Dick De Jong
August 31 2006
Comfortable – that description may not seem to be the most praiseworthy profile for a 42" LCD; but believe me, comfortable is a very valuable and illusive commodity in the HDTV marketplace. VIZIO's new GV42L 42" LCD is comfy.
Before I elaborate on the merits of comfortableness, let's take care of the formalities. The GV42L LCD HDTV has a resolution of 1366 x 768, with an 8 ms response time, an 8-bit processor yielding 16.77 million colors, which are all industry standards for a 42" LCD in this price range. (Its 1600:1 contrast ratio is above the usual 1000:1.) And, oh, by the way, this VIZIO pumps out a bright, luscious high definition image.
But it's this sensation of slipping into a comfort zone when using the GV42L that distinguishes this HDTV in the marketplace. The VIZIO product designers must be extremely simpatico with the customer, because most of the TV's features work like you think they should.
For example, if you are looking at a spec sheet, you will often read that a TV has an integrated NTSC/ATSC tuner, which means that the tuner is part of the TV. But on many sets, you will find that, in reality, the NTSC (analog) and ATSC (digital) tuners are segregated. They have separate inputs for the antenna and when you are channel surfing, you have to switch your remote between the NTSC and ATSC channels.
With the GV42L, the tuners are truly integrated. They share the same antenna input. When you perform one Auto Search, both analog and digital channels are located. And as you surf through the channels on the remote, you progress through both NTSC and ATSC. VIZIO even has a hyphen (-) key on the remote so you can select digital channels like 36-2. Once you experience this all-too-convenient system, you realize someone at VIZIO is thinking about your well-being.
Out of the Box
Situated below its de rigueur black bezel are twin 10W silver speakers and a matching sturdy stand, all of which are detachable if you want to wall mount the unit. Without the stand, the monitor's depth measures a slender, Twiggy-like 4.3". In the middle of the bezel at the bottom, VIZIO logo lights white when the TV is powered on. During the day, it's not that noticeable; but at night, the glow begins to intrude.
The TV does exhibit a bit of pizzazz with its silver racing stripe side panels. On the right hand one, the Control buttons (Power, Channels, Volume) are out of sight, but not out of reach.
One glance at the back and I realized that not everything was peaches and cream. Though VIZIO provides an extensive selection of connections, they are facing down. I'm just not convinced that side mounting the connectors would make wall mounting more difficult or less elegant.
Returning to the comfort zone, VIZIO does include two HDMI connections, which will make your life more mellifluous especially if you have two HDMI sources to plug in, like I do. Also, the GV42L has one set of RCA stereo audio inputs to accompany the HDMI (1) connector, which is essential if your source machine only has DVI output like the OPPO DVD player used in our setup. Audio is not conveyed through a DVI connector. So to transmit audio from the player to the TV, I hook together the stereo Outs on the DVD player to the Ins on the TV.
Of course, it would be more charitable of VIZIO if they added another set of audio inputs for the orphaned second HDMI connector; but in most configurations, the audio tasks will be performed by an external sound system that is much more robust than the TV's speakers. For that, the back panel includes an SPDIF optical digital output. If you are receiving digital channels OTA (over the air) with your antenna, you can send the digital audio signal out the SPDIF to your sound system. You can route analog audio out through the separate set of RCA stereo analog audio outputs.
The NTSC/ATSC/QAM HDTV tuner worked admirably, scanning the digital and analog signals from my rabbit ears antenna and building a list of all the available channels. The GV42L also includes the V chip and companion parental controls. And for those of you who need more ocular stimulation, the TV provides PIP (picture in picture), and POP (picture-by-picture).
As usual, to calibrate the monitor, I attached the DVI out on the Oppo OPDV971H DVD player to the HDMI input on the VIZIO and used the Digital Video Essentials DVD test patterns to adjust black level, white level, and color bias. Also, for the first time, I tried the Datacolor Spyder TV Pro system to tune the TV. (My next review will be devoted to Spyder.) The settings determined by Spyder were very similar to the ones from the Digital Video Essentials process. And both proved to be fairly close to the GL42L's default settings.
Both the DVE and Spyder methods required numerous tweaks to the controls in the OSD, (On Screen Display), Picture Adjust Menu. I'll admit the experience was almost pleasurable, which is a shocking statement since I usually can't abide calibrating. One of my nemeses in the process is an OSD that persists in hogging the screen when you are trying to see your test patterns. Rereading my review, (of five months ago), of a VIZIO plasma TV, I see that it was guilty of this perturbation. So hats off to VIZIO for rectifying this annoyance. Now when you select a control like Contrast, the main menu disappears and the adjustment slider drops unobtrusively to the bottom of the screen.
With that problem solved, now, the VIZIO design team should take another stab at their universal remote control. This multi-component-capable unit is backlit, thank you very much. But the buttons are too small to accommodate the hard-to-read labels stenciled on them. In the dark, the backlight just does not suffice for deciphering the squashed lettering.
Beyond the usual Brightness, Contrast, Color, Tint, Sharpness, and Color Temperature controls, the GV42L also adds DNR (Digital Noise Reduction), Black Level Extender, White Peak Limiter, Color Transient Intensity, Flesh Tone, Adaptive Luma, and Dynamic Contrast adjustments. The manual does provide basic guidance for using these features, but that still means most of the tweaking with these controls will be a matter of experimentation. Luckily, the Reset All Settings function should rescue you if you stray too far off course.
To test how the monitor worked with a computer source, I attached a Dell Inspiron 1505 with a 15-pin D-Sub RGB (VGA) cable, (which is not provided), to the RGB PC input. Heeding the manual's suggestion, the computer's resolution was set to 1366 x 768 at 60Hz. Judging from the playback of the DVE's geometry test patterns (through the laptop's DVD player), the GL42L displayed no cropping. This is good news for you well-cleated virtual warriors as you gird your loins in preparation for HD gridiron glory in Madden NFL 07. Also, under the Picture Mode control, you can select Custom, Standard, Movie or Game.
Most of the time, HD broadcasts are a delight to watch, though they can be fickle. For example, the 10th Annual V Festival concert on HDNet included a lot of bright strobe light effects, which revealed a full screen grid artifact. I thought I was looking into the HD Matrix. With a few exceptions like this, the GL42L handled HD sources with eye-pleasing aplomb. One consistent impression I had was "bright," not retina-rattling radiant, but luminous. I could perceive finer details and colors – making the line between the HDTV Smallville and the big screen Superman Returns begin to disappear. (Though I don't think Kate Bosworth's spiritless Lois Lane can hold a candle to Smallville's Erica Durance's spunky Lois. But that's a topic for another day.)
While HD might be capricious, SD can be seditious. Though the GV42L does the best it can with most SD programs, dealing with the more ornery ones can and does get ugly. I am realizing that a 32" HDTV can mask more SD shenanigans than its 42" brethren. But no matter what size HDTV you buy, please treat it to a steady high fiber, high definition diet.
With sources from the laptop, the GV42L looked great. I was expecting that its 42" size might be too large for normal 19" LCD tasks. But images in Photoshop were gorgeous. The DVD playback through the computer was top notch. Though at this size, I think I would still prefer a 1920 x 1080 resolution monitor, which would provide a little more screen real estate.
Almost every HDTV spec sheet nowadays states its viewing angle as 170 degrees or more. The manufacturers are dreaming. Yes, you can see the image at that angle, but it is usually degraded beyond acceptable. That's the case with this VIZIO. Without getting my protractor out, anything farther than 55 or 60 degrees off center, (a viewing angle of 110 to 120 degrees), became too washed out. And that angle becomes less if you are off center in two directions, for example sitting to the side and below the screen.
Second, I have yet to give a 5 Star rating, which I am reserving for truly outstanding accomplishment.
Performance - 4
Features – 4.5
Ease of Use – 4.5
Value – 4
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