As rear projection sets continue falling in price, and high definition becomes standard, Toshiba wisely introduces the Cinema Series lineup. Each of the five models boasts a high-quality picture, clean sound, and uncluttered styling in a relatively compact chassis that blends well into many home theater environments.
The 50HX81 model, a 16:9 HD rear projection display, distinguishes itself from other Toshiba rear projection sets through enhanced picture quality and higher-end audio.
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At slightly more than 46-inches wide and 50- inches high, yet less than 22-inches deep, the 50HX81 is ideal for a dedicated home theater. However, weighing in at just under 200 pounds and sitting on easy-to-roll casters, the 50-inch Cinema Series is also quite easy to position and handle and won't dominate your living or family room either. The 50HX81 is understated in appearance -- the soft gray trim, brushed aluminum panel and smooth black grille do not draw attention to themselves. With straight sides and a smooth face and speaker panel, the 50HX81 integrates well into home theater cabinetry as well. This is a feature that's easy to overlook when shopping for a new TV. While the Toshiba may look a bit boring on the retail floor beside some of its flashier peers, its simple, clean look lets the viewer focus on what's most important. . . the superbly bright, clear picture it delivers.
In order to achieve this enhanced picture quality, Toshiba utilizes PowerFocus HD Plus CRTs.
The remote control offers a selectable cool blue backlighting and is programmable for five additional devices. Other nice features include: a 1/2-mute that functions as an interim step between full volume and mute, adjustable picture size, and the ability to scan through your favorite channels in a 9-picture multi-window.
Toshiba's 2-way speaker system utilities SRS WOW surround sound. WOW consists of three features: SRS 3D, FOCUS and TruBass. SRS 3D provides a surround sound effect, FOCUS selects a vocal emphasis, and TruBass selects bass expansion, either high, low or off.
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After unpacking the relatively compact TV and rolling it into place, I made initial connections, plugged the TV in, grabbed the remote, and started watching.
The menu system was intuitive and I didn't consult the owner's manual until I wanted to delve deeper into some of the programming features. Enough said -- setup is pretty easy.
The remote control was simple to understand and has a nice layout.
Toshiba recommends that you perform either the auto (called "Touch Focus") or manual convergence function after the set has been on for at least 30 minutes. I initially used the Touch Focus feature, which delivers a crisp, clear picture literally with the touch of a button and takes only a minute to run. Manual convergence is an easy process as well. Using the remote, you are walked through nine points of convergence. Like most rear projections the picture quality parameters can be programmed to adjust automatically, such as flesh tone, ALS (Ambient Light Sensor) and picture modes. I found manual adjustment the best choice most of the time.
The back panel of the 50HX81 HDTV has provisions for two high-resolution ColorStream component video inputs , two S-Video inputs, two A/V (coaxial) inputs, and two RF inputs. Also included is an audio center channel input allowing you to use the built-in speakers as a center channel, and both fixed and variable audio outputs. An additional S-Video and A/V input are located behind a brushed aluminum door on the front of the HDTV.
Final Take - The Toshiba 50HX81 is a full-featured HDTV that delivers better than average picture quality. I particularly liked the picture-in-picture function. Having this double window split screen felt like I was watching two 27-inch TVs side-by-side.
DVD playback through the component video connections is outstanding. When viewing Shrek with friends, everyone was blown-away by the brightness and clarity of the picture. The built-in screen shield with an anti-reflective coating makes it a great choice for any lighting situation. Watching The Fifth Element for the umpteenth time was so engaging that I could not leave my seat.
A pleasant surprise was the sound quality. The 50HX81 provided theater-like audio through the set's two speakers. Along with an adjustable sub-bass system, the SRS WOW features provided surprisingly superb surround sound. Specifically, the WOW effects wereable to create the illusion that the sound was coming from the far left and far right of the display unit.
One of my favorite features of the Toshiba 50HX81 has to be the 1/2-mute. It enables you to stay attentive to the action without having to stare at the picture -- a very practical application of this function.
My review wouldn't be complete without pointing out some minor quibbles that I experienced. The contrast adjustment didn't seem to get the black levels quite right. For example, the suits in Men in Black were definitely black, but distinguishing subtle shadings and details in their suits was challenging. The on-screen menu blocks much of what you are trying to adjust when fine-tuning the various settings. While easy to navigate, Toshiba could have designed this better. You might find annoying the tone that the remote control emits when lit, even if only for 5 seconds. You can shut it off, but then you lose the backlight feature.
Overall, the Toshiba 50HX81 delivers an excellent video experience for DVD playback and I was highly impressed with its audio capabilities and features. Its unique widescreen display in a compact, clean-looking chassis will not dominate your room. The set is friendly to the viewer in
every aspect: installation, ease of use, flexibility, and the complete audio-visual experience.
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