On the other hand, when viewed on-axis, the SV50XF has a superb picture. Its white and black levels are among the best. Its color is accurate and natural looking; detail and object outlines are excellent. There’s zero evidence of false contouring. Under the right circumstance—when you’re sitting directly in front of it—the Optoma is totally enjoyable. Its stereo audio system is pretty good, too. On the other other hand, the NTSC tuner built into the SV50XF is a bit baffling. Capable of 192 channels— Comcast offers several hundred— it’s a throwback to the tuners built into VCRs for the past two decades. One of the great paradoxes— and great revelations—of the digital transition is that legacy video can look poor on a high-def display. It actually doesn’t look bad on a soft-focus CRT optimized for NTSC images, but in its native format on a high-def display it can look awful, just as grainy and blotchy as can be.
Manufacturers want to pretend that they are adding value to a highdef display by including an NTSC tuner. It’s a feature, but it’s not a benefit. It’s a functionally useless low-cost ornament, like a piece of chrome trim on a car. And it’s one that will be a complete anachronism as soon as our fearless representatives in Washington quit dancing around and institute a real deadline for shutting down analog TV broadcasting. According to the Consumer Electronics Association, more than 80% of the viewing public get their TV signals via satellite or cable, and are therefore capable of receiving HD signals via HD receivers. Most of the remainder, who depend on over-the-air transmissions from local stations, can also receive HD signals, because almost every station in the U.S. is now transmitting at least some HD programming, especially during primetime. Anyone who buys a high-def display is inherently interested in high-def material. So why include a legacy tuner? It’s like building an 8-track tape player into a DVD recorder.
To its credit, the manufacturer has a “zero dead pixel” policy, meaning that any Optoma DLP with visibly absent pixels will be replaced. The Optoma SV50XF has a list price of $3995. I found that on-line pricing varied wildly, from full list price to surprisingly dramatic discounts. During the short period the Optoma was here for review, a friend bought a Pioneer 43" 1024x768 plasma TV with speakers, matching stand, and CableCARDready “media center” at a local Costco for $3000. Unlike the Optoma, it looks great from any angle.
More to the point, for $2999 you can buy Sony’s three-chip 55" KDFE55A20 Grand WEGA LCD rear projector. It has a bigger, better picture, CableCARD and over-the-air HD tuners, an HDMI input, and every operational refinement imaginable for less money. Or you might take a look at Optoma’s RD50, which, at $1700, lists for half the price of the SV50XF, albeit with less adjustability, no “zero dead pixel policy,” and a lower contrast ratio.
With high-def plasma displays already deep in the commodity-pricing syndrome, there are many better deals to be had out there in fixedpixel displays than the Optoma SV50XF. At a steep discount, it might be a decent bargain, but at almost $4000 the set’s insurmountable off-axis problem and other minor glitches are deal-breakers. My advice to serious home-theater fans: Keep shopping