Rear-projection TVs (RPTVs) have come a long way since the monster black boxes of the 1980s and early ’90s. Three-gun technology with all its attendant problems and limitations has given way to the elegance and apparent simplicity of microdisplays, such as liquid crystal on silicon (LCoS) and the various micromirror devices from Texas Instruments.
With TI’s 1280x720 HD2+ DarkChip2 at its heart, the Optoma SV50XF is typical of this new breed, offering a big, bright, high-contrast picture in a relatively small enclosure. It would have been impossible just a few years ago to generate a 50"-diagonal image with less than 15" of cabinet depth, but Optoma’s engineers have achieved this while shaving weight wherever possible. At less than 90 pounds, the SV50XF can be maneuvered into position by most healthy individuals. With two people, it’s a breeze. The set’s rounded contours and gray matte finish make it compatible with almost any décor. Its shape makes it ideal for corner placement, or slipped into a space in cabinetry or shelving for a built-in look.
Immediately below the screen is a row of basic function buttons, and next to it, a pop-out cover hiding a set of convenience inputs for camcorder or other portable video source. The lower left side of the back panel features two RF inputs and a slew of composite-video, stereo audio, Svideo, and component-video inputs— enough for two legacy sources such as VCRs, one DVD player, and two highdef sources, such as direct broadcast satellite or digital cable. There’s also an HDCP-compatible DVI connector.
For testing, I put it on a 15" stand approximately 14' from my usual viewing position. At that height, the center of the screen was almost exactly at eye level. When first switched on, the SV50XF takes a few minutes to warm up while the lamp that acts as its light source reaches full brightness. Once it does, the set produces a consis-tently bright picture, one perfectly viewable in a room with full daylight. Black level and shadow detail are excellent, as implied in the manufacturer’s specified 2500:1 contrast ratio.
The SV50XF allows picture tweaking for each input, via the remote control. As it comes from the factory, it’s set up too “hot,” with the brightness and color level both needing to be turned down. This is pretty typical “out of the box” performance for new TVs. The factory settings are intended to get your attention on a brightly lit sales floor, but are fatiguing to watch long term. Backing them off makes for a much more enjoyable viewing experience— and much more natural-looking images. The Optoma offers many options for tweaking aspect ratio, and color balance can be adjusted for each input. Doing so resulted in very good color. Unlike the Optoma H31 DLP projector I reviewed in the last issue, the SV50XF has deep accurate reds and nicely saturated blues.
The SV50XF uses the heralded DVDO deinterlacing chip. While excellent in reducing motion artifacts with film-based material, the rear projector didn’t perform nearly as well with video-based material as the H31 front projector. The RPTV performed adequately in this regard, but not superbly. The SV50XF earns an “A” for color and a “B” for deinterlacing.
The remote’s MENU button brings up a toolbar of choices—picture, format, audio setup, etc.—and you can drill down from primary choices to secondary and tertiary ones using the up/down and left/right buttons. To exit any sub-menu, you must press the MENU button again.
Test patterns revealed that vertical lines had a distinct curve, and that horizontal lines weren’t parallel to the screen’s border. With DLPs, we aren’t supposed to have convergence, geometry, or linearity problems as we did with CRTs. I can only theorize that these are physical alignment glitches with the panel, and that they would seldom be noticed in normal viewing, but tall buildings, flagpoles, or other vertical structures might look slightly bowed on the SV50XF.
The Optoma’s inputs are optimized for specific video formats. Its standard-definition (SD) and highdefinition (HD) component inputs, for example, aren’t interchangeable— SD is completely optimized for 480i and uses DVDO deinterlacing, while the HD inputs are for 480p/720/1080i signals. There were many more motion artifacts and much greater video noise when 480i DVD was fed through the HD inputs rather than the SD ones. DVD at 480i looked much better through the DVDO-powered SD inputs.
Once tweaked for 720p output, my Comcast HD DVR looked very good through the Optoma’s HD inputs, with excellent detail and edge delineation. I spent a few enjoyable hours watching INHD and INHD2, as well as some major league baseball games. Material sourced and processed in HD looked good, provided I remained square in front of the screen. Standing up—moving off-axis vertically—caused a disturbing drop in brightness and clarity. The set looks decidedly low-def when you walk into the room and doesn’t “pop” until you sit down right in front of it. Its light output is more consistent in the horizontal plane—when you move from side to side, the change in level is not nearly as abrupt as it is vertically—but the Optoma’s vertical drop-off is so severe that I couldn’t enjoy watching it while standing, as guests might do for a Sunday afternoon football game. Mounted on a 15" stand, the SV50XF is not a choice for anyone intending to entertain large groups. (Optoma offers a 22" TV stand that the company claims raises the set to the “optimal viewing height,” whether a viewer is sitting or standing.)