Allio ATVI-3G4542 42-inch HDTV With Built-In PC
Tuesday, May 5, 2009; 12:18 AM
For $2800 (as of April 22, 2009), you'd expect to get more than a 42-inch LCD HDTV. And sure enough, the Allio ATVI-3G4542 gives you more--a built-in, 64-bit personal computer running Windows Vista Home Premium. But the HDTV and PC components of the ATVI-3G4542 don't play well together, and each is exceedingly difficult to use. On top of that, this TV's image quality does not justify its premium price.
The ATVI-3G4542 delivered middle-of-the-road performance in the PC World Test Center's image quality tests. Its pictures were frequently too bright, often to the point of looking washed out. Long shots especially suffered from pixilation; one judge used the term "pixel blob" to describe how both people and fast-moving cars looked from a distance. And the HD HQV Benchmark Video Resolution Loss Test showed that the ATVI-3G4542 suffers from a pretty serious case of overscan.
Nevertheless, we spotted details in many scenes that were rarely visible in other TVs. For instance, in an According to Jim clip, we could see details in Courtney Thorne-Smith's dark sweater that many other HDTVs we've tested failed to resolve.
The ATVI-3G4542 sounds a lot better than it looks. Though its pseudo-surround sound could hardly be mistaken for the real thing, it conveys as good a feeling of depth and immersion as anything you're likely to hear running on only two speakers. In a scene in Chapter 2 of The Phantom of the Opera (on Blu-ray Disc), a man's quiet voice is replaced by the loud blast of an organ--and the ATVI-3G4542's dynamic range delivered the intended dramatic effect quite forcefully.
Of course, for top-of-the-line dynamic range and surround sound, you need at least five directional speakers and a subwoofer. The ATVI-3G4542's built-in PC can deliver this sound through computer speakers, but only when playing a program from the PC. (Like any HDTV, this unit can also output sound to a home-theater amplifier.)
Combining a large TV with a built-in Windows Media Center PC provides a number of benefits. The TV becomes its own DVR; and with the right hardware and software (which the ATVI-3G4542 has), you get a built-in Blu-ray player. You also have access to USB ports, photo slideshows, MP3 support, YouTube, Pandora, and Netflix streaming. Put it another way: If you can view it or listen to it on a Windows PC, you can do the same on the ATVI-3G4542--assuming that you can figure out how. Though the ATVI-3G4542 consists of a PC and an HDTV in the same box, the two are rather poorly integrated. For instance, the TV becomes the PC's monitor only via a short HDMI cable connecting two ports on the same device, instead of being connected via an internal cable; and this design lapse effectively eats up one of the two HDMI ports. The set comes with three remotes--one for the TV and two for the PC--plus a wireless keyboard. The PC and the TV even have separate power switches.
Good luck finding the PC's power switch. According to the manual, it is "located below the television control cluster"--but there is no illustration, and the word "cluster" appears nowhere else in the manual. (As a public service, I should point out that the switch in question is located on the left side of the TV, above the optical drive, and nowhere near anything that might reasonably be called a television control cluster.) Once Windows was up and running, its text was hard to read from a comfortable TV-viewing distance, and the keyboard worked only sporadically.
Setting up and using the ATVI-3G4542 as an HDTV isn't much easier. All TV inputs and PC ports--not just the HDMI and AV inputs, but also the PC's six USB ports and even the headphone jack--are on the back of the set, facing down, which makes them extremely difficult to access. Once you know how much effort is involved, you'll think twice before plugging anything into the ATVI-3G4542.
This set isn't especially easy to use once you get everything plugged in, either. The main menu doesn't explain the various options, and it responds to the remote in unexpected ways. For instance, if you want to adjust contrast, you select the option, press the remote's Enter button, and then use the left and right arrow buttons to adjust the settings on the slider bar at the bottom of the screen--just as you'd expect. But when you're done, pressing Enter a second time accomplishes nothing. To leave the slider bar and return to the menus, you have to press Menu, which is unusual for an HDTV.
The menu lacks some important options. There's no Advanced Video submenu for video geeks, and no parental control menu for parents who want ot put some programming off limits (you are allowed to lock up the TV entirely with a password, however).
The remote control is neither backlit nor programmable. The important keys are reasonably well placed, but Mute and Display are somewhat small.
The Allio ATVI-3G4542 is a good idea for an HDTV. But its poor integration and uninspiring image quality leaves me thinking that I'd be better off plugging another PC into another TV. And for a lot less money, you can get an HDTV that does its job better than the Allio does--the 46-inch Samsung LN46A630, for example, or the 42-inch Sharp LC-42D85U or even the 37-inch Samsung LN37A550.