Cool New HDTVs for a Hot Summer

Here are ten HDTV models (either recently released or coming soon) that offer new looks, new technology, and more.

Cool New HDTVs

Summertime! Given that this is the season when parents struggle to get their kids away from the TV and into the playground, as well as the time when sun, sand, and surf beckon, it's hard to focus on what's happening in the living room.

But a slew of new HDTV sets are turning our sights back indoors. Here are ten interesting HDTVs either recently released or waiting in the wings. Some sport cool new looks. Others boast enhanced features, either providing surround sound without surround speakers or offering new capabilities at a lower price. And many of them are going for the green, sipping electricity in ever smaller amounts.

None of these models have yet made their way to the PC World Test Center, so we can't yet verify their image- and sound-quality claims. But they do seem promising, and we're looking forward to getting our hands on them.

Panasonic TC-P54Z1

Size: 54 inches

Technology: Plasma

Available: Now

Other than the power cord, you don't have to hook any cables into the Panasonic TC-P54Z1. You plug HDMI and other inputs into a separate box that also contains the TV tuner and receives the remote control signals. The tuner box sends video and audio information, including uncompressed 1080p content, to the TC-P54Z1 wirelessly "at nearly the same speed as an HDMI cable," according to Panasonic. The result: a sleek, 1-inch-thick TV, with no nest of cables attached to the back.

Ethernet-equipped and Internet-ready, the TC-P54Z1 allows you access to a number of Web-based services, such as Amazon Video on Demand and YouTube. Other features include THX certification, the ability to view photos and videos stored on SD Card, and a 40,000-to-1 contrast ratio.

Toshiba SV670 (46SV670U and 55SV670U)

Size: 46 and 55 inches

Technology: LED-backlit LCD

Available: Now

LCD models, as plasma fans like to point out, can't deliver strong contrast or deep blacks. LED backlighting helps mitigate that problem, while also improving one of LCD's major advantages over plasma: lower power consumption. By dimming the backlight behind dark parts of the screen, low-energy LEDs make on-screen shadows as dark as they should be.

Also thanks to LED backlighting, Toshiba's SV670 line promises a 2,000,000-to-1 contrast ratio. According to the company, the set even looks great when turned off, thanks to the "Deep Lagoon Design with Infinity Flush Front" that's "inspired by nature and reminiscent of sand disappearing below the surface of calm shores." To my eyes, judging from this photo, it looks like a flat-screen TV.

Other features include multimedia via USB and SD Card ports, full DivX video support, Dolby Volume (which levels out audio extremes), and Energy Star compliance.

Vizio VF1XVT

Size: 55 inches

Technology: LED-backlit LCD

Available: September

When we think of LCD televisions that use LED (as opposed to fluorescent) backlighting, three things come to mind: a better picture, a lower electric bill, and a higher sticker price. But Vizio expects the 55-inch VF1XVT LED HDTV to sell for only $2200 when it debuts in September. That's less than half the price we saw on the LED-backlit Samsung LN55A950 when we reviewed that set in April.

With LEDs, an HDTV can control when and where the backlighting is bright. By intelligently dimming the backlighting in some portions of the screen but not in others, LED-backlit screens can provide deeper blacks and better contrast than conventional LCDs.

Other features include a 240Hz refresh rate, technology that promises to eliminate unwanted audio volume fluctuations, and SRS Labs' TruSurround HD, which Vizio claims will produce surround sound without external speakers. But until I hear it, I'll assume that TruSurround isn't true surround.

Hitachi UltraVision L55S603

Size: 55 inches

Technology: LCD

Available: September

The largest model in Hitachi's forthcoming UltraVision series doesn't sound like an exceptional TV features-wise, but the price is certainly right. For $1799 list (the actual street price will probably be lower), you get a 55-inch set from an established manufacturer.

You also get Energy Star compliance, five HDMI inputs, and a glossy black bezel frame. Slim and light, the set can easily swivel to change the picture angle. Its 120Hz refresh rate should keep action running smoothly.

Hitachi offers the superenthusiastic promise of "spectacular color, razor sharp images and lifelike realism." I doubt that the L55S603 will produce a perfect image (few sets ever do), but this model might just turn out to be the best TV of its size in its price range.

Mitsubishi Unisen 249 Diamond Series

Size: 46 and 52 inches

Technology: LCD

Available: August

Most HDTVs come with two built-in speakers. Most home theater sound systems come with five to seven satellite speakers, plus a subwoofer. But HDTVs in Mitsubishi's Unisen series come with 16 built-in speakers--an arrangement that the company claims can replicate the full 5.1 experience.

I'm skeptical. Until I hear it myself, I won't believe that any number of speakers built into the TV--and therefore directly in front of you--can produce surround sound the same way speakers beside you or behind you can. But Mitsubishi's approach, with an elaborate setup and all those speakers shooting off sound in different directions, might come close.

Among other features, the Unisen sets each have a 1-inch frame, 120Hz refresh, Energy Star 3.0 compliance, and a backlight that Mitsubishi says reproduces about 25 percent more color than other LCDs.

Sony Bravia VE5 (KDL-52VE5, KDL-46VE5, and KDL-40VE5)

Size: 40, 46, and 52 inches

Technology: LCD

Available: July

Sony is jumping on the power-efficiency bandwagon with this series of LCD HDTVs. According to the company, each set's hot cathode fluorescent lamp cuts power consumption by up to 40 percent. A light sensor reduces waste further by adjusting the brightness to match the ambient light, and a motion sensor can turn off the TV when it detects that no one is in the room.

In fact, the VE5 may be the first HDTV that you can actually turn off completely. It comes with what Sony describes as a "zero-watt standby Energy Saving Switch," which you turn off and on manually.

The 120Hz sets all have USB multimedia ports and four HDMI inputs.

Vizio VT Series (VT420M and VT470M)

Size: 42 and 47 inches

Technology: LCD

Available: July

When Vizio talks about "Java color treatment," it isn't referring to browser add-ons but to the brownish color of the VT Series frame. With beveled edges, a hint of red, and a gray bar at the bottom, the VT models are distinctive-looking HDTVs.

A TV's outer appearance, of course, is minor compared with what it can show on the screen. Though the 120Hz refresh rate is last's year's "wow" technology, the VT Series still promises to deliver a good image. Vizio's Smooth Motion Video technology is supposed to reduce judder for more fluid action.

The sets are also slated to include SRS Labs' TruSurround HD, which claims to offer surround sound without surround speakers (I'm skeptical), and a USB port for viewing photos and listening to music. The TVs are Energy Star 3.0 compliant, too; in fact, Vizio claims that each one uses 15 percent less energy than the Energy Star specs require.

Philips 7000 Series

Size: 42, 47, and 52 inches

Technology: LCD

Available: July

Philips is also offering a line of low-power-consumption big-screen HDTVs. The company claims that the 7000 series exceeds Energy Star 3.0 compliance by an average of 24 percent. When it's on, the 42-inch 42PFL7704 uses only half the power of its predecessor, the 42PFL5352D, and a fifth of the power when in standby mode.

Part of the savings comes from proprietary dimming technology that automatically adjusts the backlight to fit the ambient light. Those adjustments should also improve image quality.

Each set provides four HDMI 1.3 inputs, a USB port for photo and music presentation, a 120Hz refresh rate, and special processing to remove the halo effect from fast-moving objects.

Sony Bravia W Series (KDL-52W5100, KDL-46W5100, and KDL-40W5100)

Size: 40, 46, and 51 inches

Technology: LCD

Available: Now

Sony's Internet-capable HDTVs provide entertainment of the sort you could otherwise watch only on a computer. Through an ethernet port (which means you have to figure out a way to get ethernet into your living room), the HDTVs can show Amazon Video on Demand, YouTube, and (of course) Sony-owned properties. Netflix Instant Queue playback is coming this fall, as well. You can also personalize your viewing experience with widgets (based on the Yahoo Widget Engine) to get news feeds and other information while you watch TV.

The 120Hz LCDs can present photos, music, and video stored on your PC (via your home network), as well as on a USB storage device. Other features include TV Guide Onscreen and four HDMI inputs.

Westinghouse Digital SK-32H635S

Size: 32 inches

Technology: LCD

Available: Now

Here's something small for a change.

Having people crowd around a 32-inch television would be difficult, but the 176-degree viewing angle of the SK-32H635S should make it visible to almost anyone who isn't sitting behind it.

The set offers a modest 2500-to-1 contrast ratio, a gaming-friendly 6.5ms response time, Energy Star 3.0 compliance, and an antiglare coating (which Westinghouse calls "DayBright technology") to improve daytime viewing.

The SK-32H635S can't handle a 1080p signal, and has to downgrade 1080i to display on its 1366 by 768 screen, but a 32-inch set doesn't really need 1080 lines of resolution anyway.

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