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Dell W3201C review: Dell W3201C

Dell W3201C

David Katzmaier Editorial Director -- Personal Tech
David reviews TVs and leads the Personal Tech team at CNET, covering mobile, software, computing, streaming and home entertainment. We provide helpful, expert reviews, advice and videos on what gadget or service to buy and how to get the most out of it.
Expertise A 20-year CNET veteran, David has been reviewing TVs since the days of CRT, rear-projection and plasma. Prior to CNET he worked at Sound & Vision magazine and eTown.com. He is known to two people on Twitter as the Cormac McCarthy of consumer electronics. Credentials
  • Although still awaiting his Oscar for Best Picture Reviewer, David does hold certifications from the Imaging Science Foundation and the National Institutes of Standards and Technology on display calibration and evaluation.
David Katzmaier
4 min read
The 32-inch Dell W3201C flat-panel LCD offers all of the things that we liked about previous Dell TVs--slick styling, a friendly interface, and scads of inputs. Better yet, it ups the ante by producing a picture that's perfectly acceptable for everyday TV and HDTV viewing, as well as some occasional home theater. Unfortunately, it's missing one important characteristic that we've come to expect from Dell: a rock-bottom price.
Dell's W3201C cuts an attractive figure, with a 0.75-inch black border around the screen that's surrounded in turn by another 0.75-inch silver frame. The included swivel stand continues the two-tone motif with silver accents on black. We appreciated the fact that the W3201C's included speakers can be detached completely, attached to the sides, or placed to either side independently on their own detachable ministands. With speakers detached, the unit measures about 31 by 23 by 8 inches and weighs 51.5 lbs.
Unlike most of the cheaper LCDs on the market, the Dell W3201C's thoughtful design extends to the remote and menu system. The smallish black-and-silver clicker sits well in the hand, and every key is lit from behind in blue. Prominent keys are well placed, and our only complaint is about the inclusion of a second cursor pad--confusingly, you have to use the smaller pad at the top of the remote, as opposed to the main one, to navigate the menus. The menus themselves present this TV's range of options clearly and include every function from input select to PIP to aspect ratio--a great design move that makes finding any function much easier.
Speaking of options, the Dell W3201C has more inputs than any LCD TV we've tested. These include a pair of crucial HDMI ports (most LCDs have only one), one of which had stereo audio for DVI devices; two component-video inputs with stereo audio; a VGA-style computer input with minijack stereo audio; two composite-video inputs with stereo audio; two S-Video inputs with stereo audio; two RF inputs; and side-panel composite and S-Video inputs that share stereo audio. There's also a monitor composite-video output with stereo audio and a subwoofer output, as well as both optical and coaxial digital audio outputs for piping digital audio from the built-in ATSC tuner to an external audio system. You can set the menu to skip unused inputs, and you can name inputs according to devices you've connected.
Other features include a versatile PIP/POP function, the ability to choose from three different aspect ratios with high-def and five with standard-def, and plenty of sound and video adjustments. Among the last option, we especially like the four color-temperature choices, the independent input memories, and the ability to shift the image horizontally regardless of source. Many TVs limit image-shift capability to computer sources.
With a native resolution of 1,366x768, the 32-inch Dell W3201C has plenty of pixels to display all of the detail of 720p HDTV signals. As usual, all incoming resolutions, including 720p and 1080i HDTV, are scaled to fit the pixels. It's worth noting that both of the HDMI ports successfully accepted a 1080p signal from our test generator--something few HDTVs can claim. It's also worth noting that the benefits of 1080p aren't really visible on a TV of this size and resolution.
We looked at the Dell next to a pair of competing 32-inch LCDs, the HP LC3200N and the V Vizio L32, and the Dell's home-theater performance was quite good. Its blacks weren't quite as deep as those of the HP but were still relatively good for an LCD and an improvement over the V Vizio. Watching an HDTV broadcast of Shakespeare in Love on HDNet, the Dell reproduced solid details in the shadows--we could clearly see the shaded leaves on a bush in the background, for example--but the darkness of its letterbox bars wasn't as deep as we'd like to see. One reason for this is that the Dell, unlike the HP and the Sharp LCDs, lacks a control to reduce the brightness of the backlight. Like all of its kind, this LCD can get extremely bright--plenty for viewing in high-ambient-light situations.
Color accuracy was better than with many LCDs we've seen. The Dell's color temperature came quite close to the standard in the Red preset, although the others were too blue. Color decoding and the actual primary colors themselves (see the geek box) were both quite accurate for an LCD. The panel passed our test for 2:3 pull-down detection, cleanly rendering the difficult diagonal lines from the opening pan of Star Trek: Insurrection. We did see minor signs of edge enhancement via both HDMI and DVD, which added a small amount of extra noise to cleaner content. Looking at a pendulum pattern, we noticed slightly more streaking than on the HP, but we didn't see any evidence of slower response time when watching a fast-paced hockey match on HDNet.
Overall, the Dell W3201C makes a compelling case for spending a few hundred dollars more than on no-name models, such as the Syntax Olevia LT32HV or the Maxent MX-32X3. The Dell's copious selection of inputs, including two HDMI jacks, will definitely appeal to people with lots of gear, but people looking for the best bargain will probably still opt for one of the less-expensive no-name panels.
Test Result Score
Before color temp (20/80) 6,646/6,482K Good
After color temp N/A  
Before grayscale variation +/- 126K Good
After grayscale variation N/A  
Overscan 3 percent Good
Color of red (x, y) 0.636, 0.326 Good
Color of green 0.273, 0.591 Average
Color of blue 0.146, 0.055 Good
DC restoration All patterns stable Good
2:3 pull-down, 24fps Yes Good
Defeatable edge enhancement No Poor

Dell W3201C

Score Breakdown

Design 7Features 8Performance 7