The AQ-LCD17S-1's plastic chassis makes it look much like any other 17-inch LCD TV, while the PAN320 resides in an aluminum cabinet that looks rugged enough to survive at least a couple hours in a New York City subway station. Both come with waterproof remotes.
According to Joe Pantel, the PAN320 can take just about any punishment the outdoors can deliver, short of complete immersion in water. The AQ-LCD17S-1, though, can be completely submerged if you run some sealant around its DC input jack; for residents of coastal cities who worry about global warming, the two grand spent for this 17-incher is surely the safest possible investment in a TV.
Both TVs laughed off all my water attacks, whether delivered from my dog's upended water bowl or from a high-pressure nozzle'd garden hose. Nor were they fazed when I hurled shovelfuls of potting soil at them.
(Click on the image above to see our image torture gallery, where we slam the TV with water, fruit-punch, and fresh soil.)
Unfortunately, the weather in Los Angeles was unseasonably cool when I had the Aquatic AV set, so I didn't get a chance to test its heat resistance. After hearing Joe Pantel boast that his TV could survive anything outdoor temperatures ranging from -40°F to +140°F, I was glad I had his set on hand for a sunny spring day. The inside of the set can run much hotter, by the way: A digital meat thermometer I inserted into a screw-hole on the back of the PAN320 read 128°F, though the set's internal fans kept it cool enough to deliver a vivid, enjoyable picture.
I did encounter one chink in the PAN320's armor, though. When I placed it in direct sunlight one morning, large gray blobs appeared in the LCD screen, making the image unwatchable. I turned the set 180 degrees so the screen faced away from the sun, and the blobs vanished in 2 to 3 minutes. According to Joe Pantel, this is a feature, not a bug - in extreme, direct ultraviolet light conditions, the crystals in some areas of the screen black out so they don't overheat. I had a hard time believing him when he insisted that this effect occurs only in certain high heat conditions when the sun is bearing directly on the screen. However, that afternoon, with the sun once again shining directly onto the screen, I encountered no black-outs at all. And even in the direct sunlight, the picture was still bright enough to watch. It did lose a lot of its contrast, but there was still enough for me to enjoy Star Wars, Episode III: Revenge of the Sith - a movie loaded with dark scenes that are tough to reproduce in brightly lit surroundings.
Speaking of picture quality, neither of these sets would give a Pioneer Kuro a run for its money, but that's not what they're intended for. Watching outdoors during the daytime, I found myself pushing the black level (brightness) settings far higher than I'd ever dared before, which left the picture without the contrast I'd expect indoors. But it didn't matter. I was sitting in my backyard in the middle of the day, enjoying a Diet Coke and a cigar while watching Revenge of the Sith for the umpteenth time. Sometimes, it's good to be an audio/video gear reviewer.
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