Geeks.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:
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.
Well, 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.
The monitor has a silver finish, with the speakers on the sides of the screen. At the bottom right of the display are buttons for input select, volume up and down, channel up and down, activate menu, a power LED, and the power button. The up/down buttons double as the navigate buttons in the on-screen display.
The image is very bright, and the viewing angle is just astonishing; both vertically and horizontally. The colour stays the same, and does not wash out. When in TV mode, the screen is not jittery like I have seen on so many other flat-panel TVs, meaning the TV is not tiring to look at. When in ‘computer’ mode, the image can be a little fuzzy; I have no idea why this is, but it is tiring (I connect my displays via DVI, but the ‘ordinary’ VGA connection had the same fuzziness). With this I do not mean the type of fuzziness you get when using an LCD at a non-native resolution; it is a different type of fuzziness. The problem appears on Ubuntu, Windows XP, Windows Vista, and Zeta 1.5-pre.
Obviously, you can control things like brightness, contrast, and so on. You can also switch between various video modes such as 4:3, full screen, nonlinear scaling, and standard mode (handy for broadcasts in widescreen).
The on-screen display is very easy to use, and it controls every aspect of the device. The contents of the menu differ based on the input type currently active; the TV settings are hidden when using i.e. DVI as the input, making the TV much easier to use.
The remote control, while simple, has one serious flaw: the buttons are all similarly shaped and coloured, meaning it can be very hard to distinguish which button does what. The TV does respond very well to the remote, even though the batteries which came with the package were dead. You can control every aspect of the monitor with the remote, including input select and video mode.
One of the coolest features is the ‘picture in picture’. Normally on a TV, this means you can watch two channels at the same time; however, with this multi-purpose monitor it means you can watch either the s-video, composite, component, or tuner input while working behind your computer, in ‘picture-in-picture’ style. You can then adjust the size of the “window”, and move it around using the OSD (of course controllable via the remote control). While this feature is mostly not useful for me (I use the device as a TV alone, as I am of the strong opinion a computer has no place in a Hi-Fi/DVD/TV setup), I can see the usefulness of this when you choose to use this monitor for your computer.
Upon first inspection, I was a little worried the speakers would not be capable of producing any meaningful sound, and that I needed to connect my digital tuner to my Hi-Fi set to get decent sound, but I was proven wrong. The sound from the speakers is surprisingly full, albeit a little low on bass. Of course it is no Hi-Fi set, but for a TV this is good enough. Via the OSD you can set treble, bass, balance, volume (no, really?), and surround on/off.
The TV has some extra features such as parental controls, a sleep timer, and closed captions for i.e. the hearing impaired.
The TV has, as far as I can see after two weeks of usage, two bugs; one of which is minor, one of which is major. When turning the device on, the word “composite” sometimes refuses to disappear from the screen, requiring me to restart the device a few times before it does disappear. Very annoying, but still a minor bug. The major bug is the whole situation with the PAL. Assuming this is indeed a firmware issue (and not a hardware issue like Eugenia’s husband thinks), this qualifies as a major bug in my book.
Besides making the ridiculous world of TV broadcasting crystally clear visible, this device has given me little in the form of unfavourable experiences. Seeing the low price, this monitor just screams “value for money”– provided you live in a NTSC country or have digital television when in a non-NTSC country. As a computer monitor, the slight fuzziness might irritate you.
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