The external appearance of the Vizio L37HDTV won't turn any heads, but neither will it embarrass its owner while sitting out in the open. The screen does have an unusually large amount of cabinet between its edge and the side of the entire panel, which leads to bigger overall dimensions--37.8 by 29.9 by 12.2 inches HWD with stand--than many 37-inch LCDs. Silver-and-black coloring guarantees that the L37HDTV will blend in with most sets on the market these days, although the TV brings a bit of flair, rounding the top edge of the (nondetachable) silver speaker section slightly as it emerges from under the black frame. A row of basic controls can be felt under the frame, while a set of A/V inputs with S-Video hides on the right side.
Vizio's remote and menu system remain unchanged from the L32HDTV. The clicker's numerous nonbacklit keys lack much differentiation, which makes finding the key you want, such as Wide to change aspect ratio, relatively difficult. We also wish the remote offered another way to select inputs other than moving through each one sequentially. It offers extensive control of picture-in-picture, though, and it can command three other pieces of gear.
The set's internal menu system is bare-bones basic, although we appreciated that the User picture settings differed for each input. The three Vivid presets are all basically the same, and while there aren't any choices for different color temperatures, the out-of-box color temperature was accurate enough (see below). The presence of an adjustable backlight, a picture control that's become increasingly common on LCDs, was welcome when we adjusted the set for dim-room viewing.
While the Vizio L37HDTV's selection of inputs is adequate considering its price, we did notice a couple missing links. There's just one HDMI input, although we're willing to bet that most viewers of this less-expensive HDTV won't miss the second. More glaring is the lack of a rear-panel S-Video input; the only such jack is found on the side. Other connections include two component-video inputs, two composite video inputs, one VGA-style PC input (1,366x768 maximum resolution) and two RF inputs: one to connect to the ATSC tuner and the other for analog antenna or cable sources. There's also an analog audio output and an optical digital output for surround soundtracks from the ATSC tuner.
As usual, we began our critical viewing session by adjusting the Vizio for the optimum picture in our darkened home theater. After tweaking the set's user controls and calibrating its color temperature, we set it up next to a few other LCDs we had onhand, all of which cost more than the Vizio: the Sharp LC-37D90U, the Dell W3706MC, and Vizio's own L42HDTV.
The less-expensive L37HDTV held its own surprisingly well. We immediately noticed that it delivered a deeper level of black than most other budget LCDs we've seen; the letterbox bars and the field of black behind the titles of the Syriana HD-DVD, for example, were significantly darker than on the Dell. The field of black also remained constant across the screen, whereas many LCDs have bright spots, especially along the edges. Shadow detail was also solid. We could see all of the gradations from shadow to black in the leather jacket of Bob Barnes's (George Clooney) contact Arash in the Tehran club, for example. The deepest black areas were slightly tinged with blue but not nearly as badly as with some LCDs we've seen.