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RCA digital big screen

RCA MM36100 Digital TV

Big Screen Doubles as Computer Monitor

By Jim Bray

RCA's MM36100 Digital TV is 190 pounds of real home theater excitement.

It's a 36 inch "direct view" (as opposed to "projection") TV that offers a great picture and has enough other technological toys crammed into it to treat technophiles everywhere.

The MM36100 is the "entry level" ($2499!) model in RCA's Digital High Resolution series and can show up to 864,000 pixels, or 930 lines of Horizontal Resolution. This means it'll handle just about any signal you'd care to throw at it short of HDTV, and if you add an optional "set top" box you can approach that quality, too - though you won't get HDTV's 16x9 widescreen aspect ratio.

The TV's also an excellent example of the technological "convergence" that's seeing television becoming available on computers, while computers are raising their pretty little heads just about everywhere else. No kidding!

This TV set also doubles as a REALLY BIG computer monitor in a beautiful bit of flexibility that's sure to please anyone who wants to play PC games in the family room. As long as you have a PC in the family room, of course.

I don't normally have a PC there, but I wasn't about to let the opportunity slip away, either - so I dragged my PC from my home office, plugged it into the big RCA, and fired it up.

Wow! There's something almost decadent about sitting on the couch, with your feet up on the coffee table and a wireless keyboard/mouse on your lap, writing your latest column, surfing the Internet, or playing "Age of Empires" on this giant monitor. It doesn't seem like work.

I was initially disappointed to discover that, as a PC monitor, the RCA only displays 800x600 (SVGA) pixels. I generally run 1280x1024 on my 19" PC monitor, so the lower resolution seemed claustrophobic. It didn't take much "real world use", however, to discover that a higher resolution probably wouldn't have worked well anyway, because icons and the like would be too darn small to read from across the room.

So 800x600 is actually a pretty smart compromise; it's also a resolution with which many people are already comfortable.

The average consumer may not use the MM36100 as a computer monitor, but if it's something you crave, it's there.

As a TV, the big RCA has lots of stuff to love. Its picture quality is very good indeed, especially if you set it up properly using test patterns like those offered on discs like the "Video Essentials" DVD. Once properly tweaked, and when using high quality video sources like DVD or DBS, the MM36100 looks great.

The curving surface of the large screen leads to potential problems with washout from your room lights (my home theater's cursed with this at the best of times, unfortunately), and there's some distortion evident when straight lines are displayed, but it's never really annoying.

Besides, evils like that are more than made up for by the wonderful size (especially when watching movies) and the fine picture quality.

The TV also includes dbx noise reduction and SRS (Sound Retreival System) audio that gives a surround effect from its built in speakers. Sound quality is about what you'd expect from a TV: it's fine for TV programs, but in a home theater environment you're far better off patching it into your A/V receiver and using your main speakers.

There are seven sets of Audio/Video inputs, including RCA/S-Video jacks, a Component input (for real high end video performance - and it makes a surprisingly big difference), 2 PC monitor inputs, and front-mounted A/V and USB Ports.

Outputs include a pair of fixed (constant level) audio and one pair of variable.

And there's more, including Picture in Picture, a "3-Line Digital Comb Filter" (which separates black-and-white detail from color data to prevent them from fighting), and RCA's Dark-Tint, High-Contrast Picture Tube. The tuner can receiver up to 181 channels of junk, and you can control access to them with the built-in V-Chip.

The TV's set up menu is easy to navigate (and to figure out!) and once you've chosen your preferred settings you can store them in memory.

The universal remote is pretty easy to use, though there's a bit of a learning curve.

Living with this big RCA was a hoot. It ain't cheap, but it's sure fun to watch!

Jim Bray's technology columns are distributed by the TechnoFILE and Mochila Syndicates. Copyright Jim Bray.

 

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Updated May 13, 2006