Once upon a time, rear projection televisions looked destined for the big home cinema in the sky. The prospect of high-definition discs and broadcasts has put them right back in the reckoning of late though,and Sagem's latest is one of the new breed looking to ensure the technology has a happy ever after.
Part of the reason sets of this type fell out of favour was their bulk. The French company has rubbished this perception, turning out gigantic screens with depths to rival midsized tube jobs.The HD-D50H follows this trend,with a number that, from the front, looks like a slinky flatscreen,weighs much less than a smaller CRT and,with its smart lacquer finish and svelte profile,could grace any front room.
This DLP IDTV is remarkably well specified, too, with a brace of HDMI jacks alongside every other input you'll ever need (including a digital audio loop-through for perfect syncing), Faroudja deinterlacing and full HD spec all the way up to 1080i.
Predictably, analogue broadcast pictures blown up to these brobdingnagian proportions look awful.Rear-pro has never been the best vehicle for standard TV and the flaws that you simply wouldn't notice on a smaller LCD are painfully apparent here.
The colours and contrast look okay,but the detail is shot to pieces, to the extent that lower quality programmes look like they were recorded a couple of years ago on videotape.The same applies to digital tuner pictures but to a lesser extent.Admittedly, Freeview isn't firing on all cylinders yet,but the fuzziness of the image and the wayward edge definition is really hard to ignore.That said,a TV is only as good as the source it's fed with so we'll cut the Sagem some slack.
Stick in a DVD though,and you'll be amazed by the leap in quality. Suddenly the image is richly detailed and razor sharp and has the kind of dynamism that makes garish kid-fodder such as Thunderbirds eye-wateringly colourful. It can be subtle, too: witness the wide,aerial shots of the sea during Lady Penelope's flight to Tracy island for evidence of perfectly-pitched, natural hues.
The performance with high-definition material is even more impressive,with the added resolution taking an already excellent performance to a new dimension.Some flaws remain; blacks could be bolder (although whites are dazzling),the image does deteriorate if you stray too far off-axis and there is occasional evidence of the dreaded 'rainbow effect',but the overall experience is immensely absorbing and utterly cinematic.Audio is also pretty solid, although we'd make use of the digital audio loop and hook this screen up to a surround system.
A couple of grand is a sizeable wedge of cash in anyone's wallet, particularly for something that struggles with bog-standard broadcasts,so you'll have to be a big movie fan and have an eye on HD to get the full benefit. In that case,a screen of this quality for less than half of what you'd expect to pay for a plasma of the same size and still less than most 42in gas flatties,looks a formidable bargain. Jim Findlay