ViewSonic NextVision HD12 Reviewed

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My home has more gadgets than I know what to do with. I've got an under-the-counter LCD/DVD player in the kitchen, a dual-tuner satellite DVR in the living room, and my theater has more blinking lights than NASA's Mission Control Center. Despite this dizzying array of cutting-edge technology, my HDTV is delivered by way of an old-school, rooftop antenna. Over-the-air (OTA) reception of HDTV may seem like a step backwards to some, but it remains the highest quality method of high def delivery. In addition to a quality antenna, you'll need a terrestrial HDTV receiver capable of plucking that free HDTV from the airwaves. Viewsonic's NextVision HD12 was designed to do precisely that.

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Long known for their PC monitors, Viewsonic recently entered the home theater arena with several video products targeted at HDTV. The HD12 is a plain vanilla HDTV receiver with good intentions, but it stumbles in the ergonomics and ease-of-use departments. If you can work around some of the unit's quirks, you'll find that it does have some handy features and, like most HDTV receivers, it's capable of first-rate video output.

Unique Features
Terrestrial HDTV receivers are by and large very similar. Most units decode and tune both NTSC (standard definition television) and ATSC (HDTV) signals. The HD12 is no exception. Networks broadcast their HD in different formats (720p vs. 1080i, for example), so it's beneficial if your tuner can output those various formats natively. Here's an example: on Wednesdays in this house, we're tuned to ABC so we can watch both Lost and Alias in stunning 720p. My Epson PowerLite Cinema 500 projector is a 720p native machine. As a result, I want my HDTV receiver to output the 720p signal without any scaling or upconversion. However, if Lost is a repeat, we'll usually tune in Smallville on The WB, which broadcasts in the 1080i format. In that instance, I want to output the 1080i natively and let my Epson handle the conversion. Some HDTV tuners, such as those from Samsung, feature a toggle switch on the back of the unit, allowing you to choose the output resolution. This is rather cumbersome, and it's much preferred when the receiver allows you to change the output resolution on the fly, using the remote. Thankfully, the HD12 falls into the latter category and allows you to quickly select 480i, 480p, 720p, or 1080i via the remote. The button is labeled (somewhat cryptically) "V. Format".

The supplied remote, though suffering from a less than stellar layout and a lack of backlighting, has several interesting features. First, the HD12 remote allows you to select the aspect ratio with the touch of a button. Toggling between 4:3 and 16:9 can be a pain if you have to navigate through on-screen menus each time, so this feature can be a real time saver if you change ratios often. There's also a "Freeze" button, which lets you stop the image on-screen for a closer look (though audio continues to output). It's no substitute for a DVR's "Pause" button, but I found myself using it once in a while. Finally, the HD12 remote provides a host of PIP and POP features, allowing you to view multiple sources and arrange those windows on-screen. Like "Freeze", these are nice to have, but nothing to write home about.

Somewhat unique as HDTV receivers go is the HD12's ability to connect up to two external devices (composite or S-Video) and upconvert those signals to quasi-high def. Don't expect miracles, but some improvement is noticeable. This feature is seen on many A/V receivers nowadays, so I'm not sure how useful it would really be, but it does turn the HD12 into a nice video hub.

Installation/Setup/Ease of Use
I mentioned earlier that I'm using an old-school antenna. The technology may be old school, but the antenna is brand new. Having recently moved to a (very) rural Northern Connecticut hilltop, I was having no luck with a few midrange UHF antennas. I then called Chip Gorra, local antenna guru and all-around nice guy. After hearing my story, Chip quickly recommended a Channel Master (Andrew) model 4228 eight-bay "deep fringe" antenna mated with their 9521A rotator kit and mast-mounted preamplifier. To make a long story short, I installed the antenna and the HD12 lit up like a Christmas tree when it finally came time to scan for channels.

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