(Pocket-lint) – The first-generation Hisense Roku TV, the R50B7120, proved to be arguably the best value TV of 2020. So its 2021 follow-up, the R50A7200G, has a hot act to follow.
It’s largely a case of “if it ain’t broke don’t fix it”, seeing the updated screen deploying the slick, simple Roku TV operating system on a remarkably affordable panel – but one that continues to deliver a surprisingly good picture quality for the asking price.
- 3x HDMI 2.0 inputs, 1x USB port
- LAN & Wi-Fi multimedia options
The A7200GT is comfortably more attractive than Hisense’s debut Roku TVs, chiefly thanks to its substantially narrower and more attractively finished bezel. In fact, most of the what small black border there is around the image sits on the same plane as the picture, with only a deep black outer trim just 2-3mm wide standing proud of the screen.
The feet are less glossy than those of the previous Roku models, but actually this is an improvement rather than a setback.
The A7200GT’s build quality is extremely plasticky though. It’s so light, in fact, that you can pretty easily tuck it under your arm and move it from room to room like a portable TV. Especially as it’s also fairly trim round the back.
While the build quality might feel cheap and cheerful when the TV is being set up, though, its budget nature becomes much less obvious from a regular viewing distance.
Connectivity is acceptable for such an affordable TV too. Its three HDMIs will be enough for most households, as will one USB (though obviously in an ideal world one more of both would have been great). Alongside these most important ports are the inevitable digital tuner input, an Ethernet port, an optical digital audio output, a headphone port and, surprisingly for a modern TV, a composite video input along with accompanying stereo audio phono inputs.
- HDR Support: HDR10, HLG
- Processing engine: Nothing of note
As expected with a 50-inch smart TV that costs fairly little, interesting picture features on the A7200GT are few and far between. Probably the most exciting thing about it is that it uses direct rather than edge LED lighting. This isn’t supported by any local dimming, but experience suggests that placing the LEDs sit behind the screen rather than around its edges typically delivers better contrast results.
The LCD panel is capable of reaching a peak brightness of 373 nits. This isn’t exactly retina-burning stuff when premium LCD TVs can hit 2500 nits and more. But it’s about par for the course for the affordable TV market – and as we’ll see, it doesn’t stop the set from delivering a pleasant enough high dynamic range (HDR) experience.
The way the A7200GT provides separate picture presets and brightness presets is quite unusual. Typically there would just be picture presets with brightness and backlight fine tuning elements. In fact, these fine tuning adjustments are still there as well, making the darkest/dark/normal/bright/brightest brightness settings look like a potentially unnecessary extra level of complication. They’ve likely been included, though, to help the TV comply with the EU’s ever more stringent power usage requirements.
The set’s HDR support only covers the basic HDR10 and HLG formats; there’s no support for the HDR10+ or Dolby Vision ‘active’ HDR formats, which add extra scene-by-scene picture information that compatible TVs can use to improve their HDR performance.
The only other picture features of note, in fact, are a multi-strength Dynamic Contrast control, and a Game setting that reduces input lag to an impressively low 11.5ms. Gamers should also note that there’s no support here for 4K at 120Hz gaming or variable refresh rates (VRR) – but the set does auto detect when game consoles are connected, and can automatically switch in to its low-latency Game mode when a game source is playing.
The A7200GT provides another reminder why the Roku platform deserves much more smart TV traction than it currently enjoys (outside the US, anyway). It may not be the prettiest, flashiest smart system around by today’s standards, but it gets the job done perfectly.
For starters, its presentation is so simple that an alien visiting Earth for the first time could follow it. It’s also exceptionally easy to customise, and goes out of its way during initial installation to ensure that users get access to all the apps they’ll likely need.
The menus work slickly, with no sluggishness even on this ultra-affordable Hisense model. The search system is comprehensive too And the whole operating system is now bolstered by support for the Amazon Alexa, Google Assistant and Apple HomeKit voice recognition systems.
The layout and structure isn’t confused by any over-complicated, AI-inspired attempts to second-guess the sort of content you might be looking for, either. Maybe best of all, the amount of apps Roku supports is remarkably comprehensive. In fact, with the new Hisense Roku TV now adding BT Sport, Disney+ and BBC Sounds to its already massive list of carried apps, it’s hard to find anything the platform does not support.
Aside from the lack of HDR10+ and Dolby Vision support, furthermore, the Roku platform is also very good at delivering the best quality (HD, 4K, HDR) any given video streaming service supports.
Finally, the A7200GT is able to access multimedia files from either USB drivers or networked devices, and even adds support for Apple AirPlay to the multimedia features.
As noted earlier, the improvements Hisense has introduced to this new Roku TV are based around design and smart features. The core picture quality is essentially the same.
This is no bad thing, though. For as with its predecessor, the A7200GT delivers much better pictures than anyone has any right to expect from a 50-inch 4K TV costing this little. Especially when that TV also provides such an effective smart system.
The pleasant picture surprises run pretty much right across the board. For instance, both native 4K and even upscaled HD pictures look clean, sharp and detailed. The clarity holds up quite nicely even during camera pans and over moving objects, too, despite the TV not appearing to carry any motion processing.
The sharpness isn’t overcooked to the point that images start to look noisy, and is enhanced by a typically effective contrast performance capable of delivering a subtle but undeniable sense of HDR’s expanded light range.
The sense of contrast is helped by some unexpectedly credible handling of dark/black colours. Dark scenes are much less blighted by low-contrast greyness than they are on most budget TVs. Yet at the same time this darkness doesn’t come at the expense of excessive amounts of subtle shadow detailing – nor is there any sign of the sort of bluish or greenish ‘glow’ that can lie over dark scenes on less accomplished TVs.
Much more expensive TVs can provide markedly purer, deeper black colours, to be clear. But that’s only to be expected. What matters here is that the A7200GT delivers much better and more natural handling of dark scenes than pretty much any of its budget peers.
The relatively strong black level/contrast performance contributes to a mostly winning colour formula, too. Colours across the board look surprisingly rich and dynamic for such an affordable TV, yet at the same time tones typically appear balanced and authentic.
Just occasionally a very bright tone – particularly a light red or green – can draw too much attention to itself, or lose some subtle shading details. But for the most part the A7200GT’s colours – even tricky skin tones – do nothing to detract from what’s ultimately a consistently engaging and watchable picture.
There are, of course, limitations to the A7200GT’s picture performance. Some of these have been touched on already, but others to note are that viewing angles before colour and contrast drop off are limited, and the set’s limited brightness inevitably restricts the impact of HDR performance.
Arguably at least 1,000 nits of peak brightness is required for anything like a ‘full’ HDR experience, and the A7200GT’s measured 373 nits falls miles short of that. Sub-500 nit brightness levels are par for the course in the budget TV world, though, so the key differentiator becomes how well different TVs translate HDR image values to their screen capabilities. And here again the Hisense model does better than most, delivering a sense of a wider light range without making the darkest parts of HDR images look too dark for comfort or bright areas too ‘flared out’.
There is some noticeable clipping (loss of subtle shading details) in the very brightest picture areas, but it’s seldom seriously distracting – and something has to give, after all, when trying to do HDR with less than 400 nits to play with.
There’s good and bad news here. In the positive column, it’s good to find Hisense providing a decent set of themed audio presets – Music, Theatre, Big Bass, Speech and Normal – that really do make a difference to the way things sound. The speakers also deliver a decent amount of detail and clarity for such a cheap and slender TV, and there’s no nasty chassis buzzing or speaker drop-outs or distortions even when you push the volume.
The main downsides are that bass is in short supply, leaving action scenes sounding rather thin and lop-sided, and that there isn’t enough raw power to expand the soundstage very convincingly when a film soundtrack turns up the pressure.
This Hisense’s combination of Roku’s excellent smart system with a sleek design and more natural picture quality than many TVs costing twice as much can muster makes it not only a pretty much perfect second room TV, but also a much better potential main TV option than any similarly affordable, similarly large TV around today.
In short: the Hisense A7200GT is about as close to a miracle as a 4K TV at this price is likely going to get.
It’s more expensive and doesn’t carry Roku TV, but this Samsung model is five inches bigger and offers impressively sophisticated – and brighter – HDR pictures. Plus its proprietary ‘Eden’ smart system is also very good.
Writing by John Archer.