Once a strictly PC-only brand, ViewSonic is now making its mark in the AV world, too. So, it's with a healthy degree of anticipation that we get stuck into ViewSonic's latest offering, the 20in N2010.
As with previous ViewSonic products, the first thing you notice about the N2010 is its price: £500 sure ain't much for a 20in LCD telly.
The second thing you notice about the N2010 is that, while certainly not unattractive, it lacks the panache of its bigger brother. The plain silver finish is a bit plasticky, and a vague backward curvature on the speakers can't really hide its essentially bog-standard sculpting.
Connections are hit and miss. While we strongly appreciated the presence of both PC and component video inputs, plus a built-in TV tuner, there's only one Scart and no digital video inputs. What's more, the component video input wouldn't lock on to either a progressive scan or high-def signal from our Denon DVD-3910.
Things are pretty basic on the N2010's features front, too. In fact, aside from one or two picture-in-picture options, there is absolutely nothing beyond the absolute fundamentals common to practically all TVs - not even a widescreen mode for anamorphic broadcasts or DVDs.
The N2010's specs again waver between the satisfactory and the disappointing. On the plus side is the claimed contrast ratio which, at 500:1, is a step (albeit a fairly small one) above what we'd normally find on a budget screen of this size. Set against that is the screen's native resolution of just 640 x 480 - which, as well as reflecting the TV's traditional 4:3 shape, also makes us worry about how sharp TV pictures will be.
Oddly, though, the picture actually delivers precisely the opposite of what the above specs suggest. In other words, the picture actually looks pretty sharp, even if it doesn't exactly blow us away with its black level response. During a run through of the Mines of Moria sequence in The Lord Of The Rings, the picture actually looks reasonably detailed and textured, but the inky blackness of the mines lacks the depth we would associate with a really good contrast performer.
However, while not great, the contrast is far from the shockingly bad performance seen on some screens this small and affordable. At any rate, it's certainly not a serious enough problem to impact on the majority of normal TV (as opposed to DVD movie) viewing, leaving TV show colours looking really bold and vibrant, and the picture generally rock solid.
We were also pleased by how natural colours look, with even our trusty LOTR sequence suffering little from over-ripe fleshtones or greenness around the gills.
Then there's the screen's lack of picture noise. DVD and TV playback both look exceptionally smooth - unblemished by grain, dot crawl or, impressively, motion smearing. Cheap LCD screens usually suffer with at least the latter of these problems, due to poor response times, but not the ViewSonic N2010.
In fact, the only thing aside from black levels to disturb us at all about the N2010 is its slight tendency to exaggerate MPEG blocking in DVDs and digital broadcasts.
The N2010 performs above its £500 station sonically, too, sounding far more powerful than its 2 x 5W RMS rating would imply. The reasonably wide soundstage contains a believable, seldom-harsh mid-range, fairly well-rounded trebles, and even a good helping of bass.
ViewSonic hasn't quite struck the same rich seam of LCD gold with the N2010 that it tapped with its N3000W. But, that's not to say it hasn't still got a heck of a lot going for it, given its price. John Archer