ViewSonic's designers went the all-black route with the N3260W's exterior. The relatively thick frame around its screen has rounded-off edges and bottom-mounted speakers. The clean look is interrupted only by the prominent ViewSonic, HDMI, and SRS Surround logos, as well as a nondimmable green LED. On the right side of the set, you'll find a headphone jack and a column of buttons to control basic functions. Including the stand, the N3260W measures 32.3 by 25.6 by 9.1 inches and weighs 48 pounds.
The remote gets the job done with little fanfare, although it has a few functions we appreciate. We especially like its four direct-access buttons for inputs, a couple of which double up; selecting sources is a relative breeze. Though the button arrangement is generally well thought out, you'll find a number of apparently useless keys. A set of eight buttons atop the wand, with labels such as STB and VCR, would seem to allow the clicker to command other devices, but the manual makes no mention of programmability and lists no infrared codes. There are even useless play, record, and rewind keys at the bottom, along with two unlabeled buttons that, again, don't seem to do a thing.
The ViewSonic N3260W has all of the features we expect on an LCD TV, starting with the federally mandated ATSC tuner. There's a picture-in-picture mode with inset and side-by-side options that offers more flexibility than many we've seen, including the ability to adjust the transparency of the inset image. The set's selection of aspect-ratio modes is healthier than that of any TV we've reviewed recently, with six choices for both HD and SD sources: 1:1, Normal, Wide, Zoom, Anamorphic, and Fill All. The 1:1 mode matches the incoming resolution exactly to the pixels without any scaling; Wide stretches the sides more than the middle to fill the screen but not overly distort talking heads, for example; and Anamorphic stretches the image vertically, acting as a sort of superzoom.
Along with independent input memories, ViewSonic includes two preset picture modes that can't be adjusted. There are four color-temperature presets, with Warm coming closest (but not close enough) to the standard. The adjustable backlight controls overall light output, and turning it down improves black levels, but as with many other LCDs, its setting isn't saved individually for each input.
The N3260W has a fairly standard input selection, with a single HDMI jack; two component-video inputs; two A/V inputs with S-Video; a VGA-style PC input with a recommended resolution of 1,360x768; and two RF inputs (one for antenna and one for cable). Both the HDMI and PC inputs have separate audio inputs, and there's an audio output along with an RS-232 port for custom installations--a rarity among LCD TVs. Of course, we'd like a second HDMI jack, as found on the Dell W3201C, and side-panel inputs would be nice, but we don't expect either of them at this price.
In the lab, we adjusted the ViewSonic N3260W for optimum performance in a darkened room and compared it against a couple other LCDs we had on hand: the Samsung LN-S4051D and the Sharp LC-37D40U. The less expensive, 32-inch N3260W couldn't compete against the other two in terms of delivering deep blacks; the letterbox bars and shadows under the docked ship on the King Kong DVD, for example, appeared noticeably lighter than on the other two. We also saw significantly less detail in the ViewSonic's shadows; the face of the cabbie and the boxes along the dock were obscured by the darkness, while the other two sets appeared more detailed in these areas.