Dell W3207C 32" LCD HDTV Review
Dick De Jong
November 17, 2006
The recently minted Dell W3207C 32" LCD replaces the W3201C as one of their flagship HDTVs. The new kid is a little brighter than its older sibling with better contrast, a faster response time (8ms not 16), and integrated (non-detachable) speakers.
Interestingly, Dell decided to remove one of the HDMI connectors on the W3207C. A Dell spokesperson acknowledged that part of the rationale was economical. Dell is famous for watching the bottom line and the spokesperson said that one HDMI connector allowed them to be more price competitive. Considering the brutal marketplace for 32" LCDs, I can understand that pressure.
Also, Dell sees positioning this sleek HDTV as a second TV or a bedroom TV. (Ah, how far we have come when we now think of a 32" 1366 x 768 flat screen as our runner-up television that we cozy up to on a long winter night.)
Out of the Box
Anyone with stout extensor and flexor muscles should be able to smoothly slip this slim 44 pound (with stand) sylph of a set out of its box and onto a bedside stand in no time. Step back and the first thing that strikes you is the elongated contour of the Stratosphere design, a stretched limo look accentuated by a surrounding silver bezel. At first glance, the screen appears CinemaScope sized and not the HD 16 x 9 aspect that our eyes expect. On closer inspection, you realize that the integrated black grilled speakers are flanking the screen.
|Dell W3207C 32" LCD HDTV
The next feature begging for your attention is the swivel stand. You can turn the monitor on its stand about 45 degrees in either direction. The swivel allows for more flexible viewing angles and I found that even at 45 degrees the TV was still stable. (With the stand, the unit is about three feet long by two feet high and almost eight inches deep.)
|Dell W3207C 32" LCD HDTV
As you can see, the front is unembellished except for the Dell logo in the center and the Power indicator light on the bottom right. The control buttons are extruded on the right edge.
|Dell W3207C Side Connection Panel
A secondary connection panel, (one Composite, one S-Video, one stereo RCA Audio In, and a mini headphone jack) are inset on the left side for quick easy access.
The connection panel on the back contains the usual suspects, (one HDMI, two HDTV Component, one Composite, one S-Video, one VGA with a matching mini PC Audio In, five stereo RCA Audio Ins, and two coax TV Ins).
|Dell W3207C AV Connectors
The neck craning to see these connectors is eased a little bit because the TV swivels. But unless the unit is perched on a high stand, plugging in the HDMI cable still requires a deft touch because the receptacle on the back is almost impossible to see without going horizontal.
|Dell W3207C HD Connectors
(Here's a little tip for plugging in an HDMI cable into those hard-to-reach, even harder-to-see, down-facing HDMI connections. If you look at the end of the cable, the flat side of the connector usually has an HDMI mark on it. From my experience, the cable plugs in with that flat side facing you.)
For those connecting DVD players or set top boxes that have DVI Outs (and therefore have to transmit audio to the TV through the stereo Outs to the analog audio Ins on the TV), the W3207C does offer a separate pair of RCA analog audio inputs for the HDMI input.
I would label the NTSC/ATSC tuners "partially integrated." First, you have two separate coaxial inputs for antennas, one pulling in analog channels (NTSC), the other for digital (ATSC). Unless you have two dedicated antennas, you will have to split the signal coming from your all-purpose single antenna. If you are depending on over the air broadcasts, this set-up is annoying. Made even more vexing because you have to switch back and forth between the TV Digital input and the TV Analog input to view the two different broadcasts. Considering that I don't rely on OTA programming, this is a minor peeve.
As you would expect with a unit with a tuner, this Dell has the V chip and companion parental controls. But it does not have PIP (picture in picture) capabilities. Dell's research found that people weren't employing this feature in the viewing situations that Dell sees this TV being used. I've never been a big PIP guy – too many flashing images makes me binocularly bilious. Though I have a friend who loves his PIP. If you are in that club, you best turn your duo-vision elsewhere. (If you need a more fully featured TV, Dell's W3707C has PIP plus POP plus PBP and two HDMI connectors.)
The black remote reflects the TV's stylish design with its silver edging. And the blue backlit number buttons add a definite cool factor. I like a remote that doesn't endeavor to control every household device with moving parts. This one is dedicated only to its TV, which reduces the amount of buttons that a designer has to cram onto it and that you have to navigate.
I think they could have rethought the Input selection process on the remote. As it is, when you want to change Input sources, (for example, from HDMI to Composite), you push the Input button and then go to the Input Selection list and scroll down it to pick your new source. Dedicated Input source buttons on the remote would be more convenient.
Out of the box, the picture from the W3207C was excellent so I was interested to see if our normal calibration process would call for any major changes. To cut to the chase, it didn't. I only made a few minor tweaks to fine-tune the image to my tastes.
As usual, to calibrate the monitor, I attached the DVI out on the Oppo OPDV971H DVD player to the HDMI input on the Dell and used the Digital Video Essentials DVD test patterns to adjust black level, white level, and color bias.
The Picture Menu controls provide the basic brigade: Brightness, Contrast, Sharpness, Color Temperature, Color Tint, and Color Saturation. Though if your Source is HDMI, then a Color Settings menu pops up and if you pick User from the Color Temperature choices (Natural, Normal, Blue, Red and User), a submenu opens with individual adjustments for Red, Green and Blue. (Of note, if VGA is your Input, then you only have Brightness and Contrast controls plus the Color Settings menu.)
(Here's a tip when trying to judge what Color Temperature setting to pick on this Dell TV. By default, the background for the Picture Menu is a semi-transparent white. For all the other Picture Menu controls, when you select one to adjust, the main menu disappears and the slider drops to the bottom of the screen allowing you to see the effects of your tweaks. Since that is not the case with Color Temperature, you need to go to the Setup menu, under TV Menu Settings and make the background transparent. )
From the Default settings, (Brightness of 47 and Contrast of 70), calibrating to the test patterns nudged Brightness to 51 and Contrast to 68. I preferred the Natural Color Temp setting over the Blue default, though they were close. And my predilection for solid blacks made me want to push Brightness down to 45. As you can see, the good news is that if don't want to touch Picture settings with a ten foot remote control, you should be fine with the defaults. And if you do find yourself lost after exploring the dark jungle of calibration, you can always GPS your way back to civilization by resetting the controls to the factory defaults in the Setup menu.
I did find that according to grid test patterns, the TV overscanned about 5% on the top and 3% on the bottom, which translated on the geometry test pattern to a slight vertically stretched image. Also, on the solid color test patterns, I noticed a very minor vignetting (the corners were a bit darker than the rest of the screen). When watching regular content, neither the stretching nor the vignetting was noticeable.
After plugging in the Dish Network HD receiver with an HDMI cable, I went for a high definition tour of some of my new favorite channels. Though they may seem a tad esoteric, the Voom HD stations provide a great array of HD programs that you just can't find anywhere else. They also comprise a colorful challenge that tests an HDTV's performance.
The W3207C nimbly navigated the gauntlet. Whether the well waxed sheen of a classic car on TreasureHD or the lyrical black and white photography in Masaki Kobayashi's Hara-Kiri on World CinemaHD, the Dell produced an extremely pleasing image.
As I set up more and more TVs, I have come to highly value consistency. You don't want to spend all your vim and vigor retuning your picture every time you change the channel. It drains the joy out of watching. The W3207C delivers a steady stream of HD cream.
Yes, the blacks could have been blacker. And the contrast didn't always produce that HD moment. But you could distinguish the silks from the worsted wools in the black suits of Lyle Lovett and his Large Band on Soundstage.
The more I watched this TV, the more I would quietly nod my head and think, "Well done." It produced reliably good skin tones, which is a foundation for winning my approval. And then when you are comfortably cruising through a program, every so often you're struck with that Ahhh! experience.
Often you're mesmerized by a particularly crystal clear scene. As a friend said as she was marveling over one such shot, "It is seeing better than my eyes see." She's right. Our eyes can't maintain that great of depth of field in fine focus. Of course, such clarity can be a hazard to make-up artists. One particularly sharp close-up in Hara-Kiri exposed the wig line of a top-knotted 17th Century samurai.
For all its high def dexterity, the Dell cannot pull the SD rabbit out of its hat. Though when it comes to displaying great looking standard def programs, I have yet to find any HDTV capable of that prestidigitation. I will continue to say it until I stop seeing 50" plasmas being returned at Costco – HDTVs demand HD programming. If you only feed it standard def, you'll be sorely disappointed in your purchase.
If you, like Dell, are thinking of putting this unit in your bedroom, you might not be able to hook it up to a separate high fidelity sound system. In that case, the integrated 15 watts per channel speakers will be handling the audio chores. If you don't expect them to fill a large room with wall-to-wall sound, then the SRS TruSurround audio system will do an adequate job. Depending on your source, you might have to play with the audio settings. I noticed a distracting echo occasionally that I could extinguish by disabling the surround feature.
Of course, it would have been sacrilege if I didn't test how well a computer signal looked on a TV manufactured by the world's second largest PC maker. So, I dutifully connected a Dell Inspiron 1505 laptop with a 15-pin D-Sub RGB (VGA) cable, (which is not provided), to the VGA PC input.
The TV manual did not give any suggestions about what computer resolution to set. Though you would hope that the W3207C would share a secret handshake with its Dell brethren, which wasn't exactly the case. When you select an active VGA source on the TV, you receive a message to set the computer to 1360 x 768. Though the TV did display smaller resolutions, just not full screen.
After a few adjustments to the laptop's resolution, I was able to fill the TV screen with my desktop. And interestingly, I think the image quality was even better than when it was displaying HD programming. The blacks seemed blacker, which made the colors look more saturated. In retrospect, this shouldn't be at all surprising since Dell has been designing monitors almost since Michael Dell stopped selling computers out of his dorm room.
Text on Internet pages was clear and easy to read. Images in Photoshop looked great on this 32" pixel canvas. I could definitely imagine enlisting this monitor for occasional computer duty.
With the W3207C, Dell offers a basic "this is all you really need" HDTV that produces a superior HD image. Does the picture on this Dell stand up to my current favorite, the 42" Pioneer Elite PRO-94HD. No, but few do. Yet for what the Elite costs, you could buy one of these stylish Dell beauties for your bedroom, a second to spoil the kids, and a third just to show off in your guest room. As long as you are distributing HD content to the TVs, everyone will be happy with the great picture quality.
First, realize, that ratings are relative to when the review was written. The obvious example is Value, what you could purchase for $2000 two years ago or even two months ago would seem like a bad value for that price now.
Second, I have given only one 5 Star rating, which I reserve for truly outstanding accomplishment.
The Dell W3207C might not blast you to the moon, but it will send you into a constantly pleasing space shuttle orbit. Of course, don't expect much more than a Wright Brother's flight when watching standard def.
You get pivot but no PIP. And piffle to economics, I still would prefer two HDMI inputs. But for many of you, this Dell may have all the features that you need.
Ease of Use: 4.5
One advantage of not overloading the product with features is that it makes it less complicated to use. And since the picture setting defaults look good, you can have this HDTV out of the box and displaying the big game in no time at all.
I'm a tough grader on Value, so 4 is a high mark. Dell is known to run specials on their products. If you are vigilant in checking their website, you might be able to find this HDTV at a price that would make it a 4.5 value.