Many players have exited the crowded plasma-TV display market. But the battle to dominate liquid-crystal-displays is heating up, with new manufacturers entering the fray every month. The technology builds on the heritage of computer monitors, so it's an easy market to attack. The resulting downside, though, is varying degrees of performance and capability.
ViewSonic N3250w NextVision sits firmly in the middle of the pack. While it's better than many of the Chinese and lesser-known brands in terms of performance, it costs a few hundred dollars more than them. On the other hand, brands like Sony (SNE), Sharp, and Samsung look vastly better, but their price tags come in way higher than ViewSonic's $1,100.
HIGH-DEF HINDRANCE. To deliver a lower price, ViewSonic had to skimp on some features. For instance, the set has no built-in digital tuner for watching over-the-air high-definition broadcasts. That's not a deal breaker for many people.
For instance, a built-in tuner is redundant for those who plan to plug in a cable or satellite set-top box. But I prefer watching local HD broadcasts using a set's built-in tuner, since it results in an uncompressed signal that often looks better than the rebroadcast from your cable provider, DirecTV (DTV), or DishNetwork (DISH).
Another drawback: There's no CableCARD slot. That feature provides one-way access to programming via a special card that secures the signal into the set, letting you do away with an extra set-top box.
And unlike most higher-end sets, there's only one input for HDMI, which provides the link to a video/audio source over a single cable. Also, unlike with other sets, there's only one of several other features, including S-Video, composite video, and stereo audio minijack.
That said, the NextVision is a decent set for those looking to upgrade to a svelte flat panel on a budget. It offers a native resolution of 1,366 by 768 -- perfect for displaying full 720p high-definition common on most broadcast stations.
Watching a recent installment of Good Morning America in HD, the colors tended toward the red end of the spectrum, but not so much that the hosts looked like they were eternally blushing. Even so, a professional color calibrator may be required, as I was never able to get the colors to look as natural as they should.
THIRD STRING. The ViewSonic is only a middling performer when it comes to watching DVDs. The unit suffered from a slow response time in action scenes of Hellboy, and it struggled to produce deep blacks, with dark blue the best it could offer.
In terms of styling, the N3250w is less home showpiece and more entertainment when you need it. In the widescreen format now common to most HD sets, it comes in a matte-black finish, with speakers below the screen. That's become increasingly important to buyers, who in the past couldn't get new sets into television cabinets because of oversized side-panel speakers.
Control buttons ride on the top of the unit, suggesting it's meant more as a tabletop set. The silver power button sits in the middle. The stand doesn't swivel, but the set is neither too big nor too heavy to move when you need access to rear inputs.
While I wouldn't recommend this set to most people, it's still a good choice for the budget-conscious or as a second or third set in the home. And a college kid would no doubt be pleased to see it in parked in his dorm room.