Original URL: http://www.theregister.co.uk/2007/05/18/group_test_tvs/
Screen stars: Ten HDTVs on test
Time for a new gogglebox?
Group Test The world of TV is changing, as HD hits the mainstream and digital broadcasting finally overtakes analog. There are myriad options available too, from plasma to LCD, little to gargantuan and everything in between. One for every flavour then...
Evesham Alqemi 32TX
Evesham's Alqemi 32TX sits at the very bottom end of the main room HDTV price range, coming in at a frankly gob-smacking £500. Which immediately raises the eyebrow of suspicion - for how, we ask, can they possibly have produced an HDTV worth turning on for such a pittance? The answer, it seems, is by doing everything just well enough to make it good value for money without ever going overboard.
Take the design, for instance: in no way offensive, it's not exactly easy on the eye either, sporting a distinctly plasticky black livery and single speaker that gives it a gap-toothed, awkward look. Any styling faux pas is instantly remedied, however, by the amazing connectivity. Two Scarts, s-video, composite-vodeo, component-video (aka YPbPr), VGA, DVI, 3.5mm audio sockets and HDMI are all in attendance - a list many TVs costing twice as much would be hard pushed to match. Analog and digital tuners are built in and there's a Common Interface slot for TopUp TV. Comprehensive.
Performance is where it counts though, and the Evesham packs a decent operating punch for its price. The native resolution of 1366 x 768 supports 720p HD pictures and competently downscales 1080i, lending impressive detail to the rolling surf in John Milius' Big Wednesday. Contrast is the biggest sticking point with blacks never achieving true depth and whites remaining harsh, but the colour reproduction adequately makes up for it. Sonically, the 32TX is equally impressive, with good vocal clarity and a surprisingly punchy pseudo surround mode with BBE Digital.
For anyone looking to break into the HDTV market without breaking the bank, the Evesham is the best option currently available.
The 'who can produce the biggest TV' battle has been raging for a good while now, with manufacturers striving to go one inch better than rivals and prove their... er... televisionhood. At a recent Panasonic show at London's Heathrow Marriot, we were treated to the world's largest plasma display panel yet, offering a ludicrous 103in (2.6m) of viewing pleasure. With over two million pixels on display and enough screen to accommodate four 50in plasmas...
When you're dealing with something of this size, you are naturally limited in terms of style. Panasonic has wisely opted for a simple black surround and stand, uncluttered by buttons and paraphernalia, to keep it as minimalist as possible. Though it would be hard not to imagine this TV being the dominant decoration in anything but the most cavernous of sitting rooms.
Connection-wise, the PF9 is fairly unique in that it has "fluid" options so you can pick and choose exactly what you want with all the latest and regular options from component-video to HDMI available. Flick the Panasonic on and its size only seems to increase as it kicks out a picture we can only describe as huge, in every sense. The true 1080p 1920 x 1080 resolution means this is one of not many true full HDTVs yet available in this country, and it is matched by equally impressive stats, like the 5000:1 contrast ratio.
This all translates into an extraordinary visual experience - one of the best pictures we've ever seen on a television of such gargantuan size. Black and white levels live up to that claimed contrast ratio while colour reproduction and detail is staggering, in no small part thanks to the inclusion of Panny's plethora of picture processing technologies like Real Black Drive System and Super Cinema Mode.
In fact, there are only two problems with Panasonic's showstopper: its price, and having a house big enough to fit it in. Then again, if you have the latter, you probably won't have to worry about the former.
Panasonic VIERA TH-42PX700B
The inclusion of a second Panasonic is indicative of the company's expertise when it comes to manufacturing the old gogglebox. Because the reason we felt compelled to include the ludicrously oversized TH-103PF9 is echoed in the TH-42PX700B - it's a set of similar quality, using many of the same superior image processing engines but at something like a quarter of the size and, more importantly, a tiny percentage of the cost.
The 42PX700B is another handsome-looking TV proving that black is back as the AV enthusiast's colour of choice. Panasonic has, however, teamed it with a silver stand as an option, which we must say really doesn't work - the cheaper models come with a black stand and are far sexier.
Alongside standard connection options, the 700B features a front-mounted SD card slot that's high-capacity SDHC compatible and is capable of playing H.264 HD movies you've recorded using your HD camcorder - see our recent camcorder group test  for some top models. There are three HDMI slots - two on rear, one on front - for all your HD peripherals, which Panasonic uses to full advantage with its Viera Link feature. An HDMI cable carries control signals alongside video and audio, so you can use your Viera remote to control your DVD recorder, HD camcorder and anything bearing the Viera Link icon. It makes for instant access and supreme ease of use with whatever you want to watch or record.
Visually and sonically, the 700B is everything we expected. Using the Vreal2 processor optimised for 1920 x 1080 full HD resolution, the 1080p Digital Processing chip-set means pictures are as good as they get whether from an HD source or through upscaled standard-definition broadcasts. Another strong year for Panasonic then.
Samsung's newly launched, range-topping M87 series is the company's most ambitious line of HDTVs yet, offering full HD 1920 x 1080 resolution for unparalleled 1080p image quality. Claimed to be the perfect solution for technophiles who don't want to compromise on image quality and build, the M87 is a sweet-looking bit of kit with a finish blacker and shinier than Darth Vader's helmet. Hubba.
In testing, we opted for the extravagant 52in model because we're show-offs, though there are 37, 40 and 46in models in the range. No matter what your choice, each set incorporates three HDMI ports - two on the rear, one on the side for easy access - so you can hook up your Sky HD, Blu-ray player and Xbox 360 all at once without having to fight the spaghetti forest each time you want to change peripheral. Alongside is the usual bountiful array of connections in component-video, s-video, two Scarts, RF, VGA - aka 'PC input' - et al.
Flick the On switch and the M87 - darn it, we love that assualt weapon-sounding name - really comes into its own. Wearing that 1080p status with panache, images comes to life in stunning quality with eye-popping detail and mind-bending clarity. The Super Clear Panel technology for absorbing external light, combined with the huge 15000:1 contrast ratio, gives every image punch and vibrancy, whether you're watching an old episode of Frontline or a late night The Dish DVD with the proprietary Movie Mode enabled.
But for us where it really came top life was with gaming. Flick on the Gaming Mode, and using that 8ms response time a quick blast of Motorstorm on the PS3 left us agape at the quality of image on display. Quite simply, with no banding and no noise on the huge balls of fire as we smashed our WWII motorbike into rival juggernauts, there's no question that for gaming, the Samsung offers one hell of an immersive HD experience.
Toshiba Regza 26C3030DB
Toshiba's excellent Regza brand of LCD HDTVs - ugly name - has received a welcome shot in the arm recently with a full revamp, from which we have chosen the soon-to-be-released C Series 26in baby of the bunch - the perfect TV for your kitchen, bedroom or study.
A great looking, but unpretentious design has won plenty of Regza fans, and while we prefer a little more statement in top-end behemoth models, its plain black livery is perfectly suited to the smaller end. Wall or stand mounted, it's a subtle and versatile option sure to suit any room in the house at a great price that's not yet confirmed but should be around the £500 mark.
Two HDMI ports are in attendance for hooking up the necessary Sky HD and next-gen disc player, and sit alongside the usual connections options, including component-video, two Scarts (one RGB) and PC input. There's also a built-in Freeview digital TV tuner, which is surprisingly crisp and clear.
Like most TV manufacturers, Toshiba boasts a veritable smorgasbord of image processing technologies, in this case the pick is called Active Vision LCD and it certainly does its job to good effect. The 20W SRS WoW sound system is also very meaty for the TV's size, with a clear and concise soundstage, meaning a separate speaker set-up is in no way necessary for decent second-room movie viewing.
The inclusion of all this technology is very welcome on a set of this size, and while there are some minor glitches in picture and sound performance in comparison to top end models, they are barely noticeable and without consequence on the 26in display.
Hitachi is best known as a dependable middle-range manufacturer within the TV market, and the 37LD9700 sits at the top of its line-up, but still comes in with a wallet-friendly price tag of under a thousand clams.
Style-wise the Hitachi is a decent-looking set, though suffers in comparison to some of the more aesthetically minded like the Philips or the Loewe. It's well-built though, and not too big thanks to that bottom-mounted speaker. Plus it has a motorised remote control stand, which always impresses our mums.
There's a good range of well-ordered connections, with two HDMIs, three Scarts (two RGB), component-video output, and VGA for hooking up your PC. A USB and SD card slot on the side let you view photos and the like.
Hitachi claims the 37LD9700 has one of the widest viewing angles for any LCD TV - 176° visibility apparently - and it showed, with a picture that remained vibrant and well defined from all angles.
Once you're back in front though, there are endless picture tuning options to have a play with adjusting everything from backlight strength to colour temperature. It all combines to create an excellent visual experience, if you feel like a little tweaking.
The Hitachi is an LCD TV, which immediately renders it far more energy-efficient than its plasma-orientated nemeses. This means it's friendlier to the environment as well as cheaper on electricity. The 37LD9700 is one of the most efficient LCDs currently available too, using 150W when switched on and only 1W in standby - significantly less than many of its rivals.
So Sony has finally unleashed its demon lovechild PS3 and is slowly taking over the world with its ludicrous technology and mind-blowing processing power. But that's not enough - Sony wants you to go the whole hog and mate its console with the best possible viewing panel. Enter the KDL-46X2000U, 46 inches of prime Sony 1080p-supporting TV mania.
It's a typically good-looking set, all very serious and corporate cool with the black screen fading away to a glass surround. In the flesh, it's surprisingly imposing. Alongside the three Scarts and two sets of component-video inputs, the two HDMI ports mean you can keep your Sky HD box and PS3 hooked up for constant use – no need for a third as the PS3 is a Blu-ray Disc player too. And because the Sony supports full, unmolested 1920 x 1080 signals, it aims to get the very best out of all three.
But none more than the PS3, as Sony believes every game will come prepped to 1080p so you'll need it to take full advantage. A quick(ish) game of Gears of War at the recent Sony European showcase proved as much.
It's not just about the PS3 though, honest. The KDL-46X2000U features Bravia Engine EX, crazy techwizardry that boosts standard-definition signals by four times to create "Digital Reality". Nice. No matter what the source, though, this TV kicks out simply brilliant HD images as lifelike and balanced as almost any other out there.
Things are just as capable sonically, thanks to the inclusion of Dolby Pro-Logic II and BBE Digital amplification. Which essentially makes the Sony X Series your PS3's new best friend.
Philips Ambilight 37PF9731D
Philips' range of Ambilight LCD TVs have won acclaim from every corner, which is why we were drooling in expectation to sample the delights of Ambilight technology for ourselves. And we weren't disappointed.
From a purely aesthetic point of view, the Philips is as pretty as any TV we've yet seen. The chunky black frame seemingly floats independently of the rest of the set, with the bottom speaker grille set back above the simple glass stand. It's a beguiling effect that serves a practical purpose: to conceal the Ambilight technology.
The Philips is a 1920 x 1080 resolution set, though frustratingly doesn't accept and play back full 1080p source material so it will never get the very best from your Blu-ray or HD DVD player, let alone your PS3. It's a curious omission on Philips' part that may push some buyers towards other manufacturers, but that would be a shame, as on a screen this size and with all Philips' picture processing technology working overtime - we're talking Pixel Plus 3 HD, Clear LCD, Digital Natural Motion, Active Control, etc, etc - the 37PF9731D still cracks out one of the best images we've ever seen. There are myriad tweaking options too.
And then there's Ambilight.
For newbies, this is Philips' rear-facing light-projection system that shines different coloured light from the back of the set onto the wall depending on what's on-screen. Designed to create a more immersive experience and reduce eyestrain, it works like a charm and looks way cool to boot. Turn the lights down and the Ambilight on and the effect on watching a favourite film is pretty extraordinary.
Connections are comprehensive too, with composite-video, s-video, analog stereo, two USB ports and a two-in-one card reader located on the sides and dual HDMI ports, component-video, dual RGB Scarts, VGA PC, co-axial digital audio in and out, and even an Ethernet connection on the rear. This last one is for hooking up to a home network for photo, video and music streaming.
Pioneer PDP-5000 EX
You have to admire Pioneer. When every other manufacturer has finally caved in and now treads the LCD route, it is doggedly sticking to its plasma-driven faith. But when it produces sets like the 5000 EX, you can't help but be glad of its tenacity.
Seriously, just look at it. It drips style from every one of its 50 piano-black surrounded inches, its understated glamour designed purely to draw you into that massive screen. And although the Pioneer has been available for over six months now, it still remains one of the most technologically advanced TVs on the market.
Running with full 1920 x 1080 resolution, 1080p status so it can show the very best image possible without resizing or cropping, Pioneer has endowed the 5000 EX with bountiful connection options: dual audio, composite-video, s-video, BNC, DVI and two HDMI ports. There's nothing so crass as a digital tuner or even speakers included either - all that room is purely catered to creating the best picture possible.
And that it does. Turning on the 5000 EX is a joy, its picture so pin sharp perfect you'll become aghast to look at any other set. Colour reproduction is perfect in its intensity, rendering every scene from the Le Parkour highs to ball-crushing lows of Daniel Craig's first Bond adventure in Blu-ray with absolute authority. Blacks are as dark as the TV's frame and contrast beautifully against the icy whites thanks to the PureBlack Crystal Panel and phenomenal picture processing technology.
Buy one, mate it with your no doubt already comprehensive home cinema set-up and you won't regret it.
Loewe Individual 32 DR+
Oh my, that's not a telly, it's a work of art. Er... no... actually it is indeed a television, and a darn serious LCD at that, despite the pretty-boy exterior. Loewe has a well-earned reputation for providing haute couture kit with a top-end price tag and the aptly named Individual is true to form, described in the marketing bumf as the first "design-it-yourself television".
Luckily, this doesn't mean blindly tinkering with motherboards and adjusting colour temperatures, but instead refers to the Individual's colour options, unique removable side panels and various stands, all of which come in a variety of high-priced hues and textures so you can, ahem, 'individualise' your telly to your own very specific tastes. Classy. Delivered with the default silver stand and side panels - and still beautiful - we personally opted for the dark wood panels in a knowing nod to the ebony-encased goggleboxes of yesteryear.
But don't let those good looks fool you, because the Loewe is even more beautiful when turned on. Encased in that sleek surround is a fully enabled HDTV, Freeview box and, in the top-end DR+ model, an integrated DVR called Loewe Digital RecordingPlus - just one less box to clutter up your life.
Image-wise, we're looking at a 1366 x 768 pixel resolution, so not full HD, but blindingly good nonetheless. Hooked up to our Sky HD box and enjoying a late night hi-def viewing of Ray, the smoky darkness of the jazz clubs caused few problems, while the soulful croak of Jamie Foxx's vocals was done serious justice by the rather puny looking but great performing CRX sound system.
While its audio and visuals are no match for the likes of the Pioneer and Philips, the Loewe offers excellent functionality married to a serious style statement, albeit for a large hole in your pocket.
In truth, there isn't a single television in this test that failed to pass muster with its head held high. Every one of them kicks out a picture so superior to what we are used to that they will all increase your viewing pleasure immeasurably. For quality all-roundness, we gave the Samsung LE52M87 our recommendation, but if money was no object, we'd have to go with the Pioneer PDP-5000 EX for its all-round perfection and pictures so clean you could eat your dinner off them. Unless we were professional footballers of course, where we'd have a 103in Panasonic in every room. Natch.