TV makers have been slapping components onto their sets for years, combining televisions with VCRs or DVD players and sometimes both. The HP SLC3760N, the first to combine a network media player with a 37-inch flat-panel LCD TV, is a particularly polished example of the breed. This TV is not only a fully functional high-definition display, it can also stream and play back audio, video (including high-def), and photo content from any networked PC or storage device. Everything seems great until you read the $2,700 price tag, which is pretty steep, considering that the same TV without the networking features, the HP LC3760N, costs $1,700. That $1,000 difference is a tough pill to swallow when separate network media devices, such as the Acoustic Research Digital MediaBridge ($349) or the D-Link DSM-520, can do pretty much the same thing. That said, having everything integrated into the TV is definitely nice, and it's a lot easier to just hit the TV's Media button to access your digital media than to fire up a separate box. Tech-savvy users who don't mind another box will probably want to spend their money elsewhere, but if cost isn't a huge concern and you want something that looks nice and "just works," the HP SLC3760N is a well-designed, tightly integrated multimedia solution.
From the front, the HP SLC3760N looks like a standard LCD TV. The design is attractive, and its matte-black finish increases the perceived contrast ratio of the onscreen image more than silver or another color would. The speakers are located below the set instead of on the sides, which cuts down on its overall width.
The MediaSmart element is essentially a small A/V box attached to the back of the TV. It adds a bit of depth to the set, which might make it more difficult to wall-mount, but otherwise we like the design. You'll have to make some additional connections from the MediaSmart box to the TV (see Features for details), but HP provides cable clamps to keep all the wires under control. There are also two optional wireless antennas that stick up from the back of the set, but you can pivot them horizontally if you don't like the way they look.
We're definitely fans of HP's remote. It fits easily in the hand, and we picked up on the logic of the button placement very quickly. It's not fully backlit--although the direction pad, the media button, and the back button are--but that's really the only knock. The remote can also control a set-top box, a DVD player, and an A/V receiver.
The Media button brings up the GUI used to control the HP's network media capabilities. There are four options labeled Photos, Videos, Music, and Services. Services brings up Internet-related content, which is currently limited to Rhapsody and Snapfish. The other three bring up your media, organized by categories such as folders, albums, or genre, depending on the menu. This organization method wound up being somewhat annoying, as our media didn't show up exactly how we wanted; we would have preferred the ability to customize the way it was organized. We also would have preferred to see the menus respond a little faster, but that is more of a nitpick, considering inevitable network lag. The MediaSmart element of the HP SLC3760N is essentially a network media device that's built into the back of the TV. You can make either a wireless or wired Ethernet connection to your home network and stream photos, music, and movies from networked PCs and storage devices. To work with the HP, according to the manual, your PC needs to have Microsoft's Windows Media Connect installed--a requirement that precludes Macintosh computers and older PCs.
Video file compatibility was pretty solid, and we were successfully able to stream DivX, DivX HD, Xvid, Xvid HD, WMV, and WMV HD from a PC. The big omission is support for QuickTime and QuickTime HD, but there aren't many players that can handle it. We were a little disappointed that the SLC3760N would not allow us to stream ripped DVD movies over the network, like the Acoustic Research Digital MediaBridge can. For the record, CNET does not encourage or condone the illegal copying of commercial DVDs, and we circumvented no copy-protection mechanisms during our testing. On the other hand, the SLC3760N offers support for the movie-download service CinemaNow. You have to download the movies onto the PC first, but then it's easy to select them from the videos section of the TV's menu and stream them over the network.
Audio file support covers the usual suspects (MP3, WAV, and WMA), but the MediaSmart also has the ability to stream DRM-protected WMA files from services such as Napster and Rhapsody. Also note that DRM files cannot be played over the optical digital audio output. We would have loved to see support for AAC and protected AAC files, but this isn't really a knock since the vast majority of network media players don't support them.
Photo file compatibility is solid, supporting JPG, TIFF, PNG, BMP, and GIF files. All photos are upscaled to the TV's native resolution for display, which means they look pretty sharp. There's a slide show function as well, and you can play music while you watch. You're also able to access photos saved on HP's photo-sharing Snapfish service, through the Services menu.
Other than Snapfish, there are essentially no other services listed in the HP menu. HP's Web site refers to "thousands of Internet radio stations" and "4,000 feature-length films," but as of the time of this review we were unable to access these. HP says it will add more services in the future.
Moving on to standard HDTV features, the HP SLC3760N has a native resolution of 1,366x768 pixels, which is standard for a flat-panel LCD and more than enough to resolve all of the detail of 720p content. All sources are scaled to fit the available pixels.