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Some televisions are just too big: You can't convince your friends that you watch only PBS and nature shows when your TV looks like it comes with an ice maker. But no one likes having to squint to see the names on the backs of Super Bowl players' jerseys, either. A moderate-size set will blend in with the decor without making you feel like you're sitting in the back row of your own home theater.
Our review includes five of the newest 32-inch direct-view LCD TV sets on the market (Sony and Toshiba declined to send us their latest models). The five sets we tested are tightly bunched in price from $1799 to $2000 and have similar specifications. Nevertheless, we observed several important differences that may affect how the sets work with your home theater setup.
The Dell W3201C, for example, has two tuners--one analog and one digital--but it offers no CableCard slot, so you can use the digital tuner only to bring in over-the-air digital broadcasts, not cable- or satellite-based ones. The Sharp Aquos LC-32D6U and the HP LC3200N share many components (including LCD glass manufactured by Sharp), but the HP has more ports and more-extensive color controls. And though all five models carry speakers, you can't remove the ones on the JVC or the Samsung LN-R328W; that constitutes an aesthetic drawback if, for instance, you want to route audio through your home theater's speakers instead of the built-in ones.
Choosing the top set wasn't easy: Dell's W3201C has the best cabinet design and by far the best speakers. Compared with the others, Samsung's no-frills LN-R328W scored highest in our image-quality tests. And HP's LC3200N has the best selection of ports and extensive on-screen controls. Ultimately, those features plus solid image quality won the HP our Best Buy award.
See our chart, Top 32-inch LCD TVs for more information.