Editors' note: The rating on this review has been lowered because of changes in the competitive marketplace.
Anybody who's owned a combination TV/VCR, or its multiheaded offspring, the TV/DVD player/VCR, knows that the VCR eventually breaks, and fixing it is not easy. Happily, the DVD part seems a lot more robust, which should reassure prospective buyers of the Westinghouse VK-40F580D, which is one of the few larger-screen flat-panel TVs with a built-in DVD player. In our testing, the player performed up to spec. The TV's picture quality was a pleasant surprise, with solid black levels, accurate color, and no major hiccups. Of course, the VK-40F580D will cost a bit more than a low-buck LCD and a drugstore DVD player, but the convenience of the built-in player should appeal to people, perhaps parents of DVD-addicted children, who want it all in one integrated package.
The VK-40F580D isn't going to floor anybody with its styling, but it's probably smart enough to pass wife acceptance muster. The highlight is the little disc slot on the front panel below the screen, which is accompanied only by the discreet eject key. A bezel of standard glossy black frames the screen, and surrounding the silver disc slot is a swath of perforated matte black, behind which the speakers reside. The downside of the set is the cheap-looking black plastic stand, which doesn't swivel, although it does seem sturdy enough.
Including the stand, the VK-40F580D measures 38.9 inches wide by 28.6 inches tall by 9.5 inches deep. Like most flat panels, you can mount it on the wall, but be aware that a protrusion on the rear, which is necessary to accommodate a spinning disc, brings the depth sans stand to a substantial 6 inches.
The same crowded Westinghouse remote control ships with the VK-40F580S, and we didn't find much to like. Cryptic symbols serve in place of words such as "menu" and "guide," there's no dedicated aspect ratio key, and the return key doesn't function as we expected; instead of backing one level out of the menu system, it changes channels. We did appreciate the direct-access keys to get to various input types, and the well-integrated DVD controls, which include an eject button at the top of the clicker, but that's about it.
The company did tinker with its menu system, and in general, it's an improvement. The submenus layer atop one another as you move through them, selections were highly legible, most items seem intuitively placed, and we liked the text explanations of various menu items. In typical half-baked Westinghouse fashion, however, some of the explanations were absent, displaying filler information such as "Help text for Color Stretch" instead.
The standout is the built-in DVD player. Insert a disc and it spins immediately, with the TV switching to DVD mode and playback starting without you having to press any buttons. It is a bit confusing that you have to remember to press the dedicated DVD "menu" key as opposed to the main TV menu key, but other than that, the player is very well integrated; the cursor keys, for example, default to controlling the DVD menus when you're in DVD mode. Technically, if you're keeping track, this is an upscaling DVD player since it scales the standard-definition discs to fit the high-definition screen.
Like most modern big-screen LCDs, the VK-40F580D has a native resolution of 1080p, which works out to 1,920x1,080 pixels. Of course, at this screen size you won't get much benefit from the extra pixels.
A nice range of picture controls is available, starting with four presets that cannot be adjusted and a fifth mode, called "custom," that's independent per input. There are three color temperature presets as well as another custom mode that lets you tweak white balance, although it doesn't have as many options as we'd like to see. More advanced controls are sparse, including just Dynamic Contrast and Color Stretch, and we left both turned off for best quality.
Only three aspect ratio choices are available on this set, although we were pleased to see that the principal mode for wide-screen material, called "standard," showed the entire 1080 resolution image with no scaling or overscan.
Other features include the capability to reduce standby power consumption--although there's no energy saver mode for when the TV is turned on. Since the standby "energy saver" mode is actually default, which is a good thing, we used its numbers for our the Juice Box below, but in case you're wondering, disengaging that mode increases the standby consumption to a hefty 23.87 watts, compared with 4.7 in the default position, all for a marginally faster turn-in time. The set lacks picture-in-picture but, unlike most low-buck HDTVs, it does include the capability to view digital photos stored on USB thumbdrives.