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Old 01-13-2006, 05:00 PM
Felix Torres
Join Date: Nov 2006
Posts: 1,887
Default A Harbinger of Things to Come: Westinghouse's LVM-37W1 LCD TV

Product Category: High Definition Display
Manufacturer: Westinghouse Digital
Where to Buy: Low Price Search [affiliate]
Price: $1899.99 USD MSRP, as low as $1589 USD
System Requirements: PC, MAC, Cable/Satellite STB, Game Console, etc
Specifications: 37" 1080P HD LCD Display

  • Highest pixel-density HD Display on the market
  • Full 1080p capabilities on both input and display
  • Rich Jack-pack; 5 HD inputs
  • LCD technology limits: black levels, color gamut
  • Minimalist manual
  • Only three aspect ratio settings
The Westinghouse LVM-37W1 is an HD milestone; the first 1080p-native HD display with full 1080p inputs at an eye-popping price. Read on for the full Review.

Is This for Real?
Last January, at the Annual Las Vegas Consumer Electronics show, a handful of companies announced and displayed a variety of High Definition displays running at the once-futuristic native resolution of 1080p. They were not the first to do so; super-premium niche displays had been available at extreme prices for years, and Sharp Electronics had been marketing a high-end 45” LCD display with that same native resolution for months. What made the new displays at CES notable was that they were intended to sell in volume at the same prices as the currently available 720p models of similar size.

In other words, these new models are intended to mainstream native 1080p displays; a pretty tall order at a time when even true 720p content is far from common and the content in native 1080p can be easily listed on a few sheets of paper. One of the displayed models in particular drew skeptical looks because of the listed specs, the pricing, and the source: Westinghouse Digital was promising to deliver by mid-2005 a 37” 1080p LCD display for under $2500, the same price-point of their previous 32” 720p offering.

Knowledgeable heads nodded politely and moved on. After all, every year, CES sees a few ambitious products announced at price points and schedules that nobody would think possible and which, sure enough, later turn out to be delayed, underperforming, or both. That a third tier (at best) vendor could possibly match the specs of market-leader Sharp at something like half the price was generally seen as...ambitious. And unlikely.

Then a funny thing happened around May of 2005: Reports started appearing that the promised LVM-37W1 was real. That it had actually shipped and people were finding it for sale online and at local electronics chains. And the street price wasn’t under $2500 at all. It was under $2000. Sometimes, well under...

Now, it was up to real, live, consumers to find out if this thing could possibly be for real or if there was some hidden catch. Some of them decided to risk their own money to find out. And a body of data began to accumulate...

So, What is this Improbable Beast Like?
Well, first of all, it isn’t a TV at all: it has no tuner. It isn’t a computer monitor, either, though its DNA clearly comes from that lineage. But computer monitors don’t normally come with infrared remote controls, PIP capability across all inputs, sleep timers, or (until recently) built-in image processing systems.

What the LVM-37W1 is, is a pure High Definition display, intended for use as a component in a modular entertainment system. It will just as happily accept input from a PC or a MAC as an XBOX, Cable/Satellite STB, DVD player, or even a VCR. But where it most clearly shines, is as the front end of an HTPC or Media Center PC.

First, the specs:
Screen size: 37.0” Diagonal; 16:9 Aspect ratio
Native Resolution: 1920 x 1080 16.7 Million colors
Compatible Modes
.....NTSC 480i
.....ATSC 480p, 720p, 1080i, 1080p
.....PC 640 x 480, 800 x 600, 1024 x 768, 1920 x 1080
Contrast Ratio: 1000:1 (originally 800:1)
Brightness: 550 cd/m2
Lamp Life: 50,000 Hrs
Viewing Angle: 176° Horizontal, 176° Vertical
Response Time: 12 ms gray-to-gray
.....2- DVI/HDCP-Compliant digital video
.....2- YPbPr, component (analog) video
.....1- DB15 VGA/PC Video
.....1- Composite
.....1- S-Video
.....5- Audio in (Dual RCA)
.....1- Audio in (mini) for PC source
.....1- Audio out
Audio: 2x20 watt speakers, detachable
Video Processing
.....Progressive Scan
.....Aspect Ratio Conversion
.....Faroudja DCDi
.....CCS (Cross Color Suppressor)
.....3D Noise Reduction
.....3D Video Processing
.....3D Comb Filter
.....Inverse 3:2 pulldown
.....Freezing Picture
Physical Dimensions
36.6” x 28.5” x 8.4” (with Base)
36.6” x 23.0” x 4.5” (w/o Base)
56 lbs (with Base)
44 lbs (w/o Base)
Other features:
Installation Options
.....75mm x 75mm VESA® pattern,
.....100mm x 100mm VESA® pattern wall mounts
VESA DPMS support
Input setting memory; each input retains separate OSD settings

Pictures! We've got Pictures

Figure 1: Simple Looks here, nothing fancy.

• The display comes in any color you want as long as you want silver.
• Some folks might consider the minimalist bezel bland.
• Westinghouse reportedly sells external snap-on bezel frames in wood textures if you’re wall-mounting it but I haven’t found them on their site.

Figure 2: Side view

• Inputs are side-mounted on a center hump to yield a pretty thin profile.
• The right side has a power switch, an input port cycling button, two volume buttons, and three buttons to control the OSD.
• The base doesn’t swivel but the padding underneath is smooth enough you can swing it around cleanly.

Figure 3: Rear view.

• The center hump has VESA standard 75mm and 100 mm attach-points; no problem finding compatible wall-mounts.
• The removable speakers are connected via external cables. At first I was less than thrilled; it seemed cheap. Upon further reflection, I realized the standard squeeze-clip speaker connectors let me plug my three-way external speakers instead. Or, the attached speakers can also be used as the center channel in an analog surround-sound configuration.

Figure 4: Jack-pack.

• Yes, the S-Video and composite inputs share the audio.
• And the VGA audio input uses a PC-centric mini-plug instead of RCA plugs.
• You do need a thin screwdriver (or very small hands) to tighten the retaining screws on the VGA and DVI connectors; the price of a thin, wall-mountable profile…

Figure 5: Remote control.

• The remote control is the same that comes with Westinghouse’s LCD TVs. It is not a universal remote but the codes are available to get the display to work with other remotes. (The Harmony 360 supports it just fine.)
• The buttons are clearly labeled but not backlit.
• You have two ways of selecting input ports; through the source-cycling buttons (14) or the direct-mapped buttons (15-19). The DVI and YPbPr buttons toggle between the two ports of each type.
• The center pad ( 7,8 ) lets you navigate the OSD in a straight-forward GUI manner.
• The number pad is mostly redundant but it does let you quick-pick choices on the OSD menus.

OSD Settings

Figure 6: Video settings menu.

This can be a time sink if you’re a perfectionist; the display has very fine-grained settings for most of the adjustments:

• Brightness, Contrast, Saturation, and Backlight all range from 0 to100, for 100 million possible settings.
• Hue ranges from (-45) to (+45) and Sharpness from 0 to14.
• There are three color temperature settings; the factory default is Color 3, which most folks find a bit too cold; Color 2 is apparently closest to the ideal 6500 degree color temperature.

All in all, the OSD allows for over 135 billion discrete settings.
Nonetheless, some people still can’t find a configuration they like. Caveat emptor.

Figure 7: VGA port settings menu.

The PC settings icon is only available when the VGA input is selected.
Again, very fine-grained settings let you control size and image position.

Figure 8: Audio settings menu.

• Standard audio settings here; nothing fancy, and they’re strictly Stereo.
• The settings are global: no individual input port memory here.
• Number 6, SPEAKER, is for choosing whether to use the amplified output feeding the attached speakers (or alternate speakers connected to the standard speaker jacks) or the lineout stereo.

Figure 9: Picture-in-picture settings menu.

Very flexible PIP function; three modes, three sizes, custom positioning…

Figure 11: Available PIP combos.

• VGA and the two component video sources must share video hardware; they can’t be combined with each other, only the digital or legacy sources.
• The same applies to composite and S-video.
• However, the two digital sources CAN be combined so they obviously have independent video hardware.
• Clearly, this is a Digital display first and foremost.

Figure 12: General settings menu.

• The menu can be positioned pretty much anywhere on-screen; the default is upper left-hand corner
• You can define how long the menu stays up once invoked
• You can choose the menu language; English, Spanish, French, and (presumably) Chinese
• DPMS can be enabled on a per-port basis

First Impressions
Lesson 1: There is only so much you can tell about an HD display in the store.
Electronics vendors have of late wised up and started to actually display High Definition content on the displays in their show rooms. (Took them long enough to figure that one out, no?) While some stores run off-the air content, on the displays, most big chains are currently running recorded loops of mixed-resolution content featuring all three ATSC formats (480p, 720p and 1080i), so it is generally possible to get an idea of what the individual displays can do and roughly how they compare to each other. However, there is no way to really tell how well a display is set up and while we all know the vendors would never stoop to tuning them so the higher-priced displays outshine the cheaper products, more often than not, the displays are going to be running at factory spec.

Which means that to really know if a display meets your needs, you have to take it home and see how it performs in your environment, with your lighting, your video sources. It is no accident that HD displays are the most-often returned objects in an electronics store’s inventory. Which is why, except around Super Bowl week, most vendors have fairly liberal return policies.

Thanks to the magic of a 30-day, no questions asked return policy, I was able to risk taking this particular beast home and run it through its paces. I figured two weeks would be a fair trial since I had done my homework beforehand and I knew what to look for as possible reasons to send the display back.

First impression: “That is one big box.”
Next impression: “Nice!” The box uses a set of four plastic latch/plugs: You squeeze and they come out and the bulk of the box lifts off, revealing the display surrounded by foam packing blocks. Remove inserts, remove the plastic bag covering the display. Carefully bend over. “...Hey, its light!” (Having just moved a hundred-plus pounds worth of 27” CRT, there is a lot to be said for the ease of carrying even a 37” LCD display.) Set it up, plug in the power, plug in the upscaling DVD player (via HDMI to DVI cable), insert THE INCREDIBLES. Switch the DVD player to1080i. Hit play.

“Ooohhh! Pretty!” Try 720p output... toggle back to 1080i... try 480p... go right back to 1080. Definitely looks better than in the store!

Setup and Calibration
HD displays almost invariably need careful calibration since, as a rule, factory settings are optimized (if at all) for the store showroom. Of course, really serious video-philes use a Spider to calibrate their displays. Me, I’m an amateur so I simply switched to the THX optimizer wizard on the movie disk. The process is pretty straightforward: the wizard displays instructions and a sample screen for setting brightness, contrast, hue, and saturation. It takes a couple of minutes and then you’re back at the menu and ready to run the movie at something close to what the producers intended.

Out of the box, the movie looked very good, even from two feet away, with no pixilation or fuzziness. After the wizard it looked noticeably better. Jaw-droppingly good, in fact. I tweaked the brightness a bit higher out of personal preference and I wrote down the values of the settings to replicate them later on the other inputs (XBOX, VCR, networked media receiver, etc). It has a lot of ports but I need every last one of them.

Later, I hooked up the cable STB, switch from DVI2 to DVI1 and run the box’s own setup wizard to switch it from 480i to 1080i. Initially, I set it up in pass-through mode so it outputs the native resolution of the individual channel/show. Then I replicated the DVI-1 display settings and went channel surfing for a good subject. Luckily INHD was running a travelogue; HD video tape at 1080i. (Venice is a pretty city. I want to go see it in person some day.) I eventually remembered to breathe and moved on.

The plan was to run the display non-stop for as close to 24 hours as possible, then let it lie for as close to 24 hours as possible. If the power supply lived through that it would live through anything I’d ever demand of it. Which it did.

Lesson 2: Dual-pass upscaling really helps.
Since the display has a Faroudja DCDi adaptive motion video processing chip, everything gets upscaled, even 1080i inputs. And, given the same source material (i.e., a DVD) at 480, 720, or 1080, the 1080 version looks visibly better. Just a bit in some cases. But it is noticeable.

Lesson 3: Resolution does matter.
Image quality depends on content. Fuzzy analog SD will look fuzzy at any display resolution. But for clean digital content, resolution does matter: 480p looks great... 720p is fantastic... 1080 is still better, though.
At the store the display was being fed a standard showroom loop of different resolution content. And I could tell what source material was 720 and what was 1080. And both looked better on the LVM-37W1 than the comparable 37” 720p/768p LCD displays. Pixel density does matter.

Lesson 4: Size Matters
Simply put: HD displays can and should be viewed at significantly closer distances than comparable-height SD displays. And this allows for viewing a larger display in the same room. My old TV was a 27” and I was a bit concerned that anything bigger than 32” would be too big to watch at reasonable distances. What I found is that the meaning of display size is different at 1080p. In SD terms, a 37” display is big and can’t really be watched any closer than about 8 feet. In 1080p terms, however, it is medium-sized and can be watched at 5 feet range or closer depending on how immersive you want to get. I ended up moving my viewing position in about two feet or so. I could have moved in even closer, since the thing is usable as a PC gaming monitor at desktop distances; 18 inches and less; but 37” at 6-7 feet is exactly right for my living room.

What’s to Like?
Image quality, of course. First of all, the display will accept and properly display 1920 by 1080 progressive video from a properly-configured PC video card on a one-for-one basis. It will also properly de-interlace 1080i input signals via the DCDi adaptive-motion de-interlacer and it will upscale lower-resolution input.

The resulting images range from merely good to stunning, depending on the source. Being a confessed resolution bigot, I was not really planning on getting into the HD business this year, XBOX360 or not. I was waiting for something similar to the Sharp 1080p display to come down into reasonable pricing territory. But then I saw the LVM-37W1 in action and I saw the price and after a week of research and debate I was simply unable to come up with a reason not to buy.

Cause, the second thing to like is the price. As of November ‘05, the list price of the LVM-37W1 is $2000. Street price runs from 5-25% off that on any given week and the week I jumped it was close to 20% off. With a bit of hunting, anybody can do about as well.

Third thing to like? Features, features, features. The feature set of the LVM-37W1 is fairly rich and seems to have been drawn up by somebody who has actually lived with a modern display. There are thoughtful touches such as:
.....• bottom-mounted, removable speakers
.....• VESA-standard mounting holes, for generic wall mounting or replacement stands
.....• VESA DPMS support so the display powers down when tuned to an input with no signal
.....• 1/8” mini-plug for the VGA audio input instead of the RCA inputs used by the other inputs
.....• one composite input and one S-Video input only. Except for a VCR or a two-generations-old console, there really is no call for legacy inputs on a modern HD display. (Not sure if things are different elsewhere but I see displays with 3 composites, three S-Videos, and one Digital input and I have to wonder…)
.....• dedicated input buttons on the remote for VGA, DVI, Component, Composite, and S-Video ports let you toggle instantly between ports
.....• three PIP modes: standard floating window, equal sized side-by-side, unequal-sized side-by-side
.....• PIP that works across all inputs (with some restrictions on how they can be combined)
.....• Floating-window PIP mode has three distinct sizes, plus you can choose to position the secondary window literally anywhere
.....• very fine granularity on the OSD control settings; over 135 billion possible settings (no, I didn’t try them, but I did do the math) and the most extreme settings are still viewable
.....• OSD input settings that are port-specific; each port retains its distinct settings (a deal killer for me)
.....• A freeze-frame button. (Somebody was thinking!) Since an LCD display has to have an onboard frame buffer, all that was needed to implement this feature was a bit of firmware coding.

The fourth thing to like is the lack of tuners: in their ever-finite wisdom, the US Federal Communications Commission has mandated that all TVs above a certain size come with HD tuners. Never mind the fact that 60% of US household have Cable and another 27% have satellite TV services, to say nothing of those that have both. While I’m not 100% satisfied with my cable service, it is, for now, er, serviceable and I really can’t complain about the video quality of the HD content. And if I should ever switch, it will be to the alternate local cable provider (yes, I’m lucky enough to live in an area with two cable providers) or a satellite service. Over-the-air HD buys me nothing for now, so not having to pay for a tuner I won’t use is a plus. Your mileage may vary, of course.

A consequence of the lack of tuners in the LVM-37W1, is that it comes with no less than five high definition inputs: three analog and two digital, and it has a separate memory for the settings of each of the five inputs. Power loss does not seem to reset them, either. My old CRT had this indispensable feature but it turns out that not all HD displays have it, even name brand models. Yes: Caveat Emptor.

Lesson 5: acceptable HDMI input modes do not include 480i.
Not that I care, but it does bring up an error message when the STB tries to send 480i. (It works fine on the analog ports.)

Lesson 6: Not all HDMI devices support HDCP.
This is critical. More, not all HDMI devices properly support the spec. For now, at least, DVI+HDCP seems to be more universally compatible. (I had no problems with either of my two HDCP-capable sources.) This will likely change but you should be aware of this.

Lesson 7: HDCP devices expect the display to be fully powered up before them.
Do it the other way around and you get a glimpse of an error message. Only a glimpse, ‘cause the two devices quickly establish a handshake once the display is up.

Lesson 8: It takes time to switch resolutions.
Setting the STB into pass through mode is a great way to see what resolution each channel broadcasts in, but it also results in a “double-blink” when you switch channels because both the STB and the display have to switch resolutions and synch the video, at the cost of a two second lag. Setting the STB to send everything in 1080 mode eliminates the double blink and results in a slightly better image. To my eyes, anyway…

Lesson 9: Not all 1080p displays actually accept 1080p signals.
This was a bit of a shock. While, the LVM-37W1 accepts and properly displays 1080p signals through the VGA and DVI1 ports (and 1080i through the DVI2 and component inputs) some other 1080 displays on the market, however, do not accept 1080p signals at all. Some, like the Sharp 45” can be hacked to get it to accept 1080p PC inputs while others limit PC inputs to 1280 resolution. To complicate matters, I have seen reputable reports that the current HDMI spec, 1.1, does not support 1080p at all because of a channel bandwidth limit of 165MHz and that it won’t be until late ’06 that the new HDMI 1.03 allows 225MHz channel bandwidth and 1080p support. This is, of course, puzzling because DVI is also limited to 165MHz channels and PC displays (and the LVM-37WI) have no problem displaying 1920 by 1080p/60Hz content today, using DVI. The best I could figure out is that the DVI spec is adequate for 8-bit per channel color at 1080p/60 but that some (most?) of the HDMI chipsets in use today are limited to 150MHz channel width.

The bottom line here is that 1080p offers real value both when connected to a Media Center or Home Theater PC and for de-interlaced 1080i content, but that compatibility with Blue Laser players in 1080p mode (if even they support it) is uncertain. (I’ve seen reports that first-generation HD-DVDs and BD-ROMs will only output 1080i.) Whether any current display will be truly compatible with blue laser players is uncertain until they actually come out next year. Most definitely: Caveat Emptor.

What’s not to like?
Not much. First, it is an LCD display. The technology, by nature, has a problem displaying 100% true blacks. Its color gamut is rated at 75% of the NTSC spec, which is what you'd expect from a contemporary LCD display. I have no problem with what I see but purists might. It is all a matter of taste.

Second, the display has three aspect ratio display mode settings; Standard, where it displays what it gets as it gets it; Fill, where it stretches the image horizontally to fill the screen; and Zoom, which takes letter-boxed SD content and fills the screen with it. All good, so far. Missing, however, is a vertical-fit option that would let you take mis-formatted wide-screen content and squeeze it horizontally into 4 by 3 aspect. In the best of all worlds this would not be needed. Theoretically, it should not be needed. But in the real world, there are (lazy? clueless?) local stations that just pipe SD content through the HD channel without bothering to format it properly. Fortunately, both my STB and DVD player have a vertical fit option. And, of course, HTPCs and MCE PCs automatically handle aspect ratio properly.

Third, the dedicated input buttons for the two component and the two DVI inputs function as toggles with memory so that to get to DVI2 from, say, Component 2 will take two clicks if the last DVI port used was DVI1, but only one to toggle back and forth. To some this might be a feature, to some it is an annoyance.

Fourth, the manual is, to be kind, lean. While it is clear and readable it certainly doesn’t go very deeply at all into what the myriad options mean. It even undersells the display by not discussing some of the more important features of the display like the image processor or the per-port memory feature.

Finally, there is the matter of sample defects and overall quality. LCD displays tend to suffer three main kinds of sample defects; dead or stuck pixels, inconsistent backlighting, or cheap power supplies. So far, I seem to be lucky and have gotten none of the above. (My unit seems to be an exquisitely designed, well-built contemporary LCD display with state of the art features and performance.) Still, there is anecdotal evidence online for all three types of defects. How prevalent it is, I don’t know. Most buyers of the LVM-37W1 seem happy but some have expressed their dissatisfaction online. With a vendor that is not a first tier “name” vendor it will be a while before the quality of their manufacturing process is established and one can tell what to expect. Me, I opted to violate my rule against extended warranties and sign up for a four year, three-strikes lemon-option warranty. (It still came in under list price and I hope never to exercise it but sometimes one does need insurance.) Yet again, Caveat Emptor applies.

The Westinghouse LVM-37W1 display is obviously not for everybody. It has its strengths and its weakness, much like every other HD display on the market today, and some may find it interesting while others find it eminently resistible. Me, I’m quite happy. My credit card is a bit less so but it will recover. What started out as a 30-day test has turned into a long term commitment and for now all I can say for certain is: so far, so good.

What cannot be denied is that this is a very unusual product in features and pricing and that its very existence and its origins (which will be explored later in another article) signal a major evolution of the HD market, with far-reaching impact on the competitive balance between the various manufacturers and technologies vying for a piece of the $10 billion-a-year US TV market, regardless of whether this display or its manufacturer prosper or even survive the coming market disruptions. These disruptions did not begin with this company or product but they will not end with it either.

Things are changing. And its not just the price of HDTVs, that is changing; it is the nature of the business that is evolving. It may not be fully apparent yet, but if you look carefully you’ll see that there is an actual realignment going on, not just a price war. 2005 is shaping up as the year that everything changes for HD TV and by this time next year we will all be looking at a very different technological and competitive landscape than the one we were looking at last January when this display was introduced. The business model and the supply-chain processes that made this product possible are a sign that the HD display business has reached a crucial turning point, the beginning of a multi-year process that will completely reshape the TV industry for years to come, regardless of what the fate of Westinghouse or their very interesting product. At the end of this process, the meaning of terms such as High Definition, big-screen, and name-brand will have all changed.

Things are about to get very, very interesting.

CES 2005
LVM-37W1 Quick setup guide
LVM-37w1 User Manual
CMO Panel Specs

Felix Torres is a dabbler in home entertainment electronics and a survivor of both the home computing wars of the 80's and the multimedia wars of the 90's who is currently most interested in home media networks and the North American transition away from broadcast media.
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