Economy class with great off-air service
The smallest of this bunch, Zenith's 45-inch R45W47 also carries the smallest price tag at $1,700 list. While it has a built-in HDTV tuner for watching off-air digital broadcasts, it forgoes a CableCARD, which lets Zenith charge a bit less. The tuner performed very well, too, grabbing stations that the Mitsubishi set and our Dish DVR 921 satellite receiver/HDTV tuner missed.
The screen lacks the protective pane of transparent acrylic found on the other two sets. I didn't miss it one bit, but people wary of damaging their screens might. While I liked the expansive, well laid-out remote, small-handed users might not.
The R45W47 offers the standard array of inputs, with digital video handled by a DVI jack instead of a newer HDMI input (adapter cables let either type connect with the other). I found the aspect ratio controls, or display modes, more flexible with HDTV sources than those on either of the other two sets. Cinema Zoom let me expand the image in sixteen small increments, and six modes worked with high-def sources.
SETUP The R45W47 provides numerous picture presets but limited control over image quality - one custom picture setting applies to all inputs. As with the other two sets, screen uniformity for off-angle viewing wasn't great: the picture's brightness and color changed as I moved left (dimmer and redder), right (dimmer and bluer), or up or down. And after I ran the automatic convergence routine, I still saw fringes of color around some objects.
PICTURE QUALITY For my DVD viewing tests, I turned to the Vin Diesel thriller The Chronicles of Riddick. All the detail of the DVD came through intact, including the complex pattern of fine lines on top of the Necromongers' "temple." And the Zenith did a wonderful job of portraying the blackness of space as Riddick's stolen ship careens toward the civilized planets.
The brightness of the sky as he flies into the atmopshere was also apparent. In fact, the Zenith has the brightest picture of the three, so it should be better equipped to compete with ambient light. Later, however, I realized that I was missing some detail in the shadows. Riddick's dark brown tunic flattened to black during very dark scenes, its wrinkles blending into a mass of shadows. I could reclaim the detail by bumping up the brightness a bit, but that made the black areas brighter.
During the scene where Riddick first meets the "elemental" Aereon (Dame Judi Dench), he looked a bit too pale, and she somewhat too ghostly. But when I turned up the color control, the Zenith's tendency to exaggerate red made her face seem a little florid. I kept the color control relatively low after that, which gave me realistic skin tones at the expense of some punch.
For my high-def test, I chose the montage of images from the 1080i version of the Digital Video Essentials D-VHS tape, which looked more impressive than anything I saw on DVD. The mountain sunrise was beautiful, with snow patches and ridges visible as the light got brighter.
While colors also seemed richer than with DVDs, faces of the kids at play were too red. One shot of a couple dancing on the back of a ferry illustrated the set's clean, deep blacks in the dancers' silhouettes - as well as the less-than-uniform sky. Toward the top corners of the screen, the sky appeared a little too dark compared with the middle, while the middle seemed a bit too bright. (Such "hotspotting" is fairly common among CRT-based rear-projection TVs.) And the links of a chain on the ferry were less distinct than on the Mitsubishi, indicating a slightly softer image.
Overall, the R45W47 gets points for its deep blacks, flexible display modes, excellent tuner, and price.
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