A common thread that ties the consumer electronics industry together in part has been to reintroduce old technology in new packaging. So understandably I am always a bit apprehensive when I get a ring from a public relations contact pitching a "new" product for review.
A few months ago I attended the International Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, Nevada. While e show is always a good time for me to brush up on my roulette skills and favour mixed drinks at one of a million pubs, it is also a time to search out new products.
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Behold, Zenith's booth. Indeed, a sight for sore eyes. Over the past few years Zenith has executed a tremendous marketing effort by completely restyling their product lines to offer not only high performance, but sex appeal as well.
It was about four years ago that I first rediscovered Zenith. And since then the name has become synonymous with value in my vocabulary. As they embarked on their new image I cringed at the thought of what might be sacrificed. And luckily for all you home entertainment fans out there, they didn't miss a step.
So here I stand at the threshold of their latest offering--the D56W25 56-inch, 16:9 High Definition rear projection display. At 56 inches high and 55 inches wide, it is surprisingly thin with a depth of just over 25 inches. This handsome unit is all grille and screen up front with a host of inputs and outputs found around the back. To keep consistent with the clean-cut image, even the "frontal" composite and S-Video port is accessed via a unique "pop-out" panel. This is the first hint of what surprising features were to come from the Zenith.
Unique Features - Though simple, the frontal port styling is a unique feature, but Zenith did not stop there. Having set up HDTVs in the past, I am all too familiar with the amount of time spent converging the lenses after the set arrives. This process is prescribed anytime the set is moved and is used to align the CRTs (red, blue and green lenses or "guns") to create a sharp image. This is very similar to the idea behind aligning your printer cartridge on your computer to make the prints cleaner.
At any rate, the Zenith D56W25 features an Auto Digital Convergence mode that takes just a few short moments and works quite well. Of course to maximize the potential of video quality, I recommend going into the advanced setup guide to manually converge the guns. But then again, I'm the type of person who spends hours programming remote controls too.
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There are really no installation issues to speak of regarding the Zenith D56W25 HDTV. However, there are a few things you may want to consider before making your purchase. For starters, although the set is measured as a 56-inch display it is incredibly large due to its 16:9 (widescreen) aspect ratio display. If your seating area is closer than 7 feet, I strongly recommend something smaller. As a rule of thumb, if your set starts to give you a tan, you're probably sitting too close.
Another important issue when considering the Zenith is that it has a 160-degree viewing angle. So it works well in awkward rooms where not every seat can be placed in the sweet spot. Additionally, the screen is protected by a scratch-resistant film that is relatively non-reflective. This in conjunction with the bright 7-inch CRTs also making the Zenith a good choice for well lit rooms where ambient light is a factor.
The back panel of the Zenith D56W25 HDTV has just the right amount of ins and
outs to make integrating it into your existing theater a cinch. There are two component video inputs, two S-Video, two composite video, two coaxial and S-Video out. Of course you'll also find the matching RCA or low-level inputs.
Being that the Zenith maintains a relatively narrow profile, it maximizes viewing distances in smaller rooms. This also bids well when installing the set into a cabinet. The set weighs just under 300 pounds and rolls on four solid casters. This makes the set manageable should the need arise to move it down the line.
Final Take - There are some products I review that just seem to write themselves versus time spent pedaling over a politically correct way to express discontent--the Zenith D56W25 is one of those products. After all, it's easy to write great things about a product that delivers exceptional performance for high-definition home entertainment, yet carries a price tag of $2,799. Remember, it wasn't long ago that we were paying upwards of $10,000 for sets like these.
Operationally, the Zenith is sound. I found the on-screen menu to be simple and programming easy to navigate. The programmable remote control supplied with the set is well laid out and built well.
The set offers various display modes that will allow you to watch standard programming in 16:9 aspect ratios. You will notice a bit of distortion in the picture in these modes but the trade off is watching programming in 4:3 with gray bars cropping the screen down. I viewed the gray bars as an annoyance at first but I learned to get used to them over time. There is a practical benefit in these gray bars. If Zenith had chosen to use black bars instead, it would certainly have been more pleasing to the eyes, but black bars put a tremendous strain on the power supply and will kill it in short time. (The power supply is typically the first thing to go on rear projection TVs.)
DVD playback is incredible on the Zenith. Colors are rich and focused and dot crawl between complex scenes is minimal. Colors did not "gel" on the Zenith (as they did on the Fujitsu I also reviewed in this issue), but they were very accurate nonetheless. Expect HDTV pull-downs to perform the same. The picture is clear and precise and the protective screen doesn't seem to inhibit the effectiveness of the clarity.
The Zenith D56W25 is a tremendous value and was clearly designed with the "real world" end user in mind. Whether your theater is an apartment or designated entertainment room, I highly recommend you take a look at the Zenith. If you're seeking to satisfy your needs for HDTV, expand the prospects of your progressive scan DVD player or just to watch your sports large as life, the Zenith is for you.
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