SETUP When the HDTV emerged from its box and stood before me in Sound & Vision's video lab, I couldn't help muttering "sa-weeet" under my breath. Seen from head-on, it's a huge, jet-black rectangle framed on the sides and bottom by milky-silver contoured plastic. From the side (see photo below), the TV is remarkably slim and can be hung on the wall using the optional mounting bracket ($549).
Instead, our review sample came with an unobtrusive matching stand (not shown, a $249 option). This didn't bring the TV up quite high enough, so I'd recommend using another stand or else adding a riser a foot or so high for eye-level watching. I plugged my gear into the amply endowed input bay on the lefthand side. A removable cover hides the jacks from sight.
The smartly designed learning remote has blue-backlit buttons, and its finger-friendly cursor pad made a satisfying click when I pressed OK. Unfortunately, the keys are a little too small, so it's hard to make out their cryptic labels in the dark. After I powered it up via the remote, the RCA took about 25 seconds to reach full brightness (powering down took about 40 seconds before the whisper-quiet fan ceased spinning).
In addition to a CableCARD slot and an HDMI (High Definition Multimedia Interface) input, the back panel also has two DT-VLink (FireWire) inputs, which I usually ignore since few electronics devices aside from camcorders use them. RCA, however, offers a pair of HDTV-capable digital video recorders as options so you can record high-def programs TiVo-style. These connect to the FireWire ports and are identical except for capacity, offering 80-gigabyte ($449) and 160-GB ($549) hard-disk drives, for up to 9 and 18 hours of high-def recording, respectively. A neat option.
There's also an Ethernet jack for connection to a home network and a wireless keyboard for Web browsing. I had no trouble getting online and surfing to many of my favorite sites, and I appreciated thoughtful touches like a Text Size button on the keyboard and the ability to watch TV (including HDTV) or DVDs in a smaller window next to the browser. Text was perfectly legible on the big screen, and it was pretty cool to have a Web page and a TV show side by side without having to turn on a computer. The Ethernet jack also allows the set to receive software upgrades.
The setup menus offer a few unique options and excellent explanations of each function (I barely had to crack the manual). For example, I could customize the colors and degree of transparency of the menus themselves as well as set picture parameters (contrast, brightness, and so on) and a default display mode for each input. The set allows four display modes for standard-definition 480i (interlaced) and enhanced-definition 480p (progressive-scan) sources, but only one for HDTV. The picture-in-picture control was likewise limited. It worked fine with regular TV, placing a small inset window anywhere I liked on the screen, but it couldn't display progressive-scan or high-def sources inside the window.
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