WinBook 40D1 LCD HDTV

A new challenger enters the ring.

It seems like, every week, a new company appears on the LCD scene. Try as we might to keep up with them all, some will admittedly never make it into the pages of the magazine; we just don't have the space. Every once in a while, though, a new company releases a product that demands our attention. WinBook's 40D1 is such a product.

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WinBook isn't a new company per se, but they are new to the LCD TV realm. Known primarily as a manufacturer of desktop, notebook, and media-center PCs, WinBook recently introduced a lineup of four LCDs sized from 32 to 46 inches. What's so compelling about the 40-inch 40D1 is its aggressively low price of $1,000. WinBook isn't merely throwing down the gauntlet for other LCD makers, but also plasma manufacturers that are currently winning the price battle at the 40-to-42-inch screen size.

How Low Can You Go?
In order to hit that price point, WinBook was forced to cut corners, mostly on the features end. Obviously, the first thing to go is a 1080p resolution. This is a 1,366-by-768 panel, but 40 inches is still small enough that you probably wouldn't be able to discern the resolution difference at a normal viewing distance. The input panel includes the essentials but is limited to one HDMI input and one set of composite/S-video inputs to accommodate legacy products. It does have a VGA input and two component video inputs for high-def sources.

Some budget-display manufacturers go the monitor route to save money, but WinBook has included ATSC and NTSC tuners, which share a single RF input. The scanning process is a little slow, but the onscreen interface tells you exactly which channels it finds as it goes along, and editing/deleting channels is quite simple. Don't let the remote's Guide button fool you: This TV doesn't have a full program guide. Said button merely provides the digital program information for the channel you're on.

WinBook has also opted to keep picture adjustments to a minimum. This is the first TV I've seen in quite some time that doesn't offer preset picture modes, such as movie, sports, and dynamic modes. You can choose between cool, normal, and warm color temperatures and adjust brightness, contrast, color, tint, and sharpness for each input, but that's it. There are no advanced image adjustments like dynamic gamma or noise reduction, which doesn't bother me because I always turn these controls off anyhow. You get four aspect-ratio options (Standard, Fill, Panoramic, and Zoom) but no automatic aspect-ratio detection. At least WinBook has included the most important feature for an LCD: a 50-step adjustable backlight to tailor the TV's light output to your viewing environment.

I found the 40D1's aesthetic to be a little odd. The panel is built well, but there's just way too much bezel surrounding that 40-inch screen. The remote control lacks backlighting, and its response is a bit sluggish. It does offer a dedicated button for each input type, although these buttons aren't grouped together in a logical manner. Several buttons suggest features that don't actually exist, like AV Mode and seven different PIP/POP controls. The owner's manual describes these as "reserved for future use." Hey, I'm willing to accept the absence of picture-in-picture for cost reasons, but I don't need the remote to serve as a constant reminder of the features my TV doesn't have.

Where It Counts
The good news is, WinBook has made fewer sacrifices on the performance end. The 40D1 is by no means perfect from a performance standpoint, but I was consistently impressed with the quality of the image, even in side-by-side comparisons with other more expensive LCD panels we had on hand.

One secret of its success is its contrast ratio; both its full-on/full-off and ANSI numbers are up there with the best LCDs we've measured. Even though the 40D1's black level at the minimum backlight setting isn't as deep as a few LCDs we've reviewed, it was still better than most, and that excellent overall contrast ratio helps the image retain a nice sense of depth and dimension in a darkened room. The viewing angle is solid but not outstanding. While I did see some minor screen-uniformity issues with an all-black test pattern, none were severe enough to detract from dark scenes in a dark room. And, like most LCDs, the 40D1's light output (125.2 foot-lamberts at maximum backlight) is more than enough to make images pop in a bright room.

407Win.5.jpgI was also impressed with this TV's bit depth. For a budget display, it did a good job rendering the steps between black and white in our Video Essentials test pattern. Through the component input, there was little noise in grays and solid colors, be it the deep-colored sets of SportsCenter, the smoky grays in chapter 10 of Ladder 49, or the fire-lit faces in chapter five of "The Whole Truth" from Lost: The Complete Second Season. The image was somewhat noisier through the HDMI input, but, even here, the noise never reached a stage where it distracted me from the viewing experience.

Both 480i and 720p content looked just a bit soft, while 1080i measured out to the limits of the panel. It's important to note that, through the component video input, the sharpness control affects the image dramatically. At the highest settings, this control adds a great deal of edge enhancement to the picture, which creates the illusion of better detail but also introduces noise. Turn it down to zero, and the image becomes so soft, it looks downright mushy. I found a good balance at the 3 setting, which made the most of the TV's available detail without introducing much edge enhancement to compromise the picture. Some motion blur is evident, which further reduced detail in a 720p NBA broadcast on ESPN.

None of the WinBook set's color-temperature options are accurate before calibration; the normal and cool modes measure too blue, while the warm mode measures too red. I'd normally opt for the slightly warmer color temperature; however, in this case, the warm mode gave skintones a reddish hue, so I went with the normal mode and was generally pleased with the color palette. After calibration, the color temperature tracks much closer to 6,500 Kelvin across most of the range; it's worth noting that the cost of this TV plus calibration is still less than many similarly sized LCDs. The color points are on par with many LCDs: Red is good, but green and blue fall a bit outside the SMPTE triangle, giving the image a slightly greenish-blue tint. The TV's color decoder is quite good, and I thought the green football field in NBC's Football Night in America high-def broadcast looked more natural here than it usually does on a flat panel.

With 480i DVD content, the WinBook does a solid job deinterlacing video-based signals; however, it doesn't pick up 3:2 with film-based material and created a ton of artifacts in our Gladiator test scene, so you'll definitely want to mate it with a good progressive-scan DVD player. Not surprisingly, the 40D1 doesn't accept a 1080p signal; so, if you own a high-def or upconverting disc player, you must choose between 720p or 1080i output. As I mentioned, 720p is a bit soft, and our Silicon Optix HQV test HD DVD revealed that the TV doesn't correctly deinterlace or pick up 3:2 with 1080i sources. With real-world scenes from the 16 Blocks, Corpse Bride, and The Phantom of the Opera HD DVDs, 1080i content looked rich, clean, and colorful. The TV also renders a clean upconverted SDTV signal, which makes it a good choice for everyday viewing.

In all, WinBook has made smart sacrifices to create an appealing option for consumers. The 40D1's performance is certainly strong enough to make the already volatile flat-panel price war even more interesting. Did I mention that the 46-inch model costs only $1,300? WinBook is owned by Micro Electronics, which sells their product line through Micro Center retail outlets or online at www.microcenter.com. (You need to purchase this TV through a retail outlet to get the $1,000 price; it's $1,100 on the Web.) If you want more screen size for your money and are willing to give up a few features to get it, you should pay them a visit.

Highlights
• A 40-inch LCD for $1,000
• Good contrast ratio
• Clean, colorful picture with SDTV and HDTV

COMPANY INFO
WinBook/Micro Electronics
(800) 634-3478
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