A widescreen 16:9 HDTV for less than $1000? Yep, it's here. Of course, the technology isn't "flat panel"—it's that old CRT display that's still hanging around. But even though the chassis is large and the screen awfully small for really appreciating high-definition pictures, these three identically priced sets ($995) definitely have their places in a home. Two such places that immediately come to mind are small rooms with close viewing distances and bedrooms, which absolutely beg for a CRT-based set. Buy a flatpanel LCD set for your dark bedroom and be prepared for disappointment— a picture that can be adjusted only to look either annoyingly bright or totally washed-out and ugly. But buy a CRTbased set like one of these, and you'll soon appreciate how darker viewing conditions allow this "ancient" technology to just stomp on comparably sized flat panels.
Panasonic's entry into this survey claims outstanding image quality due to its fine-pitch "Pure-Flat" tube design and "Precision Picture Processing" (P3) technology. Two-dimensional "edge correction" (edge enhancement) is said to work without the usual (and dreaded) "halo" effect that a sharpness control usually adds. Though 720p is not supported, there's really no reason why it should be in a design like this.
As for important features, Panasonic didn't leave out the critical one—different picture adjustments and memories for different sources. The three standard settings (STANDARD, CINEMA, and VIVID) can be assigned to specific video sources and customized separately. Also included is an HDMI input for a one-wire digital connection that carries both audio and video from the newest cable/satellite boxes and DVD players. Two component connections are provided, as well. All video inputs can be labeled (from a list) and unused ones can be skipped.
Only an analog VHF-UHF tuner is provided, but all channels can be custom- labeled, and you can program up to 16 favorites. Two-tuner PIP with split screen is also standard.
A programmable On/Off timer is included, as is a clock and a sleep timer. AUTO POWER ON will turn the set on when a video source is sensed. Tilt correction allows you to keep the picture square with the screen regardless of the position of the set within the Earth's magnetic field.
Panasonic's audio system features both fixed and variable audio outputs (speakers can be turned off) with a SURROUND mode, AI SOUND (levels the sound as you change from channel to channel), and BBE (a sort of active equalization that increases clarity, but differently than a treble control).
Panasonic's multi-component (eight max) remote is lighted, nicely laid out, and very user-friendly. Inputs are accessed as a group with one button then selected with number keys (like the Toshiba). There is no separate POWER OFF key.
Samsung's entry is the only one of the three featuring both a digital HD as well as an analog VHF/UHF tuner. This alone should save you about $300 if you're interested in getting digital (including HD) off-the-air channels with an antenna. Reception here was about average for recent TVs and settop boxes and, of course, the digital offthe- air picture—high-def or not—was excellent.
Highest picture quality is assured, says the factory literature, due to the "Dyna-Flat HD Anti-Distortion, Anti-Glare, High Resolution" picture tube with finer dots and improved focus for increased detail. Various engineering features are said to contribute further, including an 8-bit comb-filter, scanvelocity modulation (undefeatable), a white-level peak limiter, and a dynamic black-level expander (also undefeatable).
There are separate memories for each video input (unlike the Panasonic which is limited to three). A DVI input is included (HDCP-compliant) for a direct digital connection from many newer satellite and cable boxes or newer DVIequipped DVD players. DVI, unlike HDMI, transfers video only, rather than video and audio. Twin auto-sensing component inputs are provided. Inputs can be assigned labels from an unusually detailed list.
Samsung's built-in digital tuner features a great digital program guide (when available from broadcasters) and a convenient digital signal strength meter to help you position your antenna. PIP is not available.
A clock, which sets itself automatically from the XDS broadcast signal, is included, as is an On/Off timer. Tilt correction is also included.
The audio section features stereo broadcast reception, an auto volume leveler, two-way stereo speakers, BBE processing, a graphic equalizer, and 20 watts of total power.