Photo: AsiaOne / Ilyas Sholihyn

Now, I don’t want to say that an ongoing global outbreak is a prime time to consider getting a new TV, but considering that you’ll be stuck at home for at least five more weeks (and perhaps even beyond that) you could probably use a nice upgrade to an ageing screen still sputtering in the living room. 

I mean sure, times are tough and income streams might be a tad bit unstable, but consider this: it’s a 55-inch smart TV that probably costs half the price of your mobile phone.

Photo: Facebook / Prism+

First off — welcome, intrepid adventurer, to the world of budget 4K screens. It’s a haven for the budget-conscious who don’t mind compromising a little in exchange for healthier bank accounts, a realm inhabited by underrated brands like Hisense, Vizio and TCL. As great as what brands like Samsung and Sony have to offer in terms of quality and innovation, the truth is that not everyone wants to (or is able to) sink in anything north of $1,000 for a big-screen TV. 

And as far as budget displays go, you can’t go wrong with something made by Prism+. In a time when everyone has to work and play from home 24/7, the homegrown tech brand is a sanity saviour, providing inexpensive (but gaming-ready) computer monitors for hastily formed workstations and entertainment dens. 

Photo: AsiaOne / Ilyas Sholihyn

Having long been synonymous with high-end computer monitors with shockingly inexpensive price tags, the company has since expanded its range to televisions. The economical ethos remains — Prism+ claims that it designed the E55 4K Digital Smart TV with the goal to “bring high-end premium features to its best-possible prices and make it available for the Singaporean masses” at just $599

Being for the “Singaporean masses” here is important to take note of, so don’t expect to fuss about with things like quantum dot technology or local dimming. At the end of the day, most of us just want something that looks good enough to binge-watch Tiger King on Netflix without feeling disappointed at the visual quality. 

Setting up the E55 is a cinch, a simple process that involves plugging it in and completing the setup wizard that’ll get the TV hooked up to the internet within minutes. The user interface is barebones with just a row of apps overlaid at the bottom of the screen but it gets the job done with quick access to Netflix, YouTube, Prime Video, HDMI inputs and TV settings. 

Photo: AsiaOne / Ilyas Sholihyn

This being 2020 and all, the E55 is digital-ready, but you’ll still need to hook up an indoor antenna to receive Mediacorp TV channel broadcasts. Mercifully, Prism+ is tossing one in for free when you pre-order from their website.

More things that they’ll toss in the order: a discounted TV mounting bracket and installation service. Otherwise, fitting the E55 to its leg stands works fine, and proved pretty sturdy enough to place on a console without any hint of wobbling.

The TV build quality is… fine? Not much to expect in the material or aesthetics department — it’s a basic glossy chassis with minimal branding. The included TV remote feels even more plasticky and oddly light, like it could fly out of your hands if you aren’t gripping it hard enough.

Photo: AsiaOne / Ilyas Sholihyn

Let’s talk about the panel itself. It’s an IPS (in-plane switching) display, which means it holds superior viewing angles and accurate colour reproduction. Picture quality holds up fine when put through a series of tests with 4K-res video clips, with colours coming out bright and sharp. It’ll do perfectly fine, so long as you’re not comparing it next to a high-end OLED TV. 

As decent as the display is, you’re gonna have to curb your expectations when going deeper into visual quality. The dynamic range isn’t spectacular (the black levels and contrast are middling) and though there’s HDR, content doesn’t pop as much as other 4K screens on the market. Then there’s the slightly discernible lag when I hooked up the PS4 Pro to the E55 — Spider-Man swings through New York City with some frame stuttering. That’s one drawback of IPS panels: they’ve got great colour reproduction at the cost of having a slower response time. 

Photo: AsiaOne / Ilyas Sholihyn

As for the sound, let’s face it — built-in TV speakers are naturally weak. Prism+ may laud the E55’s cinematic Dolby Audio Surround sound, but what it means in real-life usage is that the volume can certainly go super loud. For actual depth and clarity, a proper soundbar will do the trick. 

The company is lauding a “truly immersive” visual experience with something called a ZeroBezel design, but it’s probably best not to believe that hype. Borders are visible for sure, but they’re not substantial enough to be glaring after some time. 

Photo: AsiaOne / Ilyas Sholihyn

 It’s also best that you don’t expect too much out of the smartness of this smart TV. It delivers native access to essential apps like Netflix, YouTube and Prime Video, and that’s pretty much it. I couldn’t even find meWatch (formerly known as Toggle) in the meagre list of downloadable apps available.

This could be a good thing for those who don’t need a whole suite of apps. Not to mention a pretty sweet deal when you consider that you don’t have to buy a separate streaming device for your 10th re-watch of The Office or finally see what’s the big deal with Singapore Social. 

Shortcomings notwithstanding, the E55 is still the best-value 4K smart TV you can find in the market right now, and all the little minor limitations simply wash away when you realise you bought a massive 55-inch screen without breaking a sweat financially.

That’s probably the beauty of it all: you look past the imperfections when you’re too busy enjoying high-res movies and shows — crucial activities to stay sane in the midst of… everything that’s going on in the world right now. 

This article was originally published on AsiaOne.