HP SLC3760N review: HP SLC3760N

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.