Editors' note (March 4, 2010): The rating on this product has been lowered because of changes in the competitive marketplace, including the release of 2010 models. The review has not otherwise been modified. Click here for more information.
Much like Vizio, budget TV brand Westinghouse has decided to capitalize on the usual energy-efficiency of small-screened LCDs. Its "greenvue" line, which includes the SK-H640G series, is said to surpass Energy Star by 20 percent. That's not a very high standard yet, however, and according to our tests, the 32-incher, while among the most efficient of its kind, will save you at most a few bucks a year over similar TVs. Compared with those TVs, it also came up a bit short in the picture quality and features departments, but simple its design and control scheme could appeal to bargain hunters fed up with a typical HDTVs' complexity.
Series note: We performed a hands-on evaluation of the 32-inch Westinghouse SK-H640G, but this review also applies to the 26-inch Westinghouse SK-26H640G. According to their specifications, the two models are identical but for screen size, so they should exhibit very similar picture quality.
Despite the "green" marketing, the Westinghouse SK-H640G series comes dressed in only glossy black, although a small gray strip along the bottom edge does provide a subtle accent. The set is more compact than many of its low-buck brethren, and we also approve of the looks of the oval-based stand, although sadly it doesn't swivel.
The little remote seems cheap, and its loose battery cover fails to alleviate that impression. The buttons are grouped somewhat logically, but ease-of-use is spoiled by their small size and cryptic icons. One saving grace is the ability to directly access different input groups via dedicated buttons.
Speaking of cryptic icons, Westinghouse made the unusual decision to base its menu system around a row of often arbitrary symbols along the top of the screen, thankfully supplemented by yellow text names. Our favorite is the almost whimsical tube of mercury that represents, yes, color temperature (it's blue in the above image to signify "cool"). We wouldn't mind this simple arrangement, which seems more appropriate to an entry-level TV than the complex systems found on many competitors' models, if the company had included actual numbers along with the bar graphs representing levels for items like contrast and brightness. As it stands there's no easy way to dial in a particular setting, aside from counting pips on the bar.
Like most entry-level LCD TVs the Westinghouse has a native resolution of 1,366x768, or 720p, as opposed to the 1080p resolution found on step-up models. Of course, at this screen size the benefits of 1080p are negligible, except with computer sources, so we don't consider this feature omission a big deal. Nonetheless it's worth mentioning that unlike most 720p LCDs we've reviewed, the SK-H640G series cannot accept 1080p sources (although it can handle 1080i; see Performance for more details).
That wacky menu system hides a sparse selection of picture controls. Five presets are available but you can only adjust the one labeled Custom, which is not even independent per input. Worse is the fact that changing a parameter (like Brightness) when you're in another mode causes the set to revert to Custom, which erases whatever custom settings you have. This arrangement, combined with the Westinghouse's lack of numeric indicators as mentioned above, makes it one of the least-friendly TVs to adjust that we've encountered in a while.
Westinghouse neglected to include a slider for the backlight, instead restricting its control to three positions labeled Bright Room, Medium Room and Dark Room. Aside from the three color temperature presets, no advanced picture controls are available. Most sets in this price range, by contrast, at least offer controls for noise reduction and film mode, and most have significantly more.
Four aspect ratio controls are available for both standard- and high-def sources. The "1:1 mode" option with HD sources minimizes overscan, showing as much of the picture as possible, so we recommend using it unless you notice interference along the extreme edges.
The Westinghouse offers standard connectivity for the entry-level breed, with two HDMI and one each PC and component-video jacks, in addition to an RF input, and an optical digital audio output. The side panel adds an AV input with composite video.
The Westinghouse was certainly not among the best-performing LCDs in its class, exhibiting light black levels and issues with both standard- and high-def video processing. On the other hand, despite a paucity of controls, its color remained a strong point.