Decided to upgrade that Full HD fat TV for a trendy 4K job? Looking for something that won’t break the bank? Then you’re the buyer Finlux wants to bag.
The brand has made a name for itself serving cut-price Full HD to check-list shoppers, and now it’s offering curved 4K UHD in the shape of the snappily monikered 55UT3EC320S.
This 55-inch 2160p set has a sibling flatmate, the 55UT3E242S, priced some £300 cheaper. These are the first UHD resolution sets sold by the brand, better known for its budget 1080p offerings.
Finlux has no qualms about marketing the EC320 as a cheap curved 4K telly, so just how much of a bargain is this set?
The cosmetics are nice enough. The screen has a fashionably thin bezel and seamless metallic trim. It glints appealing. However, this edge doesn’t appear to be fully bonded to the rear of the set and as a result can be rather sharp to the touch in places.
The set comes with a heavyweight curved stand. This is a substantial chromed affair with the edges neatly matching the side of the panel. The stand’s bow is both practical and artistic – to the rear, bolted plastic feet keep everything stable.
Connections and setup
Connectivity includes four HDMIs, three of which are side-facing. Only one of the four is HDCP 2.2 4K compliant, and that’s Input One.
The remaining three failed to display an image from an HDCP 2.2 content source.
Other inputs include Ethernet LAN, an AV input for old-fashioned SCART (adaptor supplied), component video and phono stereo, a digital optical audio output for use with the obligatory soundbar, as well as a trio of USBs, one of which is a fast 3.0 variant.
Unusually there’s also a PC VGA input – a bit of a rarity in this day and age.
The set has a single DVB Freeview HD tuner. There’s also a subwoofer output, should you want to get a little more bass from your gogglebox.
The set ships with a standard IR zapper. There’s no voice interaction or gesture control here.
It’s a large-buttoned affair that offers one touch access to the Finlux Smart portal, as well as perennial favourites Netflix and YouTube. There’s also a shortcut to any connected USB hard drive that might be attached to the set.
The remote control itself is actually curved, obviously to ape the screen. This may be overly cute, but there is some practical benefit: your thumb is in closer proximity to all the keys. That said, the remote does rather roll around in the hand.
The main navigation buttons also creak like stairs in a haunted house. If this controller has been intentionally designed to sound ultra-clicky the effect gets real old real fast.
Connected sources are fast to access, thanks to a simple full-screen input list provided via the uppermost button on the remote.
While top tier TV makers have invested heavily in their user interfaces – from the brilliant simplicity of LG’s webOS to the one-size-fits-all app-led approach of Android – Finlux keeps things fairly utilitarian and not a little fusty.
You’re guided through the tuning process and network connection with prim efficiency. The onboard Wi-Fi is dual band, so you can get connected either at 2.4GHz or 5GHz.
Navigation is straightforward. A Q.Menu mode throws up an oddball selection of settings, from a power saving Eco mode and scheduled power off, to 3D, assorted picture presets, and your channel favourites.
The main menu is distinguished by vertical graphics. System calls up the Picture and Sound settings, as well as less-used stuff like Network Settings and Parental Controls. You can also dive into the main installation menu, scan and edit the channel list or fire-up a media browser.
File support is good enough. The set will find and stream from any DLNA connected device, be it a NAS media server or PC, as well as local USB.
The set found my networked Plex and Twonky Media servers without a hitch, playing VOB files, AVIs, MKVs, MOVs, WMV, WMA, AAC and MP3s. If you’ve been building up a collection of FLAC music files though, you’re out of luck.
Most of the picture settings offer routine adjustment, such as Contrast, Brightness, Sharpness and Colour via sliders, but the Advanced Picture menu offers some more intriguing tweaks. These include Film Mode and Movie Sense, as well as Dynamic Contrast.
The latter really boosts the picture, although not necessarily in a good way. To avoid unintentional overscan, ensure that the aspect ratio is set to Full, which is selectable from the remote handset.
No place for catch-up TV
Finlux’s Smart portal grade is more Primary School rather than Secondary. There’s an embedded Twitter widget, but to use this you need to log in via a separate account required by the TV.
Is it worth the effort? Probably not.
Having a Twitter feed on a TV feels a bit old school to me. Throwing social media onto a communal device isn’t really reflective of the way people use social media. And yes, Facebook is here too.
It’s a bit naff.
The Finlux Smart portal GUI divides between a large live TV window and an app control panel. Here you’ll find BBC News and Sport, Flickr, TuneIn Radio, Viewster and DailyMotion. BBC iPlayer, Netflix and YouTube have been segregated below the main selection.
Opt to search for more apps and the live TV window is overlaid with an app store. There’s quite a few packages to browse, but I seriously doubt you’ll want to install any of them. The set lacks any other key catch-up TV services, so no Channel 4, Demand 5 or ITV Player.
It should be noted that the Netflix client is not 4K capable, not least because the set doesn’t have an HEVC decoder. The version of Netflix here is the SDK 3.1.4 release from April 2014.
Navigation feels a little sluggish at times. Often the screen doesn’t quite seem able to keep up with your remote controlling, lagging just slightly behind.
It’s also curiously impatient, throwing up large No Signal dialogue boxes at the drop of a hat. Watching a Blu-ray, these would pop up even as the disc branched between menu items.
Picture quality and usability
Picture quality is best described as a mixed bag.
The set looks distinctly unhappy with standard def Freeview channels. Images are blotchy and ill-defined. This is not so much a dig at Finlux, more that it’s increasingly a problem for viewers of next gen large-screen panels.
As the trend toward bigger TVs continues, the tolerance we have for SD falls as its flaws become more readily apparent. It’s something that commercial broadcasters should be concerned about.
Thankfully if you want to cherry-pick your viewing you can filter out the SD uglies using the Finlux’s Favourites list. That way you’ll only get the hi-def channels.
While SD looks hideous, HD is much more acceptable. The set delivers crisp 1080p nibbles on a smooth 2160p platter. Picture modes include Dynamic, Cinema, Game, Sports and Natural. The latter is probably the best option for most content.
Colour vibrancy is high. The set handles neon green and electric blue with all the ease of a Soho sign fitter. There’s real pizzazz to its pictures. When Pyro engulfs the attacking Sentinel in flame at the start of X-Men Days Of Future Past (Blu-ray), the fiery conflagration is spectacular. The metallic sheen of Colossus also looks believably chromed.
Just like that metal X-Man’s noggin though, the curved screen does throw some strange reflections.
Every so often you’ll see yourself reflected, with the kind of distortion more commonly associated with a fairground hall of mirrors.
The curve itself warrants further debate. The technology’s most vociferous supporters, Korean brands Samsung and LG, have tried hard to convince us that a little curve somehow offers a more naturalistic and immersive viewing experience.
This is, of course, bunkum.
Arguably, a curved screen becomes less objectionable on super-sized screens – 77-inch and above. However here, on what seems a rather diddy 55-incher, it has very few obvious benefits.
Sit square on and you’ll probably not really notice the warp, move to the side and it becomes a good deal more obvious. Off angle viewing is actually pretty good though, with no huge loss of contrast or colour if you park up left or right.
Ultimately, going curved is a fashion statement. Whether you want a TV with a bend in it should be down to just how cool you think it looks, not because you think it’ll somehow enhance Game of Thrones.
While colour luminosity is good, the set struggles with deep blacks. The display itself can’t pass Below Black, as evidenced by a simple Pluge test pattern. The HDMI True Black mode should be kept Off, as it really washes out the image.
The movie 300: Rise Of An Empire (Blu-ray) suffers somewhat from this lack of contrast. When war boats collide, there’s scant shadow detail to be found in the timbers of the ramming vessels – however the spray and clouds of bubbles are finely delineated.
The picture rings slightly around fine detail on HD content. Normally you can tone this effect down, but even when the Sharpness is taken to zero, there’s still some evidence of edge enhancement.
With everyday content viewed from a typical viewing distance this isn’t noticeable. Indeed, it’s a common processing trick to give images greater definition, however it’s not something you’d think you’d need on a UHD TV.
Things improve considerably with native 4K content though.
To access the TV’s UHD chops I hooked up a Sony FMP-X5 media player. This HEVC STB has 4K Netflix on board. Suddenly Daredevil is a mass of delicious fine detail. From skin tones to fabrics, the world of superhero attorney Matt Murdoch is done great justice here.
Similarly, the impressive costume design that characterises period epic Marco Polo looks quite beautiful.
Overall I’d rate this a classy 4K performance. You can feel confident that when you hook up a 4K Blu-ray player, image quality will blow your socks off.
There are caveats though. At times you do see some uneven edge-lighting effects behind the panel, probably emphasised by tricks that the light guide is playing to illuminate the curved panel.
Motion resolution is reasonably good. Movie Sense transpires to be Finlux’s image interpolation mode. When set on High, motion resolution is maximised. Images retain detail, although as a consequence films have that video-esque quality. While there are some motion artefacts around some moving objects, they are not intrusive.
With Movie Sense set Low, motion artefacts are minimal and panning remains smooth. This is a good everyday mode. On the Medium setting artefacts around certain moving objects become a little more noticeable, but are still not overly intrusive.
If you turn Movie Sense off altogether, moving resolution suffers but horizontal pans judder. Despite this, the set can look occasionally a little smeary.
Sound quality and 3D
Sonically, this curvy Finlux does a solid job. The TV employs a pair of downward firing speakers which counter a lack of finesse with volume. If audio sounds a little on the thin side, there’s always that optional subwoofer output on the rear.
The set supports Active Shutter 3D, with two pairs of shuttering specs provided in the box. While there is some double-imaging crosstalk evident in its three dimensional images, this is not particularly intrusive.
The increased brightness of the 3D mode dilutes some of the image intensity, but overall the result is a fun diversion. The kids will get a kick out of it when the Penguins Of Madagascar 3D Blu-ray is on hard rotation.
European TV giant Vestel, parent of Finlux, know how to make cost effective TVs.
They specialise in high volume, low cost panels, many of which appear under big brand names. So there’s no question that this curved debutant doesn’t deliver what’s expected of it.
The design is ostensibly stylish (although viewed from the wrong angle it doesn’t look quite so flattering, thanks to a deep back panel), it offers a fair amount of content via its Finlux Smart portal, and it won’t break the bank.
While the screen really doesn’t deliver any 4K upscaling magic for Full HD – HD sources look much like HD sources – it looks suitably terrific with native 4K. That said, the lack of HEVC support will obviously limit your UHD viewing options when it comes to OTT services – and given that the TV majors are aggressively driving down the costs of their own 4K offerings, this set doesn’t really seem as cheap as it should be either.
The 55UT3EC320’s colour performance is Skittles good, images are lush and inviting.
With native 4K content, it also looks the business. The TV is also surprisingly able when it comes to motion resolution, keeping a lid on artefacts when interpolation is high. The design may be a curate’s egg, but the audio implementation is quite effective.
The inability to deliver a convincingly deep black level, more a consistent grey, rather undermines overall dynamics and shadow detail.
The set’s lack of a Netflix 4K client also reduces options when it comes to watching UHD.
While the cosmetics of the screen are OK, and there’s no doubting the cleverness of the engineering behind this screen, we suspect the curve will ultimately prove divisive.
The final verdict
Finlux is shilling the 55UT3EC320S as a cheap 4K curved telly, so the first and probably most important question you need to have is: does the ticket price go low enough to gloss over any shortcomings?
If you want a curved UHD panel for the corner of your room that’s not obviously cut-price, it’s certainly worth a look.
With native 4K content, images look wondrously sharp and detailed. However the lack of 4K Netflix is a significant demerit, and both LG and Panasonic have comparatively priced low cost UHD models that have a significantly more appealing Smart solutions.
Get an audition certainly, but expect punters to be fighting in the aisles for this come Black Friday.