Norcent is one of many less familiar brands proffering smaller-screen LCDs, and its LT-2090WPL, a 20-inch wide-screen model, tries to stand out with a slick design and HDTV display capability. If you're looking for a set for the bedroom or kitchen and insist in HD display capability and a wide screen, this is one of the slicker choices around.
With its kitchen-friendly white exterior, the Norcent LT-2090WPL would be at home on countertops or alongside iPods. The company also makes a black version, model LT-2090WBK. The set's 20-inch-diagonal screen sits above the speakers, and the overall styling is a cut above that of most budget sets, with rounded-off top and bottom edges, glossy black accents along the sides, and a silver strip between the speakers and the screen. Norcent includes a matching tilt stand, and when it's taken into account, the entire unit measures 20.8 by 17.7 by 7.3 inches (WHD) and weighs 17.6 pounds.
The distinctive styling carries over to the unusually large remote, which bends about 35 degrees at two-thirds down its length; it looks like a clamshell cell phone and fits in the hand like an awkward ray gun. While we found the remote easier to pick up from a coffee table, the bend interfered with our ability to reach most of the buttons. We are fans of the dedicated input-selection keys, however.
The Norcent's feature set starts with its ability to display HDTV sources, which not every small-screen LCD can claim. Its 1,366x768-pixel screen is a typical native resolution for LCDs and enables it to show every detail of 720p high-def sources. All sources, including HDTV, computers, DVD, and standard television, are scaled to fit the pixels.
Norcent includes a standard TV tuner in the LT-2090WPL, but you'll need to connect an external tuner, such as a cable or satellite box, to watch HDTV. Picture-in-picture is a nice addition, although somewhat limited. It works only when the main source is the PC input, and we would have liked the ability to view HDTV in the small window and the option to make the small window larger.
The picture controls are basic, lacking items such as color-temperature control, although there is an adjustable backlight labeled black level. While we appreciated the independent input memories, we would've liked to see a picture preset or two.
Hidden behind a removable panel, the Norcent's jack pack offers a component-video input (the sole high-def-compatible input on the set); an A/V input with S-Video; another one without; an audio output; and an RF antenna input. There's also a VGA-style PC input with audio, but since this set's recommended resolution is only 1,280x768 and it lacks DVI, you shouldn't use it primarily as a computer monitor. Overall, the Norcent LT-2090WPL's input selection is exactly what we expect on an HDTV such as this, and while a digital input would've been grand, it's unlikely to be missed by many people.
The Norcent LT-2090WPL offers passable video quality for a smaller LCD. In its default settings, the TV, like many LCDs, is incredibly bright, which helps in high ambient-light conditions, such as a strongly lit kitchen. In such situations, the Norcent's inability to render a deep black is a less noticeable a problem. It was also more difficult to notice the Norcent's uneven uniformity--the corners and sides of the screen appeared brighter than the middle--with the lights turned up. Of course, any television's video-quality issues become less noticeable in high ambient light.
The Norcent can show the full range from white to black, but its color reproduction with standard-def sources was not spectacular. While its primary colors measured somewhat close to average, with the exception of a yellowish green, and its color decoding was fine, the Norcent LT-2090WPL's color temperature was off significantly. This was mostly visible in darker areas, such as the bar scene from the Cop and a Half DVD where Nick McKenna (Burt Reynolds) gets tossed; the shadows under the bar and McKenna's black pants appeared too blue.
The set's video processing was better than we expected. The Norcent smoothed out jagged lines well, engaged 2:3 pull-down processing quickly, and delivered every line of resolution from DVD sources. It did convey plenty of video noise, primarily visible as moving dots or motes in flat backgrounds, making us wish the set had better noise-reduction circuitry. As Norman (Devon Butler) looks down at McKenna, for example, his yellow shirt and the wood ceiling appeared too noisy.
We tried the Norcent with an HD broadcast of the World Cup on ESPN2, Australia vs. Japan, and while we appreciated the details in the grass and the ability to distinguish faces in the crowd--par for the high-def course--we noticed too much edge enhancement. The score and the ticker, for example, had crunchy-looking edges, and faint, unnatural exaggeration was visible along the face of an advancing player during a close-up. In its favor, the Norcent maintained consistent image quality from off-angle, although it tended to wash out a bit.
Very few people choose a kitchen LCD based on picture quality, however, so the Norcent LT-2090WPL's image is probably good enough for just about any cook who wants to follow Oprah while whipping up lunch. We liked the set's style and mix of features, and while its $529 list price is a bit expensive for such a small off-brand television, the high-def capability might be worth it to some buyers.