Samsung HL-S5686W 56" DLP Rear-Projection 720p HDTV Review

The image “http://www.guidetohometheater.com/images/archivesart/706samsunghl.1.jpg” cannot be displayed, because it contains errors.

The rear projection big-screen TV market is hot. Consumers are discovering that the latest RPTVs can often beat plasma in picture quality and offer bigger screen sizes for much less money if hanging it on the wall isn't a priority.
Modern RPTVs are thin, light, and inexpensive compared to the CRT-based monsters of just a few years back. While you can still buy a CRT-based set, they've now been severely compromised in quality to fit into the low-end $1000-$1500 price range. Newer projection technology, such as LCD, LCoS, and DLP, has typically started at over twice this price and industry leading Sony SXRD and JVC HD-ILA sets continue to sell in the $4000 range and above.

For years this reviewer has taken issue with some of Samsung's design decisions and the resulting picture. But the HLS series incorporates changes that greatly improve picture quality at a price tag that's stunningly low—especially considering some of the remarkable features being offered. Could the HL-S5686W be the new leader in affordable giant-screen TVs? Can a 56", 1280x720 DLP HDTV with a "street price" that's under $2000 look good enough for an Ultimate AV blessing?

Notable Features
You'd be surprised how often a set is passed over by consumers because it won't fit within a given physical space. A notable recent example is the first generation of Sony SXRDs, whose width with their non-detachable speakers probably cost Sony thousands of sales. Samsung has designed the HLS series to fit where others won't. It's unlikely you'll find any other projection TV in a comparable screen size with such a small footprint.

Samsung's DNIe (Digital Natural Image Engine) video enhancement circuitry has been controversial with video experts since day one. It's been improved somewhat in this, its fourth generation, but the big news is that this for the first time in years it is completely defeatable in the user menu. In fact, it's turned off by default in "Movie" mode. While DNIe definitely isn't the evil some would have you believe, the fact that you can turn it off is a major step forward in flexibility.

Samsung's Movie mode also boasts an industry first. The color points for its primary and secondary colors are said to be different from those used for the other viewing modes, which are exaggerated and oversaturated. The latter is typical of most sets these days. Some people actually prefer the more vivid factory color to true color accuracy. With the HL-S series, you have a choice of which color space (accurate vs. exaggerated) to use. It's as simple as changing viewing modes.

(Because of the oversaturated colors of earlier Samsung sets, a few ISF calibrators have, for several years now, been using a special technique hidden within the firmware of Samsung sets to correct the color points. Video guru Joe Kane first took advantage of this technique for setting correct colors when he worked on the design of the Samsung SP-H700AE DLP Projector. But this technique requires special equipment, is not a normal part of an ISF calibration, and it's something that can't even be done at all with any competing set we know of.)

The HL-S single-chip DLP sets incorporate a faster color wheel, with five color segments for additional color accuracy and resistance to dreaded "rainbow" artifacts. In addition, the color wheel features an air bearing for longer life and noise free operation. An additional color wheel segment was part of HP's secret to good color (see TJN's recent review of the HP md5880n ). HP used a new, dark green segment while Samsung has chosen yellow and cyan.

The Samsung's connectivity is outstanding for any HDT, let alone one at this price point. Two HDMI inputs are supplied along with a pair of component inputs that will accept all four scan rates (480i/p, 720p and 1080i). A USB input makes photo viewing easy, and an RGB input is provided for PC monitor use. Unlike plasmas, DLP sets aren't at risk for static image burn-in and are safe for static computer images.

This is a native 720p set, and its inputs will not accept present or future 1080p sources. But HD-DVD and Blu-ray players should still look great on this set at 720p or 1080i.

Because video sources can vary somewhat, it's important on any display to be able to customize video settings (brightness, color, etc) for each source separately. Samsung dropped the ball a bit here. While each source can be assigned a video mode (like Movie), your video settings within that mode apply to any source using it. If two of your sources require different settings, you'll either have to make video adjustments each time you switch sources, or you'll have to assign one of the sources to another mode like Standard, Custom, or Vivid, all of which feature less accurate color fidelity than Movie.

The remote is new for Samsung and includes some of my favorite buttons—"Sleep" for those prone to fading late at night on the couch and "Still" for freezing the picture to write down that phone number for some irresistible TV offer. It's black though, and unlit, and hard to see in a room with dim lighting. I would have also liked a signal strength button to facilitate off-the-air antenna orientation. You have to go deep into the menu to find that feature.

Finally, the HL-S5686W includes both an analog (NTSC) and a digital (ATSC) tuner. But there is no CableCARD slot and only support for analog, not digital cable.

Viewing Impressions
Frankly, I didn't expect to be particularly impressed with this inexpensive DLP set, but the HL-S surprised me from the first turn-on. Vivid mode was, of course, the way the set started up when it arrived, and was "overdone" in every way (as it is with all sets I've checked fresh out of the box). But switching to Movie gave a smooth, natural looking picture that was a pleasure to watch.
At first, it was difficult to find much fault with the HL-S, but after firing up my reference 55" Hitachi plasma (1366x768 resolution) right next to it, several differences became obvious. Direct side-by-side comparisons are invaluable for accurately picking out strengths and weaknesses of displays. It doesn't work well in dealer showroom demos because the program material is controlled (and lighting isn't) and you probably won't have the ability to properly adjust the sets being compared.

First and foremost, and especially when compared to the best 1080p sets out there, the Samsung's HD picture is on the soft side and sometimes even slightly blurry when motion is involved. This is the case even with DNIe on, even though this feature does enhance detail. The softness is usually not a big deal. You might even think at first that the source itself lacks fine detail in trees, grass, and foliage moving in the distance. But the plasma was significantly sharper in fine background resolution in a direct comparison, particularly on camera pans.

This wasn't always obvious with much of my HD viewing and it wasn't a real issue for DVDs, which have much lower resolution. Still, if we're looking for weaknesses, this was the biggest one I could find. Over-the-air baseball in HD, shot from behind the pitcher, provided a consistent example. The detail of the grass at a distance was always slightly lacking, though Samsung's built-in digital tuner did look sharper than my reference tuner with an HDMI connection. The Samsung did have considerably better color accuracy than the plasma, which was nearly always noticeable.

The real surprise was in the smoothness of this Samsung's picture. Past Samsung models I've calibrated in the field have been plagued with artifacts, video noise, and dark scene posterization (blocking, or blotchiness in dark areas of the image). The HL-S was surprisingly artifact-free. And while in freedom from video noise the HL-S is not yet in the league with the latest (and much-more-expensive) 1080p JVC HD-ILA sets, the only time that video noise was beyond the capabilities of the set's only moderately effective Digital NR (noise reduction) to adequately control was in certain low light scenes. Drop Dead Fred was an especially troublesome DVD for the Samsung from a video noise standpoint.

DNIe, as mentioned above, has been considerably improved over the years. Samsung lists a variety of things this processing suite does. I mostly noticed a slight and welcome sharpening (but without the earlier versions' excessive edge enhancement) and a slight increase in gamma way down near black that served to enhance contrast (but without the severe black crush of earlier years).

Unfortunately, DNIe also intentionally allows the brightness (black level) to float a bit, rising on dark scenes and dropping on bright ones. This caused an annoying amount of contrast enhancement that was difficult to tolerate except on really substandard broadcasts in a brightly lit room. Adjusting the Brightness control to achieve an ideal black level always resulted in overly dark blacks and excessive contrast in bright scenes. DVDs generally will not look good at all with DNIe activated.

But fortunately you can't select DNIe in the Movie mode that's best for such program material anyway. Contrast that with earlier years when it couldn't be defeated in any mode. Samsung has been listening and responding to the complaints of videophiles. Maybe next year they will make DNIe's floating contrast enhancement a separately selectable option in the user menu.

Black level was fairly low and dark scene detail (Movie mode) was considerably better than my reference plasma and probably a match for even the Pioneer Elite plasma recently reviewed by TJN. Except for perhaps the Pioneer Elite, even plasmas with the best blacks can't usually match the Samsung's dark scene detail. Even the Panasonics, which sport the darkest blacks I've seen in all of plasma land, have a slight problem with posterization (ugly video "blocking") just above black, which can sometimes ruin the look of a dark movie. Overall, the Samsung's dark scene performance is still no match for the premium priced Sony SXRDs or the best CRT rear-projection sets of the recent past. But it was better than most plasmas and LCDs I've seen, and acceptable for movies in a dark room.

While the level of black is important, it sometimes doesn't tell the whole story. Earlier I mentioned that Movie mode had different color from the others. Unlike the CRT sets of old, modern displays can be designed with primary colors (red, green and blue—a mix of those three colors make the final picture) that are considerably different from industry standards. The current trend is to have oversaturated primaries in order to give a more vivid, colorful picture, even if the colors aren't accurate. We see the (unfortunate) result of this all the time in those dreadful lime green athletic fields and foliage that don't even resemble reality.

If you want an excellent example of this, check out any number of scenes in Jurassic Park III. Some foliage looks normal but there are certain shades of green in the forest that look positively phosphorescent on many sets. While the immediate result of an inaccurate green primary color is the annoying green, the effect of it extends (more subtly) to secondary colors as well, even including flesh tones. By providing a completely different factory setup for Movie mode, Samsung has let that mode capture the natural colors of the original source better than most of the competition. Now we're not talking night and day differences in color here, but you can certainly see it in the greens. Movie mode gives a natural color to foliage in Jurassic Park III (and grass playing fields as well), while the other modes bring in some of that awful lime tint. My only recommendation for Samsung here would be to allow users to choose color space for any mode instead of having it chosen for you.

The best HD picture I experienced was when using Samsung's on-board, off-the-air tuner, and even SD broadcasts often looked impressive. The tuner was very good both in its ability to pull in digital stations and in picture resolution, looking even sharper than my reference outboard tuner with an HDMI connection. The set allows different viewing modes for digital and analog stations allowing you to have completely different video adjustments for off-the-air analog reception. Channel surfing speed was slightly faster than average, though still not like older analog tuners.

In the world of bargain priced big-screen HDTVs, the Samsung HL-S5086W is a standout with exceptional performance in many aspects of its picture and no truly fatal flaws. It's bright, vivid, and colorful as you'd expect, but it can also be a highly accurate display device with the touch of a button for more critical viewing. While its picture can look a bit soft, especially with motion, the things that you notice most (color, contrast, artifacts) are done so well that the overall picture is really quite nice and belies the incredibly low price. Blacks aren't "inky black" but in spite of that, the set still does darker scenes pretty well. Add to that its space saving design and complete set of video inputs and you have the new bargain price leader that even a serious videophile could probably live with. I never thought I'd be praising a low-priced Samsung HDTV like this, but I've learned never to underestimate this company. They make dramatic improvements each year and are now a force to be reckoned with in HDTV.

Good overall picture with excellent color
Flexible, lots of inputs, yet low cost
Excellent built-in digital tuner
Fits into smaller spaces than other 56" sets

Slightly soft picture, especially when motion is involved
Black level only average
Can't use one video mode for all inputs with different video settings for each

Article Continues: Manufacturer's Specs

Read More......

Monitor Audio Silver RS 6 Speaker System review

Quality drivers in quality cabinets equals quality sound—at a nice price.

It's easy to find your eyes dazzled, and your mind befuddled, by the outpouring of new speakers over the last few years, particularly those of the nontraditional variety. In-walls, plasma-friendly speakers, and even flat-panel speakers are all the rage with the general public. This is hardly a bad thing—anything that can get people to recognize that the speaker realm extends far beyond the two-dollar paper drivers in their televisions serves a valuable purpose. Many of these people may also come to realize that, at this point, most of these recent unconventional designs embody some degree of compromise, and they hopefully won't fall victim to the dreaded anything-that-is-new-is-better philosophy. It is true that manufacturers are getting more out of unconventional designs than ever before. But, generally speaking, the best speaker sound still comes out of old-fashioned cone drivers and dome tweeters in cabinets with the proper interior and exterior qualities, along with the proper space for them to do their work.

With the spotlight shining elsewhere, conventional speakers have had to perform that much better, and become that much more inexpensive, to still get noticed—and the speaker buyer who still favors the traditional approach clearly benefits from this. The new Silver RS speakers from Monitor are the perfect case in point, as they enter the scene at price points that are being bombarded by ever-smaller and more aesthetically driven competition. It seems obvious to me that the top priority with the Silver RS line is sound performance, although they happen to be pleasing to the eye, as well. They may not dazzle anybody who has a preference for outlandish or rebellious appearance—but appearance isn't what speakers are supposed to be about.

I went to work on a 5.1-channel Silver RS system made up of RS 6s in front, an RS LCR in the center (which, as the name suggests, can also be used vertically for left/right applications), two RS FX surrounds, and an RS W12 subwoofer. The 2.5-way RS 6 and RS LCR each put two of Monitor's highly regarded, 6-inch C-CAM drivers into play, with one reproducing only bass and the other functioning as a midbass unit. The C-CAM drivers, which are designed and built by Monitor, use a ceramic coating applied to an aluminum/magnesium core that allows them to exploit the benefits of both substances (e.g., the rigidity of ceramics and the strength of metal). The tweeters are also C-CAM drivers that are single 1-inch domes on both the RS 6 and RS LCR. Well-placed internal bracing at critical resonance modes keeps the cabinet performance purer, and reflex ports at the front and rear of both the RS 6 and the RS LCR help reduce internal pressure that can lead to low-frequency compression. Two sets of good-quality, five-way binding posts allow for biamping or biwiring.

The RS FX uses a 6-inch C-CAM driver on its front baffle that always operates in phase and a 1-inch C-CAM dome tweeter on each of its side baffles that you can switch between dipolar and bipolar output. A low-slope, linear phase crossover helps deliver 180-degree dispersion characteristics. The RS FX's relatively lightweight and manageable dimensions, as well as the attached keyhole brackets, make for easy wall mounting.

Fairly manageable dimensions characterize the RS W12 subwoofer, as well. It is on the heavy side for its size, though, thanks to a healthy 500 rated watts of internal power, in addition to the 12-inch C-CAM woofer and the impressive motor assembly behind it. The back panel offers an adjustable crossover control (40 to 120 hertz) and a crossover-bypass switch. There's also a phase switch (0 or 180 degrees) and line-level inputs and outputs (RCA). The front panel supplies gain control and two EQ settings—one flat and the other with a 4-decibel boost.

Strong midpriced speakers deserve strong midpriced backing, so I set up the RS Silvers with a Parasound C2 pre/pro, a Sunfire Cinema Grand amplifier, and a Marantz DV8300 universal player. I set the front speakers a couple of feet out from the side and rear walls, with a slight toe-in. I then set the center channel on top of the TV, which conveniently put its drivers right around ear level in the seated position. I placed the rear speakers on the side walls, about 2 feet above ear level and approximately 120 degrees from the listening position. Finally, I placed the sub halfway along the side wall, firing to the rear.

The first thing to grab me about the RS 6s with two-channel material was their prodigious bass. It was punchy, full-bodied, and deep, but never bloated or forced. Granted, these aren't exactly bookshelf speakers, but they aren't room-dominating towers, either. Call them mini towers if you must—and be impressed that this much clean, potent bass can come from two 6-inch drivers in a cabinet this manageably sized. They knocked out the driving bass line of Sara K.'s rendition of "Brick House" (Super Audio Collection Vol. 2, Chesky) with a clear sense of authority and composure. Pink Floyd's "Another Brick in the Wall" from the second Burmester collection tested both ends of the frequency range. The bass remained impressive, and the upper frequencies avoided almost all of the trappings that characterize inferior metal tweeters. They maintained their clarity and immediacy without becoming harsh or fatiguing.

Good-quality speakers usually live or die in the midrange, and, after I'd listened to the RS 6s' midrange performance, especially with high-resolution material, I found myself doing a double-take at their price. Vocals were entirely natural and full bodied, and midrange-dwelling instruments, which includes most instruments, had a presence and dimensionality that you don't often get from speakers at this price level. Whether it was blues or bluegrass, jazz or rock 'n' roll, the Silver RSs responded with a blend of effortlessness and enthusiasm that was altogether engaging. Their treatment of Ralph and Carter Stanley's magical pipes from "Angel Band" (O Brother, Where Art Thou? soundtrack, Lost Highway Records) was especially memorable, with an accuracy that was every bit the equal to much more expensive speakers.

The Silver RSs' impressive musicality continued with movie soundtracks. They developed stage dimensions that belied their physical dimensions and gave music-heavy soundtracks like Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, The Blues Brothers, and Almost Famous ample space to work with. To the eye, the RS LCR is probably the classic definition of a medium-sized center channel. But, to the ear—and that's what really counts—it has the sound of a much bigger speaker, one that wouldn't fit as well as the RS LCR does atop a medium- or small-sized TV. Quality drivers, a quality cabinet, and a quality crossover design all contribute to the speaker's avoidance of virtually all traces of boxiness. It's highly successful at sorting out dialogue, music, and effects, as well, and resists being overwhelmed by even the densest center-channel tracks. Jake and Elwood's purposefully mundane banter in chapter 10 of The Blues Brothers had an easygoing sonic characteristic, even while police cars and a shopping mall were demolished all around them.

The RS W12 and RS FXs had their say during soundtrack demos, as well. As good as the bass was on the RS 6, the RS W12 enthusiastically took over the low-end rumble for soundtracks. Like the RS 6, The RS W12 carries a big punch in a relatively small package and does its work without resorting to boominess or monotonality. The C-CAM driver is also impressive in its 12-inch form, with a quickness and bite that lets large sonic events like explosions finish properly and then quickly reload for the next sortie. The RS FXs are agile, throwing surround effects around the room with little in the way of localization, especially in the dipole mode. Their compact size doesn't allow them to develop the largest surround field you've ever heard, but they provide more than you'd expect from their cabinet dimensions and more than enough to fill up the back of most regularly sized listening rooms.

There's no denying that speaker shopping at this price level is a daunting task these days, primarily due to the sheer number of available options. But, then again, the more options you have, the better chance you have of finding exactly what you want. Something like Monitor's Silver RSs would be a pretty good place to start. The speakers are well designed and well built, and they were clearly designed with audio performance as the top priority. It doesn't hurt that they are space friendly and manageable—and easy on the eyes, as well. They don't tout revolutionary technology or radical form; they just sound good—and that's my kind of speaker.

• Big sound in a relatively small package
• Excellent build inside and out

Article Continues: At A Glance & Ratings »

Read More......

Monitor Audio Silver RS 6 Speaker System review:At A Glance & Ratings

At A Glance: Monitor Audio Silver RS 6 Speaker System
Subwoofer: RS W12
Connections: Line-level in, line-level out
Enclosure Type: Sealed
Woofer (size in inches, type): 12, aluminum/magnesium/ceramic
Power Rating (watts): 500
Crossover Bypass: Yes
Available Finishes: Black Oak, Rosenut, Walnut, Natural Oak, Cherrywood, Silver
Dimensions (H x W x D, inches): 13.2 x 13.2 x 15.2
Weight (pounds): 56
Price: $999

These listings are based on the manufacturer's stated specs; the HT Labs box below indicates the gear's performance on our test bench.

Speaker RS 6
Type: 2.5-way tower
Tweeter (size in inches, type): 1, aluminum/ceramic dome
Midrange (size in inches, type): 6, aluminum/ceramic
Woofer (size in inches, type): 6, aluminum/ceramic
Nominal Impedance (ohms): 6
Recommended Amp Power (watts): 10–120
Available Finishes: Black Oak, Rosenut, Walnut, Natural Oak, Cherrywood
Dimensions (H x W x D, inches): 33.5 x 7.25 x 9.8
Weight (pounds): 40
Price: $999/pair

Speaker RS LCR
Type: 2.5-way L/C/R
Tweeter (size in inches, type): 1, aluminum/ceramic dome
Midrange (size in inches, type): 6, aluminum/ceramic
Woofer (size in inches, type): 6, aluminum/ceramic
Nominal Impedance (ohms): 6
Recommended Amp Power (watts): 10–120
Available Finishes: Black Oak, Rosenut, Walnut, Natural Oak, Walnut, Natural Oak, Cherrywood, Silver
Dimensions (H x W x D, inches): 7.2 x 19.7 x 7.8
Weight (pounds): 18.75
Price: $599

Speaker RS FX
Type: Bipolar/dipolar surround
Tweeter (size in inches, type):1 (2) aluminum/ceramic dome
Midrange (size in inches, type): 6, aluminum/ceramic
Woofer (size in inches, type): 6, aluminum/ceramic 6, aluminum/ceramic
Nominal Impedance (ohms): 6
Recommended Amp Power (watts):10–100
Available Finishes: Black Oak, Rosenut, Walnut, Natural Oak, Cherrywood, Silver
Dimensions (H x W x D, inches): 11.5 x 11.25 x 5.2
Weight (pounds): 8.75
Price: $699/pair

Ratings: Monitor Audio Silver RS 6 Speaker System

Build Quality: 94
• Significant driver quality
• Significant cabinet quality

Value: 93
• The speakers easily outperform their price tag
• Built to last

Features: 94
• Switchable bipole/dipole surrounds
• Sub has all of the controls you'll need

Performance: 93
• The speakers sound much bigger than they are
• Strong with music and movies

Ergonomics: 95
•Relatively small and manageable
• Built-in keyhole mounts on surrounds

Overall Rating: 94
There are some speaker manufacturers who truly get it, and Monitor Audio is one of them. The new Monitor Silver series picks up right where the old one left off, delivering warm, natural sound in a package that is much smaller, and much less expensive, than it sounds.

General Information
RS 6 Tower Speaker, $999/pair
RS LCR Center-Channel Speaker, $599
RS FX Surround Speaker, $699/pair
RS W12 Subwoofer, $999
Monitor Audio
(905) 428-2800
Dealer Locator Code MNT

Read More......

Monitor Audio Silver RS 6 Speaker System review:HT Labs Measures

HT Labs Measures: Monitor Audio Silver RS 6 Speaker System

L/R Sensitivity: 88.5 dB from 500 Hz to 2 kHz

Center Sensitivity: 90 dB from 500 Hz to 2 kHz

Surround Sensitivity: 86 dB from 500 Hz to 2 kHz

This graph shows the quasi-anechoic (employing close-miking of all woofers) frequency response of the RS 6 L/R (purple trace), RS W12 subwoofer (blue trace), RS LCR center channel (green trace), and RS FX surround (red trace). All passive loudspeakers were measured with grilles at a distance of 1 meter with a 2.83-volt input and scaled for display purposes.

The RS 6's listening-window response (a five-point average of axial and +/–15-degree horizontal and vertical responses) measures +0.48/–2.40 decibels from 200 hertz to 10 kilohertz. The –3-dB point is at 60 Hz, and the –6-dB point is at 52 Hz. Impedance reaches a minimum of 5.28 ohms at 181 Hz and a phase angle of –36.27 degrees at 80 Hz.

The RS LCR's listening-window response measures +2.50/–4.32 dB from 200 Hz to 10 kHz. An average of axial and +/–15-degree horizontal responses measures +2.67/–4.21 dB from 200 Hz to 10 kHz. The –3-dB point is at 81 Hz, and the –6-dB point is at 69 Hz. Impedance reaches a minimum of 5.10 ohms at 3.3 kHz and a phase angle of –29.90 degrees at 2.2 kHz.

The RS FX's three-face averaged response in dipole mode measures +1.64/–4.23 dB from 200 Hz to 10 kHz. The –3-dB point is at 88 Hz, and the –6-dB point is at 75 Hz. Impedance reaches a minimum of 3.68 ohms at 13.4 kHz and a phase angle of –49.34 degrees at 3.4 kHz.

The RS W12's close-miked response in EQ2 mode, normalized to the level at 80 Hz, indicates that the lower –3-dB point is at 59 Hz and the –6-dB point is at 48 Hz. The upper –3-dB point is at 108 Hz with the low-pass filter switch set to out.—MJP

Read More......

Pioneer Elite PRO-940HD Plasma HDTV & HP MediaSmart SLC3760N LCD HDTV Review

Who says you can't stream HDTV?

As more consumers embrace high-speed home networking and video downloads, one question is gaining prominence: Can't we view this content on something a little more substantial than our computer monitors? Yes, you can, thanks to the digital media receiver, which is a device that lets you stream video, photo, and music files from your computer to your television.
The digital media receiver comes in many forms. Companies like D-Link, Hauppauge, and Acoustic Research sell standalone boxes that connect directly to your TV. Other manufacturers incorporate the functionality into an A/V source component, like the TiVo Series 2 DVR, the GoVideo networked DVD player, and the Xbox 360 gaming console. No matter its shape, the media receiver talks to your PC over a wired or wireless home network, allowing access to some combination of media files.

These devices accomplish the desired goal, but, like adding a full HTPC, they force you to add yet another box and remote control to your entertainment system—or at least mandate the use of specific source components in order to enjoy the technology. A couple of display manufacturers have realized that they can eliminate the middleman and build the function right into the TV. Admittedly, this solution is only viable for someone who's in the market for a new TV, but it's a compelling option nonetheless. I tried out two "media-friendly" HDTVs: Hewlett-Packard's MediaSmart SLC3760N 37-inch LCD ($1,700) and Pioneer's Elite PRO-940HD 42-inch plasma ($3,300).

Learning to Share
In terms of their media-sharing functions, these two TVs are more similar than different. Both are designed to work with PCs and media servers that support DLNA, UPnP, or Windows Media Connect. For this review, I mated the TVs with Niveus Media's new Rainier Media Center PC, so I focused on how to link the devices using Windows Media Connect, a PC software platform that works in conjunction with Windows Media Player to organize and stream files to remote devices. If you have Windows Media Player 10 or 11, chances are you already have Windows Media Connect on your PC. I did. However, if you don't, HP is kind enough to include a software disc with the TV, while Pioneer expects you to find and download it from the Microsoft Website.

Setting up each set's media function involves two steps. First, you must add the TV to your home network. Pioneer's media receiver is completely integrated into the plasma's chassis; its only visible features are an Ethernet port for connecting to your home network and a USB port, which lets you access media files directly from a USB drive if you don't have a home network. In contrast, HP has essentially affixed a media-player box to the TV's backside, which adds about 2 inches of depth and requires three extra cables to link the two: HDMI for A/V signals, a control cable, and a power cable. While the Pioneer only connects to your network via Ethernet, HP lets you choose between wired and wireless (802.11a/b/g) setup. If you want to go wireless, you also need to screw on two antennas that look like gloriously nostalgic rabbit ears peaking up from behind the TV. It took several attempts before I successfully added the HP to my wireless network, even when I turned off the security, but this could have just been an issue with my network.
The second step is to enable file sharing on your PC. Once you have added the TV to your network, its name should appear on the Windows Media Connect Device page. Simply click on it, allow sharing, and set the folders you want to share. My Pictures, My Videos, and My Music are the default options, but you can add other folders—like, say, your iTunes music folder. Obviously, protected music and video files downloaded from the iTunes Store aren't compatible with this Windows-based system, but, hey, we're used to that by now. Microsoft DRM files should play. Since I used a Media Center PC, I also added its Recorded TV folder in order to stream standard- and high-definition content to the TVs.

Yes, I did say "high definition." Probably the coolest application of this technology is the ability to stream high-definition content for viewing on your new HDTV. Over a wired connection, both TVs cleanly rendered recorded over-the-air HDTV programs and a couple of WMV HD trailers. If you want to view a lot of HD video, I don't recommend you go wireless with the HP; HD playback was very choppy over my 802.11g network, but SD video played back fine. For some reason, the HP wouldn't play any of the music files that came preloaded on my Niveus Media but worked fine with music I loaded myself, while the Pioneer played every file without issue.

I preferred the layout and appearance of Pioneer's media menu, but I found the HP system more intuitive to navigate and use, due primarily to the remote. The media function seems more like an afterthought for Pioneer. Their remote lacks a dedicated button to access the media menu and hides transport controls under a flip-down panel at the bottom; plus, the track-up/-down buttons don't work within this menu. HP treats the media function as the marquee feature, grouping all of the needed access and control buttons in a logical way. They also up the ante by adding a Services menu through which you can access certain online media portals—like CinemaNow, Snapfish, and Live365.com—directly.

Lest We Forget. . .
The media functions are certainly intriguing, but they mean little if the TVs fall short in the video department. Luckily, that isn't the case. Both displays receive solid marks in the major performance categories, although there are some drawbacks inherent in their respective technologies. The HP's 1,366-by-768 resolution gives it an edge in the detail department; it's capable of rendering razor-sharp images, but it also suffers from some motion blurring, which lessens the impact of that detail in fast-moving scenes. The Pioneer's 1,024-by-768 resolution creates a slightly softer image. But I never felt I was missing anything with DVD or HD sources, and details remained intact during faster-moving scenes.

Like many plasmas, the Pioneer's green color point is way off, which gives the image a bluish-green tint. The HP's color points are quite good; its green is also off the mark, but less so than the Pioneer's. As for color temperature, both TVs exhibit a large spike at the lowest IRE levels, causing dark scenes to take on a blue tint, but this evens out with brighter images. Skintones looked natural, with no red push. You can calibrate the Pioneer to measure very close to 6,500 Kelvin across the range; we could not calibrate the HP, but I doubt we would have been able to fix the spike and subsequent dip at the darker IRE points.

Both TVs offer film modes that enable them to pick up the 3:2 sequence in 480i sources pretty quickly, resulting in only minor shimmer in my demo scene from Gladiator. The Pioneer has an adjustable scan rate; you can set it for 72 hertz, instead of 60 Hz, for slightly more natural motion. It also picks up 3:2 with 1080i sources, while the HP does not. Both deinterlace 1080i/30 correctly.

By numbers alone, the HP has a much higher contrast than the Pioneer, but this doesn't tell the whole story. Our measurements use a full-field white for light output, which can put plasmas at a disadvantage. When we measured the Pioneer with a white window, its contrast ratio was closer to 1,400:1. With real-world content, I never felt the Pioneer lacked image depth or dimension, although its light output is somewhat low, even compared with a few plasmas we've reviewed. Combine this with the glass' tendency to reflect light, and the PRO-940HD isn't the best choice for a bright room environment.

The HP, meanwhile, is capable of over 150 foot-lamberts, which is more than enough light output to watch it in a sunlit room. Thankfully, it also has an adjustable backlight so you can turn down the lamps' output when necessary. While the HP is capable of a better black level than the plasma at its minimum backlight setting, black detail was not very good in my test scenes from Ladder 49 and The Bourne Supremacy. Plus, the viewing angle is a concern; move just 45 degrees off axis, and the black level rises while image saturation drops off noticeably. These two factors hurt the HP's performance in a dark room with darker film sources. The Pioneer has good black detail and a solid black level that remains consistent at any angle, making it a better fit for a theater environment. You might notice that I've essentially just summed up the differences between plasma and LCD.

If you're trying to decide which of these media TVs to buy, it really comes down to usage, taste, and budget. The $1,700 HP renders a videolike picture, with razor-sharp images that are clean and vibrant but lack depth. Its connections and features are modest at best: one HDMI input, no VGA connection, no program guide, and no automatic aspect-ratio detection. The Pioneer's image is more filmlike, with a richer, more textured, and generally more natural quality that I really enjoyed, especially since I watch TV mostly at night. Part of the Elite line, the $3,300 PRO-940HD has a healthy list of connections and features, including two HDMI and three component video inputs, two RF inputs for the internal tuners, a CableCARD slot, the TV Guide On Screen program guide, and a fair number of picture controls. Compared with last year's PRO-930HD, this model exhibits less phosphor lag and short-term image retention, which is important if you plan to leave the media menu on the screen for long periods of time. Both TVs are priced at the high end respective to their screen sizes.

With all that in mind, I primarily view the Pioneer PRO-940HD as a theater-based media TV, one that sits in the center in your home theater system and receives streaming media from the various PCs around your home. HP's SLC3760N, on the other hand, is a great fit for a secondary room as a device that taps into your main Media Center PC and lets you stream all that great content as seamlessly and invisibly as possible.

Pioneer Elite PRO-940HD Plasma HDTV:
• Stream media from your computer
• Media receiver built into chassis

HP MediaSmart SLC3760N LCD HDTV:
• Stream media from your computer
• Media function is HP's priority
Article Continues: At A Glance: Pioneer »

Read More......

Pioneer Elite PRO-940HD Plasma HDTV & HP MediaSmart SLC3760N LCD HDTV:At A Glance: Pioneer

The image “http://www.hometheatermag.com/images/archivesart/307Pioneer.3.jpg” cannot be displayed, because it contains errors.
Video: HDMI (2), component video (3), VGA (1), S-video (2), composite video (3), RF (2)
Audio: Stereo analog (6), miniplug (1)
Video: Composite video (1)
Audio: Optical digital (1), stereo analog (1), subwoofer (1)
Additional: Ethernet (1), USB (1), G-Link (1), CableCARD (1), RS-232 (1)

Type: Plasma
Screen Size (diagonal) 42 inches
Native Resolution / Aspect Ratio: 1,024 by 768 / 16:9
Half Life: 60,000 hours
Wall Mount or Stand Included?: Stand
Dimensions (H x W x D, inches): 26.75 x 40.94 x 10.75 (with stand)
26.75 x 40.94 x 4.5 (w/o stand)
Weight (pounds): 69.9 (with stand)
Price: $3,300

Ratings: Pioneer Elite PRO-940HD Plasma HDTV

Build Quality: 93
• Attractive gloss-black bezel and sturdy stand
• Incorporates media box into chassis

Value: 87
• Pioneer has lowered the price $1,000 from last year's model, but you still pay a premium for the Elite name and features

Features: 96
• Ample input options for HD content
• Optical digital and subwoofer outputs for the media feature
• 3:3 pulldown for smoother motion

Performance: 91
• Modest black level and light output
• Good color, detail, and processing
• Played all media files without incident

Ergonomics: 88
• Remote has dedicated source buttons, but not well designed for the media function
• Connections no longer housed in separate box

Overall Rating: 91
The Pioneer Elite PRO-940HD is a great TV for a light-controlled environment, rendering a natural image with solid color and detail. The Home Media Gallery is just one part of an excellent features package.

General Information
Elite PRO-940HD Plasma HDTV, $3,300
Pioneer Electronics
Article Continues: HT Labs Measures: Pioneer »

Read More......

Pioneer Elite PRO-940HD Plasma HDTV & HP MediaSmart SLC3760N LCD HDTV review:HT Labs Measures: Pioneer



Full-On/Full-Off Contrast Ratio—476:1; ANSI Contrast Ratio—851:1

Measured Resolution with the Leader LT-446:
480: 480 (per picture height)
720p: 720 (pph)
1080i: Out to the limits of the 1,024-by-768 panel

DC Restoration (poor, average, good, excellent): Excellent

Color Decoder (poor, average, good, excellent): Excellent

Measured Color Points:
Red Color Point: x=0.664, y=0.328
Green Color Point: x=0.249, y=0.676
Blue Color Point: x=0.147, y=0.060

The top chart shows the PRO-940HD's gray scale relative to its color temperature at various levels of intensity, or brightness (20 IRE is dark gray; 100 IRE is bright white). The gray scale as set by the factory, in the Low color-temperature mode and the Movie picture mode, measures very cool with the darkest images and closer to accurate with brighter images. After making adjustments using the Photo Research PR-650, the gray scale measures much closer to D6500, the accurate color temperature, across the entire range.

The bottom chart shows the gray scale (or color temperature) relative to the color points of the display's red, green, and blue color phosphors. These are off those specified by SMPTE. Red is somewhat oversaturated, while blue is very, very slightly oversaturated. Green is very oversaturated and slightly bluish-green.

After calibration, and using a full-field 100-IRE white (18.55 foot-lamberts) and a full-field 0-IRE black (0.039 ft-L), the contrast ratio was 476:1. Using a 16-box checkerboard pattern (ANSI contrast), the contrast ratio was 851:1. With a 100-IRE window, the PRO-940HD produced 53.41 ft-L. (It is normal for a plasma to have lower light output on a full-white field versus a white window.)—GM

Article Continues: At A Glance: HP »

Read More......

Pioneer Elite PRO-940HD Plasma HDTV & HP MediaSmart SLC3760N LCD HDTV: At A Glance: HP

Video: HDMI (1), component video (2), S-video (1), composite video (3), RF (1)
Audio: Stereo analog (4)
Video: None
Audio: Digital optical (1), stereo analog (1)
Additional: MediaSmart A/V and control inputs (2), Ethernet (1), antenna connections for Wi-Fi (2, 802.11a/b/g)
The image “http://www.hometheatermag.com/images/archivesart/307Pioneer.7.jpg” cannot be displayed, because it contains errors.

Type: LCD
Screen Size (diagonal) 37 inches
Native Resolution / Aspect Ratio: 1,366 by 768 / 16:9
Lamp Life: Up to 60,000 hours
Wall Mount or Stand Included?: Stand
Dimensions (H x W x D, inches): 29.3 x 37.3 x 12 (with stand)
29.3 x 37.3 x 6.8 (w/o stand)
Weight (pounds): 59.1 (with stand)
Price: $1,700

HP MediaSmart SLC3760N LCD HDTV

Build Quality: 91
• Attractive gloss-black bezel and sturdy stand
• Media box is attached to the outside

Value: 88
• As we went to press, HP dropped the price from $2,000 to $1,700, which is more competitive but still slightly high for a 37-inch model

Features: 90
• Adjustable backlight and auto light sensor
• Only one HDMI input and no VGA
• The digital audio output is important for MediaSmart

Performance: 89
• Excellent detail and good color
• Viewing angle and motion blurring are a concern

Ergonomics: 92
• Remote lacks backlighting and dedicated source buttons
• The media menu and remote design make for intuitive navigation

Overall Rating: 90
The SLC3760N is a solid performer, offering good color, detail, and contrast, but its LCD nature makes it a better fit for a bright room. The MediaSmart function is a great perk in an otherwise modest features list.

General Information
MediaSmart SLC3760N LCD HDTV, $1,700
(800) 752-0900
Article Continues: HT Labs Measures: HP »

Read More......

Pioneer Elite PRO-940HD Plasma HDTV & HP MediaSmart SLC3760N LCD HDTV review:HT Labs Measures: HP

HT Labs Measures: HP SLC3760N LCD HDTV

Full-On/Full-Off Contrast Ratio—1,068:1; ANSI Contrast Ratio—967:1

Measured Resolution with the Leader LT-446:
480: 480 (per picture height)
720p: 720 (pph)
1080i: Out to the limits of the 1,366-by-768 panel

DC Restoration (poor, average, good, excellent): Excellent

Color Decoder (poor, average, good, excellent): Excellent

Measured Color Points:
Red Color Point: x=0.634, y=0.334
Green Color Point: x=0.273, y=0.600
Blue Color Point: x=0.146, y=0.066

The top chart shows the SLC3760N's gray scale relative to its color temperature at various levels of intensity, or brightness (20 IRE is dark gray; 100 IRE is bright white). The gray scale as set by the factory, in the Mid-Low color-temperature mode and the User picture mode, measures very cool with the darkest images and very warm with just slightly brighter images. The rest of the gray scale is somewhat cool.

The bottom chart shows the gray scale (or color temperature) relative to the color points of the display's red, green, and blue color filters. These are somewhat off those specified by SMPTE. Red is very slightly undersaturated and very slightly reddish-orange. Blue is very slightly greenish-blue. Green is rather bluish-green.

Using a full-field 100-IRE white (89.7 foot-lamberts) and a full-field 0-IRE black (0.084 ft-L), the contrast ratio was 1,068:1. Using a 16-box checkerboard pattern (ANSI contrast), the contrast ratio was 967:1. The best contrast ratio was achieved with the backlight in the STD setting. The brightest image was achieved with the backlight in the +16 setting, which produced 151.2 ft-L with a 100-IRE field and 0.143 on a 0-IRE black (1,057:1). The best black level was achieved with the backlight in the –16 setting. In this mode, the SLC3760N had a light output of 29.41 ft-L and a black level of 0.028 ft-L, making for a contrast ratio of 1,050:1.—GM

Article Continues: Those Who Can't. . .Cheat »

Read More......

Pioneer Elite PRO-940HD Plasma HDTV & HP MediaSmart SLC3760N LCD HDTV review:Those Who Can't. . .Cheat

Streaming media to your TV from an Apple computer is a trickier task, as most digital media receivers are PC-centric. Apple plans to enter the ring with their own digital media receiver, tentatively named the iTV, sometime in the first quarter of 2007. If you can't wait—or your heart is set on one of these media-friendly TVs—you'll have to get creative.

Elgato Systems offers a software program called EyeConnect ($91.35) that lets you stream content in your iTunes, iPhoto, and Movies folders to any UPnP media receiver. It also lets you stream TV content you've recorded with Elgato's EyeTV tuner. You can download a free 30-day trial of the software at www.elgato.com.

HP also sent me their MV2020 Media Vault ($550), a 500-gigabyte external storage drive that connects directly to your home network via Ethernet. This device can automatically back up the content on your networked computers, but it also has a MediaShare function that lets you stream its content to any UPnP media receiver, which worked very well in conjunction with the HP MediaSmart LCD. Mac owners can't use the advanced PC software to manage the Vault, but they can still use its backup and media-sharing functions through their home network. It's not an ideal media-sharing solution for the Mac, but it works.

Neither of these methods lets you stream iTunes video downloads or AAC music files, protected or not. For that, you must wait for the iTV.

Read More......

Panasonic TH-42PX600U review

Model: Panasonic TH-42PX600U

Description: 42" Plasma Television, Widescreen 16:9 Format
Resolution: 1024 x 768 (HDTV)

Includes: Integrated pedestal stand and HD2D Sound Enhanced Speaker System, NTSC and ATSC (HDTV) tuners, 2 HDMI high-definition inputs and one compter 15 pin VGA input, 2 component video, 3 composite video, 3 S-Video connection.
Color: Silver and Black Bezel and casing.


The Panasonic TH-42PX600U is contains the 9th generation panel of the ever-popular Panasonic plasma line replacing the TH-42PX500U in June of 2006. The resolution remains 1024x768 like the previous model, the highest ranking plasma TV in its price point in 2005, but Panasonic has upped the contrast ratio specification to 10,000:1 for this year's model and also increased the brightness spec significantly. Because of increased demand, Panasonic has included a second HDMI connection for this year's consumer plasma line. Panasonic even gives the TH-42PX600U a makeover to a more modern look.

With each passing generation, other top-tier plasma television manufacturers—such as Samsung, Pioneer, and Toshiba—are improving both their picture performance and overall value. Samsung and Toshiba have focused on matching Panasonic's aggressive price-point with their new models. Pioneer, on the other hand, remains focused on its first-rate picture quality and aesthetic appeal and providing a comprehensive feature set at a slightly more expensive price. This upgraded Panasonic PX600U series model compares equally with Pioneer's excellent PDP-4370HD model in features, appearance, inputs and quality while the Panasonic PX60U series lacks some of the "extras" these two offer.

PICTURE: 98/100

Like most televisions on the market today, the Panasonic TH-42PX600U came out of the box with superficially bright default picture settings. Out of the box, the picture is in a default picture mode setting of Vivid (which maximizes Contrast and Sharpness settings) and a color temperature setting of Cool. The first task before examining the picture quality of the plasma TV is to find the picture settings that get us closest to D6500K—the optimum prescribed color temperature used by the film and broadcast industry. Because Panasonic plasmas typically have a cooler default temperature setting than other brands (which often leads to a "blue push" in the white balance), the "Warm" color temperature setting is preferred for increased realism. By switching to the "Standard" picture setting (which has medium Contrast and Sharpness settings) and using a "Warm" color temperature, we quickly move much closer to D6500K. Maintaining a color temperature close to D6500K is important because it is the basis on which the rest of the picture calibrations are made.

Panasonic Plasma TV Review

Color and detail on the Panasonic TH-42PX600U was outstanding

In order to fully optimize the picture quality of our TH-42PX600U, we used a colorimeter, and a specialized software suite to calibrate the television to the Imaging Science Foundation (ISF) standard color temperature of D6500K. With this equipment, we were able to properly calibrate the picture settings on the television, and we were able to measure color temperature, color saturation, white balance, and black levels. Using these measurements as a reference point, we used the Sencore software suite to precisely calibrate the optimal picture settings for the TH-42PX600U.

The following table contains the picture settings for the TH-42PX600U after its ISF calibration. We highly suggest that you use these settings if you purchase or own this television. By configuring the television to the below settings we were able to get the color temperature to D6650K, a substantial improvement over the out-of-the-box measurement of D10000K+. Using the below settings to regulate the color temperature and white balance virtually perfects the picture of the TH-42PX600U:

Panasonic TH-42PX600U Optimal Picture Settings
Picture Mode Standard
Picture +22
Brightness +8
Color -1
Tint -4
Sharpness -14
Color Temperature Warm
Enhanced Black Level Off

Figure 1. Optimal picture settings for the Panasonic TH-42PX600U using ISF calibration.

At these settings, practically speaking, there is no further calibration needed on this model. There is no need to tinker with hiring a calibration specialist and tinkering with dangerous service menus.

Wow, once the picture was calibrated the TH-42PX600U had undoubtedly the truest picture of any television that we have tested to date. Using the HD-DVD edition of Clint Eastwood's Unforgiven on the Toshiba HD-XA1 HD-DVD player, we put the Panasonic's High Definition capability to the test. Using the Toshiba's 1080i High Def output via the HDMI connection, the picture detail in scenes from the HD-DVD were astounding. In one scene, inside a dark cabin, a fly crawls across one of the actor's cowboy hat. On a standard definition TV, it's doubtful you would notice the fly at all, but on the PX600U I could clearly make out the fly's legs as it crawled across the hat. With a high-quality 1080i HDTV source like the HD-DVD, you could literally get so lost in the details of each scene that you lose the plot of the movie: the grain of a weathered fence post, the fine textures of sweeping Wild West landscapes, the coarse stubble on Will Munny's cheeks--it's all there, and the Panasonic never misses a beat.

Panasonic's black levels have been the best in the industry for years, and the TH-42PX600U is no exception. Unforgiven is a challenging movie in that regard, because at any given time you may be sweeping from a scorching Western landscape to the interior of a oil lamp-lit saloon. From one scene to the next, we were impressed by the level of detail we could see in even the darkest scenes. This is an important strength for Panasonic because the dark matter detailing of the plasma television impacts the picture's realism as much as its color reproduction ability.

Panasonic HDTV Plasma Review

Panasonic Plasmas are unmatched in dark scene performance; the PX600U series is no exception

The black levels are really put to the test late in the film, when Munny (Clint Eastwood) returns to the saloon to exact revenge for his friend Ned. In true gritty Western style, the camera shifts to show Munny emerging from shadows at the saloon door. Every detail is portrayed impeccably by the TH-42PX600U: the sheen of sweat on Munny's stubbled face, the fibers of his duster jacket, even the subtle glint of lamplight from the blued gun barrel. This smooth transition between dark shades can be attributed to the 3,072 shades of gradation in the TH-42PX600U—an attribute that sets Panasonic plasmas apart from the 2nd tier plasmas manufacturers. It is also important to note that as the camera pans from face to face in the dark saloon, the bright oil lamps appear very clearly in the dark room without any elements of false contouring, a problem that can occur when plasmas try to display bright objects with dark surroundings.

After we performed the ISF calibration to optimize the television's picture, we decided to measure the TH-42PX600U's contrast ratio (light output ratio of "whitest white" to the "blackest black") for ourselves. We used a signal generator to display the checkboard test pattern for contrast, and the accompanying colorimeter to measure the light output from each sample. While the black levels on the TH-42PX600U are quite impressive, our measured contrast ratio for the television was 788:1 - one of the highest true contrast ratios we've measured! From our experience, all TV manufacturers, including Panasonic, greatly "enhance" their specifications to entice buyers and "beat" the competition. There are few standards for their measurements.

As is made evident by the Unforgiven HD-DVD, the quality of high-definition content on the 42PX600U is unparalleled. When we auditioned conventional DVDs including Kill Bill, part I in Progressive-Scan 480p, we saw similar sharp, detailed pictures with excellent contrast, but obviously not to the extent of the HD-DVD. It is important to note that the 42PX600U does not display the visual artifacts easily noticeable on lower-tier plasma displays with a conventional input source. Despite the upconversion necessary to display a 480p picture on a 1024 x 768 HDTV screen, we never noticed any edge artifacts or jagged motion on the PX600U.

The ATSC tuner pulls in digital broadcasts. When we watched the Evening News in high-definition, the image was very clear, and the news anchors' faces had accurate flesh tones. When they cut to reporters out in the field, the detail of their surroundings was excellent. Algorithmic scaling to full picture size was excellent. When we changed the channel to view the same program in regular definition, the picture was somewhat fuzzy. The image degradation is probably caused by the lower bandwidth emitted by local stations for their analog channels.


The PX600U series is a slight step up in aesthetics from the PX60U series. It's got that Pro appeal that says it costs more with black banding around the screen and a thin silver finish bezel surrounding the black banding. The excellent 31 watt audio system which incorporates 2 subwoofers is hidden in the casing. This is an 11 watt upgrade from the PX60U series. The new look of the TH-42PX600U is definitely very modern, and it has significant "pop." The unit is 42.5 inches wide, and 27.2 inches in height (29.3" with the table stand).

For the TH-42PX600U, Panasonic improves its already user-friendly remote control. The easy-to-find buttons are generally in the same place as the last model, but now they are bigger and easier to find without looking. The remote feels good in your hand, has intuitive controls, and would be a serviceable solution as a universal remote control.

The on-screen menu system on the TH-42PX600U is relatively unchanged from Panasonic's previous generation TH-42PX600U, however it has the new electronic programming guide included in this upgraded model. I found the whole system very intuitive. When the Menu button on the remote control is pressed, the main menu options—Picture, Audio, Timer, Lock, Memory Card, and Setup – appear in an easy-to-read fashion. The Picture menu includes the picture controls required to calibrate the picture. The Audio menu features Bass, Treble, and Balance adjustments. In the Other Adjust sub-menu for Audio, you can choose Surround for a marginal Virtual Surround Sound experience. Also in this sub-menu, the users with Home Theater systems may choose to simply turn off the internal speakers of the television in favor of your own surround sound set up. The invisible speakers system will complement this choice.

When viewing material from a non-HDTV source, aspect ratio becomes a concern with the TH-42PX600U. There are four modes for adjusting regular 4:3 inputs to the widescreen 16:9. The first option is to watch the source in its native 4:3 ratio with the sidebar "letter-boxes." Panasonic allows the customer to change the color of the letter boxing, and it is wise to change these to black if you want to use this aspect ratio setting. With Full mode, the picture is uniformly horizontally stretched across the screen. With Zoom mode, the plasma cuts off the top and bottom of the screen and zooms in so that the sides match with the ends of the screen. Obviously, most people will not choose this setting because they don't want to lose any of the picture. The final choice is the most popular—Just mode - which most likely stands for 'justified". Just mode stretches the picture horizontally but uses a special stretching algorithm to minimize distortion, particularly in the middle of the screen. With this method, distortion on a 4:3 source is virtually undetectable and I have found this the preferred way to watch even 4:3 programming after a little break in period for your eyes to adjust.

Panasonic adds a front composite video input and digital card slot input at the front of the panel for this HDTV plasma. This is particularly useful if you want to display images from a digital camera or a source that you will use only temporarily. The 42PX600U also contains a 15 pin VGA input for convenient computer hook up and use. There is also an SD (secure digital) memory card slot for viewing digital camera and camcorder content.

Another important addition to the TH-42PX600U plasma TV is the second HDMI input. Because of the increase in popularity of new HD and Blue Ray DVD players and digital high-definition cable and satellite boxes which already support the HDMI format. One additional input over the PX60U series is the cable card slot for those who are adamant about losing that cable box. The plasma also includes digital audio output capabilities. Even though one cannot choose input sources directly on the remote, it is easy to navigate to the chosen source.

One more included feature of the TH-42PX600U series over the TH-42PX60U series is a PIP (picture in picture) option. Though rarely used, there are those football game days when sound is not a must but seeing both games is!

The two speaker two subwoofer audio system totals 31 Watts of power and are more than adequate for home viewing. This is an 11-watt upgrade over the PX60U series. With the beefier sound system, you notice discernable channel separation and a better soundstage than you might expect from TV speakers, and enough bass response to procide some punch. Panasonic offers a Virtual Surround option for the TH-42PX600U and its performance is robust for such a in-built system. While many home theater aficionados will want to use their own surround sound speaker system, the included speakers will impress the average consumer.

VALUE: 98/100

The Panasonic TH-42PX600U is an excellent value piece. It contains all of the features of the Pioneer PDP-4370HD but for much less money. It has the pro quality feature set of upgraded sound system, cool looks, cable card input, and computer compatibility and input that the TH-PX60U series lacks and at only a couple hundred dollars more.Panasonic introduced the TH-42PX600U with an MSRP of $2,999 at specialty retailers, but it can be found close to $2400 from some authorized Internet dealers.


* Ratings from 70 to 100. Ratings in the 60s for any category are reserved for product with a serious defect or design flaw.

Read More......

Olevia 747i LCD 1080p Television Review

For a relatively new brand, Olevia has made a fast start. When I attended the launch of its new assembly plant in Ontario California recently, I was impressed by the efficiency of the operation, not to mention the gutsy move to open an assembly plant in the continental U.S. rather than, say, just across the border in Mexico. This says a lot about the confidence that Olevia, and its parent company Syntax-Brillian Corporation, has about its future.
When Michael Fremer reviewed the Syntax-Brillian 6580iFB03 65" LCoS rear projection television back in August, he described a picture "so good I looked forward to seeing it every time I turned on the set." Syntax-Brillian's bread and butter, however, is not in rear projection; but rather in Olevia's flat panel LCD designs.

The 1080p Olevia 747i ($3,999, 47" diagonal) is the top of the company's wide range of LCD displays (there's also a smaller, 42" 7 Series model, the 742i). Can it live up to the standards set by its bigger, more expensive RPTV siblings?

The World is Flat
With a net weight of 128 lbs. without its (included) stand, the Olevia 747i is astonishingly heavy for an LCD flat panel. LCDs tend to be lighter than plasmas of equivalent size (Pioneer's Elite PRO-FHD1 50" 1080p plasma weighs in at a svelte 88 lbs, though it does lack a built-in tuner and speakers), but that isn't the case here. If you plan on hanging the Olevia on the wall, you'd better choose a very strong mounting bracket and a very sturdy wall.

While the bottom-mounted speakers keep the width of the set narrow, they do give it a slightly chunky appearance. Not to worry: the speakers can be removed and mounted on the sides using an optional conversion kit, or even left off entirely. You could even use the onboard digital amps (rated at 26 Wpc, though no response or distortion is specified) to drive external speakers if you choose (the speaker leads are readily accessible). I don't know of any competitor that offers this much flexibility.

When it comes to features more significant than size, weight, or form factor, Olevia didn't pinch pennies with the 747i. The fun starts with their decision to use the Silicon Optix Realta HQV video processor. Based on Teranex technology, the Realta's pixel-based scaling and deinterlacing (including the all-important 1080i-to-1080p conversion) largely eliminates video processing as a limiting factor in picture quality—at least at the current state-of-the-art.

According to Olevia, each set leaves the factory with its 6500K setting correctly calibrated to 6500K, with measurements made across the full brightness range, not just at a single point. I saw the calibration "tent" on my factory visit. A dark environment is used for calibration so that non-contact measuring devices can be used. The Olevia tech with whom I spoke said that they do not use contact devices—those suction cups fitted with sensors that are the staple measuring device of most calibration techs. He argued that the pressure from the cups—which are often held securely in position by hand—subtly distorts the front surface of the screen and affects the readings. I'm sure this will be a controversial claim, but it does indicate Olevia's dedication to detail.
In addition to two antenna inputs and the usual video and S-Video connections, there are three component (Y-Pb-Pr) inputs (one of them on a VGA/computer style connector), and two HDMI connections. There is also an RS-232 jack. The firmware is upgradeable via a USB port. The set does not have a CableCARD slot. (The current CableCARD format has been falling out of favor because it does not offer two-way interoperability for such features as program guides and pay-per-view).

Most of these connections are located at the rear of the set but readily accessible from the side when the set is mounted on its stand. The two RF (antenna) inputs, digital audio outputs (both coaxial and TosLink optical) for use with the set's onboard ATSC tuners, L/R analog audio outs, a subwoofer output, and a headphone output are located further around back, facing down. (Placing the headphone jack around back, facing down, is an odd choice for a feature that needs to be readily available after installation.) As with all flat panel displays, none of these jacks are easily accessible in a wall mount. In that situation all connections should be made before positioning the set on its wall bracket.

While Olevia specifies only a single digital audio output, I found two (TosLink optical and coaxial) and changed the listing in the specs at the end of this review accordingly.

The 747i also includes two onboard, over-the-air, Clear QAM ATSC/NTSC tuners. You can display two HD stations simultaneously.

The only manual that came with my sample of the 747i was on a CD-ROM. While this might be useful in some circumstances, I find a printed manual far more useful. (You could, of course, print out all 79 pages of the CD-ROM manual, using your own paper and ink!)

The Usual, and Not So Usual, Suspects
I'll conserve bits here by not going into the usual list of features found in most sets—things like channel setup, Parental Control, aspect ratios, channel guides, PIP/Split Screen, etc. While there are no arcane features such as a slot for viewing the contents of a digital photo card or a printer for printing them, the set offers all the special features and any sane TV viewer might need.

The Olevia also provides an unusual way of presenting and controlling these features. The set's on-screen display starts with a figure of a rotating wheel in the upper left hand corner of the screen. It looks like one of the spinning drums in a slot machine. There are four surfaces on this indicator, for four different submenus: Picture, Audio, Screen, and Setup. The Up and Down buttons on the remote's navigation section rotate the wheel to the submenu you desire, while the Left and Right select the option you want within that submenu. Once there, the Enter button calls up the adjustment control for that option.

This arrangement is clever, but for me too clever by half. It does have the benefit of keeping the screen clear of clutter while you're navigating through the options. But it didn't feel intuitive. And with some of the options I was never quite sure if I had turned them on or off. As far as I could tell, a red border around an item indicated it was on, and a green border indicated off--not at all intuitive to my way of thinking.

For most parameters you may enter different settings for each input, but some settings operate globally or near-globally. For example, the color temperature setup you choose for HDMI will apply to both HDMI inputs.

One serious ergonomic shortcoming is that while your changes to the video settings are accompanied by an on-screen "slider" indicator with a marker above it showing the last saved setting; there are no number designations for the settings. If you dial in a reasonably satisfactory setup but want to experiment further, the lack of such numbers make it difficult to return to your original settings. And as soon as you exit the menu for a particular setting—brightness, for example—the marker moves to the new position.

Apart from the usual picture adjustments, the Picture menu includes a Lighting control that adjusts the image for a dark, medium, or bright room (I used Dark Room for virtually all of my watching). The color temperature control provides both factory and User settings for 6500K and 9300K. The User adjustments provide both high (Gain) and low (Offset) adjustments for red, green, and blue. (The lack of number designations for the settings described in the above paragraph also applies to the user menu's color temperature adjustments, which is certain to drive calibrators up the wall.)

An oddly named "Idea" submenu includes controls called Black Level Extender, White Peak Limiter, and Contrast Enhance. The On/Off status of these three controls, which had relatively subtle effects, were hard to determine from the on-screen indicators. I solved that problem by leaving the Idea menu Off. It didn't help that the function of these controls (and a few others, as well) weren't well described in the manual. The description of the White Peak Limiter, in particular, read like an outtake from Borat: "To limit the signal amplitude varying degree resulted in brightness over saturation."

The remote control's buttons are backlit, though with the common limitation that the labels for the actual functions of many of the controls are on the body of the remote and therefore not illuminated. Some controls are well located and comfortably sized, but others are too small and too close together for error-free operation. On the upside, many of the set's more frequently used functions may be accessed directly from the remote rather than going into the sometimes frustrating, main on-screen menu system. The remote may also be programmed to operate up to seven additional components by inputting the appropriate codes.

Syntax –Brillian devotes a page in the owner's manual to the subject of dead pixels. They allow up to 12 bad pixels, and will exchange a unit when a set is delivered with more than that, but they cannot guarantee that the replacement unit will be 100% free of the problem. At least they are up front about this. No manufacturer can guarantee a perfect complement of pixels, though some choose to ignore the issue altogether. (I have almost never experienced a bad pixel in a review sample, and saw none in this one.)

I usually prefer to get the negatives out of the way first in a review, and the Olevia does have a few shortcomings. The first was not surprising. The set's deep blacks simply aren't very deep. Uniformly dim scenes have too much medium gray and too little black. The under deck scenes that open Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World lack punch. If you're a fan of Dark City, or film noir, this may not be the set for you.

Fortunately, such scenes are relatively rare in most movies, though there are more of them in modern films than older ones. Blame today's faster film stocks, which encourage cinematographers to shoot in available light. Whenever such scenes turn up, most LCDs, including the Olevia 747i, look like they are overlaid with a gray fog that lightens the scene and obscures shadow detail. But if the scene has enough bright highlights to give the eye a reference, you don't notice this "gray fog" as much. But it's still there; those highlights simply mask it a bit. And shadow detail remains marginal at best. The Olevia is a little worse in this respect than the two most recent high-end LCD displays I have reviewed, the Sony BRAVIA KDL-46XBR2 and the JVC LT-46FN97, but it's in the same ballpark.
While Olevia specifies a 178-degree viewing angle, both horizontal and vertical, it's a tad optimistic. (According to Olevia, that spec comes from the panel manufacturer, LG Phillips.) While the image is still watchable at a fairly wide angle, the image starts to lighten, the contrast drops, and the colors fade when you're only slightly off-axis. From a comfortable viewing distance, three on a couch centered on the set should have no problem enjoying the picture. But the middle will still be the "money seat."

There are some minor uniformity issues. I saw no discolorations on the screen: The black and white HD DVD transfer of Casablanca looked beautiful, with a subtle but appropriate sepia shift and no odd, irregularly tinted blotches. But I did see some dark, vertical, ghostlike bands on some material at mid brightness levels, both on test patterns and on large areas of solid color, like deep blue sky. They weren't easy to spot on most programming, however, and even when I was looking for them I seldom saw them. And on a full black screen there were small, slightly brighter areas in the bottom corners. Again, I never noticed this with program material.

But for the most part this set produced stunning images. It was no surprise that with its Silicon Optix video processing the Olevia passed all of my usual scaling and deinterlacing tests with flying colors, scoring from very good to excellent on all of them. Every cadence test on my HQV Benchmark test disc was smoothly reproduced—again, not surprising since this test was produced by Silicon Optix to show off the capabilities of its processing solutions.

The Olevia's three optional noise reduction settings were also useful, minimizing noise while doing little damage to picture's resolution. Most of the time I recommend leaving this noise reduction feature Off, but it's effective if you ever need it.

If there's one word I could choose to describe the Olevia's picture, it would be silky. It never lacks for detail, but the image is so smooth that the resolution never seems forced. It has a natural degree of pop and vividness. Less, it's true, than you'll see from a good plasma display, but not everyone finds the vividness of plasma to his or her liking. Yes, you can make the image on the Olevia less natural with a poor setup, but it's to the company's credit that it doesn't give you the traditional picture "modes" offered by other manufacturers, modes with names like Vivid, Gamer, Dynamic, etc. What Olevia does give you is an excellent picture out of the box and the controls needed to make it even better.
High-definition from my cable system on the Olevia ranged from satisfactory to superb. Such a range of quality is not unusual with any program source, but if you see a great looking HD program on the Olevia, you'll know it. I have some of this year's Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade on my HD DVR, and it's beautifully reproduced on the Olevia, with gorgeous color, natural flesh tones, and a sharp but natural image. And the set will do justice to a good HD movie transfer, as well. About a Boy is an odd movie, but it has a surprising number of reference quality images. The 747i got it all, including scenes inside a supermarket with its well-stocked rows and stacks of small, brightly colored, crisply detailed merchandise.

The Olevia earns top marks for HD sports, too. LCDs have a reputation for slow response time, which causes motion smear. I watched more than my fair share of football on this set and was never bothered by motion smear. I'm sure it's there, and if viewed side-by-side-by-side with, say, a CRT, it probably wouldn't be hard to spot. But viewed and judged on its own, whatever motion smear the Olivia might have never bothered me.

Even standard definition DVD looks beautiful on this set. Jurassic Park III has always been a great video transfer, the best looking of the Jurassic Park series. It also has many scenes of bright green foliage that can be tough on digital displays. The Olevia did a great job keeping those greens realistic. It also handled the rest of the transfer with ease, edging very close to the look of a high-definition source in depth, detail, and color.

The recently released DVD of Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest may not be high-definition either, but that doesn't mean it looks soft. Its bright scenes are given a first-rate treatment on this set. Even most of the dark scenes, and there are plenty of them here, fare reasonably well because they are lit in a way that adds highlights to important details. And while a few of the darkest scenes look too gray, you can always follow what's going on.

Mediocre program material, which includes much of today's standard definition, analog cable offerings, looked okay on the Olevia. The set didn't work miracles with such material, but most of it was at least tolerable. Nevertheless, as you get more accustomed to HDTV and even the best DVDs on this set, you'll definitely find yourself less drawn to TV Land reruns of Green Acres and Gilligan's Island.

I recently reviewed the 46" JVC LT-46FN97 LCD flat panel set, and it was still on hand in the early stages of this review. Compared to the Olevia, the color of the two sets was so close (after calibration) that I wouldn't want to have to choose between them. On bright and medium bright scenes the two sets look similar in contrast. The Olevia was a bit more vivid, three-dimensional, and lush, but it was a very close call. On darker scenes, however, the JVC pulled slightly ahead, with marginally darker blacks and better shadow detail.

The Olevia is not without flaw. It suffers from some of the weaknesses typical of most LCD sets: poor black levels and less than optimum off-axis performance. But it does have excellent color, great detail, an image that is both compelling and easy to watch for hours on end. It's a worthy flagship for a brand that I suspect we'll be hearing a lot more about in the future.

Outstanding color
Fine three-dimensionality with crisp detail
Video processing second to none
Two HD tuners

Mediocre blacks and shadow detail
Image deteriorates noticeably when viewed much off-axis
On-screen menus can be frustrating
Article Continues: Specifications

Read More......

Olevia 747i LCD 1080p Television:Specifications

LCD panel type: 47", 1920x1080 resolution
Signal Compatibility: NTSC and ATSC video (480i/p, 720p, 1080i, 1080p); PC up to 1920x1080@60Hz
Contrast ratio: 1600:1 (Dynamic Contrast Ratio)
Viewing angle: 178-degrees, horizontal and vertical
Response time: 8ms
Video inputs: Two HDMI (HDCP), two component on RCAs, one component on 15-pin D-sub, two S-Video, two composite video, dual RF
Audio inputs: HDMI audio, analog L/R for each analog video input
Audio outputs: headphone, R/L analog (RCA), SPDIF coaxial and TosLink digital audio, subwoofer
Other: RS-232, USB
Dimensions (WxHxD): 46.4" x 38.1" x 13.8" (with stand), 46.4" x 36.1" x 6.3" (without stand)
Weight: 143.3 lbs. with stand, 127.9 lbs. without stand
Price: $3,999
Syntax-Brillian Corporation
(866) 9-OLEVIA
Article Continues: Associated Equipment

Read More......

Olevia 747i LCD 1080p Television:Associated Equipment

Pioneer Elite DV-79AVi DVD player
Toshiba HD-A1 HD DVD player
Scientific Atlanta Explorer 800HD HD cable converter/PVR
RePlay standard definition tuner/DVR
Monster and UltraLink HDMI
Tributaries and Monster component
Article Continues:
Tests and Calibration

Read More......

Olevia 747i LCD 1080p Television:Tests and Calibration

The Olevia 747i's black and white (luminance) and color response, in both HDMI and component, extended up to the maximum burst frequencies from my AccuPel HDG-3000 test pattern generator at all resolutions (6.75MHz for 480i, 13.5MHz for 480p, and 37.1MHz for 720p and 1080i). The result with the 1080i burst, in particular, was as good any we have seen from a display of any description, including front projectors.

With HDMI at 480i, the set did not respond properly to the generator- the patterns were visible, but enlarged and off-center. This was odd as the Olevia did respond properly to a 480i HDMI output from my Pioneer Elite DV-79AVi DVD player.

The set looked excellent on sharpness patterns at all resolutions, with single pixel lines crisply resolved where present, particularly at the high-definition resolutions. The minimum setting of the Sharpness control was optimum, though its action was mild, and an increase to a setting as high as 50% did not result in serious artifacts on normal program material.

But there was one odd result, which is shown in Figs. 1 and 2. With 1080i HDMI (Fig.1), all the horizontal lines in the sharpness pattern were accompanied by additional, one pixel-width horizontal lines. As you can see, these "phantom lines" were as crisp as the lines in the pattern itself, and not the sort of shadowy lines you would see with ringing. They were also visible from other AccuPel 1080i HDMI test patterns having sharp horizontal edges.

Fig. 1

Fig. 2

The same 1080i pattern is shown in Fig.2 as reproduced through an HDMI connection to the Sony VPL-VW50 ("Pearl") 1080p projector. This is what it should look like. It's possible that there is some incompatibility between the AccuPel generator at 1080i and the Olevia. I saw no sign of this artifact in any other situation, including normal 1080i program material via HDMI, test patterns in 1080i component, or any type if source at other resolutions.

The primary RGB color points on the Olevia were very close to ideal. Green was off the most, but far less oversaturated than most modern digital displays we measure. The secondary color points for cyan and magenta were off a bit more (though yellow was excellent), but not enough to make an issue over.

In its 6500K color temperature setting, the pre-calibration gray scale (measured with our Photo Research PR-650 colorimeter), was very close to the ideal temperature (see the chart). But there was a bit too much green in the readings, something that the color temperature numbers alone do not show. A slight recalibration in the 6500K User menu brought the x/y coordinates closer to the D6500 standard (x=0.313, y=0.329 on the CIE color chart across the full brightness range).

I measured a peak contrast ratio of 915:1 (72.32 foot-Lamberts peak white, 0.079fL video black). This is lower than the specified Dynamic Contrast of 1600:1, but it isn't clear what Olevia means by Dynamic Contrast. My measured 915:1 peak contrast ratio is better than other flat panel displays I have tested recently (including the Sony and JVC, mentioned earlier), but the Olevia's black level was worse (higher) than on those other displays.

Overscan averaged about 1% or less at all resolutions, in both HDMI and component. A cropping control is provided to increase this to about 3.5% in case noise or other artifacts intrude at the edges of the picture. But engaging the cropping control does affect resolution. The difference is most evident at 1080i. Fig.3 shows multibursts at 18.5MHz (left) and 37.1MHz (right) without cropping. Fig.4 shows the same two bursts with cropping engaged.

Fig. 3

Fig. 4

It is not uncommon for such overscan/cropping controls to affect resolution So this is less a criticism of the Olevia than a caution against using its Cropping control unless it is needed to eliminate the noise that occasionally turns up at one or more edges of an image.

Read More......

Samsung HLN617W 61-inch DLP HDTV Review

I recently had an
opportunity to look at Samsung's enormous 61" HLN617W DLP flat screen TV, and we
jumped at it. DLP (Digital Light Processing) displays may be less familiar to
some of you than the more conventional methods such as plasma, CRT, LCD or rear

, but it may well be the future of big screen HDTV's. Samsung was one
of the first companies to jump into the DLP display market, which is based on
Texas Instruments revolutionary HD-2 DLP micro device.

The HLN617W is Samsung's current HDTV flagship home
theatre screen, so get ready to sell that extra kidney as we take a close look
at this mother of all Home Theatre screens! As citizens of an industrialized
nation, we've seen big screen HDTVs before. Our first experience with the
Samsung HLN617W still gave us a double take however. This is a laaaarge screen.

Once we had this Samsung DLP
screen it set up in the middle of the office, nearly everyone in the PCstats
labs had to wander over once or twice for a closer look (especially when we were
'testing' Doom3 on it, but that's another story). Samsung's HLN617W retails for
slightly under $3,000
making it extremely
attractive compared to similarly sized plasma screens which generally go for
more than double this price... Well, actually there aren't any equivalently
sized LCD screens, which sort of gives DLP a nice unfair advantage in our
opinion. ;-)

Samsung HLN-617W 61" DLP


Users Manual, Warranty, Remote
Control, 2 AAA batteries.

Off the cuff, the Samsung
HLN617W boasts a laundry list of features as you might expect. For starters the
display is a little over 19" deep, and a hundred pounds light. At the heart of
the unit rests a second generation Texas Instruments 0.8" Digital Micro Device,
which has a native resolution of 1280 x 720 pixels. This resolution matches
HDTV's 720p, pixel for pixel, and for television signals it features automatic
conversion to 720p.

Other technologies present in
the HLN617W are DNIe video enhancement technology (more on this later), Faroudja
DCDi de-interlacing technology, Digital Noise Reduction, BBE sound and Virtual
Dolby Surround Sound (DSS). The display comes with a universal remote control,
twin HD component interfaces, a DVD 480i/p set of component inputs (Y, Pb, Pr)
and it will display two separate signals under Picture-in-Picture (PIP)

Simple Good Looks &
61" of Eye Candy
- The Perfect Combination.

Samsung's HLN617W simple good
looks add to its appeal. Obviously the screen takes up most of the real estate
on the front, but the uniform black and silver bezel and single medallion-shaped
LED information display under the screen result in a sleek and classy

This circular display
functions as both a power-indicator and a warning light for various possible
trouble states; including lamp temperature and display assembly problems. A set
of essential controls is located on the right hand side of the front bezel, at
the bottom. These include a power switch, channel and volume controls, menu and
enter buttons and a TV/video switch. This allows you to effectively control the
entire DLP screen in the event you are left without a remote, but is in no way a
replacement for it.

Next, we'll give you a quick
run through about how DLP works, and why it is gaining so much interest in the
Home Theatre display industry.

Introduction to DLP

Digital Light Processing (DLP) is a product of the Texas Instruments laboratories, and is still fresh technology. The system was first used in digital theatre projectors, and has recently been finding its way into television sets over the last couple of years. Technically, televisions that use this technology are rear projection displays, in that light is passed through or reflected from a device that creates the picture before being cast onto the rear of the screen. In reality, DLP TVs are vastly different from any preceding projection methods.

A DLP HDTV contains one or more DMD (Digital Multi-mirror Device) chips as pictured here at right. These are solid-state microchips covered with an array of millions of tiny mirrors which move in response to the signal received by the chip. Light is shone onto the DMD from a projection lamp, and by varying the amount of light reflected by each micro-mirror, or blocking it, the chip can reflect a precise image onto the screen composed of up to 1024 shades of gray.

To generate the colour, the light from the lamp is passed through a rotating colour wheel before striking the chip. This produces a colour image on the screen with a colour density of up to 16 million shades. Since the colour comes from a single light source, convergence is a non-issue with this display technology.

A single DMD chip can produce more than 16 million colours, and systems with multiple chips are able to project far more by separating each primary colour - but as of yet, multi-DMD home systems are few and far between, and incredibly expensive. Future enhancements to the DLP system will bring more resolution and colours to single chip systems if the momentum for this technology remains constant.

DLP Consumables

Like other projection technologies, DLP sets do not suffer from the screen burn-in and fading issues that can plague big-screen plasma and CRT TVs.

While plasma screens have reported life spans of about three years, a DLP HDTV uses a projection lamp which will require replacement eventually. According to the manufacturer, lamp life should run in the 4000-8000 hour range, or 3+ years of normal use. A new lamp will run you around $200-$300 USD, which is certainly a lot less than replacing the entire screen as can be the case with a plasma TV.

The HLN617W is also user-serviceable in this regard. The manual includes detailed instructions for changing the lamp. As for whether the lamp's quality will deteriorate over time, opinions are mixed. Personally we can't see how it would, being that it is simply a high-end light bulb. The Samsung web site is of the same opinion.

The HLN617W's manual, on the other hand, states that "the lamp used in a projection TV has a limited life-span. For the best screen quality it needs to be replaced periodically" which sounds a little more ominous.

Rainbow Effects

If DLP has any disadvantages, it is the 'rainbow effect,' a visual appearance of colour breakup. This is an optical illusion created by the sequential updating of the colours on the screen by the rapidly rotating colour wheel. It can cause flashes of rainbow light in your peripheral vision when you switch your focus to a different part of the screen.

The effect is generally only noticeable in high-contrast scenes, and then only when you are looking for it. If you are aware of it though, it can become quite distracting. Some people are much more sensitive to the effect than others, but it is worth noting that this effect is not brought about by rapidly moving images on the screen itself - only when the user looks around the screen real estate rapidly. We'll talk about how the HLN617W performs in this regard in little later in the review.

Physical Attributes of the HLN617W

Since DLP displays do not require the bulky CRT's and projection equipment that weigh down conventional large screen TVs, they are considerably lighter as a rule. While not as svelte as plasma or LCD display, the HLN617W is still very easy to move for its size, and much lighter than an equivalent plasma screen would be. Weighing in at 101.9lbs, we found that two people could move it around with very little strain.

The HLN617W measures 57 inches across, 40 inches high and remarkably only 19 inches deep. Obviously it can't sit flush against a wall like plasma or LCD screens, but it is very shallow for its size and will not eat up too much of your living room.

A stand is a must for this set, as the best viewing experience only comes with the television properly mounted so that it is at eye level when you are seated. The Samsung TR61L2S stand (separately, $700USD) is the intended model for the HLN617W.

The rear of the set heats up considerably on the left-hand side where the vent for the lamp is located. Given the shape of the case, it is not possible to place the vent close enough to a wall or other object to cause concern though. The HLN617W shines a thin pattern of shifting light onto the wall behind it (the backwash from the lamp shining though the vent slats). This is hidden by the bulk of the TV during viewing, and is not bright enough to cause a distraction in our experience.

Incidently, the HLN617W's power consumption is rated at 200Watts. Comparably speaking, a 42" plasma screen draws about 310W, 220W for a 40" LCD screen. Now, let's take a closer look at all those A/V inputs.

Audio and Video Inputs

As you might expect, Samsung's HLN617W features a veritable forest of input options. The imposing back panel of the TV features no less than three sets of component inputs (Y, Pb, Pr) of which two are for High Definition sources and one for DVD input.

There are also two S-video connectors, three sets of composite connections, two coaxial antenna inputs (and one antenna output), an extra pair of audio inputs for PC connections, a DVI connector, a VGA port and even an RS-232 serial port for "…repair and software upgrades." Cool.

An additional S-Video port and set of composite connectors are located on the right side of the front bezel for easy use with game consoles and camcorders.

HLN617W Rear Panel Terminals

Terminals: Coaxial cable input and output, S-Video inputs, RCA Video input, RCA Left/Right Audio inputs, RCA component inputs (480i/480p/720p/1080i) & left/right audio, and RCA left/right PC audio input, a DVI computer video input, an Analog computer video input, and RS232 port for ugprading firmware.

  • 480i/480p/720p/1080i: Connects to a source with Y, Pb, Pr signals like a DVD player or DTV (Digital TV) set top box.

At the side of the Samsung HLN-417W are a set of component RCA Video, S-Video and left / right Audio inputs for use with a camcorder or similar device.

The included universal remote was one of our less-favourite parts of the system. It gets the job done, and it does allow you to control up to four other audio/visual devices (with a little programming) but we found it slightly below par for a couple of reasons. First of all, the control felt imprecise at times, with the TV either not responding or responding slowly to some button presses. These issues occurred at all ranges. Note that we are not saying the remote didn't work, just that we occasionally had to press a button twice or three times to get the desired response, which is not what we'd like to see on a high end TV.

Secondly (and this is us being fussy) the remote is quite plain for such an expensive device, and is not all that comfortable to hold, especially with the bottom hatch open.

Design-wise, the remote is adequate. An LED strip along the top indicates which peripheral this universal remote is currently controlling. Below that are three mode buttons. The 'p.mode' and 's.mode' buttons choose between picture and sound presets, respectively, while the 'mode' button changes which peripheral is being controlled by the remote. Below that are the typical number keypad, volume and channel controls and a 4-way selector and enter button to control on-screen menus. Under these is a row of four interesting buttons: 'P.size' switches between the various picture modes supported by the TV, such as widescreen and panorama.

The 'still' button can be used to stop the picture at a particular point. Pressing the button again will resume the video feed. Note that this does not imply any form of PVR function, as the program or DVD continues to run while the still is being displayed. It's an interesting option though.. 'MTS' chooses between stereo, mono and SAP audio and finally 'surround' activates the HLN617W's surround sound emulation feature.

At the bottom of the remote is a hatch which slides down to reveal a final three rows of (presumably) less used buttons in order to make the device easier to grip. Included in here are PIP (picture-in-picture) controls, VCR/DVD controls, a button for adding and deleting channels from memory and the control button for the DNLe video feature we talked about earlier.

On-Screen Menus and Settings

The onscreen menu system is colourful and comprehensive, if occasionally cumbersome to click through, though this was more because of the remote's lack of responsiveness than anything else. Let's break it down by category:

The input menu allows you to scroll through the various input options and also customize their names. So you could call composite 1, 2 and 3 'HDTV,' 'spare' and 'DVD' if you'd like.

When selecting inputs, only ones that are actually connected are highlighted and available, which is handy.

The sound menu contains sound presets (standard, music, movie and speech) and custom sound options for bass treble and balance. Also included are toggles for the BBE sound processing, MTS and virtual Dolby surround sound effects as well as an auto-volume adjustment feature which compensates for louder or fainter audio signals between channels.

Menu's are navigated with the help of a little joystick on the remote control, or via the controls on the bezel of the screen.

The picture menu, as its name suggests, controls the properties of the display. From here you can choose one of the three preset picture modes: standard, dynamic (for daylight viewing) and movie, or custom to edit the display properties yourself.

Also available in this menu are colour tone options, screen size and PIP controls (which are also on the remote) and the toggles for Film Mode (auto-adjustment of picture for 480i inputs only), DNLe and Digital Noise Reduction settings. More on these in the tech specs section below.

The setup menu is a grab bag of options including closed caption controls, V-chip controls, time, menu language and PC setup controls. The latter allow you to adjust the display to cope with any video noise introduced by a PC connection. The menus are available in English, Spanish or French.

Contains options for tuner and cable channel handling, including detection, fine-tuning, favorites, labeling channels, etc.

The display has two coaxial cable inputs on the rear and includes a built-in tuner. The options here allow the user to make adjustments to the cable settings.

The Manual

The included manual is large and comprehensive, with generally well written instructions and easy to follow diagrams on each page. We do think that Samsung might want to reconsider the order that they have arranged the contents in though. The first thing you see (after the safety warnings) upon opening the manual is a guide to changing the projector lamp and why it might be necessary. Now don't get us wrong, this is crucial information; it's just that as a consumer, I'd be a little peeved if the first thing I saw in the manual of my new multi-thousand dollar HDTV were instructions on buying and installing replacement parts. It left us wondering exactly how long Samsung expected each lamp to last... Next up, we put this little 61" screen through some tests with DVDs, and Doom3!

In use; HDTV, Gaming, and DVDs

Samsung's HLN617W is built for movies, and this showed when we hooked it up to a DVD player with component outs. DVD quality was excellent, with a very 'movie-like' feel to it (as you might expect on a 61" widescreen). The picture was crisp and colours were vibrant and well reproduced.

Using the component inputs produced solid, respectable black, while the black from the S-video inputs was rather washed out.

Viewing angles were quite impressive. We did not notice much of a decrease in clarity until we moved far enough to the side that we could not see the whole screen properly, so this will not be a concern. Samsung advertises the set as having 160-degree viewing angles so this is no surprise. Vertical viewing angles are a little less, but when set up properly this shouldn't affect a users viewing experience.

Samsung's HLN617W can function as a test case for the superiority of component inputs over S-video (not that there was much doubt in the first place). We used a DVD player with S-video and component outs in combination with the TV's Picture-in-picture feature to create a half-component, half-S-video display for comparison purposes. Not only were the colours much more vivid and life-like on the component side, the blacks were also much deeper. There's no doubt in our mind as to what this TV needs to work best then.

As you would expect from DLP technology, there is no sign of 'ghosting' in the Samsung HLN617W's picture during rapid action scenes.

The brightness of the set was fine for darkened areas, though when we viewed the display in a normally illuminated office area with large windows it overwhelmed the screen until we changed to the 'dynamic' picture mode intended to deal with bright areas. Overall we were satisfied with the brightness of this Samsung DLP screen.

Testing with regular TV signals always feels like a bit of a letdown on a screen this size, but the HLN617W did not do badly. The panorama picture mode lets you use the full screen area while only stretching the image at either edge of the screen, which we found to be an acceptable compromise. 4.3 mode works well also, but is very under whelming in comparison.

In use - Computer Display

Of course, as computer hardware guys, we had to see how the HLN617W would work as a PC monitor. We grabbed an Aopen EX915 XCube mini-PC also on the PCstats test bench (hey, it matched the TV!) connected it up, and preceded to test.

As we mentioned before, the HLN617W display has both DVI and VGA connectors for PC, so hooking it up was a breeze. With a few clicks of the remote, it is easy enough to bring up a DVD into PIP, and continue to work away on the PC desktop with the movie playing in the corner (as pictured above). It's also easy enough to keep the DVD playing as you load up a game like DOOM3 on this massive screen. :-)

We tested with a Radeon X600xt video card in the system, which has both DVI and VGA connections and the picture was excellent. With the DVI connection to the HLN617W and the resolution set at 1280x720, text was clear and crisp several metres away from the screen. None of the fuzziness we have come to associate with TV-out connections is present (nor should it be). With a wireless keyboard, writing a review using this 61" monitor would be a pleasure!

Supported PC resolutions run from 640x480 up to 1024x768. Three 'widescreen' modes are also available; 720x483, 1280x720 (our favourite) and 1290x1080i. The widescreen modes offer a fantastic amount of desktop workspace, and adjust well to most 3D games and applications. The HLN617W supports up to 32-bit colour.

We ran Doom3 through its paces on the HLN617W and we can report that the display would make an excellent companion for a multimedia/gaming computer. The HLN617W has easily the best computer display properties of any television I has reviewed so far.

Sound, Tehchical Conclusions

The HLN617W's sound system is not bad at all, and while obviously not a match for a dedicated surround sound system, it managed to do justice to most of our test DVDs.

The bass was quite impressive for its two channels of 15 watt speakers, and the included BBE Sound processing option adds considerable punch to music and on-screen action. The virtual Dolby Surround Sound feature does increase the 'space' of the sound, achieving at least the feeling of displaced speakers. As you might expect, DSS reduces the clarity and punch of the sound though. Note that the BBE sound and the Virtual surround options cannot be used together on this HDTV.

As we stated, the Samsung HLN617W handled the audio in our DVDs well, with the exception of a Nine Inch Nails concert disk. Even this produced good results, except that attempting the low bass notes caused the speakers to rattle the entire television cabinet, which was a bit distracting. While we'd assume that anyone shelling out for a HDTV like this would intend to match it with a comparable surround sound system, the HLN617W's integrated speakers are good quality, and will keep you going for a while. Especially in a smaller room.

Technical Observations and Conclusions

Having read about the 'rainbow effect' seen in DLP screens, we were on the lookout for evidence of this on the Samsung HLN617W. While we did see this effect in action, our conclusion is that it's not something to really worry about.

The 'rainbow effect' is most noticeable in high contrast scenes, where we found that if we moved our eyes quickly from one end of the screen to the other we would get small rainbow flashes in our peripheral vision until we focused on the new area of the screen. The effect got weaker the further we were from the screen.

Interesting, but hardly off-putting. It's worth noticing that as soon as we stopped thinking about the effect, we stopped noticing it. The lone exception to this was when we tested the HLN617W with a test pattern of pure black with white circles. On this particular screen, any motion of the eyes brought chaotic rainbow flashing which was very noticeable, so if you plan on watching a lot of test patterns, steer clear of DLP technology.

Samsung's much-hyped 'DNLe' image processing technology does actually seem to have a noticeable and positive effect on the image when enabled. The set includes a 'demo' mode of the effect, which splits the screen into a half-DNLe processed, half normal display. With the processing enabled, images are noticeably sharper, especially in the case of high-resolution signals like DVD and PC input.

As noted above in the DLP technology section, The HLN617W does not suffer from convergence issues, since colour is formed by a single light source passing through a single rotating colour wheel.

Final Thoughts

Our first conclusions after seeing the Samsung HLN617W in action are that it's hard to imagine anyone who wouldn't want it his or her living room.

Second thoughts say that the remote control could be a lot better, and the on screen menus more convenient, but these are minor points.

The Samsung HLN617W is an excellent wide-screen 61" HDTV which doubles as the largest computer monitor you are likely to see. If there is an issue with this product, it's how poor standard TV and game console signals look in comparison to HDTV, PC and DVD input. Make sure that you have the resources to take full advantage of this set's capabilities before buying. For the price and the size, this set is an excellent gateway into the world of really large screen HDTV, and I for one am definitely sold on DLP's visual qualities.

Read More......