Toshiba 50H81 HD-Ready 16:9 rear-projection television Page 2
Win one, lose one.
Another welcome new feature is direct access of inputs. You still have to select from a menu, but at least you don't have to go 'round the horn to get to the input you want.
Criticisms? A few, some of them carried over from previous models. The shiny plastic protective screen can be a nuisance, reflecting room lights back at the viewer. The top of the 50H81 is a little narrow; I was able to position a center-channel speaker there, but with little room to spare. The menu system covers much of the screen and doesn't drop away to let you make adjustments with a clear view of the picture. The menus also come up at what appears to be full contrast, regardless of the setting of the Contrast control.
But one major beef I had with earlier Toshiba sets has been fixed: Once you save a preference, it doesn't disappear permanently when you change one of the video controls unless you deliberately save this change as a new setting—effectively writing over the old one. I still recommend that you write down your calibrated video settings and put them in a safe place. Corollary 10 to Murphy's Law states that no matter how well-hidden the Reset control is, someone will eventually find it and push it.
The Movie mode also appears to defeat scan-velocity modulation (yay!): if you select Movie, readjust the settings (you should—the factory Movie mode, like all the factory modes, does not produce the best picture the 50H81 is capable of), and save your new settings, SVM stays off.
Firing it Up
Out of the box, it was obvious that the Toshiba's video settings needed immediate attention. In particular, Toshiba's favored default setup has the Contrast, as in the past, set to a maximum of "100." To give you an idea of how searingly bright that is, my preferred setting for DVD movies, in a darkened room, turned out to be 22 (!), though I found a setting of about 35 better for ordinary television watching with typical nighttime room lighting.
After attending to the accessible video controls (using the Video Essentials DVD for setup), I used the 50H81 for a couple of weeks before performing a full gray-scale calibration in the service menu. I wasn't impressed at first—the picture looked relatively soft. The color was acceptable, but clearly tended to excessive red in the Warm setting, the most acceptable of the three color-temperature options. DVDs looked far better than cable television (I didn't hook up my HDTV sources at this stage of the tests), but both lacked resolution of fine details.
On the upside, the picture was notably smooth and free of noise, except where noise came gratis with the program material—mostly, again, with inferior cable reception. The 50H81's internal scaler appeared to be doing a reasonably good job. As with all built-in scalers I have seen, however, its performance degraded noticeably with marginal program material, with the occasional jagged edge more prevalent on cable television than DVDs. And while the scaler did not perform quite as well on DVDs as a good progressive-scan player, I was rarely bothered by artifacts. You might want to add a progressive-scan DVD player to the Toshiba at some point, but on firing up the set, you won't immediately feel the urge to splurge.
One oddity I noticed was that the optimum black level (Brightness) was dramatically different for the 480i and 480p inputs; 480p required a reduction of about 12 steps of the Brightness control for an equivalent picture.