The Haier HL46XSL2 LED edge-lit LCD HDTV retails for around $850, making it a good deal for a 46-inch HDTV. But you get what you pay for: This TV posted mediocre scores in both performance and design, and it's fairly bare-bones features-wise.
The HL46XSL2 stands out from other HDTV models, but not for the reasons you might expect. Unlike most HDTVs, which have dark, muted bezels and casing, this HDTV is white. Color aside, the case materials felt cheap compared with some of the other TVs we've reviewed.
On the other hand, the ports are generally easy to reach; all of them are located along the left side of the unit, and don't require much contorting to access. The set boasts four HDMI ports, two component inputs, a USB port for media playback, and a headphone jack, but it lacks the Internet connectivity and related features that many other TVs offer.
Haier employs an unusual configuration for component video and audio, though; instead of including the separate red/green/blue video connectors and left/right audio connectors, it provides only one of each. You're forced to use the included splitter adapters to use these ports.
Though the menus on the HL46XSL2 are usable, they're sluggish and slightly awkward. For example, pressing the left-arrow key changes the selected setting in the options screens, but I expected it to switch me to a previous menu (as on most other TV menus). The set also lacks on-screen help, so you'll have to go to the manual to learn what terms such as SRS TS XT, AVL, DPMS, and DCR mean. But you won't be left entirely in the dark—the manual provides a good level of information, making up for the lack of on-screen assistance.
The HL46XSL2 lets you play back several photo, video, and audio formats from a USB drive, but I found the process frustrating. The TV supports JPEG photo viewing, MP3 audio playback, and AVI, MPEG-1, and MPEG-2 video. It doesn't handle the common MPEG-4/H.264 or WMA/WMV video formats, though. The playback controls are confusing: You use the Previous/Next buttons on the remote to go from one photo to the next (as expected), but in order to play or pause something, you have to press the up arrow. The Play/Pause button on the remote does nothing.
That said, I found the remote well designed and easy to use. The channel and volume buttons are large and easy to reach with your thumb, and the remote felt comfortable in my hand.
Video-quality scores were mixed. In our video-quality testing, some members of our panel gave the HL46XSL2 good—but not great—scores, while other testers were less impressed. Ultimately, the HL46XSL2 finished slightly below average compared with the other HDTVs we've evaluated in the past year.
Our test panel found that the HL46XSL2 was consistently too bright. Some judges didn't mind the brightness as much as others, though, so this can be a matter of personal preference. We also noticed that the TV struggled to replicate fine details in some scenes. And although it handled motion-heavy scenes reasonably well, this 120Hz HDTV did produce some distortion around moving objects (for example, when Tom Cruise scales the Vatican wall in Chapter 7 of the Mission Impossible III Blu-ray release).
In typical use, the HL46XSL2 consumes 144 watts, according to our lab testing, which makes it one of the least-efficient TVs in its size class that we've tested over the past year. But when it's switched off, it doesn't draw any current at all.
If you're shopping for a 46-inch TV on the cheap, the Haier HL46XSL2 may be worth a look, but you'd be better off paying a little more for better image quality.