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HP SLC3760N review: HP SLC3760N

HP SLC3760N

Matthew_Moskovciak.jpg
Matthew Moskovciak
Matthew_Moskovciak.jpg
Matthew Moskovciak Senior Associate Editor / Reviews - Home theater

Covering home audio and video, Matthew Moskovciak helps CNET readers find the best sights and sounds for their home theaters. E-mail Matthew or follow him on Twitter @cnetmoskovciak.

8 min read

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.

7.2

HP SLC3760N

The Good

Slick network media-player-in-TV design; can stream music, movies, and photos to TV; can produce deep black for an LCD flat panel; clean video processing; Rhapsody support; excellent remote.

The Bad

Expensive; only one usable HDMI input; spotty HD over wireless streaming; no QuickTime or AAC support; noncustomizable menus for media; can't change aspect-ratio modes with HD sources; no PC input or picture-in-picture.

The Bottom Line

You can get the streaming media functionality of the HP SLC3760N for less money by connecting an outboard box, but it's a fine choice if you don't mind paying more for all-in-one simplicity.
Intro
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.

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.

Judged strictly as a television the SLC3760N does not offer many convenience or performance features. For example, there's no picture-in-picture or color management system, and the latter could really benefit this panel (more in the Performance section). On the upside, there is an integrated HDTV tuner for receiving over-the-air HDTV. There's no CableCard slot, but that's not a big loss as far as we're concerned. Just like its brother, there are four aspect-ratio modes for standard-def sources, but unfortunately you can't change the aspect-ratio at all with high-def.

Connectivity options are acceptable, but we were a little disappointed by the single usable HDMI input. Although there is a second HDMI input, it is reserved for making the connection to the MediaSmart box on the back of the TV. This means if you have two HDMI sources, such as an HD-DVD player and an HD cable box, you'll have to compromise and use an analog input, or get a separate HDMI switcher like an A/V receiver with HDMI switching. The SLC3760N also has two component video inputs, two composite video inputs, and one composite video input with S-Video. Unfortunately, all these inputs are shared between three A/V inputs, so you can't connect five components at once. There's also an RF input that can handle over-the-air and cable sources, both analog and digital (ATSC and QAM) and an optical digital audio output for sending off-air digital audio to an A/V receiver.

Wired performance over the network worked like a charm. We were able to stream everything, from protected MP3s to WMV HD at 720p, without a problem. High-def video streams looked as detailed as we expected, and of course lower-quality video looked worse. Protected content suffered from extra delay as the license was retrieved, but this is standard.

Wireless video streaming, however, was not glitch-free. At first, we set up a Linksys WRT55AG router in one room and an HP m7590n Media Center PC and the MediaSmart TV in the adjoining room. While lower bit rate video files such as standard DivX played back without a problem, high bit rate files such as WMV HD suffered from audio dropouts and very choppy playback--it was unwatchable. However, the CNET testing facilities has an abnormally crowded wireless airspace, so we thought it would only be fair to move the router into the same room. While this did improve the performance significantly, it still choked on the WMV HD files that had a lot of motion.

The only other issue we ran into was that we weren't able to dial in an optimal aspect ratio for 2.35:1 ultra-wide-screen DivX movies--the ones that would have black bars both above and below the image even on the wide-screen HP. The aspect ratio options for streaming video, namely best-fit, full screen, and actual size, all either cut off the sides of the image or didn't fill the screen as much as we'd have liked.

We also downloaded a few titles from the CinemaNow service, which was fairly painless, although we were disappointed that the Taxi Driver we downloaded was not even at DVD resolution. Best case would have been HD, but these movies should at least be in DVD resolution when they set out to compete against services such as Netflix. Of course, that's more of a complaint against CinemaNow than the HP.

Along with standard MP3 and WMA music files, Rhapsody subscription files streamed without a problem in our tests. However, there is a significant delay (about five seconds) before the song starts as the copyright license is acquired and the file streams over. The delay is not a big deal if you just have background music on, but if you're listening attentively you'll probably get a little impatient.

In terms of nonstreaming video performance, the SLC3760N did well, although there are definitely LCDs with better image quality. For a more comprehensive review of its performance, check out our full review of the non-MediaSmart version, the LC3760N, which should have nearly identical picture quality. It's also worth noting that the HP performs much better with a 720p high-def signal than a 1080i signal. The 1080i signal was noticeably softer in both test material from Digital Video Essentials and program material--especially apparent in DVD menus with text. Because of this, we performed most of our testing in 720p mode.

We popped Silicon Image's HQV testing suite into our Denon DVD-3910 and ran the SLC3760N through the paces. It performed commendably, particularly during the "race car" test where its 2:3 pull-down processing locked in nearly immediately. Further testing with Star Trek: Insurrection also proved its 2:3 prowess, although we did see it slip out of film mode for just a split second. On the other hand, the SLC3760N did a below-average job of smoothing out jagged edges in diagonal lines.

We watched some scenes from King Kong and for the most part were pleased; the set exhibited fine black levels and a relatively accurate color temperature in the Mid-Low setting. We initially found flesh tones looking much too red, so we adjusted the color setting lower. While this definitely sacrificed saturation, we preferred the picture overall to the "sunburned" faces. The other area we found lacking was shadow detail, particularly in scenes of Kong's lair. Where we could see all the dark details of each individual stone on the high-end Sony KDL-40XBR2, for example, the SLC3760N displayed only a dark smudge. That said, we think the vast majority of people would be very satisfied with the image quality, which we felt was about equal overall to that of the Vizio L42 HDTV, for example.

7.2

HP SLC3760N

Score Breakdown

Design 8Features 8Performance 6
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