Face Off: Big-Screen Smackdown Zenith IQB50M92W

Zenith IQB50M92W
If a wrestler wanted to model his or her character after any consumer electronics manufacturer, it would have to be Zenith. With that so-old-it's-retro lightning-bolt logo, ridiculously long model numbers, and a venerable life span, Zenith makes for an appropriate association. It seemed fitting for us to include their IQB50M92W in this Face Off.

To begin with, connections aren't abundant, but they'll do fine in most systems. You get two audio/video inputs, both with composite or y/c (S-video) connectors. The second input adds the higher-quality component connector for your DVD player. Send audio to your hi-fi system via the variable audio output and route audio and video to your VCR through the fixed monitor output. The latter even has a y/c connection. Additional inputs include speaker terminals that utilize a built-in amplifier to power better front or surround speakers at the flip of a switch. This is a good audio-upgrade path. As it turned out, the other panelists found the absence of a front-panel input the most fatal flaw, thus tipping the scale toward the Mitsubishi or Panasonic display in terms of features. Hmmm, I'm having the strangest feeling of déja` vu.

Anyway, along with the simple connections, you get a simple remote. For example, Zenith offers preprogrammed control of a TV, a VCR, and a cable box; however, unlike the Hitachi and Panasonic controllers, there's no backlighting. Both Clint and Chris found the Zenith remote's larger channel and volume buttons adequate, although they preferred the Mitsubishi remote for overall ergonomics.

Press the menu button on the remote, and familiar graphics appear. Unfortunately, none of the panelists liked the onscreen menu. Granted, the layout and functions make setting up the display relatively easy (probably a bit more so than the Hitachi's interface did), but the menu covers 85 percent of the image. Zenith's version offers a smidgen more transparency when making picture adjustments, but not enough to make it useful. Mitsubishi and Panasonic are a step ahead in this regard.

While the competitors have better menus, the Zenith excels in picture quality. For one, it has one of the best comb filters we've seen. I found it comparable to the one in the Pioneer Elite PRO-510HD (reviewed in this issue). Clint noticed a total lack of dot crawl, even with moving images, while Chris admired the absence of cross-color artifacts. Color transitions and fine details were rendered sharp and clean. Add to that Zenith's color decoder, which can be made more accurate with but a few user-menu adjustments, and you can achieve excellent color saturation. Even the DC restoration, while not perfect, is better than on the other displays.

Probably the biggest difference in the picture between this and the other displays, besides the quality of the comb filter, is the accurate color-temperature setting. In the warm mode, the Zenith display had the most natural gray scale, rendering extremely warm and natural images. This was probably the most noted characteristic mentioned by the judging panel. I'd be willing to bet that this was more important in the overall evaluation than any other picture-performance parameter.

Ultimately, you can hire a qualified technician (depending on where you live) to calibrate nearly any TV to look better than it does from the factory. Even if you heed our advice and do this with any television you buy, there's plenty to like about Zenith's IQB50M92W. The comb filter, color decoder, and adequate DC restoration make a good foundation for any display. And, since you can make the picture accurate or exaggeratedly punchy with just a few menu adjustments, you can have the best of all worlds.

• Accurate color-temperature setting
• Excellent comb filter

HT Labs Measures: Zenith IQB50M92W
The chart above shows the gray scale (or color temperature) of the Zenith TV and the color points of the display's red, green, and blue phosphors. The gray scale measures slightly blue (5,000 to 8,000 Kelvin) of the industry standard D6500 K. After making adjustments using the Photo Research SR-650, the gray scale measured within a few hundred degrees of the accurate setting. The Zenith's color points are close to those specified by SMPTE and will reproduce all colors the system is capable of. The light output was approximately 37 foot-lamberts. The display has average DC restoration and an accurate color decoder.—MW