Panasonic CT-34WX50 Bridges Analog, Digital Video

Despite progress made by LCD displays and DLP projectors, among videophiles, cathode ray tubes (CRTs) still rule the roost. "Direct-view" sets, as they are often called, offer better brightness, contrast, and color purity than other types of displays, especially when used in well-lighted rooms.

Panasonic is bridging the analog video age to the digital one with its new CT-34WX50, a 34"-diagonal direct view 16:9 flat-screen TV with a single NTSC tuner and six video inputs. Although the set does not accept 720P HDTV signals---a format that has many supporters as the possible HD standard---it does accept 480I, 480P, and 1080I signals, which means that it mates perfectly with most progressive-scan DVD players. A built-in line doubler boosts NTSC (analog broadcast and standard DVD) material to 480P.

Extensive adjustments---color temperature, white balance, contrast, black level, convergence---let you calibrate the set for near-perfect images in any environment. Special features let you tailor the aspect ratio of the dynamic picture to your liking as well. "Normal" operation presents 4:3 images with black bars on the sides, "Zoom" stretches the image 128% to fill the screen, and "Just" (presumably a short form of "justify") keeps the center of the picture normally proportioned but gradually stretches the sides to fill the screen. "Auto" expands letterboxed images, and "Full" lets you view "anamorphic" films as they were meant to be seen. All settings are held in non-volatile memory and will remain if the set is turned off or unplugged.

Panasonic takes all the tweaking to a new level by allowing each of the individual video inputs to be calibrated as well. This means that you can equalize various sources for consistent images quality, the same way a broadcast studio equalizes feeds from several cameras so that there is no abrupt change from one to another. A video noise reduction feature helps clean up glitchy signals. Users who wish to view 720P DVDs (there are a few on the market) will need a player such as Panasonic's DVD-H1000, with its own internal scaler. The CT-34WX50 is surprisingly compact, measuring only 25" x 34.5" x 23". Suggested list price is $4,599.