MP3 and PVP picture quality: viewing tests
After our extensive lab tests, it was time to see how the units would perform with real images. All the issues that we have been discussing come together and are automatically weighted by the eye during the visual testing. So, for the shoot-out-style viewing tests, we compared all six players simultaneously, side by side, showing identical content and comparing them to each other and to a carefully calibrated digital HDTV connected to a PC. I used a large selection of challenging images that we have for evaluating HDTVs. The viewing tests confirmed everything that we had already learned with the lab measurements. The best four players did a very nice job. The most notable issue is that their images have a bit too much punch, due to the excessive picture contrast. The two other players (the Apple iPod and Creative Zen Vision) had the opposite problem: too little contrast and color saturation.
Photos looked somewhat overexposed on all the players, except for the Apple iPod, on which they appeared a bit washed out, and the Creative Zen Vision, where they looked significantly washed out. Videos on all of the players, except the Creative Zen Vision, looked quite good but with a bit too much contrast; again, they seemed a bit washed out on the iPod and significantly washed out on the Creative Zen Vision.
The players are actually set more accurately than most home TVs. That's fortunate because the players don't have any effective user controls, so they have to be visually fine-tuned at the factory. Overall, the picture quality of the best players was very good but certainly not as good as you'll see with a high-quality DVD or DVR player connected to a home-theater TV. Similarly, when the players are connected to a TV using composite-video cables, the picture quality was also very good but, again, not on a par with a home-theater system. In the end, the picture quality for all of the players will most likely be limited by the quality of the source material.