First impressions suggest that NEC's PX-50XR4G is one of the old-school. For starters, its rectangular silver frame shows practically zero design flair, while it also falls short of most modern plasmas by lacking a built-in tuner. The only way to enjoy TV pictures on it, therefore, is to pipe in a Sky or Freeview set-top box, or tuner feeds from a VCR/DVD recorder.
Even this isn't as easy as it should be, though, since the NEC doesn't even have any Scarts! You can get Scart pictures in via some of the TV's other jacks (a PC D-Sub jack, HD-capable RCA component jacks and RGB/component BNCs) via appropriate adaptors, but this sort of faffing about will hardly endear the PX-50XR4G to the average home user.
The most significant socket the screen does have is a DVI jack. This digital input is compatible with the HDCP anti-piracy protocol, ticking the first box on the high-definition-ready checklist. The set fulfils the other HD-ready requirements too, thanks to a native resolution of 1,365 x 768 and compatibility with the two key HD formats in both their US and European incarnations.
We're also pleased to report a claimed contrast ratio of 3,000:1, which suggests that, despite its connectivity issues, perhaps the PX-50XR4G really does care about home cinema after all.
Reinforcing this thought are two 'Theater' picture presets, gamma adjustments, a bizarrely named 'Set Up Level' feature for boosting black levels, noise reduction routines and a colour fine-tuning system.
In some ways the PX-50XR4G's pictures are very likeable. They're extremely bright, for starters, which will really power Pirates of the Caribbean's tropical sunshine into your living room. They're also pretty adept at handing those old plasma nasties of fizzing over motion and banded colours. Even our test movie's sword-fight in Barbossa's treasure cave, which can cause problems by the bucketful, looked clean and direct.
The trees, sand and sea during Sparrow and Elizabeth's sojourn on the smuggler's island, meanwhile, were impressively sharp, with plenty of fine detail and tight, ghostless edges. It should be said, too, that the set's detail talents really come into their own with high-def sources, doing full justice to all the HD format's extra picture information.
However, colours sadly lose authenticity during darker sequences, as a slight green tinge creeps into flesh tones and reds go a bit orange. Scenes like the one where Elizabeth realises her captors are ghosts also revealed average black levels, which leaves things greyed over and lacking depth.
Although moving objects in Pirates were generally free of fizzing noise, meanwhile, they did move slightly jerkily at times. And we also found we had to be careful about screenburn (though to be fair, this should diminish after the first 100 hrs of use).
The NEC's optional (£465) speakers prove reasonably potent. They've got enough power and breathing room to open up nicely when an action scene like the Black Pearl's attack on the fort kicks in, keeping mid-range dialogue clear while good levels of bass rumble vie for your attention with oodles of treble detail. One fairly major problem, though, is that people's mouths sometimes move out of sync with what they're saying - presumably because the 50XR4's picture processing is a touch slow.
The PX-50XR4 is undeniably a few strides behind many of its rivals. But given that it's also cheaper than some of those rivals, its performance is just about good enough to make it fair value for money.