After making an auspicious debut in 2003, Panasonic's detailboosting Acuity processing has taken a back seat. I fully expected it to find its way on to all sorts of TVs across the Panasonic range, including LCD and plasmas. But I've had to wait until now to find it appearing again - and somewhat surprisingly, it's still making its exclusive home on CRT technology.
The new 32in Acuity tubed TV is the TX-32PD50 - and a very pretty 'little' number it is too, courtesy of a neat gloss black bezel, tastefully contrasting a silver outer frame and undercarriage, and dramatically open and angular stand. But does the TX-32PD50 add anything more than looks to the Acuity proposition?
CRT with more
This set is certainly well connected. Highlights include four Scart sockets, and a set of component inputs. What's more, these component inputs are built to handle progressive scan inputs from suitably talented DVD players - a useful trait in today's CRT market.
In terms of picture processing, Acuity has changed a little since its debut. The processing rate has been upped from 54MHz to 75MHz, which Panasonic believes will improve detail and colour. Otherwise, you still get the same four digital processing modes: 100Hz, 100Hzplus (which adds line flicker reduction), progressive scan, and finally the all-important '75/833i' option.
This obscure jumble of figures explains that the picture is shifted to a 75Hz refresh rate while the picture's line count is increased from 625 to 833. At the same time, this mode uses processing to increase the number of pixels per horizontal line from 1,024 to 2,376.
A key change on the TX-32PD50, however, is its Quintrix SR2 tube. This tube design introduces a new shadow mask configuration that allows more beam current to pass through with less energy loss and greater luminance and chrominance; a high efficiency rectangular deflection yoke; a Super OLF electron gun for improved all-over focus; and a revised micro filter that absorbs more ambient light.
The TX-32PD50 also introduces a 3D comb filter for, hopefully, more accurate rendition, and enhanced motion compensation to keep movement looking smoother.
Other niceties included to help justify the TX-32PD50's entrance fee include noise reduction, Dolby Virtual audio processing, bass enhancement, and a healthy roster of picture-in-picture tools.
Although Acuity hasn't changed on paper that much since its first appearance, it works better on the 32PD50 than I've seen it working before.
Switching between the key 75/833 mode and the other less detail-enhancing modes confirms that Acuity adds extra definition and texture to pictures, with images from all sources looking sharper and more layered. What's more, this is achieved without such common processing-induced side effects such as smearing, dot crawl, shimmering around the edges of moving objects, or image lag.
While the 75/833i setting works best for the majority of your viewing time, though, I wouldn't recommend it for everything. With poorer quality sources - whether they're weak analogue or low bitrate digital broadcasts - the extra detail introduced can emphasise any inherent noise.
Also, NTSC-sourced material (poorly) converted to and broadcast in PAL can sometimes look fuzzy. But then I guess that's precisely why Panasonic has included the other, less processing-heavy modes for you to explore.
Another general strength of the TX-32PD50 is the richness and vibrancy of its colours. This ensures pictures look impressively solid and dynamic, providing everything from Coronation Street to Star Wars with a truly cinematic complexion.
The Quintrix SR2 tube design warrants a mention, too, as the new Micro Filter discussed earlier really does earn its corn. The screen soaks up a phenomenal amount of the ambient light in the room, keeping those annoying reflections that afflict many flat CRT rivals to an absolute minimum.
I have several minor issues with the TX-32PD50's picture performance, however. Its tendency to portray particularly bright or contrasty edges with either a distracting, glimmering effect, or else a whiteish halo, is a tad irritating.
I also couldn't shake the feeling that sporadically, the colour tone loses a touch of its believability, with a gentle greenish undercurrent seeping into the picture from somewhere. Colours occasionally seem to appear as bands, too, rather than as smooth blends.
Finally, while the contrast range is good, with profound black levels, darker scenes can sometimes lose their detail in the shadows.
When it comes to audio, the TX-32PD50 is competent. Voices enjoy pleasing clarity as well as sounding rounded and rich, treble effects are portrayed with unusual - but seldom harsh - precision, and the soundstage is consistently solid.
My only complaint would be that dialogue can seem slightly dislocated from the screen occasionally, that the TV's audio ambitions can periodically overwhelm the power of its speakers, and that you have to be careful with the subwoofer level, since setting it too high can make things become 'thuddy'.
The TX-32PD50 is a typically accomplished CRT television from Panasonic. Personally, I still have my doubts that Acuity is as good as the Philips' rival Pixel Plus system - it's certainly less aggressive in its effects, at any rate. But I accept that this subtler approach might suit those who find Pixel Plus a bit too obvious in its effect.
If you're taken by the TX-32PD50's gorgeous looks and great connectivity, you can be sure that it won't let you down. For those who don't need a flatscreen and (eventually) high-def, this is a big-screen to audition.