How I came across the Syntax Olevia 30-inch LCD television is an interesting story... I have two separate theaters -- one at home and one in my laser center. I am setting up a plasma display in my office at the center, and will also probably put in a two-channel audio system.
Nowhere do I have a LCD (except for computer displays), and the only thing that approaches a LCD television is the Planar computer monitor in my home office/guest room that has the add-on module that converts it to a television. I started thinking it would be nice to have a better television in my bedroom, and this made for an ideal reason to look at LCD televisions. For those of you that have been watching LCD evolve, it has taken up the smaller end of the flat panel spectrum, topping out at 40-45 inches while plasma has taken up the larger end of the spectrum. Although there are indications that larger LCD panels will arrive, compete with and possibly even replace plasma in the future (larger LCD panels that have been shown actually have a 1920x1080 pixel array, making for true 1080p!), at the current time LCD dominates the smaller end of the market and looks set over time to replace direct view CRT televisions. One look at a sleek 22- or 30-inch LCD television, and the normal CRT television looks ridiculously ungainly.
Unfortunately, LCD prices are still up there. Although the absolutely wonderful 40-inch Samsung LCD I reviewed earlier this year was a spectacular unit, the price exceeds that of a slightly larger 43-inch plasma, and many LCD monitors end up being more expensive than a larger plasma. 22-inch LCDs typically retail in the neighborhood of $2,000 and 30-inch LCDs are in the $3,500 - $4,000 range. Although many of these larger LCDs can do true high def with a 1280x720 pixel array, it can be hard to justify a $4,000 30-inch LCD when it is possible at many stores today to get a HD 42- or 43-inch plasma for not much more. So you can imagine my surprise when I was flipping through an online website, looking at some computer equipment, when I noticed the Syntax Olevia 30-inch LCD for $1,799! The first thing I thought was, "What's the catch? It's gotta be a piece of crap." I called ecost.com, got the phone number for Syntax, and called them up. After asking a few questions, I revealed that I write for HDTV ETC., and next thing you knew I was on the phone with the Syntax Group's president. He very graciously offered me a unit for review, and within a week a 30-inch LCD showed up at my door.
Installation/Setup/Ease of Use
I was still full of trepidation when I set this unit up, as it costs less than half of other 30-inch LCDs. In fact, this retail price was even below the dealer cost of most 30-inch LCD televisions. I needn't have worried. This is a very handsome piece. The speakers and base stand are an integral part of the unit, it has a very nice, expensive-looking aluminum surround and finish, and frankly, the Olevia name with an umlaut above the "O" printed on the top right of the panel makes it look as if it is a European brand. The Syntax name only appears on the base. There is a central remote sensor with a blue LED that encircles it. The LED is actually lit when the TV is in standby mode and turns off while you are watching it. Other nice touches abound, such as two component inputs (one YPbPr, one YCbCr), one S-Video, one composite, and a coaxial input for the built-in NTSC tuner. There is also a computer VGA input, as well as a DVI-D input. This is a full complement of the necessary inputs, as even the new HDMI input can be converted to the DVI-D input. Fit and finish of this television was excellent, on par with $4,000 products.
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Since this is an all-in-one unit, setup was as simple as taking it
out of the box and hooking up my sources. Even the remote is compact,
simple in design, attractive, and works fairly well ergonomically. It
has a numeric keypad and the requisite television controls. The only
downside is that you have to cycle through inputs instead of having
discrete buttons for them. I set the Olevia with a Pioneer HD Time
Warner cable box and a straight cable feed to the internal tuner. High
definition signals were provided by the aforementioned cable box, and
DVD signals were provided by a Philips DVD player. Cables used were
Tributaries and Better Cables component and S-Video.
The setup menu is actually quite thorough, and there is a rather
interesting feature that displays many channels in thumbnail form. My
only disappointment was the lack of a proper color adjustment, as there
are only choices for warm, normal and cool. Syntax should seriously
consider providing a "normal" color adjustment, as it is hard to
properly calibrate this television without it and this unit performs
well enough to deserve it.
Surprisingly, this unit has a very good
picture. It is centered around a 1280x720 panel and the picture quality
is very good with an analog feed. The internal scaler/de-interlacer
works reasonably well and does a fairly good job of minimizing
artifacts. The picture appears just a bit softer and less crisp than
the best LCD panels that I have seen, but is better than quite a few
more expensive units. Black level, still the current bane of LCDs even
more so than plasmas, is actually fairly decent. Although not up to the
standards of Samsung's DNIe technology, it is nowhere near as bad as
some other LCD panels I have seen. In fact, it is actually quite
reasonable, and the good contrast ratio results in a very bright,
Performance with DVDs again is actually quite good, and I really would
like to use a DVI out player with this unit. It still does a very nice
job of up-scaling the 480p output to its native 720 rate, and since the
black level is actually fairly good, watching DVD movies is a pleasant
HD performance is excellent, with a clear, clean, crisp picture that
really shows off what a true HD panel can do. Blacks appear a bit
darker in HD and the black level becomes quite acceptable here. The
brightness of this LCD is quite good, and it does not easily get washed
out even in bright rooms, which sometimes does happen with LCD
televisions. Off-axis response is still not as good as with plasma or
CRT, but it is actually fairly good on this panel.
At the end of the day, the picture quality is not quite as good as
the Samsungs that I have experienced, but it comes close. HD quality
comes even closer, the main difference being the exceptional black
level of the Samsungs. Still, at this price, I was frankly shocked that
this LCD television was as good as it was. It has almost no competition
in this price range, and the performance is very, very good. The only
thing that holds me back from giving this an even higher score is the
lack of a proper color adjustment, as it makes calibrating this panel
more difficult than it should be. Otherwise, this unit is a veritable
homerun in my book, and if you are not a television tweaker, then add a
couple more points to the score. In fact, I like this unit so much, I
plan on buying it from Syntax and using it as my bedroom television as
well as my reference LCD test bed.
Syntax Olevia 30-inch LCD Television
Resolution: 1280(H) x 720(V)
Response Time: 16 ms
View Angle: 170/170
Video Features: 3D Comb Filter,
2/2;3/2 Pull-Down, Noise Reduction
Audio Features: Surround Sound,
10W built-in amplifier for speakers
Video Inputs: component inputs (YPbPr and YCbCr), (1) S-Video, (1) composite, (1) DVI-D,
(1) VGA, (1) coaxial for NTSC Tuner