If you can put up with the connection hassles, it's not a bad plasma performer
Contrast and colour issues
Expensive optional speakers
No TV tuner or Scarts
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Although it's supposed to be part of NEC's 'residential' range, the 50XR4G comes with no built-in TV tuner.
The 50XR4G is unashamedly 'corporate' in its design, with the utterly simple silver frame adding precisely zero designer flair to. If you're looking for the wow factor, then you've probably come to the wrong place.
Connectivity is basic. This screen lacks Scart sockets, meaning that users can only route such sources in via a suitable adaptor to one of the connections the screen does have, namely: a PC D-Sub jack, component video phono jacks, or RGB/component-capable BNCs, and a DVI jack.
The component input trio can handle analogue high-definition video, while the HD-capable DVI has HDCP and is therefore compatible with the next generation of HD sources.
Despite its business-like nature, this NEC does at least offer a reasonable degree of image flexibility for video viewers. These include a couple of Theater presets, a cluster of black level boosting measures (needed, as we rate contrast at a puny 110:1), multiple gamma adjustments, a noise reduction system, and some fairly flexible colour fine tuning.
Although now part of the Pioneer plasma family, this NEC has little in common with its stablemate screens. Consequently, the 50XR4G's pictures are largely unreliable. I found the image unusually bright by plasma standards - which helps colours look pleasingly vibrant. Bright scenes thus look rich and engaging.
The screen's fine detailing is impressive as well, doing full justice to the razor-sharp resolution of my assorted HD library. More surprisingly, the screen also suppresses those common plasma/video problems with fizzing over motion and colour striping.
The caveat is that while all these strengths help the screen look excellent with animation or PC, moviewatching reveals significant flaws. For instance, the screen's black levels turn out to be the weakest in this group test, leaving dark scenes looking relatively greyed over and flat.
Colours tend to lose some of their balance during dark scenes, too, as unwanted shades of green slip in, particularly over people's skin. I also noticed that although motion is fairly noiseless, it can look jerky.
Also worth noting is the fact that the screen seems particularly susceptible to after image. Owners would need to be unusually careful to avoid screen burn (although this should become much less of a problem once you've run the screen in for a 100 hours or so).
The optional speakers NEC supplies for the 50XR4G, while preposterously expensive (£465, anyone?!), are at least respectable. Dialogue is clean and rounded, the soundstage is wide, and there's plenty of mid-bass.
Provided you can put up with the connection hassles, the 50XR4G is certainly not a bad plasma performer. But by the same token, when put in the context of some of its rivals, it's not a particularly appetising one either.
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