Rich Warren: Welcome to era of affordability

Rich Warren: Welcome to era of affordability

'Tis the day after Christmas and all through the house the creatures are stirring with no rest for a mouse (or touchscreen).

Welcome to the first holiday season where functional, decent quality tablets and HDTV TVs became affordable for nearly everyone. No longer need you plunk down $350 for the least expensive iPad or an LCD-LED TV when you can find serviceable tablets and TVs for $150 or less.

Last week, we touted a $15,000 projection television system, but at the other extreme you can purchase a very satisfying 22-inch HDTV for $139. My new bicycle tires cost only a few dollars less than the TV purchased from Amazon. The road to my new 22-inch TV has more kinks than Illinois 47.

At the dawn of digital TV, I scored an open box Samsung 19-inch HDTV at Circuit City for $30 off its $430 retail price. The overbuilt Samsung incorporated every feature known at the time and a rather large cabinet surrounded the LCD panel. It barely fit beneath the kitchen cabinets, especially after placing the Bose Solo beneath it.

The Samsung's dreadful sound quality, which made the Bose Solo essential, proved a greater deficit than its lackluster picture. Fortunately, the Samsung came with plenty of outputs, including an optical digital audio output. Recently, the other viewer in this household commented on the outdated picture quality.

I spied a 22-inch LG 22LN4510 at Target for an enticing $165 with tax, including a few additional discounts. It required less space than the old 19-inch Samsung. The superb picture of the LG beguiled me until I turned the set around to discover it lacked any outputs. None. Nada.

The manual mentioned something about protecting copyright holders. Baloney. Even dark, the barely over an inch thick attractively styled set looked great, and the color-coded remote was visually attractive as well. Sadly, the mediocre sound quality meant that the set would go back to Target, which cheerfully accepted the return.

Online I checked out the competing Samsung 22-inch set. Like the LG, it incorporated no outputs — and it was more expensive. Finally, the Vizio E221-A1 appeared. This 22-inch set included an analog audio output that works for either headphones or connecting to an external sound system. Even better, Amazon offered it for $139 with free shipping.

While Vizio lacks the cache of LG, Samsung or Sony, it has become the best-selling TV in the United States. Like Dell computer, Vizio designs its sets in America and manufactures them overseas, in the case of Vizio, China. LG, a Korean company, manufactures its 22-inch set in Mexico. Both the LG and Vizio employ LED illumination, major advance at this screen size.

Even with free shipping, the Vizio arrived in three days in good condition, though Amazon failed to adequately package the set. Utilitarian styling fails to visually compete with the LG.

Because Vizio uses backlighting (which some experts prefer), rather than the LG's edge-lighting, the Vizio is about 2 inches deep. Instead of standing on a pedestal as most other sets in the size range, the Vizio leans back on a V-shaped bracket that snaps into the bottom. This allows it to fit in vertical spaces too small for other sets with the same screen size, but it lacks any adjustment for height or vertical angle.

Coincidentally, it looks like Vizio designed this set for the Bose Solo. It's exactly the same width and nearly the same color black, and its lower edge smoothly rests on the Bose.

The picture quality is not quite up to that of the LG, but still is very good and far superior to my old Samsung. I don't expect perfection from a kitchen TV. This set will please my eyes for many years to come, not to mention enjoying superior sound through the Solo.

Note: Bose underwrites the national syndication of my radio program. That is handled by WFMT and I am not a party to it.

Rich Warren, who lives in the Champaign area, is a longtime reviewer of consumer electronics. He can be emailed at hifiguy@mchsi.com.

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