This is the best that LCD has to offer—and it’s nothing to sneeze at
August 28th, 2008 -- by Scott Wilkinson
Source: The Perfect Vision
LCD flat panels have come a long way since the early days of blurry motion and small screen sizes. In fact, they’re quickly approaching plasma territory, increasing in size and decreasing in price while improving their performance specs to rival just about anything out there. Granted, black level is still a challenge for LCD, and the effective viewing angle is still narrower than other technologies, but these problems are endemic to the technology, and many manufacturers have found clever ways to improve even these bugaboos.
One of the most striking examples of LCD’s dramatic progress is the SIM2 HTL40, a 40-inch flat panel that’s part of the company’s Grand Cinema line. The HTL40 is available as a single integrated unit or with an external input/ processor box called the DigiOptic Image Processor (DOIP) that connects to the panel with a three-element fiberoptic cable (which is somewhat delicate and must be handled carefully), allowing you to place it up to 1600 feet from the screen. Dubbed the HTL40 LINK, this is the version I was fortunate enough to review.
The HTL40 panel embodies a supersleek design with a single piece of glass covering the screen and black bezel. The silver-toned DOIP sports an unusual look, with one half of the front face angling out and the other half angling in.
With the LINK version of the HTL40, all inputs are found on the DOIP, and there are lots of them—12 to be exact—more than enough even for a reviewer with many source devices to use during testing. Each type of signal (25 in all, including component and RGB at various scanning rates) includes three memories for storing different settings of brightness, contrast, and the other picture controls as well as aspect ratio, color temperature, gamma, and overscan. I was particularly delighted to discover that all aspect ratios are available for all inputs, which means that 4:3 and letterbox DVDs can be shown without anamorphic distortion using component or HDMI connections.
Video processing is performed by the Faroudja DCDi chipset, which deinterlaces and scales the image to the panel’s 1366x768 native resolution. Among the user-accessible settings for each input are several filters, including VIDEO TYPE and NOISE REDUCTION, to optimize the image for different types of input signals. Of particular note, calling up the NOISE REDUCTION controls splits the screen down the middle—you see the unfiltered image on the left and the processed image on the right, making it easy to find the best settings for that signal. Very cool.
Unlike many lesser sets, the HTL40 lets you adjust the horizontal and vertical position and size of the image as well as the amount of overscan for each input (except position with HDMI and DVI), which was very useful with the HP z556 Digital Entertainment Center I was reviewing at the same time (see page 66). Other cool features include several color-temperature and gamma presets as well as one user-adjustable setting for each. The color-temp user setting includes separate controls for red, green, and blue, though the manual says nothing about what these controls do specifically. The gamma user setting lets you specify the gamma-curve exponent, which determines how quickly the brightness rises out of black, but the manual says even less about this control— in fact, it’s not mentioned at all.
As gorgeous as the HTL40’s picture is, the user interface leaves something to be desired. The remote is a smallish affair with fully (and very brightly) illuminated buttons, which is good. What’s not so good is the confusing functionality of those buttons.
For example, many of the buttons are labeled with icons that do not clearly identify their function. Also, the POWER button only turns the set off; to turn it on, you press the number button that corresponds to the input you want to view. (The HTL40 has no integrated TV tuner, so the number buttons don’t call up broadcast channels.) And speaking of inputs, only the first nine can be directly selected with the number buttons; for inputs 10-12, you must call up the INPUT menu by pressing the 0 button, which is less than intuitive.
There are several useful buttons, such as those that provide direct access to the aspect ratios and VCR filter, which is said to clean up images from videotape. The memory-management function is also available from a dedicated button. But in all three cases, the meaning of the iconic label is not obvious. Two userassignable buttons (F1 and F2) can be programmed to magnify the image, display a blank (black) screen, select a color-temperature preset, or select a gamma curve, but you must remember what you programmed them to do. Also, I question the wisdom of the available functions; once you determine the best color temperature and gamma for a given input, it’s unlikely you’ll want to change them on the fly. And why would you want a blank screen?