Maxent MX-26X3 LCD HD Monitor
You might be a little surprised to learn that this Maxent monitor has a 26-inch screen. Why would Home Theater devote precious space to a display with such a small screen size? Sure, there's the fact that it's an LCD, and flat panels are the thing consumers care about right now. But, hey, if that's all there is to it, why not start reviewing 20-inch computer monitors, too?
This Maxent HD monitor caught our eye for another reason. In a recent study of LCD TV sales, Quixel Research determined that this 26-inch TV was the fourth best-selling LCD in the nation in the first quarter of 2005. More notable still was the fact that it was the only 16:9-shaped TV in the top five. Given all of the widescreen LCD displays that the big names in home theater are marketing, how did this little guy from a little-known company earn that honor? That's what we had to find out.
A Multipurpose Monitor
That 16:9 aspect ratio isn't just a novelty, as the MX-26X3 is an HD monitor with a 1,366-by-768 resolution. It doesn't include an internal ATSC tuner or a CableCARD slot, but there are plenty of HD-capable inputs to accommodate your sources: one DVI, two component video (this is especially important for performance reasons that I'll get to in a moment), and one 15-pin RGB input for HDTV or computer applications. For enhanced computer interaction, Maxent also includes an RS-232 port and an RGB output that lets you daisy-chain this display to another computer monitor. On the audio side, the TV doesn't have a digital audio output, but it does have a subwoofer out to connect an external sub, and the two internal speakers are impressively robust.
The onscreen menus are easy to navigate and don't cover up the screen when you're trying to adjust color, brightness, and the like. I was happy to find color-temperature adjustments for both the component video and DVI inputs, but there aren't global red, green, and blue adjustments.
At first glance, the remote seems simplistic, but Maxent has hidden more advanced functions, including dedicated input buttons, under a slide-down panel. The Wide button lets you scroll through the available aspect-ratio adjustments. While there are several aspect ratios to choose from, you can only access 16:9, 4:3, or 1:1 through the DVI and RGB inputs; the same is true for the component video inputs if you feed them a signal with a 480p, 720p, or 1080i resolution. One truly surprising inclusion on such an inexpensive monitor is the ability to adjust the aspect ratio of HD sources. Maxent also includes horizontal and vertical shift options, should your cable or satellite signal not completely fill the screen—another feature not always found on far more expensive displays.
Features are nice, but performance is what matters most, and I couldn't wait to see how the MX-26X3 measured up, literally and figuratively. In general, this display exhibits the strengths and weaknesses common to LCDs. It has excellent light output, which gives it an above-average contrast ratio and allows you to see a well-saturated image in a bright viewing environment.
By the numbers, the Maxent has an average black level for an LCD, but I didn't feel that the image had much depth in a darkened room. Not surprisingly, this TV doesn't have an adjustable baklight setting that would allow you to improve the black level at the expense of light output for nighttime viewing. The onscreen menu does have a "black level extension" option, but you can't access it; presumably, this display uses the same menu structure as one of Maxent's higher-end displays that does offer this kind of black-level adjustment.
Off-axis viewing is often a concern with LCDs, and this one is no different. Off-axis, the black level rises a fair amount, and screen uniformity and light spill are concerns. When I displayed an all-black test pattern, parts of the image took on a purplish hue, and I noted a few patches of dim light around the screen's edges that weren't evident on-axis. These effects were more pronounced through the DVI input than through the component video input.
Light uniformity wasn't the only issue through the DVI input. Images were generally noisy, especially with solid, dark colors and transitions from light to dark. Grays often had a noticeably green tint, and I saw a good deal of color shifting in Adrien Brody's dark-blue jacket in the opening scenes of The Jacket on DVD. In general, the darker the scene, the noisier the picture got—making it difficult to enjoy a movie like Collateral, which takes place almost entirely at night.
When I switched to the component video input, the picture quality improved a great deal. The quantization test on Video Essentials revealed a generally smooth transition from light to dark, except for one noticeable jump in deeper blacks, which manifested itself as noise in light-to-dark transitions, like the smoky, spotlit backgrounds in the "Cell Block Tango" scene from Chicago. For the most part, though, images had less noise in solid colors, and the scenes from Collateral and The Jacket looked much more natural through the component video input. It's a good thing Maxent put two of them on the back panel to accommodate a DVD and an HDTV source.
Needless to say, we calibrated the monitor using the component video input. As you can see in the measurements box, the gray scale before calibration tracks fairly consistently around 7,500 degrees Kelvin, except with the darkest images. The color points are a little off, but I found the color palette to be pleasantly natural with both DVD and HD images. Likewise, detail with both sources was very good, as it should be on a 26-inch screen. You don't need to calibrate this display, although the gray scale tracked very close to 6500K after calibration.
The MX-26X3 did not successfully pick up the 3:2 film sequence in either the test signals from my Silicon Optix demo disc nor my reference scenes from Gladiator and The Bourne Identity. You'll definitely want to mate this TV with a good progressive-scan DVD player. While it handled the video-based test signals on the Silicon Optix disc fairly well, it created noticeable jaggies with real-world video material from DVD and cable sources. In general, the TV doesn't do a great job of upconverting standard-definition NTSC signals, rendering a very noisy picture. If you're shopping for an LCD on which to watch a good deal of NTSC TV, the MX-26X3 may not be the best choice.
Given the 26-inch screen size, the MX-26X3 obviously isn't a display we'd recommend for a home theater, but it does do a nice job with DVD and HDTV sources. So, if you've got a DVD player and/or a second HD receiver in your den, bedroom, or office that needs a mate, this unit is worth a look. Those RGB connections make it an especially good fit for an office, where it can pull double duty as a TV and a computer monitor.
We can sleep a little better at night knowing that folks aren't just buying this TV because it's flat, it's priced lower than some of its competition, and it's sold at Costco and similar retailers. Those things probably had something to do with it, but it's nice to know that performance made the list, too.
• It's a bright TV with a good contrast ratio
• A nice image through the component video inputs