Last week I bought a TV based on criteria that are foreign to me: low price and thin bezel. The only other requirement was a screen size of about 40 inches. As a result, I purchased a Westinghouse UW40T8LW 40″ LED edge-lit LCD panel from Best Buy—for a sale price of $329—without seeing what the picture quality is like.
As odd as the transaction seems, it is probably a lot closer to the way many consumers approach an HDTV purchase, as opposed to the meticulous research many AVS Forum members put into their purchases. Why on Earth would I do such an irresponsible thing? Because I needed a TV screen for my work—I was shooting a promotional video for an apartment-management company, and I needed a real TV to serve as a prop.
This particular Westinghouse 40″ HDTV is an attractive unit. The panel is made almost entirely of plastic, but it manages to look contemporary and modern, unlike many similar TVs in its price range that feature thick, shiny plastic bezels. The bezel on this unit was relatively thin and had a brushed aluminum texture that looked more expensive than it should. Assembly was easy; four screws fastened the base to the screen.
For several days, I traveled around Pennsylvania with the TV and never turned it on. I used it as a prop on video shoots, never even plugging it in. The TV itself is very lightweight and easy to move around. After several days of shooting, I finished using it as a prop. That’s when I powered it up for the first time.
Initial setup gave me two options: Store demo mode or Eco mode. I chose Eco mode and proceeded with basic setup. Within a minute, I was looking at an over-bright, massively oversaturated screen that apparently still meets Energy Star requirements. Knowing that some users would go no further with the setup, I reviewed some footage at the default settings.
Color saturation looked comically exaggerated; greens were especially vibrant and fluorescent. Skin tones were pinkish—in my videos, all the actors looked like they had a sunburn. After only a few minutes, I had enough and I dug into the menu to see what was fixable through quick adjustment. I was pleased to see overscan was disabled by default, but changing any settings put the TV into “user” mode—unfortunately, in user mode, overscan was turned on by default, necessitating some extra menu navigation.
Significant improvement came from simply selecting “movie” mode instead of the default—contrast and saturation dropped to only moderately exaggerated levels. The overall color balance was very red biased, so I dialed in custom color settings. I found it was difficult to hit any sort of “neutral” balance, but I was able to improve the picture somewhat. That is when I discovered the issue with the brightness control.
Since I’ve never had the pleasure of adjusting such a cheap HDTV before, I did not realize what a one-trick pony the device really was: Any adjustment to brightness had an immediate, deleterious effect on color and contrast. Apparently, the TV only works properly at its default brightness levels, determined by the needs of the default preset modes.
I can accept the idea of an HDTV with a fixed screen brightness, if it was possible to get a good image out of it. Unfortunately, even after tweaking the screen to something resembling proper color and contrast levels, it was difficult to watch. Using my Blu-ray player connected to one of the two HDMI ports, I cued up “Art of Flight,” the snowboarding video considered a home-theater demo cliché by some—to me, it is an exceptional reference with which I have become intimately familiar.
Familiarity did not serve me well during the test viewing. The Westinghouse was painful to watch—false color rendering dominated the experience, shadow regions in the snow exhibited a rainbow of false hues, and sky areas exhibited significant visible banding. Black levels were relatively decent, for a cheap TV—in fact, that might be the highlight of the panel’s performance. I found no redeeming qualities in the presentation and could only stand a few minutes before moving on.
I attached my PC via HDMI, to see how the panel looked when used as a computer monitor. Unfortunately, I was disappointed once again. This time, the culprit was sharpness as much as anything. There was no ideal setting; both text and graphics looked over-sharpened—with significant halo/fringing artifacts—or else the graphics looked overly soft. I could not find a setting that represented a good compromise between the two.
I had intended to give the TV a chance, perhaps as an extra screen to use as a laptop monitor or for watching games in my kitchen, since it already served its true purpose as a fancy prop. I also intended to perform more tests, perhaps to judge black levels or motion rendering. But in the end, I could not wait to pack it back up and return it to Best Buy for credit. Within an hour of plugging in that TV for the first time, I was back in a Best Buy waiting to get a refund.
The employee took one look at the box and said, “I’m going to trust everything is in there; remote, screws, and manual.” I nodded in agreement. Then he said, “Is there anything wrong with it, aside from being a Westinghouse?” I said “no.” With that, he handed me cash—a full refund. I took the loot and I went shopping for stuff I actually want to own.
One more thing—the TV might say Westinghouse on it, but on the receipt it’s identified as a “Gold Star,” and Lucky Gold Star brand TVs are now known as LG. I asked a Westinghouse rep about that, and he denied any connection. While it’s easy to beat up on Westinghouse, it’s worth noting that at this point, what was once a great American company is just a name—licensed for a fee to other companies. Wikipedia has a quote that says it best:
Quote:”Though these products advertise the Westinghouse name, they are neither manufactured by the historic Westinghouse company nor may necessarily meet the quality standards actively maintained by Westinghouse.” – source: wikipedia