So, what do I want out of my next laptop and what must it include?
BenQ Australia VA371
- Price, HD performance, Connection options
- Some over-sharpening, Red over-saturation, limited calibration options
The BenQ VA371 excels in high definition but will also handle watching DVDs without any major problems.
Price$ 2,699.00 (AUD)
It used to be that for under the $2500 the chances of picking up a 37in LCD television, let alone a good quality one, were slim. As the price of LCD technology begins to fall however, BenQ has released the VA371. This 37in high definition LCD television not only supports a wide range of inputs and display modes but also offers very impressive image quality, and all at a bargain price.
The native resolution of the panel is 1366x768 making it suitable for high definition signals up to 720p without any scaling. It can also upscale 480i/p and 576i/p signals or downscale 1080i without noticeable interpolation issues. The contrast ratio is reported at only 1200:1 which seems paltry when compared to most LCD units that tend to sit at the 4000:1 mark; however, we noticed no contrast problems at all.
We tested both standard and high definition signals, PC connectivity and the performance of the in-built analogue tuner. To test the quality of standard definition content we watched The Matrix and ran the Digital Video Essentials and Philips CE2006 test DVD on DVD at 576p resolution. High Definition testing consisted of playing Splinter Cell: Double Agent on the Xbox 360 at 720p and 1080i and running various high definition trailers at 720p to test HD video performance.
In standard definition, the VA371 performed quite well with very few visual aberrations. In our first test using the Philips CE2006 Demo DVD the level of motion jitter was moderate - on par with most LCD televisions. The colour test showed an over-saturation of red in still images but while watching DVD movies, this becomes less noticeable. Unfortunately, the calibration options on this unit are limited to basic brightness, contrast, sharpness and colour settings which means that you can't tone down the red without detracting from the other colours. The contrast test was rather surprising when taking the contrast ratio into consideration. We expected to see obvious issues but found that the transition from light to dark areas was smooth with good detail and no stepping.
The Digital Video Essentials DVD was handled with ease by the VA371. The grayscale block test was near perfect with only the slightest of pixel fluctuations in the darkest areas of grey. The black on white contrast test was perfect with rich blacks and no discolouration on the edges between the white and black sections of the image (a common problem for lesser panels). The colour block and SMPTE colour bar tests were display flawlessly and the grayscale amplitude test showed a minor level of pixel fluctuation at 20% amplitude. The full grayscale test revealed a minor level of stepping along the scale but it was not enough to adversely impact DVD playback.
We also played the Bahamut battle scene from Final Fantasy VII: Advent Children to test how well the unit performed when watching DVD video. Neither discolouration nor image noise was present, and pixilation was minimal; a testament to the interpolation capabilities of the unit. There was some pixilation on edges but it was less than we would expect from watching a DVD on a native high definition panel. Motion blur and ghosting issues were also visible to a small degree, but not enough to be considered a problem and the sharpness was excellent with no undue artefacts on edges. Despite finding a little stepping on the still image tests of Digital Video Essentials, we didn't see any evidence of this when watching the film.
While playing Splinter Cell: Double Agent on the Xbox 360 we found very few problems. The level of detail and contrast were superb and there was no image noise whatsoever. There was a small amount of ghosting due to the 8ms response time but it was not more prominent than on any other 8ms unit we have reviewed. The only issue we discovered was a noticeable over-sharpening of text in some areas. However, this was easily corrected by lowering the level of sharpness in the calibration options making it a moot point.
Using the Xbox 360, we also watched a series of 720p high definition trailers such as Mission Impossible III and the Xbox 360 title Halo Wars. We chose 720p as the standard for these tests as it is the native resolution of the unit. We saw no image noise or sharpness issues, and the videos were rendered with excellent clarity and high detail.
PC and TV
When connecting a PC to the unit via D-Sub, the over-sharpening issue was still present as seen on desktop icons and text, but unlike the other display modes, the option to calibrate the sharpness is unavailable here. The colour reproduction was excellent and, in our DisplayMate Video Edition tests, the overall PC performance was top notch. The geometry and distortion tests produced flawless results and apart from the aforementioned problem, there were no aberrations in the Sharpness and Resolution tests. The colour and grayscale tests were also reproduced flawlessly with no noise or discolouration along the grayscale. Based on these results, we feel that this panel would work very well as part of media centre PC set up, despite the minor over-sharpening.
The tuner in the BenQ VA371 is an analogue model and as such has no digital television capabilities. This means that in order to get a high quality image out of it, you will need to live in an area with excellent reception. Even then, the level of detail is limited as it is a standard definition signal and will need to be up-scaled to the native high definition resolution of the panel. From an ease-of-use standpoint, we found the tuner worked quite well. It only took around four minutes to auto-tune and switching between channels was quick and easy.
The design is rather attractive with a glossy black bezel set into a silver chassis. The face of the unit has only one visible button, the on/off switch. The speakers are under the panel and perform reasonably well. We did notice a small amount of mid-tone loss at high volumes with slightly muted bass but excellent treble. Thankfully, at this volume we experienced no distortion, a feat that only a few televisions have accomplished. The calibration settings for the sound do offer some tweaking options as well as a preset and ambiguous "effect" setting which tends to widen the soundstage while sacrificing a little foreground dialogue.
If you are looking for a TV that you can connect just about anything to, this could be your best bet. It has three component ports, one HDMI, three composite and a D-sub connection. It doesn't have S-Video or DVI but the three component connections more than makes up for these omissions.
We liked the BenQ VA371. It wasn't perfect, but the image quality and the low price were enough to make it a unit we are happy to recommend. If you are only going to play DVDs and watch TV on it, it will do the job nicely but if you really want to see the unit come alive, hook up any high definition device and you will not be disappointed.
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