The Sceptre E420BV-F120 has a list price of $1299, but can be found around the Internet for about half that price, and it’s not really a surprise as to why. This 42-inch 1080p LED HDTV is slim and simple, but it seriously falls short in the picture department. You can find some pluses—for example, this Sceptre generously offers five HDMI ports—but ultimately its picture quality leaves too much to be desired, from leaking light around the screen edges to extreme noisiness and graininess in the initial out-of-the-box setup.
The E420BV-F120 is a moderately thin, light HDTV with an attractive design. Surrounding the 42-inch screen is a thin, shiny black bezel; the Sceptre logo, in mirrored silver script, is located at the bottom center of the bezel. The speakers are positioned below the bezel, but are so subtly integrated into the design (in the form of a thin, black strip) that you’ll barely notice them. The TV perches on an oval, tempered-glass stand with a wide swivel range, 45 degrees to either side. The stand is clear around the edges and black on the inside.
Moderately thin and light, the TV has a net weight of 38.6 pounds (46.3 pounds with the stand). Without the stand, the E420BV-F120 measures just 1.85 inches thick; the stand adds an extra 9.76 inches in depth (for a total of 11.61 inches deep).
The ports all run parallel to the HDTV, so the set is perfect for wall mounting; you’ll find no ports that would cause your wires to stick out from the back of the screen. On the left side of the TV, behind the screen, are three HDMI ports, a headphone jack, an S/PDIF-out, a USB 2.0 port, left and right audio outputs, an S-Video-out, and component inputs. On the bottom of the same panel, still parallel to the screen, are two additional HDMI ports, an audio-in, a VGA-out, composite video inputs, and a cable/antenna input. The right side of the E420BV-F120 has physical controls, including buttons for Power, Menu, Enter, Volume, and Channels.
The E420BV-F120’s remote is large and lightweight, with rubbery backlit buttons and a grooved back. The number buttons are gray, while the controls (including the arrow keys and channel/volume keys) are white. Special buttons, such as those for Picture, Sound, Aspect, Guide, and Menu, are blue. Two rows of special buttons sit above the number keys, including buttons for adding and deleting favorite channels. Also included in the box with the E420BV-F120 are an HDMI cable, a screwdriver, a 55-page manual, and a fold-out quick-start guide.
Each time you turn the E420BV-F120 on, a huge, red Sceptre logo greets you. The logo is a bit too large and slightly pixelated around the edges—not exactly a great sign for your new HDTV. The on-screen menus are organized into six icons that appear in a row in the center of the screen: Picture, Sound, Channels, Parental, Setup, and Others.
The Picture menu features three preset modes (standard, vivid, and mild) and a custom mode for advanced tweaking. Options include brightness, color, contrast, sharpness, and color temperature controls. Out of the box, the tint control is locked and works only if you’re using an analog signal, not a digital signal. Sceptre recently released a firmware update that corrects this problem, so you’ll have to download and manually update the firmware in order to use the tint control for a digital signal (you’ll need to do an ‘All Reset’ on the TV to initialize the firmware upgrade).
On the Picture menu you’ll also see advanced picture settings, including dynamic contrast, film mode (this could be considered another preset), and noise reduction. The Sound menu is fairly simple, and offers basic bass/treble/balance controls, as well as a simulated surround-sound mode and an equalizer.
The Parental option is a lock mode that allows you to set a PIN code to prevent TV settings from being changed. The Setup menu lets you choose the menu languages and set the clock, while the Others menu permits you to set the background color (the color that will show on the blank screen if no input signal is available) to blue or black, as well as to reset the TV’s settings to factory default.
In our juried testing, the Sceptre E420BV-F120 performed slightly below average. The set itself appears to be poorly made; a lot of light leaks around the screen, and a solid, quarter-inch bar of leakage is visible at the top of the screen.
The E420BV-F120 was just average on our basic 720p and 1080i clips, and received a score of around 3 out of 5 for all four of these clips. The TV did pretty well on our horizontal-motion panning test, with a score of 4 out of 5. Unfortunately, the set performed badly on our diagonal-motion panning test, receiving a score of 2 out of 5.
The Sceptre handled upconversion poorly, too, managing only a score of 2 out of 5 on our DVD Phantom of the Opera clips. The picture looked extremely oversaturated and bright, and skin tones seemed very off. The TV performed better in our Blu-ray Disc tests (though not much better), with an average score of about 3 out of 5 on both our Mission Impossible III clip and our Dark Knight clips. One of our jurors pointed out that contrast was an issue, especially in the Dark Knight clip that displayed lots of black tones.
One last important thing to note: If you don’t take the time to calibrate this TV, the picture doesn’t look very good. I spent a couple of hours with the E420BV-F120 after doing an ‘All Reset’, and the picture is grainy, noisy, and quite frankly unbearable to watch. Luckily you can fix some of this with calibration, but you still won’t be able to stop the leaking light or the weak off-axis viewing (moving even slightly to the side turns the picture dark and contrastless).
Two 10-watt speakers are located on the bottom of the E420BV-F120. The speakers are decently loud and full, and several audio presets are available to get you started, including standard, soft, and dynamic. The soft mode is best for ambient noise but not talking, while the dynamic mode is best for talking but not ambient noise. The set has a simulated surround-sound mode, but we found little difference between that and the standard audio mode. Fortunately, the standard audio has a decent amount of depth, so it’s no huge loss.
The Sceptre E420BV-F120 HDTV set has several problems: The light leakage is extremely noticeable, the picture quality is mediocre at best, and the set has no Internet-connected TV options to speak of. While the lack of Internet options and the mediocre picture quality are expected in a cheap set (there’s really no excuse for the light leakage), the fact remains that you can do better for less money.