- Review Price: £628.00
Sony, Toshiba, Samsung, Panasonic, Acer – which one is the odd one out? If you’re in the market for a new TV, it won’t be hard to work it out. The thing is, while consumers are happy to place down large amounts of cash to buy expensive TVs from the big brands, many would be reticent about doing the same from a company known mainly for PCs and notebooks.
Of course, this isn’t just a problem for Acer. Many big names from the PC space are trying to become known as consumer brands as well, and the issue of brand awareness is something they all face, whether it be HP and Microsoft, or Relisys and Viewsonic. It’s one thing for the likes of Sony to move into PCs, but it’s much harder to do it the other way round.
Acer is at least known for its range of PC flat panel monitors so that might count in its favour. But the Acer AL2671W is much more than just a big monitor. When I reviewed the Samsung 730MP I pondered whether it should be considered primarily as a monitor with a built-in TV, or the other way round. There’s not really any need for debate here. What you get for your money is a widescreen 16:10 aspect ratio panel with a viewable diagonal size of 26in, a built-in analogue tuner and a native resolution of ‘only’ 1,280 x 768 – there’s no doubt that this is a TV. If more proof were needed, in the box, you’ll also find a Scart lead, and a Component to Scart cable as well as an analogue D-Sub cable.
The native resolution of the screen is of course significant as it conforms almost exactly to the HDTV 720p standard, though to get content of that quality in the UK, you’re not going to be using the in-built TV Tuner, at least not for another decade or so. Rather you’ll be using the screens DVI connection, from a next generation follow up to DVD, whether it turns out to be HD-DVD or Blu-ray. However, while Sky is broadcasting HDTV from 2006, it has confirmed that to watch, displays will require HDCP (High Bandwidth Content Protection) support, via HDMI or DVI.
HDCP is actually an Intel conceived technology designed to encrypt digital signals and has been widely adopted across the consumer electronics industry. From the specs available for the Acer, there’s no indication that it is indeed compliant, unlike the recently reviewed Viewsonic N3000W. One would imagine that if it did support it, Acer would shout it from the rooftops. The web page for the organization that licenses HDCP provides a list of licensees at http://www.digital-cp.com and Acer isn’t listed. Then again neither is Viewsonic so it may be a red herring.
The absence of HDCP support would be a big shame as while the format battle between HD-DVD and Blu-ray goes on, it’s likely that Sky’s broadcasts will be the most readily available source HD content in the UK. In fact, the lack of support might well explain how Acer is able to offer the screen at such a competitive price. An HDCP licence costs money and by foregoing support Acer may be passing on the saving.
This is actually the second 26in LCD TV we’ve looked at, the first being the Dell W2600. This impressed us for its quality and its value at less than a £1,000 including VAT. The Acer here though, blows that out of the water, with street prices as low as £620. My only issue with Acer is that 26in is a difficult size for a screen. It’s really too small to act as main home cinema display and too big for use as an everyday PC monitor. However, if you want a second TV it could be just what you’re looking for.
Design wise, the Acer doesn’t look as posh as the Dell, though it’s not too shabby. As a TV it’s likely to be more on show than most monitors so aesthetics are important and Acer has done a reasonable job. The panel is surrounded by a black bezel, that helps to enhance the picture, and this is itself encased in a silver surround with the speakers integrated on either side. The Acer logo is quite subtly, and indeed tastefully, placed at the bottom centre, unlike some products which overly draw attention to the fact that they’re produced by a company you’ve never heard of. Where Acer could perhaps have done better is that the speaker grilles look a little plasticy and have too much flex in them.
To the right of the logo are a row of smart silver buttons. One is for switching inputs, and next to this you have volume and channel buttons for the TV Tuner. There’s also a button for direct access to the on screen menu display (OSD). The power switch is a slightly larger silver button, which glows red when on standby and blue when the display is powered on. To the right of this is the infra-red receiver for the remote control that duplicates all of the functions available on the front panel and adds many more, such as setting up the in-built sleep timer.
So often remotes are poorly thought out, flimsy affairs, but that’s not the case with this one. Powered by two AAA batteries, it feels solid in the hand and looks good too. It’s also not too small, with all the buttons nicely spaced out. A central selection button is surrounded by four buttons for navigating the OSD. There’s also direct buttons for Fast Teletext pages and for switching between the screens six preset brightness and contrast modes, via the larger ‘E’ button. The menu button on either the remote or the front of the panel brings up the OSD, which is clear, and logically laid out. There’s also a button that enables you to alter the picture shape to get the most suitable aspect ratio for the programme you are watching.
The panel rests on a curved stand that supports its fairly hefty 17.8Kg weight. It can’t be raised, lowered or titled forward or back but it can be rotated side to side by an angle of 20 degrees. It can also be hung on a wall using the standard VESA mounting screws.
Connectivity wise there’s a decent, though not exhaustive, amount of options. For the PC you’ll find an analogue D-Sub and next to this a DVI connection for a PC or DVD player. Along with the power connector, these are very awkwardly placed and I literally had to tilt the screen forward and balance it on one arm in order to make the hook up.
On the pure video side, you’ll find a composite connector at the front, with accompanying left and right RCA inputs for audio. There’s also a headphone socket should you wish to listen without disturbing anybody. Round the back you’ll find two European style Scart sockets, one accepting RGB,S-Video, and composite signals and the other supporting RGB, S-Video, Composite, and Component. There’s no dedicated six-pin S-Video however. Finally, there is a line-in, so you can feed the screen audio from a PC.
The TV tuner offered up an automatic detection routine but it proved to not be as sensitive as the tuner in the Dell, and struggled with the very weak reception we currently have in the TrustedReviews offices, producing a very snowy picture. Use a decent external aerial however, and everything should be fine. The Picture-in-Picture function was very easy to use. Fully controllable from the remote, you can move the screen to the corner you want, and swap round which image is the primary, all at the press of a button.
So what of the quality of the images that the Acer AL2671W produces? I noticed immediately that the screen was impressively bright. The 1,280 x 768 resolution means that it’s acceptable to use for as a PC display – indeed I typed this whole review using the screen, though I had to turn the brightness down as at the standard setting you’ll soon get a headache sitting too close. Using this screen for everyday use would be overkill but it would look fantastic as the display for a Media Center type system.
I started the tests with Display Mate and was immediately impressed by the way it handled colours, – steady and true. The grey scale and colour ramping tests also showed near perfect fades. Viewing angles were also impressive, so those seated to the side will be able to view the action without seeing incorrect colours or hues.
Next I moved on to testing with a DVD, played on a PC using a DVI connection. The test disc used, Stuart Little, is full of intentionally over-bright colours. The panel’s contrast ratio is given as 600:1 and it certainly seemed able to deliver a good range of tones. The screen proved almost too sharp though, as close up you can really see the MPEG2 compression having to work hard with brightly coloured static backgrounds.
Where the screen really impresses though is when you feed it high definition footage. Though you can’t receive it via broadcasting in the UK, you can however, easily download some in either Microsoft WMV format or in DiVX HD. We played some trailers in the latter format and the picture quality was nothing short of stunning. The DiVX trailer for ‘Meet the Fockers’ has a resolution of 1,280 x 720 and is a near perfect match for the actual pixels on the Acer. While Ben Stiller and the rest of the cast were trying to make me laugh, the picture quality was so good, I was almost weeping. Watching HD on a display like this makes even DVD look ordinary.
The final test, was one that would really put the 16ms response time through its paces – gaming. To make the most of this large screen, I fired up Half-Life 2 and Counter-Strike: Source. This has a widescreen mode and offered up aresolution of 1,280 x 768. To get a smooth frame rate I was hooked up to an Evesham system we have in for review, powered by two nVidia 6800GT graphics cards in SLI configuration. My impression of the image was actually slightly disappointing initially – it looked very grainy. I soon realised that I’d turned up anti-aliasing to 6x in the game, which isn’t actually supported by nVidia. Dropping to 4x kicked anti-aliasing into gear and made for a jaw droppingly good image. Playing Counter-Strike: Source on a large widescreen display, with silky smooth frame rates and surround sound is pretty much the definition of gaming nirvana, and I must admit it kept me glued to the testing seat for hours. You could also enjoy proper widescreen gaming from all the modern consoles.
As for sound, the built-in speakers do a good job with various modes to play with. Volume levels are decent and the SRS Wow mode did enhance the sound, as did the Tru Bass mode. The surround mode widens the sound stage but if you want to use this for serious movie watching a dedicated surround set is the way to go.
It’s pretty clear that I was very impressed by the Acer AL2671W. True, its design is marred by awkward access to some connections and the looks are reasonable but I couldn’t complain about the image quality. The most amazing thing about it though is the asking price – with a street price of around £630, it’s about £280 less that the recommended Dell W2600 that offers the same screen size. True the Dell does also offers an optional memory card slot, offers two sets of component inputs, supplies a DVI cable and shades it on image quality, but when you compare the price there’s no contest. The biggest potential issue for prospective buyers would be the uncertainty over HDCP support, which could severely limit the screens future-proofness. (I am currently waiting to hear back from Acer regarding this issue and as soon as I have confirmed this with Acer, I will update the review).
There’s no getting away from the fact that the Acer AL2671W is a fantastic display. It’s smart, easy-to-use, and delivers great picture quality. The caveats are having only two Scart connections, the lack of six-pin S-Video inputs, and the uncertainty over HDCP support. However, considering the fact that you’d normally expect to pay at least £200 more for an LCD TV of the same size, you’ve nevertheless got a product that offers astonishingly good value.
It’s taken a while but Acer has contacted us to confirm that the AL2671W’s DVI port is indeed HDCP compliant, which is good news for anyone in the UK wanting to watch HDTV from Sky in 2006. Acer now just needs to get the manual updated to make this clear.
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We test every TV we review thoroughly over an extended period of time. We use industry standard tests to compare features properly. We’ll always tell you what we find. We never, ever, accept money to review a product.
Score in detail
Image Quality 9