Dell has been in the HDTV business for a couple of years now, and judging from the sets we've tested recently, the company seems to do a much better job with its flat-panel LCD offerings than with plasma. A case in point is the 37-inch LCD reviewed here, the Dell W3706MC, which is a solid performer compared to Dell's W4201C and W5001C plasmas that we looked at earlier. The Dell W3706MC shares the best features with its plasma brothers, namely an excellent input bay that includes two HDMI inputs, as well as a slick-looking, versatile design with detachable speakers, but it also produces a better picture. At CNET, we've often had less than flattering things to say about the image quality of flat-panel LCDs, but this Dell W3706MC is one of the better performers that we've tested to date. It won't blow you away with a rock-bottom price, especially compared to some of the no-name LCDs out there, but with its performance and features, the Dell W3706MC makes a solid case for spending more. The Dell W3706MC follows the company's basic flat-panel design, with a thin black bezel surrounding the screen and an otherwise all-silver finish. The stand also has the two-tone look going, but it's mostly black with some silver accents instead of the other way around. We really like the fact that, as with Dell's other flat-panel televisions, the speakers on the W3706MC can be removed entirely, attached to the sides, or even placed apart from the panel itself (pictured).
Set atop its stand with speakers attached, the Dell W3706MC measures 42.2 by 25.1 by 10 inches (WHD) and weighs 61.7 pounds. Remove the speakers and it shrinks to 35.8 inches wide; take off the stand and the bare panel measures 35.8 by 21.8 by 4.5 inches--extremely compact for a 37-inch LCD.
Dell's remote is a small, sleek design with white lettering on an all-black background. Smart-looking silver trim borders the left, right, and bottom edges. Any button-press calls up cool blue illumination behind most of the keys. We didn't appreciate having to remember to use the second, topside cursor control to navigate the menu system, and we would've liked the clicker to command other gear as well.
The internal menu system, while straightforward enough, is a bit awkward to use. The main menu runs horizontally across the bottom of the screen, but selecting options calls up a vertically aligned submenu in the top portion, making navigation somewhat counterintuitive. Like most flat-panel LCD-based HDTVs on the market, the Dell W3706MC has a native resolution of 1,366x768 pixels. That's enough to display every detail of 720p HDTV sources. All incoming resolutions and sources, from HDTV to DVD to computer to standard TV, are converted to fit the pixels.
The Dell has a solid feature package otherwise, with some desirable convenience features such as PIP (picture-in-picture), POP (picture-out-of-picture), and one we've never heard of: PBP (picture-by-picture). The PIP feature actually works with HDTV and computer video, as well as with SD content, which is a nice bonus. A built-in ATSC tuner for off-air HDTV channel reception, as well as a QAM cable tuner (but no CableCard) are also on board. All five of the Dell's aspect-ratio choices are available with HD and SD sources.
Selectable color temperatures of Blue, Red, Natural, and Normal are available, with Normal being the closest to the broadcast standard. Picture modes include Movies, Sports, Weak Signal, Multimedia, and Personal, which remains different for each input and is the only one that allows you to customize the picture. It's funny that the preset modes tease you with picture levels and settings, even though you can't change them. Unlike some LCDs we've seen, the W3706MC doesn't let you adjust the intensity of the backlight.
The inclusion of two HDMI inputs on the Dell W3706MC gained it a full point in features, because so much of the competition, even at much higher price points, offers only one. Including the HDMIs, the set has a whopping thirteen A/V inputs: two component-video inputs, two S-Video, two composite, and two RF inputs are available, along with a 15-pin VGA input for PC hookup (1,366x768 recommended resolution). Two more video inputs--composite and S-Video, which share a single set of audio jacks--are located on the left side of the panel. There's also an RS-232 control port for programming purposes. We were pleasantly surprised by the Dell W3706MC's performance--it does a lot right for an LCD. Color is fairly accurate overall. Color decoding was impressive with no red push, although the primary colors didn't come as close to the specification as some LCDs we've tested recently. Color temperature was also accurate out of the box, resulting in fairly neutral grays when we selected the Normal mode (see the Geek box for more).
Although the video processing does have 2:3 pull-down, as evidenced by the opening sequence of the Star Trek: Insurrection DVD, we did notice a bit more noise than usual here.
The inability to achieve a convincing level of black is the Dell W3706MC's biggest weakness, which comes as no great surprise since it is a shortcoming with most LCD flat-panels. We did miss having an adjustable backlight, which would allow us to lower the amplitude of the lamps driving the display. As a result, dark scenes lacked the depth and richness of some LCD panels with this backlight technology, but we did appreciate how clean and artifact-free dark material looked.
For a black-level test, we watched the first two chapters of the E.T. DVD with the night scenes and the opening shot of a star-filled sky. Blacks were stable and quiet, if relatively light in depth and texture. The Fifth Element, a classic reference-quality DVD transfer, exhibited excellent color saturation and detail. Skin tones looked exceptionally natural for an LCD panel. Bright scenes, such as chapters 7, 8, and 9, had real snap to the picture, indicating good contrast ratio.
HD looked really good, especially with bright material, although dark concert footage from HDNet did suffer from a lack of shadow detail. Both the component and HDMI inputs passed all the resolution from a 720p HD test signal, which is not something all sets can claim.
Comparing it directly to a 42-inch , which has a resolution of 1,024x768, the Dell held its own as long as we sat directly facing the center of the screen. As with all LCD screens we've seen, the Dell's image became more discolored and washed out the further we moved off-axis--especially higher or lower than dead-center--which isn't an issue with plasma.
|Before color temp (20/80)||7,100/6,125K||Good|
|After color temp||7,525/6,550K||Average|
|Before grayscale variation||± 319K||Good|
|After grayscale variation||± 236K||Average|
|Color of red (x/y)||0.604/0.330||Poor|
|Color of green||0.284/0.554||Average|
|Color of blue||0.155/0.077||Average|
|Black-level retention||All patterns stable||Good|
|2:3 pull-down, 24fps||Yes||Good|
|Defeatable edge enhancement||Yes||Good|