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Panasonic CT-WX52 review: Panasonic CT-WX52

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The Good Cinema Scan with 3:2 pull-down; 34-inch, 16:9 Tau PureFlat picture tube; 1080i HDTV-compatible; progressive-scan doubler to 480p; 3D-YC comb filter; two-tuner picture-in-picture.

The Bad Inaccurate factory setup; color decoder overemphasizes reds.

The Bottom Line Panasonic's 34-inch HDTV is relatively inexpensive, but a few performance issues keep it out of the top tier.

Visit manufacturer site for details.

6.8 Overall

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Panasonic's Tau series CT-34WX52 is the company's only direct-view, 34-inch, wide-screen (16:9) digital television. Since it offers many of the features of its competitors from Sony and Toshiba at a price that makes it the least expensive 34-inch HDTV yet, this set looks like a tempting choice on paper. Judging from the sample that we reviewed, however, it absolutely requires postpurchase calibration to perform at its best, which hurts its value rating. Panasonic's Tau series CT-34WX52 is the company's only direct-view, 34-inch, wide-screen (16:9) digital television. Since it offers many of the features of its competitors from Sony and Toshiba at a price that makes it the least expensive 34-inch HDTV yet, this set looks like a tempting choice on paper. Judging from the sample that we reviewed, however, it absolutely requires postpurchase calibration to perform at its best, which hurts its value rating.

Design
Panasonic has done a nice job on the design of this unit. It's streamlined and handsome, with a silver finish, and the surface area beyond the perfectly flat screen is kept to a minimum. Speakers are set into the left and right sides of the narrow base. A flip-open door below the screen conceals the front controls and input jacks.

The remote control can command other brands of gear and includes fully illuminated keys for easy operation in the dark. A big cursor-control disc dominates the center of the large wand, enabling up, down, left, and right navigation of the menus where most of the TV's operations take place. We weren't impressed by the internal menu system, which is archaic-looking and difficult to use compared to the menu from the Sony KV-34XBR800.

Features
Like most HDTVs, the CT-34WX52 can display high-definition images in the 1080i format when connected to an external HDTV receiver. It also displays the output of a progressive-scan DVD player in unprocessed 480p. Progressive-scan images are more solid and detailed than regular interlaced images, and there are no visible scan lines running through the picture.

Panasonic's scan-doubler takes the input signal from cable, satellite, standard DVD, or an antenna, then converts the 480-line interlaced signals into a progressive-scan 480p image. Its Cinema Scan setting incorporates 3:2 pull-down, which helps eliminate artifacts created when watching programs that originated on film.

When fed an enhanced-for-wide-screen DVD, the set can automatically detect the anamorphic image and format it to fill the screen. The TV offers numerous modes for viewing standard material on a wide-screen set, including a 4:3 mode that places bars to either side of the image; a 14:9 mode that crops the top and the bottom of the image slightly; and a Just mode that stretches the sides of the image but leaves the center intact.

The audio system has two speakers driven by 15 watts of power each. A two-tuner picture-in-picture (PIP) feature is on hand, offering split-screen viewing or a scalable, smaller inset window. PIP will display images from component-video, S-Video, composite-video, and RF inputs.

A decent selection of inputs sprouts from the back panel, including three for composite video, two for S-Video (plus one in front), two for wideband component video, and two for RF. The component-video inputs can connect to progressive-scan DVD players and HDTV set-top boxes (STBs). However, unlike the competition, this Panasonic does not have a DVI input, so it can't connect to newer DVI-equipped STBs that incorporate Hollywood-sanctioned copy protection.

Performance
To evaluate how the CT-34WX52 uses its factory presets, we set the color temperature to warm, turned off scan-velocity modulation, and put in the Video Essentials test DVD. The picture modes, including Standard, Cinema, and Vivid, basically adjusted contrast and sharpness up or down. To get the best results, we ended up tweaking brightness and contrast with test patterns and ignoring the preset modes.

Using a Philips color analyzer, we took some readings in the Warm color-temperature mode. The numbers were nearly off the charts toward the blue end of the scale. Normal and Cool were virtually the same. That's unfortunate because the color gray--a.k.a. the color temperature--is a major factor in image quality since it makes up the base for reproducing all of the other colors.

Perhaps in an effort to compensate for the blue color temperature, the CT-34WX52 uses a color decoder that showed a bias toward red. As a result, the color control needed to be backed down to keep reds from oversaturating the image. Unlike many newer HDTVs, the Panasonic doesn't offer color-decoder adjustments for professional calibrators.

The CT-34WX52 acquitted itself well in a couple of areas. Convergence was excellent, with consistent edge-to-edge linearity and sharp focus. Light output was respectable at its proper settings. Compared to a rear-projection TV, this set's direct-view image stayed bright and undistorted from virtually any off-axis viewing position. Family members who can't sit in the sweet spot will definitely appreciate this characteristic.

Next, we moved on to some movie material. Starting with Monsters, Inc., the Panasonic automatically kicked into its anamorphic Cinema Scan mode. The image was well detailed, as you'd expect from a direct-view HDTV, and the depth and dimensionality of the animated characters was impressively reproduced. We thought the factory setup caused some delineation in the lush, bright colors; the blues and the purples didn't have quite the sharp distinction that we've seen on other sets. The 3:2 pull-down in Cinema Scan mode did a good job of eliminating artifacts from the image.

The desert scenes in The Scorpion King showed a full spectrum of reds, browns, flesh tones, and blacks. Though the colors were not at their optimum because we had to back off the saturation control, the scenes still presented a captivating image with multiple, subtle gradations in color. Blacks were dark with good detail.

Even with the issues we noted, the Panasonic CT-34WX52 produces a picture that will impress all but the most critical viewers. It has the circuitry to perform far better if professionally calibrated. We've seen the CT-34WX52 selling online for less than $1,600. The Sony KV-34XBR800 costs at least $250 more, but that set is probably worth the investment, especially for aspiring videophiles. Still, if you find a great price on this Panasonic and can get it professionally calibrated, you've entered the direct-view HDTV game on the cheap. panasonic ct-34WX52

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