While the home theater market concerns itself with larger, thinner displays with some reaching sizes of 100 inches or more, I’ve become increasingly interested in smaller, more affordable LCD displays. When I bought my house I set about getting an appropriately sized display in each of my three bedrooms and with a projection screen system in my main room I’ve been all but set when it comes to HDTV’s. However, having lived in my home for two years now I’ve noticed that my viewing habits don’t always fall within the confines of where I’ve placed larger displays throughout my home. For instance, I do a bit of work at my kitchen table which has a semi-obstructed view of my main projection rig, however I’m always a bit annoyed at having to power up the main rack in order to view what can only be described as ambient viewing. That, and I’m trying to conserve power these days (who isn’t) and any chance that I can avoid turning on my McIntosh amps and numerous sources is one that I relish. Which led me to the idea of mounting a small LCD TV to the side wall of my custom rack enclosure which can be connected directly to my satellite DVR and used for less critical viewing sessions, providing the ambient viewing and unobstructed view I’ve been longing for.
Not wanting to spend an arm and a leg for a less then critical display I turned to the company I know could deliver the goods without me having to deliver the cash; Vizio. I trekked down to my local Wal-Mart, a Vizio retailer, and set about choosing a display. Vizio has numerous offerings in the 22 to 26 inch size ranges however not all are available at Wal-Mart. Some of the other designs can be had at Costco or through Vizio directly via their website. I had decided that 26 inches was to large for my respective space so I settled on the VW22L model which is a 22-inch LCD HDTV that retails for $399.00. While not as sexy as Vizio’s other 22-inch offering it’s far from ugly. With a native resolution of 1680x1050 into a 16:10 aspect ratio the VW22L is a true 720p design. It can accept all resolutions up to 1080i but native 1080p sources will have to be downconverted. The 16:10 aspect ratio may seem a bit odd since most HDTV’s sport a standard 16:9 ratio but when you consider that a good portion of the VW22L’s customers will probably use it as a computer monitor the aspect ratio makes a bit more sense.
On paper the VW22L has a reported contrast ratio of 1000:1 with the ability to display 16.7 million colors with a typical response time of 5ms. If these figures seem low for today’s modern LCD market they are, however, these specs seem a lot more “real” then many of today’s trumped-up specs. The VW22L has a single HDCP compliant HDMI input as well as single offerings for component, composite, S-video and RGB inputs. Each of the video inputs is mated with analog audio inputs as well as having a single RF input for its built in tuner. Clearly, this is a TV designed for small system or casual viewing and not as the centerpiece of a state of the art home theater. The VW22L has a pair of analog audio outs, a digital optical audio out and a headphone mini jack. On the video processing side of things the VW22L features 3:2 and 2:2 reverse pull-down as well as MPEG-2 decoding and progressive scan via its component, RGB and HDMI inputs. The VW22L features dual three watt built in speakers and has a power consumption rating of 60 Watts which is much lower than powering up my whole rack system which for me became an instant value right out of the box.
Lastly, there’s the remote and like all Vizio TVs the remote is basic, functional and one that if the VW22L was in a more performance based system would be instantly discarded. No back lighting and to make matters worse the remote and all of its keys are black on black making it completely impossible to operate in anything but a lit room. The buttons are small however the layout is easily memorized by touch after a few days. But one cannot lose sight of the fact that this is a $399 HDTV and items such as remotes would only jack up the price, which is one of the VW22L’s main strengths.Setup
I wall mounted the VW22L to the outside or kitchen side wall of my Middle Atlantic rack’s enclosure via a small swivel/tilt mount from Sanus. The mounting was very straightforward and I had the VW22L on the wall in about 15 minutes. Next I sank a small PVC conduit for the power and HDMI cable into the shallow wall cavity and fished the cables through. I plugged the VW22L into my UltraLink made UltraPower conditioners (review pending) and ran a single HDMI cable to my Integra DTC 9.8’s second monitor out.
I popped in my Digital Video Essentials disc on HD DVD and calibrated the set which was a bit tedious and no where near as accurate as say my reference Samsung or Sony displays but never the less doable. Even with independent color tuning for red, green and blue calibrating the VW22L was more a process of trial and error then exact science. Never the less I was able to achieve a suitable picture in a few minutes. Out of the box the “Standard” setting proved to be the best jumping off point with just a little excess brightness and sharpness in the way which was easy to remedy.Television and Movies
The Olympics are upon us so I thought it fitting to start my evaluation of the VW22L with NBC’s high definition coverage of men’s swimming. There is a lot of controversy surrounding these Olympic games regarding the sex, age and/or drug usage of certain athletes but I wonder why no one is raising the issue of Phelps’ clear cross breeding with dolphins for the dude is faster in water than out. That being said, the high def image of the best swimmers in the world was beautifully captivated by the VW22L. The water was largely artifact free and the color was crisp and natural. The motion of the swimmers was smooth and the separation between their skin tones and the unnaturally clear water of the pool was very good. Detail rendering was good especially when the swimmers left the water and one could easily discern individual droplets of water on their torsos. The brightest elements of the image proved to be a little noisy at times and the black levels were good at best but again one must keep in mind this is a sub $500 display, in my kitchen.
Moving on I turned to Discovery Channel HD and caught a couple of rerun episodes of Deadliest Catch (Discovery Channel). The harsher lighting conditions of the HD captured video proved to be more of a challenge for the VW22L than the almost sitcom-esque lighting of the Olympics. Black levels were tested and if forced to grade the VW22L’s performance I’d have to call it average at best. Blacks were at best a very dark shade of grey with a fair amount of video noise present in all but the lightest regions of the dark values. The white caps of the monstrous waves were also plagued by noise and pixilation when they came into full light. The bright colors of the fishermen’s slickers were rendered well however and once again skin tones proved to be one of the VW22L strengths. Rapid camera movements proved of little concern for the VW22L’s internal video processing and introduced little to no noticeable motion artifacts to the image itself. I found that when given a smoother surface, such as the hull of a ship or the shells of the crabs themselves the VW22L’s image quality was more consistent and uniform in terms of grey scale tracking, color rendering and noise levels. Areas such as the crab cages themselves and the deck of the worn ships proved harder for the VW22L’s processors resulting in average to above average picture quality. Still, the VW22L’s HD performance was light years ahead of its SD picture, which is absolutely atrocious.
I ended my evaluation of the VW22L with some Blu-ray action and the 1990’s disaster picture Twister (Warner Brothers). With my Sony Blu-ray player set to 720p the image produced by the Blu-ray disc was noticeably better than an HD feed from my Dish Network service. Black levels were a little deeper and crisper with a lower noise threshold and improved definition. Midtones were, again, the VW22L’s strongest suit with good tone, saturation and detail throughout. Highlights were a bit more composed and free from noise and edge fidelity improved dramatically over what I witnessed with the Deadliest Catch. The debris in the tornado was easily discernable and rendered nicely even on such a small screen being viewed from a distance of roughly six to seven feet. Fine details like broken glass were a little less spectacular, looking a bit more like a collection of white pixels at times, but nothing outside the realm of what you would see in similarly priced products. Complex movements and rapid camera pans were rendered smoothly and without incident. The built in speakers absolutely suck must be cranked to be intelligible, which makes them even harsher on the ears then when played back at whisper like volume.
It would be a bit presumptuous of me to suggest that at HDTV retailing for $399 can compete with the likes of a Pioneer Kuro (plasma) or Sony Bravia (LCD), for it simply won’t. And the VW22L doesn’t. Its performance on almost every level is consistent with much of the similarly priced competition, save maybe one area. I think the VW22L’s industrial design is far more attractive then most cheaper, small displays that are often very thick (depth wise) and clad in a sort of drab matte black finish. The nice thing about the VW22L look is that it feels more upscale than it is and if you feed it a good HD or Blu-ray signal the picture starts to feel better too.The Downside
I don’t want to rag on the VW22L too harshly for it’s a sort of plug and play type display meant for small rooms such as a work out space, home office or kitchen where sheer performance can be considered secondary to usability. That being said I have three issues with the VW22L that you should be aware of. First on the list is the VW22L’s wonky aspect ratio. The 16:10 aspect ratio means that even with full 16:9 HD source material you’re going to get black bars on the top and bottom of the display, which is somewhat of a waste. It becomes even more annoying when watching 2:35 or some other aspect ratio just off of the 16:9 HD broadcast standard. 4:3 material is even worse as you have bars on the side but top and bottom as well. There are controls to limit and/or eradicate this wasted space but they ultimately end up cutting off the picture, which is a bit useless as well.
Second, while the VW22L’s spec sheet claims a 160-degree viewing angle both horizontal and vertical there is very clear “sweet spot” from which to view the VW22L image. I would go so far as to say that if you sat three grown adults shoulder to shoulder directly in front of the VW22L the folks on the edges would have a much different view of the VW22L’s overall performance than the person sitting in the middle of the screen.
The overall performance of the VW22L from the picture quality to the sound must be categorized as average. There are elements that go beyond this rating but on a whole it’s a cheap TV that produces an adequate picture suitable for ambient or background viewing. If you’re looking for a cheap display for a small home theater in say a guest room or nook I suggest you look elsewhere, even within Vizio’s own lineup of TVs. If you want something for the kitchen or bathroom then the VW22L may be the ticket.Conclusion
At $399 the Vizio VW22L 22 inch LCD HDTV is a dirt-cheap solution that should have your attention as you go HD in more and more rooms of your home. Its visual appearance belittles its modest asking price and its list of connection features makes it easy to integrate into a simple, albeit small, home theater or secondary viewing space. While its overall performance is on par with its price its day to day livability and cost of ownership more than make up for its shortcomings. I set out to find a small, inexpensive display for background viewing of HD material in my kitchen and the VW22L fits the bill perfectly. Is it perfect? No. But it’s perfect for what I need it to be. Those of you with similar needs or, better yet, kids on their way to college should check out the VW22L.