Zenith L30W26 30 Inch LCD HDTV Reviewed

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Call me crazy, but I love winter. Granted, I don't live in a cold climate and I'm not relegated to shovelling snow, which is a plus. But I look forward to colder weather, when the mountains are blanketed with the white powdery stuff and I can take a weekend to enjoy skiing.

I recently traveled to some of the greatest snow on earth in Utah. It was my first ski trip of the winter season, so I was a bit rusty and slow going for most of the day. Thankfully, I had another wonderful skiing experience free of injury and headed off the mountain to drive three hours to my home.

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Skiers and snowboarders will tell you that there's nothing better than finishing a hard day on the slopes bundled up around the fire with a hot drink. Those pleasant thoughts rattled around my head as I raced home, but they quickly disappeared when I walked up to my door and found a cardboard box lying in a puddle of water.

It seemed that my UPS delivery person left a package at my door without me being home. Now if the package was a knitted pot holder from my Aunt Eunice or a box of cookies I wouldn't have cared, but I was shocked to see a new Zenith 30-inch LCD HDTV covered in water by the sprinklers and visible to anyone walking along the street. I've had other packages "disappear" from my door in the past, and it would have been a real misdeed if an LCD television that retails at $7,999 found another home because a delivery person was too hurried to come back later.

Unique Features
The Zenith television at my door turned out to be a new L30W26 30-inch LCD HDTV monitor that didn't suffer ill effects from my sprinklers. It's an eye-catching television, but the first thing I noticed as I walked it in the house was the weight. With the cabinet only 3-inches deep and less than 22-inches tall, the Zenith is heavier than LCD units I have tested in the past. Officially, the television weighs in at just over 40 pounds, but I found that hard to believe so, like a prizefighter, I put the contender on a scale to confirm the claim. Once my skepticism was proven wrong, I found plenty of technology awaiting me. For starters, the L30W26 has an exceptional 1280 x 768 W-XGA high resolution that is suitable for both an HDTV set and a cornputer display. Yes, this screen works well as a computer display. Even though the majority of owners will likely use this Zenith in their living rooms or dens, the added benefit of being able to operate it as a monitor is significant.

The 16:9 screen lends itself well to a home theater setting. The flat LCD panel is viewable from 170 degrees which is easily seen from any seat in the room. A peak brightness of 450 candles per square meter translates into an incredibly bright picture even in intensely lit environments. I found the brightness quite impressive, even when natural light shown directly on the screen from a window. Moreover, 4H digital comb filter technology separates color data from black & white data better than LCDs of years past. This means true and accurate color images on top of the bright, sharp picture.

This LCD display isn't packaged with speakers since most owners will have likely have an integrated audio system waiting in the wings, but optional speakers are available from Zenith. Even so, an on-screen menu accesses an equalizer and other manual audio settings.

Since an extended display of still images can burn into a screen, the L30W26 has a screensaver to prevent permanent damage. The picture shifts every 10 minutes while you are on the phone with your stock broker or in the kitchen fixing a Dagwood sandwich. A single button on the remote control quickly changes from a 4:3 standard or stretched image to a 16:9 widescreen image. But perhaps the best feature is the zoom in/out adjustment. I was able to stop a movie, zoom in and pan left or right to see detailed writing or intricate details.

Read more on Page 2.

HTR Product Rating for Zenith L30W26 30 Inch LCD HDTV

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Installation/Setup/Ease of Use
The depth of LCD sets are a big selling point. Like their Plasma brethren, many LCD monitors can be wall mounted and have a small footprint when placed on a stand. The L30W26 is sleek and compact with a width only slightly larger than a 32-inch 4:3 direct view television. It has an attractive brushed silver cabinet with controls placed under the front display for uncluttered operation. The back has two decorative panels that, when removed, reveal two jack packs on either side of the center post. Attaching cables typically takes only a couple minutes, but with the Zenith it took much longer. The jacks of the L30W26 face in an awkward downward manner so connections have to be made either by feeling around or by tipping the set forward to get a better view of the connections and their labels. I chose the latter and tilted the unit forward even after consulting a diagram of the layout in the manual. The last thing I wanted was to ram an S-Video cable in upside down or cross component cables with one another only to troubleshoot it later. Once connected to a DVD source and broadcast signals from my TiVo digital video recorder, I started to play, er, test. I discovered that making adjustments is a breeze through the remote driven menu system.

As I stated before, this HDTV also works terrific as a computer monitor. My neighbor has three Saint Bernards, but I wanted to be the biggest dog on my block by attaching the 30-inch LCD HDTV monitor to my PC. After connecting the RS-232C signal cable from my trusty computer to the first of two RGB ports on the monitor, I set the resolution to 10240 X 768 for the best picture and ran through the auto configuration routine. Computer monitors commonly need their screen size, geometry and position adjusted for optimal viewing. The Zenith has PC adjustments built-in, along with an external control to turn off the monitor automatically. I spent quality time loading picture files and playing mpeg movies on my computer to take in the splendor of such a superb piece of equipment.

Final Take
One of the shortcomings of LCD technology is a weak black level. I tested the Zenith first by viewing Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone which has many scenes that have shades of black. One great test was with the wizard chess game that pitted Harry and his friends in a test against a mystical foe. Even though the black levels weren't truly black, they were satisfactory. I viewed other titles with contrasting color and black levels including Ice Age, Star Wars Episode IV and Lilo & Stitch. I found that by switching the color temperature, adjustments, I could fine tune the display to my taste. By changing to a warm setting, I brought out more red and green shades and more green and blue came across under the cool selection. Temperature controls can be user defined as well to fine tune the set to personal tastes.

Sometimes form outweighs function, as with the poorly placed rear panel connections. I can overlook the pain of connecting the set to other equipment because it's not often I have to rewire a television. Still, I would have liked to see inputs placed under the front panel to conveniently connect a video camera or gaming system. It makes more sense to simply plug a new component into the front rather than fight awkward rear jacks. That trade-off notwithstanding, this television really is an attractive piece of technology that looks amazing with the power both on and off.

Overall, the Zenith L30W26 is pleasing to the eye with vibrant color and a hightech design. The highest praise I can give the L30W26 is that I would buy one if I were in the market for a mid-sized LCD monitor.

Suggested Retail Price

Additional Resources
• Read more LCD HDTV reviews by HomeTheaterReview.com's staff.
• Explore Blu-ray options in our Blu-ray Player Review section.

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