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Decent picture for the money

  • Story Highlights
  • Olevia 252T FHD flat screen TV has decent picture for low price
  • Poor off-angle viewing
  • Good choice as budget LCD TV, not as good as quality plasma
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By David Katzmaier
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CNET.com

(CNET) -- Vizio and Westinghouse have become relatively well-known brands among the hundreds of flat-panel LCD makers most people haven't heard of, and Olevia also deserves credit for establishing its name as well.

The company has dropped the old name "Syntax"--definitely not an error--and released a slew of models, including the 52-inch 252T FHD. This set's MO is small dough for a big screen, and while it undercuts 1080p LCD models such as the Vizio GV52LF by a few hundred bucks, it's still more expensive than even name-brand non-1080p 50-inch plasmas, such as the Panasonic TH-50PX77U and the LG 50PC5D.

While the Olevia puts out a decent picture for the money, overall it still suffers compared to plasma, especially in black-level performance and screen uniformity.

Design The Olevia 252T FHD is a distinctive-looking HDTV, if not as sleek on the outside as some of the more well-known brands' designs. Its big 52-inch viewing area is double-framed in black matte near the edge of the screen and glossy around that. Below the frame there's a curved, silver lip that swoops outward a bit to deflect sounds from the bottom-mounted speakers toward the viewer.

An included glossy black stand sports a jaunty strip of chomeish plastic along its front edge. You can obviously wall-mount this flat-panel if you'd like, but be aware that it's a good deal heavier than many LCD sets of similar size.

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The svelte Sharp LC-52D64U, for example, weighs just 62.8 pounds without the stand, and even the glass-screened Panasonic mentioned above weighs 88 pounds, while the Olevia tips the scales at 110 pounds. Most of that weight can be attributed to its relatively deep chassis--the panel measures 5.6 inches deep, an inch or two thicker than many of its competitors. With stand, the 252T FHD measures 51 inches wide by 33.8 inches high by 12.9 inches deep and weighs 132.3 pounds.

Olevia's remote can command a whopping seven other pieces of equipment--more universal goodness than we've ever seen from a TV remote. The clicker's layout is a step up from the budget norm, with backlighting behind every key and generally friendly button layout. It gets a bit less friendly toward the bottom, however, where a tight grid of identical keys controls less-used items such as picture-in-picture and closed captioning. Still, we applaud the ability to access these functions directly.

The menu system is organized around a strange polyhedron in the upper-left corner that we found more confusing to use than a standard flat menu arrangement. It's also unclear whether you're supposed to press "enter" or the right cursor control to advance, and counterintuitively, the left cursor control doesn't go back a menu layer. We'll also take this opportunity to complain about the inability to jump directly to a specific input--to change sources, you must cycle through the 12 available inputs, although the cycling does move very quickly.

Olevia gave its 252T FHD the increasingly commonplace native resolution of 1080p, which works out to 1,920x1,080 pixels, the highest count generally available today. It allows the set to display every detail of 1080i and 1080p sources, and as usual, all other sources are scaled to fit the pixels, whether they come from 720p HDTV, DVD, or standard-definition television.

The set's picture adjustments are somewhat annoying because each of the standard controls--contrast, brightness, and so forth--lacks a numeric indicator. Instead, there's just a slider with a single marker that changes position after you make the adjustment. Not only does this arrangement make it difficult for us to provide our ideal picture settings (see Performance),but it also makes precisely tweaking the picture harder in general.

We did appreciate that the picture settings were stored independently per input. Of the two color temperature presets, "6,500K" came closest to the standard of, well, 6,500K, and the set doesn't allow users to further fine-tune the color temperature. It does provide a four-position noise reduction control, though.

A few unusual picture adjustments can be found if you spin that polyhedron enough times. There's a suite of settings under the heading "Idea" (talk about lost in translation) which includes items such as White Peak Limiter, Black Level Extender, and Contrast Enhance. We left them turned off for peak performance. The Mode submenu, meanwhile, includes a setting related to bright, medium, and dark room lighting, which controls overall light output and acts like a three-position backlight control--a setting the TV otherwise lacks. A selection labeled Input supposedly optimizes the picture for various sources, including VCR, Interlaced DVD, Progressive DVD, and Standard and High-Definition TV; we left it set on "User." For all you TV salesmen out there, another setting allows you to toggle between Home and Showroom settings.

Olevia throws in an ample selection of four aspect ratio modes with high-def sources, one of which, labeled "1:1," doesn't introduce any scaling, and so allows 1080i and 1080p sources to be displayed in full detail with minimal overscan (unlike most HDTVs, the Olevia still cuts off a bit of the picture's edges in this mode). There are also five selections for standard-def sources. Unlike many HDTVs these days, the 252T FHD includes picture-in-picture, which provides plenty of combinations and screen configurations.

Connectivity on the Olevia is about what you'd expect from a budget HDTV. There are two HDMI inputs, two component-video inputs, and one PC input (1,920x1,080 maximum resolution), along with two AV inputs with composite and S-Video, a stereo analog audio output, an optical digital audio output, and an RF input for antenna and/or cable. The addition of an RS-232C port for custom remote systems seems a bit unusual on this level of television, although it may find occasional use. The set lacks front- or side-panel connectivity for easy, temporary connections, although the main analog input bay's location on the left-rear side helps make up for this omission.

Performance For the price, the Olevia 252T FHD delivers fine picture quality compared to the budget LCD competition, performing as well as the Vizio GV52LF for example, especially in terms of color accuracy. Its off-angle viewing and screen uniformity are certainly below average, and its black-level performance won't win any awards, but it's still a solid low-buck LCD.

During our initial setup, we calibrated the TV for ideal light output in our completely dark room using our baseline light output of 40 footlamberts. We also chose the 6,500K color temperature preset, which while closer than the very blue Native setting, still introduced too much blue. We also engaged the Dark Room setting, which reduced the backlight a bit, and left most of the other controls turned off. For our full darkened-room picture settings, check out the Tips section below or click here.

To evaluate the Olevia's picture quality, we set it up next to a few other HDTVs we had on hand, including our reference televisions for black-level and color, the Pioneer PDP-5080HD and the Sony KDS-55A3000 respectively, along with the Philips 47PFL9732D, a more expensive, smaller LCD (we disengaged its 120Hz mode) and the Insignia NS-PDP42, a budget plasma. We checked out the great-looking Black Snake Moan on Blu-ray, courtesy of the Sony PlayStation 3.

In dark areas, the Olevia performed a bit below average for a flat-panel LCD, producing a lighter shade of black than any of the other sets in the room with the exception of the Insignia plasma, whose depth of black was about the same as the 252T FHD's. When Christina Ricci's character Rae attends the outdoor bar at night, for example, the shadows in the trees and over the car hoods, as well as the black of the letterbox bars above and below the screen, looked lighter than they did on the Philips, for example, which in side-by-side comparisons made the darker scenes on the Olevia look more washed-out. The 252T FHD also looked a bit less natural in shadows than the rest of the displays because the shadows became too bright too quickly in comparison. On our reference Pioneer and the Philips, for example, the posts against the wall behind the bed of Lazarus (Samuel L. Jackson) looked too bright and distinct compared with our reference Pioneer. The darkest areas of the Olevia picture also dipped into blue somewhat, although not as noticeably as we've seen on some LCDs.

These dark scenes also revealed issues with the 252T FHD's uniformity across the screen. The upper-right corner bore a markedly brighter splotch, and the other corners had less apparent but still noticeable brighter areas. The Philips LCD looked relatively uniform by comparison. Like all LCDs, the Olevia's black areas became brighter and more washed out when we moved off-angle, more so then the Philips, and they also became discolored, turning reddish/bluish the further we moved from center.

Speaking of color, the Olevia 252T FHD's major strength is its primary color accuracy. The set came very close to the standard for red and blue, and even green, the most problematic hue for most displays (including the Philips), was solidly average. The trees around Lazarus's house for example, when he first sees Rae sprawled in the street, looked natural and not too yellowish, as we saw on most of the other displays (with the exception of the Sony). We also appreciated the accurate cyan when Lazarus visits the pharmacy; the sky-blue walls looked correct as opposed to greenish as they did on the Philips.

On the other hand, the Olevia's color temperature skewed a bit toward blue, although with the set's accurate color decoding skin tones, such as Rae's perpetually bare midriff, still appeared relatively natural. The bluish tinge, at least compared to those of the other sets (aside from the Insignia), did compromise skin tones somewhat, but overall they looked solid considering our inability to tweak the Olevia's color temperature beyond the so-called 6,500K preset.

As we expected from a 1080p HDTV, the Olevia resolved every detail of both 1080p and 1080i sources according to test patterns. Details on this sharp Blu-ray looked crisp and lifelike, from the weave in the rug on Lazarus' floor to Rae's dirty-blond hair to the grungy wood walls of Tehronne's hangout. As we're fond of pointing out, however, the benefits of 1080p were almost impossible to discern. The 1,366x768 resolution Pioneer, which we placed right next to the Olevia, looked just as sharp from our seating distance of about 8 feet, and moving even closer we saw the difference only by staring hard at the finest details, such as Rae's hair, and only in select scenes. In most instances, the Pioneer actually appeared sharper due to its superior black-level performance.

The Olevia did not deinterlace 1080i video properly, causing moire in the grille of the RV from Chapter 6 of Ghost Rider, but such artifacts are exceedingly rare in our experience and can be eliminated by setting sources to 1080p mode when possible. Unlike the Philips, the Olevia also played 1080p/24 content normally, although there's no benefit to using 1080p/24 mode with this television.

With standard-definition sources, the Olevia was about average. The color bar pattern showed that the set could handle all of the detail of the HQV DVD, and details in the grass and the stone bridge looked relatively sharp and well-resolved. When showing moving diagonal lines, the 252T FHD didn't do much to smooth out the edges, so we saw jaggies in the stripes of the waving American flag for example. Noise reduction was quite effective between the Off and Low settings, reducing the motes and video "snow" in the noisy shots of flowers and skies, but engaging the Medium and High settings didn't seem to increase the effect. The set evinced fine 2:3 pull-down, removing the moire from the grandstands behind the racing car.

For whatever reason, the Olevia actually fared better in our tests with analog VGA sources than with digital PC sources delivered over its HDMI input. With both of the HDMI-equipped laptops we connected via HDMI, the TV didn't perform well--in one case, connecting the Olevia caused the PC's display driver to crash and elicit a Blue Screen of Death in Vista.

In the other, the display came up but didn't fill the screen, looked somewhat soft, and didn't resolve every detail according to DisplayMate, despite our setting the output to the panel's native 1,920x1,080 resolution.

Dedicated computer users may find a way around this issue or may even get the Olevia to work without a hassle via HDMI, but in our experience with two different Vista PCs, the 252T FHD worked much better via analog VGA. Hooked up via analog, the 52-inch screen resolved every detail of 1,920x1,080 according to DisplayMate, and text looked as good as we've seen from any big-screen LCD with an analog connection. E-mail to a friend E-mail to a friend

© 2009 CBS Interactive Inc. All rights reserved. CNET, CNET.com and the CNET logo are registered trademarks of CBS Interactive Inc. Used by permission.

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