Acer 3201w review

£849
Price when reviewed
As the next generation of LCD fabrication plants start gearing up production, we can expect to see significant drops in the cost of larger LCD panels. The first signs of that are here, with the 3201w being a prime example – 32in of LCD TV goodness for under a grand.

It’s not a cut-rate offering either, with a set of impressive specifications matched on the hardware side by fantastic build quality and just about every connection option you’ll need. In addition to the standard analog tuner, the back of the panel conceals VGA D-SUB and DVI-I inputs for connection to PC-based equipment, plus the full complement of S-Video, composite video and component video. Both of the scart sockets will handle RGB, with the second also accepting component signals. There’s also full progressive-scan support throughout.

Performance is excellent too. The native resolution of 1,366 x 768 pixels is designed for HDTV standards (both 720p and 1,080i) and is HDCP compliant, so you’ll be able to enjoy high-definition broadcasts when they start to appear on Sky channels from next year. The only trouble is that on a panel of this clarity and size, you’ll see the limitations of the PAL system, usually blurred out by fuzzy CRTs. Play back some high-definition WMV HD or Superbit DVD footage, though, and you’ll get a glimpse of the future of broadcasting.

As we’d expect from a TV, the backlight is suitably strong and pleasingly uniform, with only very minor deviations at the edges of a solid white screen. Given the huge amount of light that’s being pushed out, the black level is reasonably good too, leading to decent contrast between dark and light areas. It’s not the pure black of a CRT, though, and you’ll notice it if you make a point of looking when you’re watching a film in the dark.

But it’s the only area where we had real complaints. The lack of reflection and geometric distortion really do improve the viewing experience compared to the majority of large CRTs, and the viewing angles are almost comparable to traditional CRT units – there’s a perceptible, if acceptable, drop off in brightness past the 45-degree point, but practically no colour distortion or contrast drop-off. Even the biggest bane of LCD TVs to date – smearing from slow response times – isn’t particularly noticeable. Just make sure the input isn’t running at more than 60Hz, as you’ll otherwise see a slight jerking in motion as the electronics struggle to synchronise.

We’re big fans of the OSD too, which is easy to operate via either the front-panel buttons or the pleasingly solid remote. It offers access to the comprehensive picture-in-picture settings, as well as a number of surprisingly effective preset ’empowerment’ settings. These cater for different content types, such as movies or games, and adjust brightness, contrast, colour temperature and 3D audio settings. Should you be using the analog tuner, it will practically set itself up too. Note the electronics that decode and clean up the analog PAL signal are a weak point, but given the sub-£60 cost of digital tuners it seems silly to use an analog signal anyway.

The 10W speakers do a reasonable job, but along with the plastic stand they’re the least stylish part of the unit. Thankfully, both are removable: do that and mount the 3201w on a wall with a VESA-compatible bracket and you’ll have a display that will be the envy of your neighbourhood.

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