ViewSonic NextVision HD12 Reviewed

ViewSonic NextVision HD12 Reviewed

This product is designed to bring in the highest quality HD picture via the old fashioned rooftop antenna. Both the sound and picture quality this unit provides are excellent although programming the channels does take a bit longer than most users would like...

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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.

Additional Resources

• Learn more about ViewSonic on this resource page

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.

Read much more on Page 2

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Channel scanning is where this review starts to take a turn for the worse. On the HD12, the process of adding channels and testing signal strength is enough to drive a person crazy. Let's start with signal strength. When you're trying to find the perfect angle for your antenna, you want a dynamic on-screen signal strength meter. Numbers are better, because you can watch them change ever so slightly, but bars are okay too. What's most important is that you can leave the strength on-screen and watch it fluctuate while you fine tune your antenna. The Viewsonic HD12 does not allow for this. Instead, the HD12 allows you to take a snapshot of your signal strength, and it's no fewer than four or five keystrokes to get to that point again. If you're trying to find the strongest signal within a ten degree range, you have to position the antenna and take a snapshot, move the antenna, take a snapshot, move it again, and take a snapshot. If you live at the base of a broadcasting tower and your signal strength is through the roof, this won't matter much. But out here "in the fringe", a few degrees to the left or right can mean the difference between heavenly HDTV and a blank "No Signal" screen.

The HD12 does have an automatic channel scan; however, you're inevitably going to want/need to add channels manually. The HD12 makes this process more complicated than it needs to be, and the on-screen menu language is confusing at best. My favorite is the confirmation you receive when a channel has been added. "Channel Added" would work, as would "Channel Added Successfully". Instead, when I was successful in adding Hartford's FOX 61, I got the following message: "Get No.61 8VSB channel success." Oh. That's good. I think.

I should mention one final gripe regarding channel setup. The "Channel" sub-menu in the on-screen menu system is password protected. All the time. The manual tells you to enter "0000", which is the default password, but I could not find a way to permanently disable this password prompt. The user manual confirms this when it says, "Please be noted that the access right of 'Channel' menu function is controlled by the password. You need to input the correct password to enter this function." This adds yet another layer of time-consuming complexity to an already frustrating channel setup. Hopefully Viewsonic will focus on improving the on-screen GUI for subsequent models.

Final Take
With my channels (finally) properly set up, and the HD12 connected to my Epson projector via Belkin's PureAV DVI cable, I tuned in some HDTV and my frustrations were quickly eased. Although the HD12 was somewhat less consistent in locking a few distant broadcasts than an LG terrestrial tuner I had in-house, it did a perfectly adequate job with all of the networks I expected to receive. Multi-path isn't really an issue where I am, so I couldn't test for that. Video quality from the digital output was excellent, and the 5.1 sound coming through my Belkin PureAV optical cable was equally wonderful. This may be a quirky machine, but HDTV is still HDTV.

At the end of the day, it's important to keep your priorities in order. The HD12 could definitely use some improvement regarding channel setup and on-screen navigation. However, keep in mind that if you're like most people, you won't be messing around with these settings or adding channels too often. That being said, I think the HD12 is somewhat overpriced, at close to $400, when some of its competitors offer similar feature sets with superior GUI designs. When all is said and done though, Viewsonic's HD12 is an attractive and functional HDTV receiver. Like most of its competitors, the HD12 is perfectly capable of delivering high quality, high definition television.

Additional Resources

• Learn more about AT&T U-verse from AT&T's website.

Viewsonic NextVision HD 12
ATSC and NTSC Compatible
Outputs 480i/480p/720p/1080i
DVI Output (w/HDCP)
(4) DIN, RGB (HDCP) Outputs
Composite, S-Video, Component Outputs
(2) Composite (1) S-Video Input
Upconverts External Analog Components
Optical and Coaxial Digital Audio Outputs
Universal Remote
11.2"W x 3.1"H x 14.4"D
Weight: 7.9 lbs.
MSRP: $399

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