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.
The depth of black in the night sky was similar to that of the N3260W, which is to say, relatively bright. The shadows did look somewhat noisier, however. When the small dog comes out to bark at Chiyo after her clog falls from the roof, for example, the misty light became bit blocky and discolored. We also saw some signs of false contouring in the shots of sky, which appeared as stark gradations instead of a smooth fade from dark to light. On the flipside, the N3251W's image when seen from off-angle didn't wash out as much as many LCDs', including that of the 60W.
Moving to brighter material, the image improved as we expected. We checked out the Blu-ray of Hitch from the Samsung BD-P1000 for our high-def test, for example, and the shot of New York City during the intro looked beautifully detailed, with seemingly every window in the hundreds of buildings visible. In other words, the ViewSonic N3251W resolved all the detail we'd expect from a display of its resolution. We did notice subtle signs of edge enhancement, however, along the edge of text in the pop-up menu, for example.
We also checked out the N32510W's No Scale aspect-ratio mode, and indeed, it perfectly resolved the 720p resolution pattern from our HD-signal generator via HDMI. Of course, on this 1,366x768 native-resolution display, the 1,280x720 image was surrounded by black bars on all sides, so we doubt many viewers will want to take advantage of this mode. As with most 1,366x768 displays, this set is much happier with 720p sources; 1080i material appeared noticeably softer via HDMI, so we recommend you set your HD gear to 720p.
With standard-def sources via S-Video and component-video, the N3251W turned in a mediocre performance, smoothing jagged edges well and engaging 2:3 pull-down detection relatively quickly, but also doing nothing to clean up noisy sources. While component-video was sharp enough, we also noticed some softness via S-Video; the ViewSonic could not resolve every line of horizontal resolution from an S-Video DVD source.
Overall, the ViewSonic N3251W's image quality is merely good, as is that of its ViewSonic stablemate, but they both outclass many similarly priced budget LCDs available today. Its paucity of analog inputs probably won't be a problem for most users, and to get better picture quality with dark scenes, you'll likely need to pay significantly more.
|Before color temp (20/80)
|After color temp
|Before grayscale variation
|After grayscale variation
|Color of red (x/y)
|Color of green
|Color of blue
|All patterns stable
|2:3 pull-down, 24fps
|Defeatable edge enhancement