Zenith R56W36 HD Monitor
Let's say you have around $2,500 to spend on a new high-definition widescreen television monitor. If you plan to put it in a small room, you'd be hard pressed to do better than the Sony KV-34XBR910 34-inch direct-view set that we reviewed in the November 2003 issue of Home Theater. In a big room, however, you need a big screen, and most big-screen HDTVs are more costly than your budget will allow.
Notice I said "most." One such monitor lists for $2,400 (which means you can probably get it for even less than that), and it offers a surprisingly good picture, even without full calibration. The Zenith R56W36 uses good ol' CRT technology in a standard rear-projection configuration to produce an image on its 56-inch (diagonal), 16:9 screen. The cabinet is relatively slim for a CRT RPTV, which helps conserve floor space, but the bright silver finish is a bit too reflective for my taste. The screen sits atop a base that includes the internal speakers, CRTs, etc.
The front panel is simple, with eight buttons that control the basic functions and provide access to the menu system. A large display window below the screen indicates the selected input with a bright blue icon that disappears after a few seconds. Speaking of inputs, the R56W36 has two component inputs (both of which can accept any resolution from 480i to 1080i, a very good thing) with associated stereo audio. However, if you have a DVD player, terrestrial HDTV tuner, and satellite receiver, you must depend on your receiver or pre/pro to do the component switching.
The three A/V inputs include composite video with stereo audio, and two of these inputs also have S-video. One of them is located on the side of the cabinet rather than on the front panel, which helps maintain a clean look. Finally, two RF antenna inputs and one loop output round out the jack pack, along with composite and stereo audio monitor outputs. There's no DVI input to prepare this TV for a possibly analog-restricted future.
The remote is a universal type that can control up to four devices in addition to the TV. Its layout is fairly logical with adequate space between the reasonably sized buttons. The buttons are illuminated, although the labels for most of them are not. You can select an input by pressing the TV/Video button to cycle through the choices; this button should be labeled Input. A separate Comp button switches between the component inputs, which is nice.
The R56W36's menu system is well-organized, with the primary items on the left side of the screen and submenus to the right of the main menu that overlay much of the screen with a dark, semi-transparent background. This is a problem in some cases because it's difficult to see the result of changing a parameter (such as scan-velocity modulation) until you exit the menu system. Fortunately, the background disappears when you select one of the video controls (contrast, brightness, color, tint, and sharpness), leaving only the selected control with a bar graph and numeric indicator. However, these controls maintain their position near the center of the screen, rather than moving to the bottom as they should, and the main menu remains in place, making it difficult to adjust some of the parameters; for example, you can't see the Video Essentials Needle Pulse test pattern to adjust contrast.
Feature-wise, the R56W36 is fairly complete. Of course, as an HD monitor, it has no integrated high-def tuner, but those are readily available these days. The set can display images at 1080i or 540p; the manual suggests that you use 1080i for TV and movies, while 540p is better suited for more-stationary images and video games. The five aspect-ratio settings include 4:3, 16:9, panorama, and two zoom modes, all of which can be applied to any input. That's great; many sets cannot apply their 4:3 aspect ratio to high-bandwidth signals. The 4:3 mode puts gray bars on the sides of the screen, which reduces the chance of phosphor burn-in, but I prefer to take a chance with black bars, which are less distracting when watching 4:3 material.
The EZ Video function provides three automatic picture settings: clear, optimum, and soft. This function turns off if you adjust the user video controls manually, which I did. Scan-velocity modulation also offers three settings—low, medium, and high—but thankfully, you can turn it off, too. As usual, SVM hurts the picture more than it helps. Auto Convergence takes the headache out of converging the red, green, and blue CRTs, and it takes only one minute to do its thing.
The internal audio system provides 15 watts per channel to the set's speakers, and Dolby Virtual Surround simulates a surround sound setup. The EZ Audio presets equalize the sound for different types of content, such as sports, music, and movies, but I'd certainly recommend that you use an external 5.1 surround system with any HD monitor.
I wanted to see how the R56W36 would perform for buyers who simply adjust the user video controls to their optimum settings using a test DVD such as Video Essentials. As usual, the Zenith's contrast was too high out of the box, and its brightness was too low. After tweaking the relevant controls, I looked at several test patterns to see what was going on. I observed some red push, which is fairly normal, but not as much as I've seen on other sets I've reviewed. White-field uniformity wasn't great, with slight discolorations on both sides of the screen, but the black-level retention was very good. I also saw quite a bit of ringing, even with the sharpness control turned all the way down. Overscan was slightly asymmetrical: more than 5 percent to the top and right and less than 5 percent to the bottom and left.
The internal scaler did not seem to pick up the 3:2-pulldown cadence at all, but the video processing looked generally good otherwise. The Auto Convergence routine didn't work very well, as indicated by various white-dot patterns, which exhibited distinct color fringing. Using our Leader LT 446 HD test-pattern generator, the R56W36's horizontal resolution was about 800 lines per picture height (1,424 total) with a 1080i source and about 600 lines per picture height (1,068 total) with a 720p source. Zenith claims a horizontal resolution of 1,200 lines.
Before performing a service-level calibration, video editor Geoffrey Morrison measured the gray scale, and the results were surprisingly good: The warm color-temperature preset was close to 6,500 kelvin throughout much of the low-to-mid brightness range, dipping close to 6,000 K at the top end. Luminance rose fairly linearly from 20 to 100 IRE, and the RGB chromaticity coordinates were quite close to the SMPTE-specified values, with red being the farthest off. After calibration, the gray scale was more consistent across the entire brightness range (see the measurements chart).
Of course, humans do not live by test patterns alone; how a display looks with normal program material is much more important. In this respect, the R56W36 performed admirably. For example, I watched a documentary about Washington, D.C., on Discovery HD from Dish Network, and it looked quite nice, with well-saturated colors and reasonable fleshtones. It wasn't quite as sharp as I've seen on other displays, perhaps because of the convergence problem noted earlier.
When I switched to the 1080i D-VHS tape of Digital Video Essentials, the waving American flag in the opening sequence looked great, with few, if any, jaggies. The blue sky in the shuttle-launch scene looked like it had a bit of noise, which was also evident in the images of the New York skyline at dusk, but I didn't see it in other blue-sky fields. Again, the images looked slightly softer than I've seen elsewhere, but it wasn't gross by any means. The reds in the computer-generated segments were a bit garish, and the fleshtones were a touch on the pink side, but again it was nothing outlandish.
Next, I played some DVDs, including the Superbit version of The Fifth Element, on our Onkyo DV-SP800 DVD player, which we know to have a high-quality output. Switching between interlaced and progressive output, it soon became clear that the R56W36 was having trouble with an interlaced signal. For example, in the opening desert scene, there's a diagonal ramp made of wooden slats. When the set received an interlaced signal, there were some serious artifacts in the ramp at both the 1080i and 540p settings. When I switched the player to progressive mode, the artifacts disappeared. Otherwise, the colors were quite good, as was the black level. Shadow detail was not the best I've seen, but it wasn't bad.
The bottom line is this: The Zenith R56W36 is not the best HD monitor that money can buy, but it's an excellent value when you balance size, performance, and price. Just make sure that you use a good progressive-scan DVD player with it; fortunately, such machines are widely available and not very expensive these days. If you want a big-screen HDTV but your budget is strictly limited, the R56W36 might just be your ticket to ride.
• Low price
• Good overall performance
• Full feature set
• Menu system gets in the way of adjustments