RCA Scenium M50WH185
At a Glance
Simple 720p model offers a pleasing picture and remarkably strong sound. At this price, "big HDTV" doesn't mean "big budget."
RCA's Scenium M50WH185 impressed our jury with good image and color quality. Excellent performance combined with a low price to make this 50-inch DLP HDTV a winner.
Our judges deemed this 720p DLP--which accepts resolutions of up to 1080i and downscales them accordingly--a pleasing HDTV unit capable of producing natural-looking colors and sharp contrast. In high-definition test scenes, judges consistently gave it above-average to high marks. Vivid colors in a George Lopez scene were pleasing, and skin tones for a diverse cast were distinct without being exaggerated. Artifacts in background scenes, such as those on patterned curtains and wood grain, were kept to a minimum.
In another scene involving people in a car showroom, a solid green shirt showed a slightly blocky shimmer. Nonetheless, both green and red saturation were satisfyingly rich. Images in a wine country scene received praise from the judges for their contrast. One juror detected "drab greens" here, but image quality in general was quite attractive.
Overall, this bargain DLP turned in solid performance with standard-definition content. One juror noted the TV's "good contrast" in these scenes. On the minus side, another observed "slightly ashen" skin tones. Opinions were divided in our bright-lights test, conducted under strong lights; one juror pointed out "nice realistic colors," while another found the effect "slightly murky." But colors remained vivid and the contrast was pleasing with all lights turned on. When showing Seabiscuit and Lord of the Rings: Return of the King, the TV exhibited special skill at reproducing natural-looking skin on actors with subtly varying degrees of light skin tones.
The M50WH185's built-in speakers are mounted on each side of the set, extending the TV's width to a little over 58 inches. Though the speakers max out at only 10 watts each--typical for built-ins--they sounded fuller than most, even at default settings. In the final scene of Seabiscuit, audio from different elements of the dramatic scene were pleasingly distinct. Dialogue was nicely audible, too, despite the sound effects of horse-racing in the background. The brass and string-heavy soundtrack played crisply. Audio presets--such as TruSurround, which simulates surround sound--improved the speakers' output further. RCA includes a seven-band equalizer for additional sound customization.
The DLP's black panel sits atop a black, glossy, contoured base that has a stripe of silver at the bottom. Blue-backlit and touch-sensitive menu, channel, and volume controls appear on the right side of the base when you turn the set on. They disappear soon afterward, making the base look cleaner and less distracting. Pushing a touch-sensitive button marked with a light bulb icon brings the TV controls out of hiding.
On-screen display controls are easy to master, despite the TV's unique interface. Rather than using traditional horizontal bars to show functions such as color or contrast control, RCA uses thermometer icons. Related controls appear in a single screen. Hence, for instance, you can see contrast, color, tint, brightness, and sharpness controls at a glance and can adjust them individually. The DLP uses the thermometer metaphor throughout the OSD. Unlike its more expensive DLP rivals, this set doesn't provide RGB controls, but a "Green Enhance" function supplements the standard color control.
Though it has an unattractive, contoured shape--with a slightly bigger, bulbous top--the silver remote is easy enough to use. It can control other devices, including a DVD player and a VCR, when the appropriate codes are programmed into it. It also incorporates playback functions such as play, rewind, and pause. Several yellow For Dummies-brand quick-start guides help you assemble a video setup in various configurations.
The RCA Scenium M50WH185's street price of $1599 (as of September 8, 2006) makes it a true bargain when you consider its good performance in our tests. Moreover, it has a simple and pleasing design, and a plethora of connectors (including two HDMI inputs) to accommodate the video and audio units you may want to connect to it.