Toshiba HX81 review: Toshiba HX81

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Toshiba 50HX81

(Part #: 50HX81)
4 stars

CNET Editors' Rating

The Good Great picture; comprehensive connectivity; video processing with 3:2 pull-down; excellent color decoding; good value.

The Bad New 540p video processing isn't ideal for use with progressive-scan DVD players.

The Bottom Line One of the best HDTV-compatible rear-projection TVs available.

8.0 Overall

The 50HX81 is one of five 16:9-aspect-ratio wide-screen HDTV-compatible models in Toshiba's Cinema Series rear-projection TV lineup for 2001-2002, and it represents a new screen-size offering from the company. With a relatively affordable list price, excellent picture quality, and a slew of new performance-enhancing features, the 50HX81 should be strongly considered by those looking for a TV in this size range. The 50HX81 is one of five 16:9-aspect-ratio wide-screen HDTV-compatible models in Toshiba's Cinema Series rear-projection TV lineup for 2001-2002, and it represents a new screen-size offering from the company. With a relatively affordable list price, excellent picture quality, and a slew of new performance-enhancing features, the 50HX81 should be strongly considered by those looking for a TV in this size range.

Design enhancements
Like many big-screen rear-projection TVs, the 50HX81 isn't supersleek-looking, but this big box finished in gunmetal grey is certainly attractive enough. The front bezel below the screen is sleeker and has a more high-tech appearance than those found in previous Toshiba Cinema Series models. And that bezel houses the flip-down door for access to the front panel, A/V inputs, and some limited functions. Better still, the newly designed universal remote is one of the best we've encountered. Extremely well laid out and almost fully backlit, it's a real pleasure to use in a darkened theater environment.

As far as convenience features go, the dual-tuner PIP (Picture-in-Picture) heads the list. There's also a one-button Sleep Timer function and a new 2-Level Mute function, which gives you a half-muted sound for late-night viewing. Audio features include a StableSound function that keeps the volume level equal between channels and commercial breaks where there are often large spikes in volume. The set also sports MTS stereo with SAP (Second Audio Program), a Sub Bass System, and an impressive 30 watts of overall audio power.

Picture-enhancing features include new HD Plus CRTs with a new High Contrast PowerFocus lens system. The TouchFocus automatic digital convergence is a first for Toshiba, but like all the other auto-convergence features that we've tested, it doesn't work well enough to replace a good service convergence. The Ambient Light Sensor and Dynamic Contrast features are designed to automatically adjust contrast and brightness levels depending on the amount of ambient light in the room. These are not features that we recommend using for serious movie watching, but they may come in handy for casual viewing in high ambient light conditions.

Newfangled line-doubler
Toshiba has changed the internal line-doubler to do 540p up-conversion, which is not completely compatible with the 480p output from progressive-scan DVD players. However, the newly added 3:2 pull-down circuitry in the 50HX81's video processing is a welcome addition, as it aids in getting rid of jaggy artifacts typically generated with film-based material on DVD.

Connectivity options on the 50HX81 are generous. Most importantly, the set has two broadband component video inputs, both of which accept most component video formats (480i, 480p, and 1080i). The rear panel sports two full A/V inputs with S-Video, two RF inputs, a center-channel audio input, a single A/V output, and a set of variable audio outputs.

First-rate pictures
Toshiba's Cinema Series HDTV-compatible RPTVs have long been among our favorites for a variety of reasons. (Toshiba also offers four other models in the Cinema Series: a , a 53-inch, a , and a .) For starters, they have consistently had the best color decoders of any RPTVs in their class. The 50HX81 is no exception, and the improved video processing with 3:2 pull-down also contributes to the set's ability to deliver first-rate pictures with DVD sources.

We evaluated the 50HX81 with a Sony DVP-S9000ES progressive-scan DVD player using both its interlaced and progressive-scan component outputs. The 9000's progressive-scan output definitely produced a sharper picture than the 50X81's internal video processing. One drawback to this new scheme: Some minor artifacts were introduced as a result of the set having to up-convert the incoming 480p signal to the set's 540p native scan rate. Watching scenes from Shakespeare in Love after a full-blown calibration revealed excellent color fidelity, and detail was sharp and crisp. HDTV programming via a DirecTV satellite feed looked absolutely stunning.

When you consider that 34-inch direct-view 16:9 HDTVs cost anywhere from $2,500 to $5,000, the 50-inch 50HX81 seems like a bargain at $3,199. Steep discounts on big-screen HDTV-compatible units can be found not only on the Web but also in mass-market brick-and-mortar stores such as Best Buy and Circuit City, making the 50HX81's value even stronger. If you're in the market for a big-screen HDTV-capable RPTV, this Toshiba should definitely be on your radar.

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