Dell W1900 LCD HDTV 
Home Theater Flat Panel HDTVs LCD HDTVs
Written by Bryan Dailey   
Tuesday, 01 November 2005

When most people think of Dell, they picture the dorky blond guy, Stephen, pitching $399 computers on TV with his catchphrase, “Dude, you’re getting a Dell!” Since the media phenomenon, Stephen has been busted for possession of pot and Dell has moved their marketing focus from selling PCs to expanding their product base to include a complete line of flat panel LCD and Plasma TVs. Their entry-level model is the 19-inch W1900 that retails for $599 at This TV has a stylish black finish and measures 23.8 inches wide, 12.2 inches tall, a mere 3.75 inches deep and weighs 22 pounds with the integrated speakers and stand attached. The included stand is for mounting the monitor on a desk. However, if you wish to wall-mount the TV, several types of Chief brand mounts can be purchased directly from Dell’s website. Most universal LCD mounts for 13- to 19-inch TVs should work with this set.

Small LCD TVs have come a long way in terms of both price and performance in recent years. When I first toyed with the idea of putting an LCD TV in my kitchen five years ago, a standard-def 4:3 aspect ratio 13-inch LCD would have set me back easily over $1,000 and that would have been for a set whose best available input format was S-video. With the $599 Dell, it’s quite apparent that you get a lot more for your money. This 19-inch 16:9 aspect ratio widescreen HDTV monitor has a native resolution of 1280 x 768 and includes a DVI input, a VGA input, two component HD video inputs, two composite video inputs, an S-Video input and a coaxial input. Each video input has a corresponding audio input for a stereo signal via RCA connectors. What about HDMI, you ask? Those of you who have done your home theater homework will know that DVI is mostly compatible with HDMI connections, so all you need is an HDMI to DVI cable, or an adapter should the source you wish to feed the TV be HDMI. Left, right and subwoofer audio outputs and a headphone jack round out the ins and outs on the bottom and sides of the W1900. A standard computer-type cable powers the set, so no silly wall wart is needed. Dell was nice enough to include all of the necessary cables to set up at least one piece of AV gear to each type of connector. This is a welcome addition, as you can find yourself dropping more money than you might expect on a DVI cable down at the local electronics store. You may need to consider an aftermarket fiber optic DVI cable if your set is located a long distance from the source, but for short runs, the included dual-link DVI cable is adequate and seemingly of good quality.

Dell claims the set has a 600:1 aspect ratio and a brightness of 450 nits. The stated viewing angle both horizontally and vertically in the instruction manual is 85 degrees, allowing you to stand virtually on the side of the TV and yet still be able to see the picture. This can be a big problem with many cheap LCDs, including the panels on many laptop computers, where even at a short distance off-axis, the picture basically becomes unwatchable. In my kitchen, I don’t watch the TV from a fixed position, but rather glance up at it occasionally while cooking or doing dishes and being able to see the screen from anywhere in the kitchen, even with the lights on during daytime with the windows open, is a very nice feature about this set. I calibrated the set using the AVIA set-up disc and found the picture to work great in both high and low ambient light settings. The richness of the colors was much improved over other popular sets that I have seen several times in various venues.

The stands on LCD TVs tend to be flimsy, cheap pieces of plastic that are easily broken. Not so with the W1900. It was not until I took the stand off to wall-mount the TV that I actually realized how substantial the stand is. There are beautiful chrome accent pieces on the base of the stand that give it an elegant look. The only monitors on the market I can think of that have a cleaner look are the new non-TV Apple LCD monitors. When positioned on the stand, there is a solid sense of balance with the wide footprint of the Dell stand. You can bump the set pretty hard and it won’t go tipping over backwards, forwards or sideways. Unlike CRT TVs that have a large square base and substantial weight, desk-mounted LCDs could be easily knocked over and damaged by a dog or cat jumping upon a desk or by a clumsy child or adult, so having a nice stand is important.

All of the buttons for the TV, such as power, volume, channel and the set-up menu are located on the right edge of the TV. They are silver rounded rectangles that poke out only about an eighth of an inch and are easy to press. Their corresponding labels are located on the front of the TV in the bottom corner. When the TV is turned on, the light switches to a soft, cool blue glow. The onscreen menus of the W1900 are some of the best-looking I have ever seen. They have soft, rounded edges and almost look cartoonish in nature. The user can change the color, location and transparent properties of the menus. There are a few quirks to the menu system, as it can be unintuitive to back out one level on a multi-level menu section. Using the side buttons on the TV for anything other than volume control can be futile, so the remote is quite beneficial to have nearby when you are going to change the settings on the TV.

The remote for the TV is made from a beautiful shiny black plastic material on top and has a rubberized base that keeps it from sliding off a coffee table or countertop. Since my TV is in the kitchen, I stuck a fat piece of Velcro to the refrigerator. I then put the other side of the Velcro on the back of the remote. The top of the remote is fairly flat, but the bottom part has a concave shape that made it a little tough to outfit with the Velcro. I put the Velcro towards the top end where the curved shaped end of the remote is at its lowest point. It holds okay, but I found that I had to add more Velcro than you might guess so that it does not peel off the bottom of the remote. I could have put the Velcro at the base of the remote, where there is a large flat spot. However, this is where the two AA batteries are located (and yes, batteries are included with your $599 purchase price).

Most people will not use the coaxial input on a TV like this, since they are going to feed it the signal from a satellite receiver or a digital cable box, so why spend the extra money on a monitor like this and not just slap a widescreen computer monitor on your wall and hook it up via DVI? Besides the fact that this set has multiple inputs for game systems, VCRs and other AV components, one of the primary reasons is that most computer monitors tend to not have built-in speakers, and when they do, they are generally horrible. The Dell W1900 has what appear to be long integrated speakers that look like ribbons on each side of the display, with a 14-watt amplifier powering them. It doesn’t sound like a lot of power, but it has enough juice to allow the TV to get to a volume that is still easily heard while running the dishwater, microwave and sink faucet at the same time. It’s not crystal clear audio, but it doesn't sound like its coming out of a cave, either. I have some other lower-end 15-inch LCDs from Magnavox in my bathrooms that have that smooth “tin-can on a string” sound, so by comparison, the sound from the Dell is rich and inviting. A mode called SRS TruSurround XT is included that simulates surround sound. However, I found it to just make the sound a bit more echoey. It’s hard to make it seem as if there are speakers in places where they don’t exist, but I’d imagine if you have this set in a small space, the rear wall reflections might better simulate this than my large kitchen area. Several equalizer modes are also available, including music, theater and voice. I found that the stock settings were the best on the set and any tweaking done to the sound was not really beneficial.

In my set-up, I have a PureLink by Dtrovision DVI one-in x two-out distributor that repeats the DVI signal that is going from my satellite receiver to my Integra DTR-10.5 receiver with HDMI switching. This same signal goes to the DVI input on the Dell TV. On one of the two available component video inputs I have run an output from an Integra DPS-10.5 DVD player to the Dell. The result of this set-up is that I can watch the same satellite programming, including HDTV broadcasts on both TVs, or I can watch a DVD on both screens at the same time, or I can watch satellite on one and a DVD on the other. The “optimal” viewing position for this TV in my system would be sitting on a granite countertop in front of the TV, so I don’t think I’ll ever be sitting down to watch a full two-hour movie or TV show on it, but I can have it on and seamlessly transition between my living room and power room without missing much action in a football game or a movie.

The Movies
Although I don’t watch this set for extended periods of time, many people will find this set large enough to use as a desktop system in an office or perhaps in a small bedroom system. Using the outstanding Integra DPS-10.5 DVD player, I watched some episodes from the first season of “Lost” (Buena Vista Home Entertainment), a disc that would challenge the black levels of any TV. Direct-view LCDs have an edge over plasmas and projection sets and on my large JVC set, the dark scenes in “Lost,” even via the HD over the air feed from ABC, are a struggle for my TV.

The airplane crash scene that happens in the opening episode is a spectacular example of special effects, sound effects and brilliant editing. The small pieces of the plane ripping apart and flying off the fuselage is unnerving, looks great on the Dell W1900 and sounds pretty damn scary, too, through the TV’s small speakers. As nightfall comes and the castaways are forced to huddle for shelter, I was looking forward to seeing if the dark picture would hold up on this set. The result was dramatically better black levels than my low-end Magnavox 15-inch sets and even better detail than my $2,500 JVC big screen. On those sets, the show “Lost” is a truly fitting name, as much of the detail of the characters’ clothing is lost in the dark backgrounds and only the bright spots from the campfire are what give the viewer a fighting chance at seeing any detail. The W1900’s black level performance was closer to a CRT set than I could get from the other sets in my home.

On the concert DVD Rush in Rio (Atlantic/Anthem), I paid particular attention to the accuracy of the set in terms of pixel refresh rate as drummer extraordinaire Neil Peart worked through the complex rhythms of this Canadian prog rock trio. The component input of the set was a nice match for the Integra DVD player and the picture on this quality widescreen music concert disc was vibrant and had some good depth for a fairly small screen. The picture seemed deep and more three-dimensional than most little TVs and the motion of Peart’s arms and sticks did not get blurry.

Having watched the majority of TV in the past year on my 61-inch rear-projection JVC D-ILA set, I was spoiled when it came to watching beautiful 720p and 1080i broadcasts. However, the standard definition feed from my satellite dish has always been a little disappointing. It basically ends up being a simple math equation: when you put a standard definition signal on a huge display device, any flaws in the picture are going to be magnified. On the Dell, I was pleasantly surprised to find that the standard definition signal from my satellite receiver via the DVI connection and the S-video connection from the second tuner on my Dish Network double-output 942 DVR looked smooth and didn’t suffer the same problem I have with my big set.

Watching horse racing on a standard definition channel like HGTV can be a disaster on many HDTVs, as the feed from the satellites at the tracks around the world tend to be of questionable quality, and on many TVs, there are choppy, pixilated blocks around the horses as they run around the track. This is minimized on the Dell, as I was able to discern nice detail between the horses as they were bunched up around the far turn on a replay of this year's Kentucky Derby. This seems implausible, but I think this set, besides looking great as an HD monitor, does a good job of making a bad signal look better than you are used to seeing if your eyes are accustomed to anything over a 42-inch display.

Watching sports on a low-end LCD can be painful, as the refresh rate of the screens tend to be slow. A baseball or football flying across the screen will seem glitchy and hard to follow. Even Fox’s famous glow puck wouldn’t be able to salvage a hockey game on a bad LCD. Motion artifacts on the Dell were minimal as I watched the undefeated USC Trojans keep their 28-game winning streak alive against Notre Dame with their last second, come from behind win. Grid lines on a football screen cause lots of dot crawl problems. With the HD feed going into the TV, these were barely noticeable. Switching to the non-HD feed required me to hit the “size” button on the remote to set the TV in 4:3 aspect ratio mode. Otherwise, the picture would have been stretched. The TV can be set in any of the following screen size modes: standard, zoom, 4:3, widescreen and full-screen. When changing from full screen to 4:3, gray bars fill the side of the screen.

Watching the game for a bit via the composite video input from my second tuner built into the Dish Network 942 satellite receiver, it was obvious that this is an inferior connection compared to the DVI input. However, the colors of the player uniforms, the green grass on the field and the detail of the fans in the stands were above average compared to similarly-priced sets that I have seen.

Computer Monitor
Since this monitor can function as a computer screen, I took a feed from my Compaq PC laptop and connected it to the VGA input on the TV. My laptop already has widescreen aspect ratio, so seeing the screen on the TV was not a shocker, but for those of you who are used to a regular square CRT monitor, the widescreen look of your computer desktop is a cool change, giving you enough space to put two full websites side by side. It worked quite well as a computer monitor, except for one little hiccup that I will tell you about next.

The Downside
My biggest knock on this TV is that the VGA and DVI input cannot be connected at the same time. If you have a computer plugged into the VGA connector and a satellite receiver or a DVD player plugged into the DVI connector at the same time, the TV doesn’t like this and neither item will work until you unplug one or the other. This leads me to believe the two inputs share some internal components, which would make sense, as the two inputs are side by side on the bottom of the TV. The instruction manual alludes more to people using that input for connecting their computer, rather than as part of a home theater set-up. However, the entire reason I put this TV in my system was the fact that it was one of the few 19-inch LCD TVs with a tuner and speakers I found that actually had a DVI input. With the satellite receiver hooked up to the DVI input, I am now not able to use it with my laptop computer as a monitor unless I unhook the DVI cable. If you have your computer hooked up via DVI or VGA, you can use the picture in picture to watch any of the other inputs simultaneously while on the computer, but it’s a shame the DVI and VGA inputs can’t operate independently of each other at the same time.

Powering up the TV takes a few seconds and, although this is not anything close to the nearly one full minute that my JVC rear projection TV takes, it is a little annoying to have to wait for the picture to come on. I found this to be most troublesome when a friend of mine would yell, “Hey did you see that punch?” during a boxing match while I was in the kitchen and I’d rush to turn the set on to catch the instant replay. Of course, the pause button on a DVR can solve this problem, but you’ll want to be aware that it takes a little time for the picture to show up when turning on the set.

The menus of the TV, although clean and well laid-out, can be a little difficult to navigate. It’s not always obvious which icon gets you back to the previous level and it is different on several of the sub-menus. Also, when you accidentally hit the button to scan the inputs, there can be a long delay as the TV looks for new components, even if you haven’t attached anything new to the TV since the last scan. The nice thing about this feature is that it grays out the ones that aren’t in use on the menu onscreen, but you’ll want to be sure you don’t accidentally hit this button on the remote or the side of the TV.

Looking into the future, having only a DVI input may cause problems for those who want to use this set as their HDTV monitor, with devices like HD-DVD and or Blu-ray that are HDCP-compliant. Early reports show many DVI-based products struggle to make the needed “handshake” to connect high-resolution HDTV signals from their source to the monitor. If you are just watching “The Price is Right” in standard definition, this is of no interest. If you are worried about this set being the cornerstone of your HDTV theater, you might look for one that has an HDMI input, which is guaranteed to work with the HDCP copy protection.

Small LCD TVs are rarely used as a primary viewing display. They are usually used in situations like mine, where they are just there to have a small TV in the kitchen to watch while you’re cooking or in an office to listen to a sporting event while working on something else. This being said, the W1900 is a much better performer in this category than I would have expected. It’s not a perfect set, but I can’t think of a better $600 flat panel TV. Sure, you can get a much larger CRT HD set for about $200 more, but much of what you are getting with this Dell is great performance in a small package.
Manufacturer Dell
Model W1900 LCD HDTV
Reviewer Bryan Dailey
Diagonal Screen Size Less than 27-inches

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