posted by Thom Holwerda on Mon 26th Feb 2007 17:29 UTC
IconGeeks.com was so kind to send me the Dell w1700, a 17" widescreen multi-purpose monitor (by lack of a better term). It can serve as a television and a computer monitor at the same time, and the amount of connection possibilities is just scary. Read on for a review.

Geeks.com sells two versions of the w1700: one with a stand, and one without. I received the latter; the former got added to the Geeks.com inventory a few days later. They are exactly the same machines, except for the stand. The monitor is VESA 10cm compatible, so you can use any VESA stand. I took one from my other Dell monitor.

Anyway, here is a dry rundown of the specifications:

  • 17-inch Widescreen TFT LCD (17-inch viewable image size)
  • 0.29 mm pixel pitch
  • Component, S-Video, Composite, COAX, 15 pin VGA, DVI-D
  • 1280 x 768 native resolution
  • 400:1 contrast ratio
  • 25 ms response time
  • Built-in speakers
  • PIP (Picture In Picture)
  • Integrated PAL/SECAM, NTSC, SDTV/HDTV-ready TV tuner
  • I want to focus the first part of the review on the last bullet point.

    PAL? NTSC? SCART? Component? Composite? S-Video? Help?

    As many of you will know, I live in The Netherlands. In The Netherlands, we use the PAL television system, like almost every other country in Europe. The United States uses NTSC, which is basically the same but different enough to make it incompatible with PAL. What this effectively means is that in order for a TV to work on both continents, it needs two tuners: one PAL, and one NTSC (and a SECAM one for the French). Hence, when the team and I decided that I was going to review this item, we made sure it had a PAL tuner. According to the Geeks.com spec list (supplied by Dell), it did both NTSC and PAL.

    The TVWell, we were in for a surprise. When I installed the TV in my home, and hooked up the COAX cable, all I got was black and white TV, and no sound. No big deal, I thought; I had not yet done a channel search across the UHF and VHF bands. On top of that, I thought I would probably have to select the proper variant of PAL (there are about 7843758 different variants of it, mostly compatible with one another). And this is where everything started to go wrong.

    There was no way to actually search for channels, or to set the proper PAL variant. After a search on the internet, I found out that while the European version of the manual for the w1700 shows how to access the PAL menu, the US version did not. Digging deeper on the internet, I found a post from a Dell employee on the Dell customer forums which said:

    "According to my information, our TVs will work in both PAL and NTSC in every mode but the Tuner mode i.e. S-Video, Component etc. work, but tv tuner is NTSC if purchased in the US, and PAL in Europe."

    I was very frustrated, as this was not made clear at all in the specifications list. While the TV does indeed have PAL capabilities even if bought in the US, this PAL is only the basic form, which allows European DVD players to work on American TVs (this indeed worked). While Eugenia's husband thinks the TV lacks PAL chips, my own personal gut feeling says this is nothing but a mere firmware issue; the TV's software is blocking me from the PAL menu. This gut feeling is strengthened by the fact that the European and the US version have the same service tag. Other than that, the different PAL standards are all 99% compatible, meaning that one chip could easily decode them all (in fact, new PAL TVs all have one single chip for PAL capable of decoding almost every PAL variant).

    The solution? I switched from analog TV to digital TV. I now have digital television via DVB-T, and in all honesty, this TV gave me a legitimate excuse to switch to digital television. My DVB-T decoder can be connected to the composite video port of the TV, which works just fine, except for the fact that my decoder came with a SCART-SCART cable. Since SCART is a European connector, this TV does not have a SCART-in. I had to buy a 4 EUR two-way SCART-Composite video cable in order to get it all to work.

    Table of contents
    1. "Introduction; standards hell"
    2. "The monitor; conclusion"
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