Insignia is Best Buy's discount electronics sub-brand—and products that bear its... symbol... are HDTVs like the NS-50L440NA14 (MSRP $549.99). If you're anything like us, your first thought when you saw this TV online or in the store was: "What? A 50-inch TV for $550 bucks? What kind of sorcery is this?"

Yet that is the kind of price point that Insignia exists to boast of. An LCD of the same size from Samsung, Panasonic, or LG is going to list at least $200 higher—more if they're smart TVs. While you might love the idea of saving a couple of benjamins, Insignia's low prices have caused some to believe that build quality is a concern.

Regardless of this Insignia's physical quality, anyone looking for a budget-friendly buy with a solid picture should stay away. Its pre-set picture modes are set up incorrectly, and it tested with a host of errors.

Cheap and bright, but that's about it

After receiving a whopping roundhouse kick from our in-lab testing process, the NS-50L440NA14 was left reeling like Rocky Balboa—if Rocky Balboa had color production issues, incorrect reference levels, and a host of other problems. This budget-friendly Insignia is an enemy to your eyes—it's bright and inexpensive, yes, but otherwise produces a fairly terrible picture.

The L440 produces grayish, polluted black levels that are severely distracting.

We consider the ability to produce a good black level (or minimum luminance level) to be amongst the loftiest goals for a TV. Unfortunately, the CCFL-backlit L440 produces grayish, polluted black levels that are severely distracting while you're watching it.

On the other hand, its peak luminance is quite dazzling—but at what cost? Prior to calibration, the TV brightens so quickly that shadow details are glossed over by an imbalanced enthusiasm for middle tones and highlights.

The biggest issue with this TV's skewed color production—way off of the international standard for color—is that it also creates visible error within the TV's blacks and grays. Visible tinges of color mar what should be neutral tones, adding unsightly tint to picture details like snow, clouds, or a silver automobile.

This TV's skewed color production creates visible error within blacks and grays.

A complete inability to soften or correct these errors is the straw that breaks this camel's back. Most TVs, even lower end ones, contain color or grayscale controls to greatly increase the accuracy and clarity of an image—even if it comes out of the box with a lot of problems. Insignia doesn't include any of these controls besides a very basic color temperature option.

Finally, while many of these issues will be much more pronounced on 1080p content like Blu-ray discs, cable and satellite content suffers as well. Gamers and sports fans should steer clear of this set—its motion handling is quite poor, even with the Insignia Motion 120Hz setting enabled, which aggressively smoothes without correcting issues associated with complex pattern artifacts.

A budget TV with a budget design—who'da thunk it?

The most notable aspect of the NS-50L440NA14's design is that there's absolutely nothing notable about it. Well, that's a little harsh, but it smacks of some truth: A bigger rectangle attached to a smaller rectangle is an apt summary of this Insignia's looks.

The panel is light, despite its thickness, so assembly is easy and the TV can be hefted around.

Digging a little deeper, this TV is not particularly thin compared to the market leaders, but it looks modern... ish. A black-and-gray plastic casing wraps the panel, terminating in thicker-than-average bezels.

Unlike most of today's modern TVs, this Insignia uses a CCFL backlight array, which is one reason it's a little on the fat side.

Toss in the miserly rectangular stand that's overlaid in glossy plastic, and you have a rather plain-looking TV.

There are some advantages to the cheap build, however. The panel is light, despite its thickness, so assembly is easy and the TV can be hefted around without much strain—ours is a 50-inch unit, and I'm a 5'4" tall tech reviewer, to put it in perspective. It's also safe to assume that the low-cost plastic design, standardized parts, and CCFL backlight contribute to this TV's cheap price.

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From a usability standpoint, the NS-50L440NA14 is fairly well designed. On-set controls (Power, Menu, etc.) are within easy reach on the TV's right side, comprised of small, etched buttons that provide good tactile feedback. You're probably better off using the included remote—a standard infrared affair.

The L440A is equipped with an above-average port selection that lists vertically along a cutout on the rear-left side of the panel. From bottom to top, users will have access to one USB input, three HDMI inputs, VGA in, a shared component/composite cluster, digital audio out, and a coax jack for cable/satellite. These ports are labeled and evenly spaced, and the horizontal orientation of the plugs makes the 50L440NA14 a good candidate for wall mounting.

If you want ugly, outdated software this is the TV for you!

Whether you're an avid AV nerd or a tech-shy shopper, TV menus can be hard to keep up with. Over the last few years, they've evolved industry-wide by way of control options, available settings, and aesthetic quality. Yet the NS-50L440NA14's software sits squarely within the realm of yesteryear, offering a sparsely populated interface replete with ugly, blocky symbols for each sub-menu. That $550 price tag is starting to make sense, eh?

Anyway, down to brass tacks. The software available to consumers is rather limited by modern standards, but its biggest flaw is that it's just flat out ugly. Having reviewed the priciest, most high-end TVs this year already, this Insignia's unsightly white text and pseudo-drop-shadow emblems look nothing short of awful. This doesn't discredit the NS-50L440NA14's value, as much as it offers some insight into the higher prices of its competitors.

From a practical standpoint, however, things aren't much better. This TV's software is broken into four sub-menus: Picture, Audio, Channels, and Settings. The Channels menu is only available if you've scanned for over-the-air content or connected a direct cable cord, which leaves the majority of users with audio, video, and system adjustments.

The software available to consumers is rather limited, but its biggest flaw is that it's just flat out ugly.

There are six picture modes available: Vivid, Standard, Energy Savings, Movie, Game, and Custom. The main modes are locked at factory defaults, meaning adjustments and tweaks can only be made to the custom mode. This is a bit of a problem, since almost all of the factory calibrations are imperfect in some way.

The usual picture controls are included (Backlight, Brightness, Color, Tint, Sharpness, and Contrast) as well as more advanced settings for color temperature, dynamic backlight, aspect ratio adjustment, overscan, motion processing, noise reduction, and automatic contrast. While this sounds like a lot of options, it's really quite standard by modern TV parlance.

Audiophiles would probably never watch TV without a surround sound system, but at least Insignia includes treble, bass, and balance adjustments within the NA-50L440A's audio menu, as well as no small amount of pre-set modes—five in total, each purposed for a different task. Beyond the picture and audio settings, however, this Insignia's feature list proves a very short one, and is bereft of the most important picture controls: white balance, gamma, and color management.

Not a deal, a ripoff

The Insignia NS-50L440NA14 is one of the worst TV's I've tested all year. The picture it produces is riddled with errors, and the on-board software does not supply the controls to fix them. You don't need test equipment to rule this one out—even lower-resolution content looks shoddy.

It may seem like a steal at $549.99, but we strongly urge you to shop around. Within this size class, plenty of lower-cost products don't utterly deny you the potential beauty of movies and TV:

  • Samsung's 50-inch F5000 ($829)
  • JVC's 50-inch SP50M-C ($799)
  • Vizio's 50-inch smart 3D 501D-A2R ($799)

They may be a little more expensive, but it's worth it for the huge improvements to picture quality.
The Insignia NS-50L440NA14 (MSRP $549.99) was shredded by the flurry of origami cranes that are our in-lab tests. An in-depth look at this TV's out-of-the-box performance revealed very poor color production, a grayscale riddled with errors, overly bright black levels, and an RGB balance that we were unable to correct. It may be cheap for a 50-inch set, but this value TV is a wolf in budget clothing.

We are using the term "calibrated" quite liberally

Calibrating a TV should improve it. Unfortunately, to calibrate any display, you need the necessary controls over the image it produces—and Insignia includes none of them in the stingy software loaded onto the 50L440NA14. We were able to correct this Insignia's reference levels—something that 90% of TVs already do correctly—but lacked the advanced controls for further correction.

Short of adjusting the Backlight control for 40 fL, the Brightness control for proper legal limits, and the Color control to slightly correct the L440's color production, no other calibration was possible, so the lion's share of this TV's errors remained uncorrected.

No country for black levels

Contrast ratio—expressed as X:1—is a telling measure of how immersive a TV's picture will be. To determine this Insignia's contrast ratio, we divided its peak brightness by its minimum luminance level. The result was below average, due to an overly bright black level.

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In the lab, I measured a black level of 0.17 cd/m2 , which is rather poor even for an LCD. The L440's peak brightness was commendable at 345.80 cd/m2 , giving it a total contrast ratio of 2034:1, which is bad by the year's current standards.

You'll be flying this one solo, Goose.

A display's viewing angle is a measure of how far off-center you can watch it before its picture begins to degrade. The L440's poor black levels hurt its off-angle viability—we tested a total horizontal viewing angle of 18°, or ±9° from center to either side of the screen. This is very bad, even for an LCD—black levels rose to 0.50 cd/m2 and above beyond 20°.

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Well beyond acceptable limits

A television's grayscale refers to its produced blacks, grays, and whites—the full spectrum of colorless light that it produces. Errors within the grayscale, caused primarily by an imbalance in the utilization of sub-pixels, are expressed as DeltaE. Prior to calibration, the L440 tested with a DeltaE of 8.53, which is well beyond the 3 or less standard tolerance. After calibration, the error was reduced by 0.3—hardly an improvement.

Blue, blue, always with the blue!

RGB balance refers to the way a TV incorporates its red, green, and blue sub-pixels into the production of grayscale elements—white, silver, or any colorless shade. TV's use additive color, meaning the sum of their sub-pixels creates the grayscale. The L440's sub-pixel balance prior to calibration was quite bad—blue was emphasized heavily after 30 IRE whereas red and green both begin to decline rapidly around 65 IRE. My post-calibration results were roughly identical, since this Insignia lacks the controls to correct its grayscale or balance.

It fixed itself, it's a miracle!

Gamma correction refers to how a TV alters the interval space between its middle luminance steps in order to make increases in light output more obvious to human eyes. Gamma sum is communicated in sets of standard numbers—1.8, 2, 2.2, 2.4—with higher numbers meaning a slower increase from black to white. Prior to calibration, the L440's gamma sum was 2.06, which is much too low. The ideal gamma sum for theater displays is 2.4, but 2.2 is also acceptable. After calibration, despite no gamma control being possible, the TV tested with a gamma sum of 2.23—much better.

Way off the mark

A color gamut illustrates of all of the colors a TV can produce. International standards dictate that a TV should produce just such an exactly saturated red, green, and blue, and that they should be the proper hue and luminance. In other words, TV's have a strict set of rules for what their colors should look like. Unfortunately, the L440's produced color was quite askew—green and blue were especially off, but magenta and cyan were much worse. Calibration allowed me to correct cyan quite a bit, but at the expense of magenta. There's just no way to win with this TV!

Meet the testers

Lee Neikirk

Lee Neikirk

Editor

@Koanshark

Lee has been Reviewed's point person for most television and home theater products since 2012. Lee received Level II certification in TV calibration from the Imaging Science Foundation in 2013. As Editor of the Home Theater vertical, Lee oversees reviews of TVs, monitors, soundbars, and Bluetooth speakers. He also reviews headphones, and has a background in music performance.

See all of Lee Neikirk's reviews
Lee Neikirk

Lee Neikirk

Editor

@Koanshark

Lee has been Reviewed's point person for most television and home theater products since 2012. Lee received Level II certification in TV calibration from the Imaging Science Foundation in 2013. As Editor of the Home Theater vertical, Lee oversees reviews of TVs, monitors, soundbars, and Bluetooth speakers. He also reviews headphones, and has a background in music performance.

See all of Lee Neikirk's reviews

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We use standardized and scientific testing methods to scrutinize every product and provide you with objectively accurate results. If you’ve found different results in your own research, email us and we’ll compare notes. If it looks substantial, we’ll gladly re-test a product to try and reproduce these results. After all, peer reviews are a critical part of any scientific process.

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