level of control offered by other TVs and may scare off new users, but we did find that the "Warm" setting was already pretty good. The Sharpness control was also a little tricky as even at zero we found there was still a little too much noise in most content.
The TV ate up DVD and Blu-rays alike with natural colours, accurate (though not especially deep) blacks and very good image processing. Though the set's 24p support wasn't the best, jaggies were not to be seen and the Soniq accounted for itself well on the noise test during the HQV test disk. This was strange as while it's great with "mosquito" noise it didn't cope well with the noise halos found on the edges of compressed videos, such as can be found on DVDs like King Kong. Turning up the Digital Noise Reduction didn't help and in fact only introduced smearing to motion. The onboard HD tuner was also a little too noisy for our tastes.
We ran the screen though a few gaming tests and found the TV to be very responsive and perfect for this purpose. As such we'd say this TV would be great for a games den or holiday house.
Off-axis viewing was good for a budget panel, and even for an expensive one, with probably only Panasonic LCDs offering a better off-axis viewing angle. This is highly impressive for the price.
We didn't expect too much from the QSL400XT and while it may not be as "perfect" as a name-brand it performs well above its weight. We personally wouldn't buy one of these as our main TV but know that some people will, and we think once set up properly they'll be very happy with it.