If Family Fortunes asked 100 people to name a TV brand, Hannspree would probably get a big 'uh-uhh' on the board, but the Taiwanese company's stock is certainly rising - check the moving billboards at Premier League matches for a sign of its growing profile.
Sure, its TVs lack the premium features and overall luxury of the big boys like Panasonic or Samsung, but that's not what Hannspree is all about. It's going after the mainstream market and as such dangles low price tags in front of buyers while trying to keep the feature count as high as possible.
What we have here is an exclusive review of the AD40U, a 38.5in, LED backlit TV that sits at the top of Hannspree's 2012 range. A glance at the spec sheet reveals that all the basics are present and correct, but anyone expecting frills like 3D, smart TV features, hi-def TV or network streaming should look elsewhere.
Design and connections
Hannspree is known for its wacky TV designs, shaping its small-screen sets into footballs, apples and zoo animals, but the AD40U sees the company playing it safe.
Thankfully it avoids the cheap and nasty look that plagues the budget LED market - the remarkably slim grey bezel framing the screen is low-key but classy, and up-close you can make out a faint brushed texture, which shows nice attention to detail.
On the downside, the back end is still fairly fat despite the use of LED backlighting (91.5mm without the stand) and a manual inspection reveals build quality isn't the best - the plastic used for the back section and around the outer edge lacks rigidity. It sits on a sturdy, toughened glass stand, rectangular in shape and fitted with rubber feet.
Tucked around the right-hand side is a panel of buttons that lets you control volume, channel, menu/input and power, while on the opposite side are the connections. There's a decent selection too, with three sideways-facing HDMI v1.3 inputs, component video input, Scart input (with the supplied adapter), optical digital audio output, PC input and a CI slot for adding pay TV channels. You'll also find a USB port that lets you connect flash drives or external HDDs.
The AD40U is a Full HD (1,920 x 1,080) resolution TV, and surprisingly it uses direct-LED backlighting as opposed to the generally inferior edge method.
There's a built-in Freeview tuner, but not Freeview HD, which means you'll miss out on high-definition channels from the BBC, Channel 4 and ITV.
As mentioned, there's no smart functionality on board and no DLNA media streaming either, but one feature that catches the eye is the ability to record programmes onto a connected USB memory devices (FAT32). It's basic, but could be a neat, cost-effective feature if you don't have the budget for a proper PVR. You can also time-shift with a memory device connected.
It also plays media files via USB, but format support isn't great. We loaded up a drive and the set handled our MP3, WAV, AVI, MPEG-1/2, MP4, XviD and JPEG files, but that's it - with MKV, DivX, WMA and FLAC it didn't want to know.
Elsewhere there's a range of picture presets (Movie, Eco, Vivid, Studio) and a Personal mode that lets you set the levels of brightness, contrast, saturation and sharpness yourself. Under an Advanced Video mode you'll find a few more picture tweaks, including noise reduction and an Ambient Light Sensor mode that adjusts the picture according to the light in the room.
Meanwhile the Active Contrast mode automatically controls the backlight according to the average luminance pattern, but it disables the Ambient Light Sensor when activated.
On the audio side there are seven sound presets and a Personal mode with a five-band equaliser.
Controlling the AD40U is a much smoother experience than we were expecting, given our experiences with the dull, utilitarian menus of some budget sets.
Here Hannspree treats us to brightly-coloured displays with simple but friendly icons and easy-to-read lettering. It's clear that a lot of effort has gone into the presentation, which is easily on a par with most of its Japanese rivals.
The main menu is a black box superimposed over the picture with tabs across the top for each section - the icon in the top left changes when you move between them. The cursor moves down the list quickly, making it simple to adjust any setting.
A supplementary Option menu brings up a small dialogue box containing often-used functions, including USB, sound and picture presets, and PVR (the latter is greyed out when a USB drive isn't connected).
Recording onto USB memory is easy. Select the PVR option in the above menu, then use the up/down or left/right keys to set the recording duration, hit the red button and it starts encoding the channel you're watching.
You can also schedule a recording from the EPG by highlighting the programme in the grid and hitting Option, which brings up an editing screen with the start/stop times, channel, repeat type and whether it's a recording or a reminder. All scheduled recordings can be checked in the Schedule List.
Playing back recordings is a slightly long-winded process, given that you have to enter the Media Center (USB) menu, go through a couple of folders, then find the unhelpfully labelled file (in this case, 0509_115457.pvr). But thankfully, video quality is identical to the live broadcast.
The EPG is beautifully presented. The six-channel programme grid runs along the top, with the live TV screen and synopsis below it. It's clear, uncluttered and requires minimal button pressing to check programme details. Nice work.
Additionally, hitting Info while viewing brings up comprehensive programme details, but sadly you can't search the schedule with it.
Our impressions of the remote are positive. Firstly its gloss black finish will make it a hit on the coffee table, plus the buttons are suitably chunky and clearly labelled. A central multi direction pad sits right under the thumb and the rest of the buttons are dotted around it in sensible places. An Eco button toggles through various energy-saving contrast modes.
On the whole, the AD40U is a decent picture purveyor, handling high-definition pictures from a Blu-ray player with pleasing clarity and depth. Sure, it can't match the wow factor of pricier sets from bigger brands but for the money we're more than happy with what it has to offer.
But before you do anything, skip straight to the Personal picture setting and adjust the image yourself. The presets are garish and draw undue attention to noise and grain.
With Avatar, it resolves the intensely detailed CGI well, right down to fine details like pockmarks on skin, stubble and textures on trees. What's more the image is beautifully bright and engaging, plus edges are clean and noise levels are low.
Inevitably for a budget set there are flaws. Black levels are better than expected but not great. Dark areas of the picture seem a little milky, there's backlight pooling in the very corners of the screen and it's not able to discern shadow detail quite as definitively as some LED sets we've tested.
And although colours are strong and vibrant, their balance is slightly off kilter, lacking the accuracy you'd get from a Panasonic or Samsung.
But none of these flaws makes the picture unwatchable, and judged in the context of its budget price this is a high-definition picture performance we can really get on board with.
However, standard definition pictures from the built-in Freeview tuner don't scrub up so well. There's a significant amount of mosquito and block noise that makes programmes look like YouTube videos, shimmering uncomfortably whenever objects move or the camera pans. Colours and blacks look pallid, leading to a general lack of depth and it's not helped by the lack of picture processing to minimise the above artefacts. Hannspree has developed a firmware update that it says 'may improve the picture quality', but it was unavailable at the time of testing."
It's a shame that Hannspree couldn't have thrown an HD tuner into the bargain as that would have improved matters - as it stands you're better off hooking up an external HD TV receiver.
The AD40U features 2 x 8W of audio power, but the output sounds thin and compressed. You can play around with the presets and the equaliser but there's little you can do to counter the lack of bass in the sound.
As a result, the high-octane action of Avatar is bright and spitty, with no depth to the bangs and explosions. On the plus side, speech is audible, which helps when viewing less demanding TV programmes, although there's still a boxed-in sound. But that's only to be expected from such a slim chassis, and at this price you can invest in a decent home cinema system to go with it.
Overall, the AD40U is a very likeable LED TV with a decent spec (including USB recording and media playback) and a superb operating system. Blu-ray pictures are sharp and black level is better than expected on the direct LED panel, all of which makes it solid value at a measly £339.
However, Freeview pictures are poor and sound quality is weedy, plus there's no HD tuner, 3D, DLNA or web content. These shortcomings are perhaps inevitable at this price, but the AD40U still has enough positives to make it worth a look.