Secrets Product Review
Sceptre 37" LCD 1920 x 1080 Flat Panel HDTV
by John E. Johnson Jr.
I think it is safe to say that most Secrets readers either have, plan to buy, or would like to have an HDTV.
The problem at first, several years ago, was the cost. We could expect to pay $5,000 to $10,000 for one, and most of them were CRT rear projection TVs.
The 9" CRTs in rear projection TVs could resolve 1080i, but smaller CRTs, such as 7", could not. Scan generators were capable of showing 1080i, but not 720p, so everything was scaled to 1080i.
Of course, it didn't really matter anyway, as programming was scarce as well. So, we just oohed and ahhed at the TV stores, watching a golf game or other odd program that was piped in for demonstration. If we were lucky, we got to see something off a high definition demo tape.
Then, the prices started coming down, and whoops, they went back up again when flat panel TVs were introduced. If you wanted a 50" plasma TV, you were talking $15,000. And, it was 720p at best. No 1080i in flat panels. This time it was not scan generators that were the problem, it was the number of pixels.
It was the same for front projectors. Between $5,000 and $10,000 for an LCD digital projector. Again, it was 720p.
In the last year or so, we started seeing DLP rear projection TVs that touted 1080i. Well, it was sort of 1080i. They used a technique that moved the pixels on the screen, back and forth, to get 1080 resolution, but the projection panel itself did not really have 1920 x 1080 pixels. It worked though, until something better came along, namely true 1920 x 1080 panels.
We are now seeing true 1920 x 1080 rear projection TVs, flat panel TVs, as well as digital projectors. They are expensive, because there are not very many models available. But next year (2006), we will see 1920 x 1080 TVs and projectors from numerous companies, and let the price wars begin.
Surprisingly, one of the first 1920 x 1080 LCD flat panel TVs comes from a brand almost no one has heard of before: Sceptre.
You can find Sceptre LCD TVs in several sizes on the Internet in various places. I have not seen one in a TV store (yet).
The Sceptre 37" LCD HDTV under review here is only available at CostCo, and only by ordering it on-line (link shown in the specification box above).
There are a small number of LCD HDTVs on the market that will show native 1920 x 1080 images. What makes the Sceptre unique is its price: $1,699. That is less than half what you could expect to pay from the major TV manufacturers. So, even if you don't purchase this particular TV, it will bring the prices of the other brands down to remain competitive. I understand that Westinghouse also marketed a 37" 1920 x 1080 LCD HDTV recently, but it uses the older DVI connection. I suspect the Sceptre is built by the same factory, and it now has the HDMI connection.
The Sceptre is a true 1920 x 1080 LCD flat panel HDTV, meaning there are actually that number of pixels across and down the screen. And . . . get this . . . it will accept 1080p input, from such sources as the HD-DVD players that are soon to hit the shelves, and it will show those sources in 1080p. If you input 1080i, it scales to 1080p.
Broadcasters are already talking about 1080p programming. Yes, that's right. Just as the ATSC standard of 1080i is about to be available to the masses, the industry is already touting something that goes beyond ATSC standard resolutions. I suspect this is just the beginning. In 5 years, perhaps we will see 2160p. Anything to keep us buying new TVs. And, won't you want one? Yeah, me too.
The Sceptre has one HDMI/DVI (HDCP-compatible) input, along with all the usual other inputs, component video, S-Video, composite video, and VGA.
It comes mounted on a table stand, and also includes stereo speakers that are mounted on the sides. You can opt to use other speakers rather than the included ones, which is what I did (I used two Krix bookshelf speakers instead).
The remote control (click on the photo to see a larger version) is easy to handle, with well-marked, tactile, shaped buttons. It is not backlit, but the distinctive placement and shape of the buttons makes it easy to know where you are on the remote in the dark.
There is a PIP function, but you need two external tuners to use it. There are two buttons labeled "Source PC" and "Source AV" which are used to select the input among HDMI, DVI, Component, etc. Oddly, HDMI and DVI are selected using the Source PC button, while Component is selected with the Source AV button. It would seem to me that just having one button to scroll through all the sources would be fine, but perhaps the designers felt that having one button on the right would disturb the symmetry of the remote.
On this HDTV, you can change the aspect ratio of HDTV signals as well as NTSC signals. On my older HDTV, I could not change the aspect ratio of any HDTV image. The advantage of this is that sometimes a native 480p camera image is scaled to 720p or 1080i for broadcast, and it almost, but not quite, fills the 16:9 screen. You might want to zoom the image so that it fills the 37" screen, and you can do that with this TV.