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GROUP TEST

 

WIDESCREEN TVS

 

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INTRODUCTION

You may well have been a bit perplexed, not to say irritated by recent reports in the media, that youíre going to have to buy a new TV to get the new digital channels. There was even some suggestion that the Government were going to switch off the analogue transmitters in a couple of years. Relax, whilst it is true that analogue transmissions will eventually cease, itís unlikely to happen this side of 2010, by which time any TV you have now will be well past retirement age. Anyway, youíll probably have gone digital long before that; even if the marketing hype is only half true, itís going to be difficult to resistÖ

 

The fact is virtually all TVs made within the past six or seven years have at least one SCART AV connector socket, the type used by set-top digital decoders. Even if yours hasnít youíll still be able to connect it to a decoder box as most early models will have an aerial loop-through like a VCR, though picture and sound quality wonít be as good. Look at it this way, sooner or later you are going to buy a new TV. Itís our intention to steer you towards the next generation of televisions, that will see you through the transition period and beyond, so you wonít miss out on any of the new services that will be available, starting this summer.

 

The most obvious benefit of digital terrestrial and satellite television is the change in shape of the picture, from the boxy 4:3 aspect ratio thatís been around for the past fifty plus years, to the widescreen or 16:9 shape. Of course thereís nothing to stop you sticking with a 4:3 TV, but the simple fact is you will be missing out, in other words you wonít be getting the full picture that youíve paying for.

 

You will already have noticed an increasing number of TV programmes and movies are shown in letterboxed format, with thin black bars at the top and bottom of the screen. Thatís just the beginning, around 30% of digital TV broadcasts will be in widescreen from day-one and within a couple of years pretty well all programmes will be made that way. You may not like it, but it is a positive change though, on a par with the move from 405 to 625 lines and colour broadcasting. Movies have been made in widescreen since the 1940ís; a widescreen display is more comfortable to watch and when you think about it, itís how we see the world.  

 

There is a good argument for allowing the technology to settle down for a few months. Itís probably going to be like the early days of satellite TV, with some early digital boxes missing out on future features Ė remember the first Astra receivers only had 20 channels and no smart card slots!  However, you can buy a new widescreen TV without any qualms, confident that it will be ready and able to handle digital transmissions via a set-top receiver.

 

So if your old TVs getting on a bit, or on the blink, now is a good time to start thinking about upgrading to a widescreen model in readiness for digital; hereís a few models to whet your appetite!

 

BOX COPY 1

HOW THE TESTS WERE DONE

The basic performance criteria for widescreen TVs are the same as those for any other form of video display, namely their ability to resolve fine detail, picture brightness, contrast range, colour accuracy and noise levels. However, because of their shape we  pay special attention to  focus, particularly close to the edges, moreover widescreen TVs tend to use a lot more digital video processing circuitry. Ideally it should remain in the background but it can produce visible artefacts -- pixellation or blocking  on fast motion and texturing on static scenes -- so this gets extra special attention. We use a variety of signal sources, including off-air, tape, disc and electronically generated test patterns, with an emphasis on widescreen format material.  

 

Widescreen TVs also need to be able to cope with a range of display formats. Since weíre going to have to live with 4:3 pictures for some time to come, we look at how good zoomed or full-screen 4:3 pictures are, and facilities to reduce cropping.  Sound is important too, extra points are awarded for speaker design and layout and facilities like surround sound. Lastly we consider how easy the TV is to set up and use, on-screen displays and not forgetting the widgets and toys.

 

WHAT THE MAKERS SAY

 

HITACHI

ĎStockists and official figures confirm that following its launch, this has been the best selling 32-inch widescreen TV. Widescreen is the format for the digital revolution; this TVís excellent sound system and impressive features, including PC connectivity, commands attention. As an added bonus, if you buy one before June 14th and England or Scotland win the World Cup, you get back half the purchase priceí

 

JVC

ĎJVCís AV-32WP2 top of the range 32inch widescreen television boasts some of the most advanced television technologies available today. This model incorporates JVCís own Dolby Pro Logic 3D-Phonic technology, further enhanced by the addition of an in-built centre speaker. 100Hz Natural Scan drastically reduces the image flickering that may occur with conventional PAL systems. It also has Twin Picture technology with two tuners, so you can watch two channels on one screen at the same time; Widevision Plus; Power Bass; 3D Headphones - to name but a few of its many featuresí

 

PANASONIC

ĎThe TX-W28R3 offers superb picture quality made possible by the Panasonic Quintrix tube. Broadcasters are fully committed to the widescreen format for digital TV and this model offers a competitive, future-proof solution. Via the rear SCART socket you can add a set-top box etc., for the broadcast format which best suits your needsí.

 

PHILIPS

ĎThis Home Entertainment award-winner is an ease of use dream and the most innovative Philips widescreen TV ever. The 32-inch 32PW9763 combines superb 70 watts of Pro Logic output and Crystal Clear III picture quality with automatic aspect ratio setting, automatic picture environment control and Dual Screen, enabling two channels to be viewed simultaneouslyí

 

SAMSUNG Ė to come

 

SONY

ĎIn the domestic TV world FD Trinitron represents a fantastic technological innovation akin to the introduction of colour. With its vertically and horizontally flat cathode ray tube, FD Trinitron allows viewing which is free of distortion, reflection or glare and benefits from Multimedia capabilities and features, for the introduction of digital TVí

 

THE REVIEWS

 

Hitachi C32WD2TNB, £1100, ***

If you like the idea of widescreen TV but are put off by the cost and apparent complexity of a full-blown home cinema set-up, then the C32WD2 deserves your very serious attention. Hitachi has done a good job of condensing a lot of AV technology into an approachable, easy to use package. The exterior is conventional, maybe even a little dull, but the narrow screen surround and plain cosmetics give it a trim and tidy appearance.

 

 

The feature list is rather brief. It has an internal Dolby Pro Logic decoder, but no on-board amplification for the external speakers. Cordless infra-red rear channel speakers are available as an option for around £70 and you would also need an active speaker for the centre-front channel, otherwise it has to be used in Phantom mode, with dialogue coming from the stereo speakers.  Hitachiís own 3D pseudo surround system generates a puffed up stereo image via the main stereo speakers, apart from that there are few luxuries.

 

 

The one surprise extra is a VGA input on the back panel. This means it can be connected to a PC or used with a set-top Web TV Internet browser box. The display resolution is 640 x 480 pixels, and the image is not as stable as a PC monitor but it could be used in conjunction with a digital terrestrial or satellite decoder for lightening-fast Internet downloads. For some reason thereís no mention of the VGA connection in the instruction book, but it does come with a PC software driver disc and an installation sheet.

 

Compatibility with digital broadcasts shouldnít be a problem. It has four basic display modes, for normal 4:3, 14:9 and 16:9 formatted pictures, plus a Panoramic mode, which stretches the sides of a 4:3 image, to fill the screen. Screen mode selection is automatic where broadcasters transmit WSS (widescreen signalling) data, or they can be selected manually from the remote handset. 

 

Multi-format widescreen display, VGA compatible input, Dolby Pro Logic pseudo surround, child lock, sleep timer, multi-brand remote, Fastext, cordless IR rear speakers optional

 

The initial set-up and day to day operations are all quite straightforward. Dolby Pro Logic installation is also very easy, thanks to a well thought out on-screen display. There are no fancy tricks or animation, just plain, simple text and graphics. Rear panel connectivity is adequate; it has two SCART sockets and line-level outputs for the surround channels. Thereís another set of AV inputs on the front panel, plus a headphone jack. The remote control handset can be programmed to operate the basic functions on a wide range of VCRs and satellite receivers from over a hundred other manufacturers 

 

Itís not the sort of picture that stops you in your tracks but video quality is good. Noise levels on analogue terrestrial and satellite broadcasts were fairly average, the tuner is reasonably sensitive but it works best with a good signal otherwise it can look a little grainy. Colour fidelity is fine and picture linearity in 4:3 and 16:9 modes is spot-on. The Panoramic display tries hard to make full use of the screen area but there is some vertical distortion, though it is slight, and you can get used to it after a while. 

 

Full Dolby Surround is an option, so we have to consider the sound quality of the standard package. The front-firing speakers either side of the screen create a fairly narrow soundfield, which makes the 3D spatial sound option more of a necessity than a luxury if youíre seated more than couple of metres from the screen. The bass output is quite modest, not really enough to do justice to action blockbusters but okay for less demanding material. 

 

The C32WD2TN lacks drama and glitz but itís a solid widescreen workhorse, that wonít cost you an arm and a leg, and it can be easily upgraded to full surround. 

 

Picture quality            ***

Sound quality              ***

Features                     ***

Ease of use                 ****

Hitachi Home Electronics, telephone 0181-849 2000

 

Critical captions

 

* Plain, almost austere cosmetics, but at least itís not going to dominate your living room

 

* Thereís few controls to worry about, so itís not going to upset your old granny. Even the remote control looks uncomplicated, though there are some extra buttons under a sliding flap

 

* Only two SCART sockets, but it does have an ace up its sleeve in the shape of a VGA input socket, so it can be connected to a PC or Web TV Internet box

 

Key Feature

Hitachi were one of the first companies to come up with the idea of cordless rear channel speakers, for Dolby Pro Logic surround sound operation. The ones available for the C32WD2TNB use infrared signals, to beam the sound from the TV. The speakers are mains-powered, and theyíre connected together by a wire, so theyíre not exactly wire-less, but it does avoid trailing cables from the TV, across the living room.

 

JVC AV-32WP, £2000, ***

JVC have a canny touch, they precisely judged the initial public reaction to home cinema, over the need for extra speakers dotted around the living room. Their 3D Phonic system, which generates a big spacious soundfield from the TVís built-in speakers was an immediate success and has spawned several imitators. The AV-32 sports the latest version of the 3D Phonic sound system, and as with previous models, it is possible to upgrade to full Dolby Pro Logic operation, using external amplifiers and speakers.

 

Multi-format widescreen display, 100Hz ĎNauural Scaní, digital noise reduction, twin tuner and multi-picture display, Dolby Pro Logic 3D Phonic sound, child lock, sleep timer

 

The designers have also put a lot of effort into picture performance. It has a switchable 100Hz display called Natural Scan, thereís digital noise reduction, and an Eco mode, that automatically adjusts brightness and contrast, according to ambient lighting levels. Display sizing can be handled automatically, under direction from broadcasts carrying wide screen signalling (WSS) data, or set manually. There are six basic display modes: 4:3, 14:9, 16:9, 16:9 subtitle, Panoramic and ĎFullí stretch. Knob-twiddlers will be pleased with the multi-screen display modes. It has a twin tuner and you can choose from a single PIP (picture in picture) sub-screen, split screen, or multiple sub screens, showing other channels or AV inputs. Sub screen scan be frozen, swapped around willy-nilly or used to display teletext. Rounding off the feature list thereís a smart-looking computer-style menu-driven on-screen display, child lock, 4-mode digital sound processor, centre channel dialogue speaker and a surround-sound effect on the headphone output.    

 

Great expense has been spared in the design and cosmetics; itís yet another big black plastic box, virtually indistinguishable from most other 32-inch widescreen sets from the front. (Ironically itís easier to tell most TVs apart by looking at the backs these daysÖ). The backside is where youíll find a set of three SCART sockets plus the centre and surround line-level outputs for from the Dolby Pro Logic decoder. Thereís another set of AV inputs Ė including an S-Video socket Ė on the front, plus a headphone jack.

 

An auto sweep tuner takes care of the initial set up, at least it should. The tuner in our sample appeared not to be overly sensitive and repeated skipped past Channel 4, yet managed to lock on to Channel 5, which is no great shakes. In the end we had to resort to manual tuning and naming. It definitely needs a good signal though; noise was present on all channels with a slightly attenuated signal, so make sure your aerial is good shape if you go for this one. Itís worth the effort, picture quality can be very good, itís capable of resolving a lot of fine detail, colours are accurate and picture geometry in standard display modes is on the nail. Panoramic display is fair to middling, stretching is quite pronounced once you get outside the central third of the picture, and the additional digital processing appears to increase the amount of grain in the picture. The Natural Motion mode works very well indeed, we spotted one or two brief artefacts but then we were looking for them, and they would undoubtedly go unnoticed in normal viewing conditions.  

 

Anything less than a full set of speakers in a surround sound system is heresy but JVC must be in league with the devil as 3D Phonic does create some unique spatial effects, that are not evident on most pseudo surround systems. Itís not the real thing but for those who simply cannot bear lots of wires and boxes all over the place it is a worthwhile substitute. Bass output is nothing special but dialogue, mid-range and treble frequencies are clean and specific sounds are accurately located in the frontal soundstage. 

 

In the scheme of things itís a bit pricey but youíre getting a well-appointed TV with above average sound and very respectable picture performance.

 

Picture quality            ****

Sound quality              ***

Features                     ****

Ease of use                 ****

 

JVC UK Ltd., telephone 0181-208 7654

 

Critical captions

 

        Clean lines, discrete controls and a flat top for your knick-knacks; a functional  if unadventurous looking set

 

        The remote control is suspiciously free of buttons, thatís mainly due to the comprehensive and easy to follow on-screen display, which handles all secondary functions

 

* Three SCART sockets means itís ready for just about anything digital television can throw at it. You can also upgrade to full DPL operation, if you add on extra amplifiers and speakers

 

Key Feature

3D phonic differs from most other pseudo surround systems by using a proper Dolby Pro Logic decoder to separate out the surround channels, and electronically mix them in with the front stereo channels. Various acoustic tricks are used to give the impression of surround sound, but without any additional speakers. It's not as good as fill-blown DPL but if the cables are a problem itís an interesting substitute

 

Panasonic TX-W28R3, £750, ****

The fact that the RX-W28 has a 28-inch screen (a 32-inch model is also available) and doesnít have a fancy sound system certainly isnít a disadvantage when it comes to digital compatibility. It might even count as an advantage for some as it doesnít involve any expensive duplication of facilities. A lot of home cinema enthusiasts are only interested in a widescreen TV as a display as theyíll prefer to make their own surround sound arrangements. A 28-inch screen is a convenient size for smaller rooms, though itís worth bearing in mind that a 4:3 display can look quite small. However, thereís really no need to view anything but widescreen pictures on this set as the panoramic or ĎJustí mode is so good, and 16:9 switching is automatic, using WSS data.

 

 

 

 

 

The Just picture option is one of four display settings; the other three are normal 4:3, Zoom and Full or 16:9. Picture position can be manually adjusted in the Zoom mode, to prevent cropping of subtitles, or the tops of peopleís heads. Given the low price it is not surprising that it has few additional display facilities, though again you have to ask yourself how often youíre going to want or need lots of sub-screens and picture gimmicks, when all youíre interested in watching TV or movies? That also helps make it very simple to use, so simple in fact that you donít even have to worry about tuning it in; auto set-up kicks in as soon as it is plugged in. We encountered a slight hiccup with our our sample, and it made a couple of mistakes when fed with a slightly weakened signal, but theyíre easily rectified from the manual set-up menu.

 

 

On-screen displays are very clearly presented, they use the by now familiar computer style menu graphics, though instead of dropping down from the top of the screen, they pop up from the bottom. All of the usual picture and sound adjustments are included, and thereís separate bass, treble and balance controls, plus an Ambience mode, which spreads out the stereo image.

 

Connectivity for external components is good with three SCART sockets on the back, stereo line audio output, a full set of AV inputs and a headphone socket on the front. Thereís a small handful of additional convenience features, which include a and controls on the remote handset for Panasonic VCRs.  Panasonic deserve a small pat on the back for this setís remarkably low power consumption in standby mode, which is just 1 watt, comfortably inside the most recent EU recommendations for TVs and VCRs (6 watts).  Nevertheless there is one unexpected omissions. It doesnít have a NexTViewLink facility, which is slightly odd considering Panasonic have championed this useful communications facility that allows TVs to interact with control functions on a VCR.

   

Tuner selectivity is average and some co-channel interference was present when fed with a strong signal. On the whole picture quality was very good, proving thereís still plenty of life left for well-designed 50Hz displays. The Quintrix picture tube has bags of contrast and shows a lot of fine detail, thereís very little noise from most analogue sources. Colours are pristine and very well defined, skin tones in particular look very natural.

 

The side-mounted speakers deliver a crisp, evenly balanced sound. Bass is limited and the stereo soundstage isnít terribly wide but the Ambience setting gives a much broader spread, thatís well suited to a normal sized living room.

 

Despite its apparent lack of sophistication the TX-W28 is a highly competent design that trades gadgets and gimmicks for a good-looking picture and decent sound, at a very sensible price. Worth considering if youíre planning to use it with a separate surround sound system.   

 

Picture quality            ****

Sound quality              ***

Features                     ***

Ease of use                 ****

 

Panasonic UK Ltd., telephone (0990) 357357

 

Critical captions

 

* Itís nothing special, as far as looks are concerned but the flat screen and narrow surround are not overbearing and it wouldnít look out of place in a modestly-sized living room

 

* The button count on the remote handset is well below average, though you do have open the hinged flap to get at the display size button, which can be inconvenient

 

* Three SCART sockets on the back panel mean itís not going to be found wanting when digital set-top decoders arrive, and the front AV connectors will please camcorder and video game fans

 

Key Feature

Simplicity of use is a major selling point. With a good aerial there should be no problems with the initial set-up, which starts automatically as soon as the TV is plugged in. The comprehensive on-screen display and remote control handset also makes life easy, and with so few widgets to worry about it has to be one of the very few widescreen TVs you can connect up and use, without looking at the instruction bookÖ.

 

Philips  32PW9763, £2000, ****

This is one for heavy-duty TV fans; itís almost worth buying for the channel search facility alone! Thatís just one of a range of gadgets that are guaranteed to keep you amused when thereís nothing else to watchÖ

 

The outside is unremarkable, the speakers positioned either side of the screen are angled outwards, which helps sound dispersion; the top is flat, providing somewhere to park a pot plant and a couple of photographs, but itís not going to win any prizes for good looks. All the goodies are under the bonnet. They include a smooth, that isnít fazed by fast movement; it has manual and automatic picture sizing, , coming from no less than 11 speakers, plus a whole bunch of digital AV processing systems, working behind the scenes.

 

 

 

 

Once video information is digitised there are all sorts of tricks you can play with it, and Philips has them all. Some are genuinely useful, like the aforementioned Channel Search, which generates a 1/3 screen image in the centre, and surrounds it with 8 sub-screens, showing stills from all available channels. The TV has two tuners, and thereís a split screen, showing two channels at once, thatís handy too. Others, like the mosaic, freeze and strobe are completely pointless, but lots of fun...

 

 

We canít quite make our mind up about picture zoom. It electronically enlarges the image in three stages (4X, 9X & 16X), and you can pan around the picture, using a four-way joypad on the remote handset. You never know, it might come in handy one dayÖ

 

Also worth having is the wide range of picture and sound adjustments, accessed from a rather smooth on-screen display system. Itís very well presented, with clear, easy to follow instructions and crisp graphics, the Dolby Pro Logic set-up is very good too, and if youíve got nothing to do for a couple of minutes, the animated demo sequence is worth a look. The on screen display is ready and waiting for input from the Electronic Program Guide (EPG) that will eventually accompany digital terrestrial and satellite broadcasts; it also has three SCART sockets on the back, so it is well equipped for the future. Incidentally, if you can hang on until the summer the 32PW97563 will come bundled with a pair of FM wireless rear speakers.  

 

 

The range of picture adjustments is a bit of a mixed blessing, it can take a while to get the picture just right, memorise the setting, then it all goes out of bonk if the programme source changes, so you have another fiddle. After a while you find you just canít leave well alone. When you do get it right the results can be excellent. The picture is crisp and well defined; thereís very little noise with a good analogue feed. Colour accuracy is generally good, though our sample favoured reds, which seems a little too bold at times. The effects of all that digital processing are kept well in check on 4:3 and widescreen displays, though some blurring is sometimes evident on the zoom modes, but itís very slight, and not enough to put you off using it.

 

Eleven speakers seems a bit over the top, though we have to admit it does sound rather good, even managing a fair amount of bass, which is rare on any TV, let alone a widescreen model. Surround sound is remarkably good too, though you might need to make alternative arrangements if its to be used in a really large room.

 

Picture quality            ****

Sound quality              ****

Features                     ****

Ease of use                 ***

 

Philips Consumer Electronics, telephone 0181-689 4444

 

Critical captions

* The side speakers are angled slightly outwards, which helps produce a well-dispersed stereo and surround soundfield

 

* The big Blackline S tube provides plenty of contrast and it is very flat, so there are relatively few annoying reflections, from overhead lighting or windows

 

* The remote control handset is a bit of an ugly brute, though it covers a lot of ground and can control a range of Philips products

 

Key Feature

One of the reasons the 9763 looks so good is the 100Hz display. A lot of people are conscious of the flicker generated by a normal TV, this can be even more pronounced on a widescreen model. Philips eliminate the effect by electronically increasing the rate at which each image is shown, from 50 times a second, to 100 times a second, well above the rate at which our brains registers screen flicker.

 

Samsung WF32AQ14T, £900, ****

Thatís right, a 32-inch widescreen TV for the amazingly low price of just £900. So whatís the catch? To be honest there isnít one, unless you count the fact that it doesnít have any frills, glitzy digital features or surround-sound, itís just a super value set thatís perfect for anyone on a budget, looking for a large widescreen TV.

 

The most striking feature is its size Ė a full 38 inches (97cm) wide -- and what some might consider to be slightly dated cosmetics. LG have made no attempt to contour the cabinet to the shape of the tube. If anything theyíve emphasised its width with an extra broad screen surround and speakers, mounted on the side of the cabinet. The mockwood trim on the top and side of the case is a bit naff, though at that price we can live with it.

 

 

Multi-format widescreen, favourite AV memory, stereo wide, sleep timer, child lock

 

Rear: 2 x SCART AV, stereo line audio out (phono) aerial in (coaxial). Front: AV in (phono) S-Video in (mini DIN), headphones (minijack)

 

 

Thereís no evidence of any serious corner-cutting, at least not where it really counts, in the AV department. The WF32A has five picture modes that includes 4:3, 16:9, two zoom settings and Spectacle, which equates to a 4:3 panoramic type display. Picture and sound settings can be customised using two favourite memories and the audio menu has bass boost and stereo wide options. Thereís also a child lock and sleep timer. It has front-mounted AV inputs but only two SCART sockets and a set of line-level audio outputs. Thatís adequate for current needs and it doesnít rule it out for digital viewing but it could make life difficult (but not impossible) for those wanting to use multiple source components.

 

LG have made enormous improvements to their on-screen display systems over the years and this one doesnít look out of place alongside any of those from the major Japanese and European set makers. Menu selections are made using a cluster of four cursor controls on the remote handset. The only minor ergonomic niggle is the display mode selector button, which lives under a sliding hatch. Thereís a full set of controls built into the set; theyíre mounted on a sliding drawer, just below the centre of the screen.

 

Full marks for the tuner, which is both sensitive and selective. It coped extremely well with a wide range of signal conditions. Automatic set-up is quick and efficient, it tunes and sorts locally available stations into the correct order and assigns each one an ident. Focus and picture linearity are on the money in all standard display modes. The Spectacle setting manages to crop the picture and introduce some minor distortion to 4:3 material. Noise levels are very low, some colours are a wee bit busy Ė saturated reds are quite lively Ė but colour accuracy is generally good, and the dynamic range is every bit as good as TVs costing twice as much. This TV appears to be less dependent on heavyweight digital processing than many of its contemporaries, no artefacts were visible on the normal 4:3 and 16:9 picture displays.

 

The large wide set speakers create a generous stereo image at normal viewing distances, without any help from the stereo wide facility. The response is mostly flat and uncoloured and thereís a modicum of bass.

 

However you look at it, itís a bargain! We can see the WF32AQ14T being snapped up as a low-cost widescreen monitor, to be used in conjunction with an external surround sound system. It also stacks up well as a widescreen TV in its own right and it deserves to be on any shortlist. One word of warning though, make sure you measure the space itís going to occupy before you buy, itís a big buggerÖ

 

Picture quality            ****

Sound quality              ****

Features                     ***

Ease of use                 ****

 

Samsung Electronics, telephone 0181-391 0168

 

Critical captions

 

        It might not be the prettiest or most up to date looking widescreen set on the market but you do get a lot of bangs for your bucks

 

        Thereís a full set of controls mounted on a sliding drawer that pops out from a panel just below the screen

 

* It only has two SCART sockets on the back panel, just enough for current needs but it might be a bit tight when it comes to hooking up digital set-top boxes

 

Key Feature

The WF32AQ14T is quite remarkable value for money and normally we would expect to find that compromises have been made somewhere down the line. If there are any they are not obvious. True, it is quite basic but picture and sound performance are as good as anything weíve seen on widescreen TVs costing several hundred pounds more.

 

Sony KV-32FD1, £2800, *****

The 32FD1 probably doesnít need any introduction, but just in case it somehow managed to pass you by, letís just say once youíve seen it in action, you get a burning sensation in your pocket, and an urge to spend money. Quite a lot of money actually, around £2800 or getting on for twice as much as a regular 32-inch widescreen TV, but thereís a several very good reasons for thatÖ

 

The most obvious one is the FD Trinitron picture tube. Itís the first truly flat widescreen CRT to date, and thatís no mean feat, but itís more than just fancy window-dressing, it has genuine performance benefits. A flat faceplate produces hardly any unwanted reflections; it gives the picture added depth and reduces distortion, when viewed off-centre. Sony could have stopped there but they have gone on to endow the FD tube with a wider than normal contrast range, improved colour rendition and increased sharpness, but more about all that in a moment. Itís a real stunner, even when it is switched off. The screen surround is a light silver colour that really sets off the chunky black cabinet. Attached to the sides thereís a pair of hefty speaker enclosures, that can be moved around, to direct the sound to where it will do most good, or detached, so it can be used as a monitor.

 

The KV-32FD1 has a multi-standard chassis, with advanced digital picture processing circuitry. It has a wide range of picture options, including a 100Hz display, and VGA compatibility, (with inputs front and rear), so it can be connected to a PC or Web TV box. In addition to all currently used display formats thereís a twin-tuner with multiple picture in picture options and spit screen displays. Thereís also a PALplus decoder for pukka widescreen pictures from C4. Sadly this excellent facility has been sidelined by more recent developments in digital broadcasting and currently amounts to just a few hours a week of widescreen transmissions. Not that itís going to be found wanting in the future, it has three SCART sockets and complete set of line-level audio outputs from the built-in Dolby Pro Logic decoder.

 

Installation is fairly uneventful and stations are sorted automatically. Our test model coped with varying signal strengths without any problems whatsoever. The on-screen displays are clear, concise and relatively easy to navigate. The joypad in the middle of the remote handset is a good idea, but thereís lots of buttons to contend with, and theyíre not that easy to find in dim light.

 

Picture quality really is outstanding, thereís an occasional motion artefact on a zoomed picture but you need to be quick to spot them. Colours are natural and accurate with negligible noise, even in heavily saturated areas. The picture is sharp and bright with a wide contrast range; blacks are unusually deep and highlights really stand out from the screen, giving an almost 3D effect.

 

The ĎVirtual Dolby Surround system we can take or leave; itís similar to JVCís 3D Phonic in that it creates a wide, busy soundfield with lots of detail, but surround it Ďaint. Actual sound quality is very good indeed, thanks largely to those external speakers, it even manages a fair amount of bass, and the midrange is very clean. Nevertheless, we suspect that anyone buying this TV will be doing so mainly for the picture performance, and will already have sorted out their sound system, or plan to use it with something a bit special, which is what it really deserves. Itís big, and expensive, but if you take picture quality seriously then you need look no further.

 

Picture quality            *****

Sound quality              ****

Features                     *****

Ease of use                 ***

 

Sony UK Ltd., telephone 0181-784 1144

 

Critical captions

 

* It looks the business, even when itís switched off. The detachable speakers, mounted behind the narrow screen surround help to emphasise the shape and size of the FD tube

 

* Once youíve got used to them, the remote control and on-screen displays are reasonably easy to use, but keep that instruction book handy!

 

* Hereís something you donít see every day, VGA inputs on the front and the back. Thatís in addition to three SCART sockets, a set of AV inputs on the front plus S-Video and line audio outputs on the back panel

 

Key Feature

The FD Trinitron tube is the culmination of a lengthy R&D program, with the aim of developing of a truly flat CRT faceplate. Sony had to go back to the drawing board, to come up with new materials, computer-aided design and manufacturing techniques. Theyíve also had to devise new signal processing systems, to cope with the screen architecture and ensure a sharply focused image across the entire screen area.

 

VERDICT

Some manufacturers are already touting digital connectivity as a key feature on widescreen TVs. The truth is almost any TV -- widescreen or 4:3 -- can be connected to a digital set-top decoder. The six models weíve been looking at are no exception, so you can buy any of them and be confident that theyíre not going to be rendered obsolete in a few years.

 

A lot of group tests begin by pointing out the blindingly obvious, that you only get what you pay for. This time there is a good case for starting at the budget end of the market. LG are almost giving the WF32AQ14T away. Itís the TV weíd go for if screen size and price were the main considerations.  The Panasonic TX-W28R3 is another bargain buy; the 28-inch screen makes it suitable for smaller rooms, where it would be difficult to fit larger set.

 

Some people still find the extra boxes and wiring of a full-blown Dolby Pro Logic set up off-putting. In that case the Hitachi C32WD2TNB and JVC AV-32WP are well worth a look. The Hitachi set comes into its own when used with the optional cordless rear-channel speakers, they push the price up by another £70, but this TV is already very keenly priced and itís still a good deal. JVCís 3D Phonic system gets better and better and although itís not as involving as multi-speaker DPL, the effects can be quite dramatic. Whatís more the option to upgrade is there, if you need it

 

Philips canít put a foot wrong lately and the 32PW9763 is easily one of the most advanced widescreen TVs on the market right now. Itís a button-freaks dream with countless display options, digital tricks galore, all that plus top-notch AV performance. Theyíve done a good job sorting out the 100Hz display and itís now a very worthwhile feature, especially for those bothered by screen flicker. Like the other sets it will have no difficulty adapting to digital, but Philips have done their homework and added on a few very useful extras, that should make the marriage easier.  

 

The Sony KV-32FD1 is quite simply the best 32-inch widescreen TV available and itís all down to the FD Trinitron tube, which has to be seen to be believed. If money is no object, and picture quality is paramount then your search has ended!

 

BEST IN TEST

 

Philips  32PW9763, £2000 Gadget fanís choice

This set has more bells and whistles per pound than just about any other TV, but thereís more to it than lots of toys. Picture and sound performance are both well above average, itís sensibly priced and it is very well prepared for the digital future.

 

Samsung WF32AQ14T, £900 Budget Choice

Itís terrific value and very easy to use. Forget the extra wide cabinet and iffy cosmetics. Picture quality is good and the large speakers produce a big, well-rounded sound. This one has to go to the top of your short list if youíre counting the pennies, but donít want to sacrifice screen size.

 

Sony KV-32FD1, £2800 Editors Choice

Apart from being one of the best looking TVs on the market, it has one of the most advanced CRTs yet developed, producing the sharpest-looking picture to date. A big TV in every sense of the word (it weighs in at 78kgÖ), and expensive, but see it if you can, and then make your mind up.

 

TABLE

BRAND                      HIT            JVC            PAN            PHL            SAM            SON

Price                            1100            2000            750            2000            900            2800

Screen size                 32            32            28            32            32            32

NTSC                          *            *            *            *            -            *

SCARTs                     2            3            3            3            2            3

100Hz                          -            *            -            *            -            *

S-Video                       *            *            *            *            *            *

VGA                            *            -            -            -            -            *

Audio out                    *            *            *            *            *            *

Ext Spks                     */1            -            -            *            -            -

Picture                        ***            ****            ****            ****            ****            *****

Sound                          ***            ***            ***            ****            ***            ****

Ease of use                 ****            ****            ****            ***            ****            ***

Verdict                        ***            ***            ****            ****            ****            *****

 

Key: 1 = optional cordless infra-red surround speakers

 

TABLE Comments

Hitachi

Great value, good performance and some genuinely useful features

 

JVC

A lively performer, 3D Phonic is a big hit with those who like to keep thing simple

 

Panasonic

It may be basic but AV performance is comparable with setís costing twice as much

 

Samsung

Excellent value for money, basic but well built with good AV performance 

 

Sony

Top-notch performer, the picture that sets a new standard in home cinema

 

 

RIVAL BUYS

 

AKAI CT-W3257DPLC, 32-inches, £1500

The shiny big bummed cabinet with its wide surround makes a welcome change from the regiments of anonymous black boxes weíve become accustomed to. Itís fair value for money too. Picture quality is a cut above the average too and the on-board Dolby Pro Logic decoder earns its keep, though the sound from the supplied speakers tends to be a bit mushy.

 

THOMSON 32VT68ND, 32-inches, £1700

The distinctive hand of Philippe Starck can clearly be seen on this imposing 32-incher. It sounds good too, the TV comes with a set of outboard speakers and it has a built-in sub-woofer. Thereís a 100Hz picture display and Thomson have made extensive use of digital video processing circuitry, though itís not always successful.

 

TOSHIBA 32MW7DB, 32-inches, £1600

This is the first widescreen TV with a built-in Dolby Digital decoder and six-channel amp, so itís well ahead of the game. Itís ready for DVD and multi-channel audio from digital satellite broadcasts, the price is fair and itís a damn fine looking specimen to boot. Picture quality is good, definitely worth shortlisting if you want to be the first kid on the block.

 

INSTANT EXPERT

 

ARTEFACTS

Digital processing can sometimes get confused by a lot of fast movement, creating blurring smearing and blocky picture effects

 

AV-LINK

Generic name for a cross-brand communications facility between TVs and VCRs, allowing easier set-up, and features like one-touch record, where the VCR automatically records whatever station youíre watching on TV. Names to look out for are Megalogic (Grundig), EasyLink (Philips), SmartLink (Sony) NexTViewLink (Ferguson, Toshiba, Sharp, Thomson, Panasonic) and Q-Link (Panasonic) 

 

DOLBY PRO LOGIC

Four channel surround sound system, with extra speakers placed behind the listening position, to literally immerse the viewer in a sea of sound. Most movies and many recent TV programs have Dolby Surround soundtracks

 

NTSC

525-line/60Hz picture standard used in the US and Japan, TVs with NTSC display facilities can be connected to a wider variety of picture sources

 

ZOOM

By electronically enlarging a 4:3 picture it can fill the entire screen width, though additional circuitry is required to stretch the sides of the picture horizontally, to prevent loosing the top and bottom of the image

 

100Hz DISPLAY

The picture on a normal TV is refreshed 50 times a second, which can result in a disturbing flicker, this becomes even more noticeable on widescreen sets. The picture on a 100Hz TV is refreshed twice as fast, thus eliminating flicker

 

 

Hitachi C32WD2TNB

FEATURES

Multi-format widescreen display, VGA compatible input, Dolby Pro Logic pseudo surround, child lock, sleep timer, multi-brand remote, Fastext, cordless IR rear speakers optional

 

SOCKETS

Rear: 2 x SCART AV, stereo line & DolbyPro Logic audio out (phono),  aerial in (coaxial). Front: AV in (phono), S-Video in (mini DIN), headphones (minijack

 

 

JVC AV-32WP

FEATURES

Multi-format widescreen display, 100Hz ĎNauural Scaní, digital noise reduction, twin tuner and multi-picture display, Dolby Pro Logic 3D Phonic sound, child lock, sleep timer, Fastext

 

SOCKETS

Rear: 3 x SCART AV, stereo line & DolbyPro Logic audio out (phono),  aerial in (coaxial). Front: AV in (phono), S-Video in (mini DIN), headphones (minijack

 

 

Panasonic TX-W28R3

FEATURES

Multi-format widescreen display, Ambience mode, child lock, sleep timer, low standby power consumption, Fastext

 

SOCKETS

Rear: 3 x SCART AV, stereo line audio out (phono),  aerial in (coaxial). Front: AV in (phono), S-Video in (mini DIN), headphones (minijack)

 

 

Philips  32PW9763

FEATURES

Multi-format widescreen, 100Hz display, twin tuner and multi-picture, picture zoom, Channel search, multi standard, Dolby Pro Logic sound, digital effects (strobe, mosaic, freeze), electronic programme guide (EPG) ready, message facility, Fastext

 

SOCKETS

Rear: 3 x SCART AV, stereo line out (phono), surround channels (spring teminals), aerial in (coaxial). Front: AV in (phono), S-Video in (mini DIN), headphones (minijack)

 

 

Samsung WF32AQ14T

FEATURES

Multi-format widescreen, favourite AV memory, stereo wide, sleep-timer, child-lock, Fastext

 

SOCKETS

Rear: 2 x SCART AV, stereo line audio out (phono) aerial in (coaxial). Front: AV in (phono) S-Video in (mini DIN), headphones (minijack)

 

 

Sony KV-32FD1

FEATURES

Multi-format widescreen, 100Hz display, VGA compatible and multi-standard, PAL plus, Dolby Pro Logic processing, twin tuner and multi-picture display, Fastext

 

SOCKETS

Rear: 3 x SCART AV, stereo line & Dolby Pro Logic audio out (phono), VGA (D-sub), S-Video in (mini DIN), external speakers (DIN), aerial in (coaxial). Front: AV in (phono) S-Video in (mini DIN), headphones (minijack)

 

 

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R. Maybury 1998 0804   

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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