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Product Review
 

Zenith C34W23 34" 16:9 Integrated HDTV

November, 2002

Ralph Calabria

 

 

 

Specifications:

Flat 34” Diagonal Direct-View Widescreen Display
Built-in HDTV (ATSC) Tuner
2- Hi-Res Component Video Inputs (480i/1080i)
 Optical Dolby Digital Output
Advanced 8-VSB chipset
Built-in Deinterlacer (Converts 480i to 480p, then to 1080i)
Size: 24 3/4" H x  41 3/4" W x 23 1/4" D
Weight: 188 Pounds
MSRP: $2,500 USA

Zenith Electronics

http://www.zenith.com

Introduction

With each model year that comes to market, High Definition Television (HDTV) sets have slowly come down in price. As TV manufacturers rollout their new fall lineup of Digital TVs (DTVs) this year, the prices are coming down even further. Although the overall price range of DTVs is still pretty wide, depending on screen size, display technology and various other features, overall, DTVs are becoming more and more affordable. This was clearly evident when Zenith recently announced their new line of direct view HDTVs. Besides the C34W23 34” direct view TV, Zenith’s new direct-view line also includes a 32” (C32V23) and 36” (C36V23) 4:3 display that list for $1,499 and $1,999 respectively. All are integrated sets, which means they have a built-in HDTV (ATSC) tuner. We should note here that in the last few weeks, there has been news that the manufacturers will be asked to move towards having built-in HDTV tuners in half the HDTVs by 2004.

The Design

The C34W23 is Zenith’s direct-view flagship model. It has a 34” diagonal flat widescreen (16:9) tube. It also dons a built-in ATSC (Advanced Television Systems Committee) tuner, so you won’t have to go out and buy a separate set-top box (STB) to decode OTA (Over-the-Air) HDTV signals.

The TV hosts two RF inputs, one to receive NTSC, and one for digital broadcasting. There are three video inputs (two rear and one front) which include both composite and S-Video, as well as two component video input sets. The HD (1080i) component video inputs can accommodate devices that use 1080i, such as an external STB or D-VHS VCR. This input will accept 1080i only. The DVD component video inputs (480i only) are used to hook up a non-progressive scan DVD player, which means the inputs are not compatible with 480p. You can still use a progressive scan player, but it has to be set in interlaced mode. 480i is first converted to 480p (the deinterlacer does its job here), and then this is converted to 1080i.

It seemed a little unusual to me as to why Zenith would put a 480i-only component input on a digital TV. Zenith’s reasoning behind the decision was simply a price-point concern. Zenith wanted to introduce a very simple, basic HDTV that would be easy to use (sort of a “plug-and-play” set) where one can enjoy all the beauty of HDTV without spending a lot of money. Could Zenith have included 480p compatibility on this flagship model? Sure, but in order to keep production costs down, Zenith decided to use the same chassis for all their integrated sets this year.

The C34W23 has a Toslink optical Dolby Digital (DD) output for routing a DD bitstream (the HDTV audio standard) to a DD decoder. There is also a Monitor output, which can be used to feed an external audio/video device. The monitor out is not available for digital channels, the HD-IN, or DVD-IN component jacks. Zenith has incorporated its new advanced fourth generation 8-VSB chipset, which is said to offer better indoor reception of over-the-air DTV broadcasts (8-VSB, or 8-level vestigial sideband is the FCC standard radio frequency format chosen by the ATSC for the broadcast of digital television to consumers). More on that later and how the chipset performed.

Native resolution for this set is 1080i, which means it will up-convert digital signals coming in via the RF input to 1080i. The back panel also has a calibration input used to calibrate the TV by a qualified technician.


The C34W23 offers the three standard picture views: (1) Normalused when watching 4:3 aspect ratio programming in its correct proportion. Black bars are displayed on the left and right side of the screen; (2) Wide: used when watching HDTV programming, and with anamorphic DVDs. The TV locks into this mode when the set detects a digital 16:9 program. It does not lock when viewing DVDs, as the signal is 480i. Using this mode with 4:3 programming stretches the picture horizontally to fit the screen, resulting in a non-proportional picture. This shows up as objects being wider than they really are; (3) Zoom: used to proportionally stretch the picture to fill the screen on 4:3 programming. This results in a loss of picture on the top and bottom of the screen. This mode is useful when watching letterbox movies or TV shows like “ER” and “The West Wing”.

The C34W23 does not have two-tuner picture-in-picture (PIP). It is also missing digital copy-protection inputs (e.g., DVI or IEEE 1394 Firewire). You can still use the 1080i component input to connect a D-VHS or HD-DVD player (when they become available). For the scoop on copy protection, see this Secrets feature article: http://www.hometheaterhifi.com/volume_9_1/feature-article-digital-home-video-2-2002.html. Again, elimination of these features enabled Zenith to accomplish their design criteria: “Give the masses an easy to use, easy to see HDTV set," and at the same time keep costs down.



The 44-button remote is laid out intuitively, with five of the buttons dedicated to VCR transport functions. There are several convenient buttons available so you don’t have to run through several layers of menus to get to the everyday functions. Noteworthy is the ratio button that allows you to cycle through the three aspect ratios of the TV.

Additionally, signal strength of a DTV signal can be accessed with a single keystroke using the signal button. The signal strength is monitored by way of a color bar that shows Bad/Normal/Good. I found that OTA HDTV digital signals started dropping out when the bar showed on the low end of normal (~ 35% signal strength). Other “quick select” options from the remote include flipping through the signal source menu, and the video picture settings.

Because there is no way to bypass unused video sources, you must scroll through all sources before getting to the desired input. It would have been more convenient (and less tiresome) to have the ability to bypass any unused signal sources during the toggling, as there are seven input sources total. The buttons are a little hard to see in a dark setting, and only the volume up/down and channel up/down buttons are of the glow-in-the-dark variety. The remote can be easily programmed, and gives the user the option to program up to four other remotes (cable, VCR, AUX, and TV). The manual provides the IR codes for all major manufacturers. Remote size was big enough to fit comfortably in my hand. Response time for the remote was a little slow, particularly on the digital stations.

The TV allows for one custom picture setting. Since there was a visible difference in color saturation and brightness for the different video inputs, it would have been nice to have more than one setting to adjust for each of the key video inputs. The set has several factory set picture modes which include Normal, Digital Preset, Night Time, Movie, Weak Signal, Video Game, and Sports. These are variations on the theme of adjusting contrast and brightness, etc., to best suit the source image. The service manual, however, has codes to change the factory settings for these picture modes, so theoretically, you could have several custom modes to suit yourself, even if they have names that are irrelevant to the settings.

In Use

Initial setup was pretty straightforward using the sets EZ Scan feature. The TV asks what types of RF connections you have (TV/DTV, Cable, Digital Cable), then scans all available channels it's being fed. The regular OTA TV channels are scanned first, followed by the cable channels, and finally the digital channels. If you are using an antenna to pick up stations, you have to be careful. After the set scans to TV stations, all stations that have poor reception may be deleted in the Edit Scan mode. You can bypass the TV scan (or any other scan) so that only the cable and DTV stations are scanned.

While surfing through the channels, the digital stations take priority over the analog. For example, if you input channel 3, and you have a digital station with the same number (e.g., 3-1), the channel changes to the digital channel. If there is no digital channel for the number pressed, it will automatically default to the analog station (e.g., 40-0). Inputting channel 3-0 would take you to a TV channel, which may or may not give you good reception. A way to get around the issue is to set up a Surf menu. The TV allows you to put about a dozen stations in your favorite or “Surf” menu. I was able to successfully go to channel 2-0 (CBS cable in my case) by plugging in this channel as a Surf channel.

After giving the TV a break-in period, I popped in the Ovation Software’s Avia test disk and adjusted the color, tint, contrast, brightness, and sharpness using the test signals from the disc. The DVD input showed color saturation to be fine when watching DVDs, but when watching digital OTA and cable shows, the TV’s color decoder had a tendency to accentuate red (red push). Avia’s test pattern for this indicated red push was about 10-15%. To reduce the red push to an acceptable level of ~5-10%, I reduced the color setting a couple of notches until faces appeared less sunburned. Picture geometry was pretty good, with minor bowing on the bottom left and right corners using the crosshatch test screen. Overscan was good as well, averaging ~4% on left and right sides, and 5% on top and bottom. Using the service menu, I was able to improve the overscan to 3% before losing the picture on the edges. The red push and geometry can also be adjusted via the service menu. The TV offers two color temperatures; warm and cool. The warm setting was clearly closer to the NTSC standard of 6500°K, where colors were more natural. The cool setting gave the picture a noticeably blue hue. Zenith also put a pretty decent power supply in this set. The needle and pulse test signal showed very little line bowing as contrast level approached 100%.

After setup was complete, I then viewed several DVDs to evaluate the 480i component inputs. Despite the fact that the set cannot handle a progressive signal input, picture quality on DVDs was quite good. The set was quite good at producing black, and images were sharp and detailed. I did notice some minor artifacts, which is an indication that the i to p conversion (deinterlacing) on the set was having a problem with some scenes. In particular, slow moving scenes containing straight lines (like window blinds, or the top of a roof line), had a slight “jaggie” effect. This is a common artifact seen on an interlaced image. Had the set been 480p input compatible, a good progressive DVD player may have reduced or eliminated these artifacts. Additionally, as the i to p conversion done via the TV set has to go through an additional step to convert analog to digital, and back to analog again, resolution is reduced slightly. The set has a maximum resolution of ~500 lines using the resolution test pattern.

But what about High Definition reproduction? This was clearly the Zenith’s strength. Picture quality was simply incredible. A video-based high definition picture coming from sources like PBS shows and live sporting events like the U.S. Tennis Open and NCAA college football games seemed to create an image that would come out of the screen, exhibiting a 3 dimensional effect. Colors were very vivid, and detail of the image was as good as HD gets. It was obvious that Zenith really put a lot into the ATSC tuner in this set. I tested the HD-1080i component connections using a Zenith DTV1080. Routing OTA DTV (both SDTV and HDTV) signals through the DTV1080 and into the HD-In component inputs produced a very sharp picture.

Conclusions

The C34W23 provides a clean, sharp image when viewing DVDs and DTV off the air signals. As with any display device, a poor cable or satellite signal looks a little on the grainy side. The set has a few compromises in its design. With no digital copy-protection connections, it may have limited accessibility to digital signals that may someday require such a connection (DVI). Again, the fate of copy protection and the technology used to execute it is still up in the air, so it’s hard to say if this is a negative. It doesn’t have PIP, but that is more of a preference thing. Many won’t be bothered by its absence (I’m certainly not). More importantly, however, the TV lacks a 480p component input. It was surprising to me that Zenith would design a digital TV without progressive scan capability. However, the company’s decision to keep production costs down in order to provide the consumer a “plug-and-play” HDTV is certainly a valid one. On the upside, the 480i component inputs delivered a very sharp image from DVDs routed through the set's deinterlacer.

The C34W23 is one of the few direct-view widescreen sets out there that comes with an onboard HDTV tuner, which delivers all the punch and crispness that HDTV has to offer. The FCC just recently announced that 50% of all DTVs must include a built-in HDTV tuner by the year 2004. With its built in tuner, the C34W23 has already fulfilled that requirement. Additionally, the convenience of a built-in HDTV tuner is certainly a plus, which enables you to use the HD 1080i input for something other than a STB (like a D-VHS VCR). The set converts all HDTV signals nicely to its 1080i format. Despite some missing features, with a MSRP of $2,500 (and a street price considerably less), this set certainly deserves a look. In fact, if you’re in the market for a 34" widescreen TV, you owe it to yourself to put it on your short list. You won’t be disappointed. This set looks beautiful, in both image quality and cosmetics. Zenith certainly didn’t skimp in these departments, where it really counts.

Equipment used during this review:

PanasonicA310 DVD Player
Panasonic CP-72 Progressive Scan DVD Player
BetterCables, Nordost Flatline and Audioquest interconnects
Winegard PR-9032 UHF antenna w/ AP-4800 preamp
Zenith DTV1080 Digital Receiver

 

- Ralph Calabria -

Related to the article above, we recommend the following:

Primer - Televisions

© Copyright 2002 Secrets of Home Theater & High Fidelity
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