With its wide (16:9 aspect ratio), flat screen and silver case, the CT-34WX50 is impressive to look at even when it's off. A flip-up panel below the screen conceals access to a few buttons, a pair of headphone jacks, and one video input. The rest of the connections, found on the back of the unit, consists of two component video inputs for connecting an HDTV receiver or a progressive-scan DVD player, such as the Toshiba SD-5109. You'll find three additional video inputs back there with both composite and S-Video connections. There is also an RF input and a monitor output with an S-Video connector.
We used the test patterns on the Avia Guide to Home Theater DVD to adjust the wide array of available picture controls. We found this TV a little awkward to set up and use because of its vast number of adjustments, controls, and options. If you dislike programming your VCR, this is not the TV for you. There are separate settings for each input, which include multiple color temperature settings and a whole submenu, dubbed Advanced Settings, that we never fully understood.
However, the trade-off for the minor confusion is that you can tweak the picture to near perfection. The color-bar pattern wasn't absolutely perfect, but it came very close. Geometry was great; circular test patterns showed no distortion. A screen of full white was very even, which is no small feat for a wide picture tube with a flat display. When we watched movies such as The Fifth Element, the image was truly stunning. If you don't have a progressive-scan DVD player such as the aforementioned Toshiba unit, the CT-34XW50 has a built-in line-doubler, which renders all 480i sources in 480p. This smooths out the picture considerably but has a tendency to introduce artifacts. While this is not necessarily a terrible thing, it's just not as perfect as the Toshiba SD-5109.
Turn On, Tune In, Drop Out
Although this set has a dual NTSC tuner built in, you might want to pick up Panasonic's set-top HDTV receiver, the TU-HDS20, to watch HDTV. However, that device receives only over-the-air broadcasts. Because there is no VGA input on this set, we had to plug our RCA DTC100 into an RGB-to-component converter box made by Audio Authority in order to view high-definition programs from DirecTV. This awkward workaround resulted in a less than perfect high-definition picture plagued by jitter along the top of the screen. Overlooking the conversion problem, the picture was full of detail and color. We were just as impressed with the HDTV picture as we were with the DVD picture quality. However, this TV shows only 1,080i and 480p images rather than all 15 variations permitted in the HDTV broadcast standard.
There's very little not to like about the CT-34WX50. Its list price is low compared to that of Sony's 34-inch HDTV-capable monitor. However, for this kind of money you can get a much larger rear-projection HDTV monitor. It's tough to justify spending so much moolah for such limited screen real estate, regardless of how good the set may be.