A bargain-priced, no-fuss big screen set, the Insignia 55-inch Roku TV (NS-55DR420NA16) is intended for those who want to simply enjoy their favorite shows and get trouble-free access to online streaming services. Insignia is Best Buy's in-house label, and the set is competitively priced at $580.
Like most sets in this price range, the Insignia TV doesn't come with a built-in Web cam or support 4K content. Its picture quality is average, it can't handle 3D programs, and it's not the slimmest set on the market. But while this edge-lit Insignia TV lacks flare and features, it does offer a full HD 1080p picture and one of the best smart TV experiences available, thanks to the built-in Roku service, which offers more connected TV streaming options than anyone else.
Design: Sturdy and Thin Enough
Sitting on a pair of boomerang-shaped feet, the Insignia Roku TV is steady enough on a table top, but the position of the supports, midway toward the center of the panel, makes it difficult if not impossible to put a soundbar or sound stand directly underneath it. However, the TV's shiny black bezel keeps the design understated and simple. Without the stand, the Insignia set is 2.6-inches thick; about what you'll typically find in this price range and certainly thin enough to hang on a wall.
With built-in Wi-Fi and three HMDI ports, most buyers will find all the connections they need here.
The Insignia Roku TV also has a USB port, analog and digital audio outputs (for a home theater system or sound bar), and composite and RF video inputs.
Interface: Roku Serenity
Roku has pretty much set the standard for making streaming media channels easy to find and use. That's no small accomplishment, given that it gives you built-in access on the Insignia set (and others) to thousands of entertainment options, ranging from popular services like Netflix and Amazon, to obscure sailing channels and foreign language news outlets.
The large tiles on screen make it easy to organize favorites like Pandora and Crackle alongside apps from Time Warner Cable and PBS. When you can't find what you're looking for, Roku's search function will scan across the major video sources, delivering a list with prices, so that you don't pay for, say, Gone Girl, when you already have it as part of your HBO subscription.
Further enhancing the Roku interface, there is also a free Roku app for iOS and Android users. With it you can stream media from your smartphone to the Insignia TV, or you can use your phone as a second remote control.
Image Quality: Flawed but Acceptable
Some sacrifices are apparent in the Insignia Roku TV's picture quality. While not poor, its 60 Hz refresh rate — versus more typical 120 Hz — and reduced off-axis viewing means the set doesn't offer quite the image detail or sharpness as the similarly priced Vizio E-Series (whose refresh rate is 120 Hz).
While viewing several Blu-ray test movies, I found the Insignia did hit a number of positive notes. In tricky, fast-paced chase scenes that have tripped up the video processing in other sets, there were no visible glitches or egregious artifacts in the Insignia Roku TV's picture. On motocross bikes in Skyfall, James Bond chased a villain across Istanbul rooftops without faltering.
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Color reproduction was also reasonably accurate on the Insignia set. The Insignia faithfully reproduced green treetops and the blue ocean. The set does veer slightly toward cooler, more bluish color temperatures, but if anything it tends to make natural outdoor scenes look more realistic.
There were no overblown reds or oversaturated colors in what I found to be the best video setting, movie mode. In addition, while the contrast ratio was not the best I've seen, it’s certainly acceptable for a set in this price range.
The Insignia's image flaws became apparent when examining minute picture details. In general, this Roku TV presents a softer picture. In Skyfall, for example, the clearly defined edges of bricks in the background during Bond's physical evaluation were washed out. White space suits in Gravity lacked some of the elbow wrinkles apparent on other sets.
With its edge-lit LED design, the Insignia set also couldn't achieve the deep black levels of sets like the Vizio E-Series that use a full-array backlight. Consequently, star-filled night skies tended to have a grayish cast. I also found that when viewing the set from off-center positions, the colors washed out quickly as I moved farther to the sides.
Audio Quality: Muffled Performance
Many high-end LCD sets costing thousands of dollars deliver less than ideal sound. So it shouldn't be a surprise that this inexpensive Insignia Roku TV isn't going to impress anyone in the audio department.
When using the Normal and Theater audio settings, the Insignia set muffled the vocals on soundtracks (it's only rated for a total of 16 watts of power). A Speech setting is supposed to help dialogue clarity, but I found it tinny. A Music setting did open up the audio slightly and made soundtracks feel less claustrophobic, but the tradeoff was increased sibilance in narration and on vocal tracks.
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Remote: A Paragon of Simplicity
You can find fancier remote controls, but you won't find better ones than the modified Roku model here. Like the controllers for other Roku TVs from Hisense and TCL, the Insignia's remote sticks to the ergonomics of Roku's original design.
A large four-way directional button is there to maneuver through menus, plus back and home buttons. Just six other buttons are there for functions such as pausing playback, with volume controls on the side, and a couple of dedicated buttons for services, including Netflix and Rdio thrown in. Only slightly longer than the remote controls that come with Roku's set-top boxes, the Insignia's remote still nestles comfortably in one's hand.
Bottom Line: Bargain Priced Smart TV
Not everyone wants or needs an Ultra HD 4K set, and there's plenty to like in this inexpensive 55-inch TV. The Insignia TV's picture quality, while not state of the art, is certainly good enough for most HD content and delivers slightly better contrast than the other, smaller Roku TV we've tested from Hisense.
In this size and price range, the Vizio E-Series has the edge in terms of picture quality and its full-array LED backlight. But if you want a smart TV with streaming media access, the Insignia Roku TV interface bests Vizio's antiquated software.
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John R. Quain has been reviewing and testing video and audio equipment for more than 20 years. He is currently a contributor to The New York Times and the CBS News television program. Follow him @jqontech. Follow us @tomsguide, on Facebook and on Google+.