Way back in May 2006, we reviewed the ViewSonic N3260W, one of the computer monitor manufacturer's 32-inch LCD TVs. Fast-forward a few months to its newest 32-incher, the N3251W, and you'll see it's pretty much the same story. The main difference between the two sets? The N3251W has very slightly slicker styling, fewer inputs, and a couple of extra features, and it costs about $100 less.
The ViewSonic N3251W is the better-looking of the two TVs by a nose, although it's still pretty staid next to some of the flashier LCDs you'll see lined up on store shelves. With its black cabinet, a chrome accent strip along the middle, and a big chrome power button, it looks more polished than the somewhat industrial N3260W. The remote is also better, with a more logical button arrangement and keys that are easy to tell apart by feel. We did miss the direct-access input buttons, however; to choose sources on the N3251W, you'll need to call up an input menu and make a selection.
The newer ViewSonic also has a revamped menu system that's unfortunately not an improvement at all; its opaque-blue background now takes up the middle of the screen. It also locates a few picture-affecting controls, such as backlight, color temperature, and aspect ratio, in the Setup area as opposed to the proper Picture section of the menu.
Picture controls are fairly comprehensive on the N3251W. Whereas the older model offered just a pair of picture presets, the newer one has four in addition to a fifth User mode that's different for each input. You get three color-temperature presets and a fourth User setting with adjustable three RGB controls--a nice plus for picture tweakers, albeit not altogether effective (see below). We were disappointed that the backlight control is a three-position affair rather than a numeric slider, but it's still nice to see on a budget LCD. There's a whopping eight aspect-ratio selections for both standard- and high-def sources, although a few of them seem to do the same things.
We also appreciated the selection of conveniences, which include a versatile picture-in-picture function with both side-by-side and inset options, as well as the ability to view any source--aside from component video--while a PC input is displayed as the main image. There's a zoom control for magnifying the image as much as 8X, as well as a freeze function to stop it in its tracks.
With these obvious improvements, you may be wondering why the N3251W costs even less than the N3260W, albeit by about $100. One of the big reasons can be found on the panel's back side. The N3251W limps in with just one input that can handle composite or S-Video input and one for component-video; the N3260W has two of each. Otherwise, the 51W's jack-pack is fine for a budget LCD: one HDMI input, one VGA-style PC input, and an RF input for an antenna. Thanks to the built-in ATSC tuner, the RF input can tune over-the-air digital and high-def channels. The PC input can handle resolutions as high as 1,366x768.
ViewSonic did improve the performance of the N3251W in some areas, but others were worse than with the N3260W. During setup, we were able to use the color-temperature adjustment to bring it closer to the standard from its too-blue Warm setting (see the Geek box), but unfortunately, the controls were not fine enough to get it very close, especially in darker areas. This was apparent watching the Memoirs of a Geisha DVD, for example, when young Chiyo climbs over the rooftops; the moonlit tiles appeared a bit greenish, and while her pale skin looked suitably neutral in the bright moonlight, it became greener as she passed into the shadows.