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It's official. Maxent is the cheapo flat-panel brand of the month. What's that? Never heard of Maxent before? Don't worry. Neither had anyone else a few months ago. But that hasn't stopped Regent USA, the brand's U.S. parent, from placing its bare-bones plasma TVs in Costcos, Best Buys, and Web retailers across the States. The company's MX-32X3, a midsize 32-inch wide-screen HDTV-ready LCD, costs around $1,000 yet has most of the features and all of the flatness that people want in a new television.
Considering some of the supermodelworthy competition in the flat-panel market, we didn't find the MX-32X3 all that attractive. A bland silver-plastic band surrounds the screen's black bezel and holds the nonremovable side-mounted speakers. Those speakers create a very wide television, measuring about 23 by 40 by 9 inches with the included swivel stand, so it may not fit in some people's TV furniture. The full-size remote is comfortable enough to hold, and most of the important keys lie well within thumb's reach. The biggest exceptions are the Mute key, which is tucked in the upper-left corner, and the dedicated input-selection buttons, which are hidden away beneath a sliding panel. Thanks to these input buttons, universal-remote programmers will have a much easier time creating macros.
With a native resolution of 1,366x768, the MX-32X3 should be able to display every detail of 720p HDTV. As with all LCD TVs, this Maxent scales all incoming signals to fit the panel's available pixels. One NTSC tuner provides standard-definition over-the-air television. Want to watch HDTV? You'll need an external tuner or a cable or satellite box.
Single-tuner picture-in-picture, independent input memories, and color-temperature controls top the list of convenience features. Aspect-ratio options include 4:3 (displays 4:3 sources properly), 16:9 (stretches 4:3 material evenly to fill the screen), Panorama (stretches the edges of 4:3 material to fill the screen), Zoom:1 (stretches 2.35:1 content horizontally and vertically to fill the screen), and Zoom:2 (stretches 2.35:1 content horizontally and vertically to fill the screen and shifts the picture upward to prevent clipping of subtitles). Modes 4:3 and 16:9 are available with high-def sources, as is a 1:1 mode that displays incoming signals without scaling them to fill the screen.
The set's inputs are adequate for most users and include one DVI, two component video, two S-Video, two composite, one RF, one RGB (VGA) for PCs (up to 1,280x1,024 resolution), and six stereo RCA. Outputs include one RGB, one stereo RCA, and one subwoofer. As you'd expect at this price, the MX-32X3 lacks an HDMI input, but that's not a major omission; the DVI connection is HDCP compatible, and a simple HDMI-to-DVI adapter or cable will bridge the different-size ports.
With the color temperature set to Warm, the MX-32X3 had a surprisingly accurate color temperature right out of the box. It was bluish on the darker end of the grayscale, but midrange and brighter material came very close to the 6,500K reference. Thankfully, this Maxent's color-temperature performance was just as good through the component and DVI inputs. By press time, we weren't able to access the service menu to conduct a proper calibration, but given this TV's price and out-of-box performance in this area, it's doubtful anyone will splurge for a calibration anyway. The color decoder evinced only a slight red push, but the primary colors were noticeably off--more so than we've seen in a long time. Reds reproduced orangey, and greens looked limey.
Chapter 21, "Lucia di Lammermoor," from the Superbit DVD of The Fifth Element, drove home this panel's biggest flaw: its black level. Like so many budget LCDs, the MX-32X3 can't come close to producing a dark black, and it obliterates lots of details in darker portions of the picture. As the curtains part to reveal Diva Plavalaguna, most of her bizarre and delicately detailed back remains a bland expanse of dark-bluish gray until the lights come up fully. When the camera reverses angle, her face remains nondescript until she steps forward into the bright spotlight. At the same time, the white cloud cover over the planet floating in space behind her retained plenty of detail--a result of this panel's lack of white crush.
In addition, as the opening scene of Star Trek: Insurrection showed, the MX-32X3 lacks 2:3 pull-down detection. Some might try to explain this away by pointing out that almost all DVD players sold today include progressive-scan output (in other words, the burden of video processing falls on the DVD player), but the fact is that film-based TV sources--including most sitcoms--also benefit from this processing. The Maxent's nondefeatable edge enhancement doesn't help, creating faint halos around onscreen objects regardless of how low you turn the sharpness control. High-definition content looked significantly cleaner than DVDs, but we still saw some noise in our Dish Network feed of HDNet. The set couldn't resolve every detail of 720p HDTV test patterns even when set to 1:1 aspect ratio, but it looked no softer than most 32-inch LCDs and handled component sources almost as well as DVI.
Given its low price, the Maxent MX-32X3 will probably sell like hotcakes, and if you plan to watch it in a room with substantial ambient lighting or just want to replace an aging 27-inch set with something flat, it's a solid value. But sets such as Samsung's LT-P326W or LG's 32LX1D are worth the premium if you're more concerned about home-theater image quality.
|Before color temp (30/80)||7,100/6,400K||Good|
|After color temp||N/A|
|Before grayscale variation||+/- 356K||Good|
|After grayscale variation||N/A|
|Color decoder error: red||+5%||Good|
|Color decoder error: green||0%||Good|
|DC restoration||Gray pattern stable||Average|
|2:3 pull-down, 24fps||N||Poor|
|Defeatable edge enhancement||N||Poor|