ViewSonic's heritage may be in LCD monitors, but the Californian company has won favour by transferring this expertise into the TV market. Of course, it helps that it has stuck with the PC market's 'pile 'em high, sell 'em cheap' mentality, undercutting the competition quite drastically with.
This is the 32-inch model of its latest range, and not only is it now fully high-definition compatible, but the extra 5 inches of screen costs only slightly more than the previous model. The 'HD Ready' seal of approval is gained from an HDMI input -- indeed, connectivity is one of the highlights of this modest LCD. It's a shame that cracks appear all too quickly -- the menu system is atrociously designed, the VGA channel has a strange orange tint and the remote control is particularly nasty. ViewSonic needs to improve its game if it's going to keep up with the big-name competition, but if you're strapped for cash and want a fully-specified flat-screen TV, the ViewSonic should meet your needs.
There's a feeling of déjà vu when you unbox the ViewSonic -- it looks remarkably like the . We thought that the Toshiba looked very plain when it was compared to the -- it's obvious that ViewSonic wants to make its television appeal to the mainstream.
If you've got some technological knowledge, your first impressions of the TV will be pleasant. ViewSonic is proud of its new HD range, and it has badged the TV accordingly with HDMI and HD Ready logos. The ViewSonic badge is relatively small in the centre of the TV, and underneath this is a status light that flicks between red, orange and green. The silver chassis doesn't pretend to offer any premium thrills, but it will fit in with a contemporary environment and it feels solid and weighty.
With connectivity, the N3260w is again very similar to Toshiba's 32WL56, with everything located on the rear and side. Viewsonic's selection is much stronger than we've seen from the major TV brands. PC/HD connectivity is placed on the rear, with an HDMI input and a VGA socket sitting next to each other. One small point -- connecting any DVI equipment that you want to feed into HDMI via an adaptor is made difficult because of the back panel design. We used a Monster DVI-HDMI adaptor and it sat rather awkwardly at an angle. We'd worry about it doing some damage to the socket in the long term.
When you uncover the side panel, it's a veritable pot of gold for AV enthusiasts. There are a set of component inputs which, like the HDMI input, can accept high-definition video from upscaling DVD players and games consoles such as the Xbox 360. This is the best quality video connection, but you'll also find two Scart terminals (one of which is RGB for improved picture quality from a digibox) in addition to S-video and composite video inputs if you manage to fill everything else up.
If you want to connect the TV up to a home cinema system, you can also output stereo audio. It's a shame that all these phono connectors are lumped together in one space though -- it makes it more confusing when you're trying to match the component video inputs with the accompanying audio sockets, despite the help of a diagram on the panel. Another small point -- why isn't the PC audio input located next to the VGA socket, instead of being lumped in with the AV connectivity on the side? It's not the first time we've seen this happen, but it is a strange design choice.
You can usually spot a cheaper TV from its remote control, and the ViewSonic's is no exception. It's cheap and plasticky, and not at all intuitive, as the buttons are lumped to close together. You also need a sharp implement to open the battery compartment, and the covering on the bottom of the fascia wouldn't open at all. Without doubt, it's the worst remote control we've ever used -- and we scratched it when we forced it open..
ViewSonic's LCD is fully high-definition compatible across HDMI and component inputs. This means that when Sky HD, Blu-ray and HD DVD launch in 2006, you're guaranteed compatibility (although you might need some sort of splitter if you're rich enough to afford them all). The two high-definition formats, 720p and 1080i, are both compatible -- the former fits the native resolution of the LCD panel perfectly, while the latter has to be scaled down to fit. Sky has confirmed that its HD service will be broadcast in both formats. The television is sadly lacking a digital tuner, so you'll have to buy a separate digibox if you want to watch Freeview.
ViewSonic has been a pioneer in the monitor market, constantly reducing response times to the current level of 2ms. Although this TV isn't quite as fast, the LCD panel has a fast response time when compared to other 32-inchers -- 8ms means it's perfect for videogames. Viewsonic doesn't boast anything like Toshiba's Active Vision or Philips' Pixel Plus, but the TV does come with some other image processing technology. Integrated features include motion-adaptive progressive scan, a 3D comb filter and low-level contrast enhancement to improve overall picture quality. Viewsonic's own press material makes a fuss about the television's Picture in Picture functionality, which isn't a particularly useful feature in our experience.
Like many TVs, the ViewSonic has a selection of pre-programmed picture modes including Vivid, Standard and Mild, plus a Custom mode that lets you adjust the contrast and brightness yourself. The only advanced setting in this menu is to toggle Noise Reduction, which eradicates the blockiness of MPEG sources like DVD and digital TV. The likelihood that you'll want to dip into these settings is minimal, though -- the menu system itself is absolutely atrocious. It looks terrible and eschews common TV interface rules for no apparent reason. For example, press the Source button on the remote control and it doesn't cycle through the AV channels -- instead it goes to a menu where you choose between Main Picture and Picture in Picture options. What's even more confusing is that there are PiP options directly accessible from the remote control itself.
We do like the way you can change the resolution of the PC mode, so that the desktop is formatted automatically. If it still doesn't fit, then you can ask the TV to format the PC display automatically, and most modern computers should output in a widescreen format. The 20W combined power of the speakers is quite substantial for a 32-inch TV, and they even boast SRS WOW technology.
Viewsonic's LCD isn't the best we've seen by a long way, but it excels in some areas that certainly make it worth the money for videogamers. First off, the response time means that the image is stable and doesn't smear, even with interlaced analogue and digital TV sources. Whether you're playing high-definition content or a DVD movie though, the picture from the N3260w's panel is sharp, even in the background details.
We did find that the panel's colour reproduction was quite drastically off , especially on the VGA input. When using aand high-definition content over a VGA connection, reds and oranges were freakishly unnatural, and even turning the colour temperature to 'Cool' didn't seem to do anything. The contrast wasn't as deep as we've seen from , but then the ViewSonic is about two-thirds of the price.
While ViewSonic's previous-generation TVs were massively cheaper than their big-name equivalents, the gap is beginning to close. For us, it's much more attractive to spend another £100-200 on Samsung's LE32R41BD and get a more stylish TV that's easier to use, has a Freeview tuner and more effective picture processing for standard-definition sources and PC use.
Edited by Michael Parsons
Additional editing by Nick Hide