Judging by what we see before us, Thomson is intending to mount an all-out attack on the rear-projection market. Not content with releasing this 61in Scenium screen, it's also adding 50in and 70in models to an already impressive range.
In keeping with current trends among flatscreen manufacturers, the 61DSZ644 has been slimmed down to a svelte 18cm thanks to some help from projection specialist InFocus, making it ideally suited for wall mounting. Meanwhile, features such as Texas Instruments' latest Mustang HD-2 chip and a DVI input are bound to raise a few eyebrows among the more discerning movie viewers.
Pleasingly, the depth of the unit hasn't been reduced at the expense of sensible connections and all of the most important candidates are included - even if only one of the three Scarts is RGB compatible. With the aforementioned DVI preferred to HDMI, the accompanying audio input has to be of the analogue variety, so while the speakers themselves are configured for Virtual Dolby Surround Pro Logic II, this is no real loss.
The remote control is also noteworthy thanks to its sensible design, with backlit buttons clearly highlighting which device it's operating. It also has pre-programmed commands for most major manufacturers, and can control up to six common devices. The buttons are slightly too small, though.
Although it's all too easy to get carried away by the impressive design and decent array of features, it's the thinness of the screen that causes its downfall. Without getting too bogged down in details, in the case of traditional rear-projection screens, the image is projected onto a mirror and then up onto the screen. In order to get the best results, it is necessary to have some depth between the various parts of the system.
In trying to attain such a thin screen, however, Thomson has had to alter its approach by angling the mirror slightly. Unfortunately, the effect of this is that light is clearly visible at the bottom of the screen. The result is particularly intrusive when watching a movie with black borders - a tiny version of the main image is clearly recognisable at the bottom centre, just like the light you would see flying through the air in a particularly old movie theatre.
This is in addition to the very restricted viewing angle, and the added problem of the screen being so low to the ground. For best results, it should be mounted on a wall, either that or you'll need a to get a particularly comfy recliner to overcome the intrusion of unwanted light.
These criticisms aside, the Scenium is a good all round performer. When watching broadcast material - which is usually free from horizontal borders - the picture is excellent, with good detail and colour reproduction even from analogue sources. With Freeview piped through the RGB Scart, you get a further step up in quality, revealing Thomson's choice of InFocus projection technology to be a wise one.
The image is natural and free of motion artefacts even with an interlaced signal, and the step up to progressive signals through component and DVI inputs would be a joy if it weren't for the problems already explained above. The sound is adequate - at higher volume levels there is an awful lot of background noise audible and during DVD performances it doesn't quite reach the levels movie fans demand.
In conclusion, the light pollution really shouldn't have crept through Thomson's quality control and those responsible should expect slapped wrists. It's most noticeable in a darkened room - ironically the optimum way to watch such screens - where a widescreen presentation of 2.35:1 will become unwatchable.
It's unlikely that you'll buy into such cinematic technology if you don't intend to watch movies on it, but broadcast viewing is the only really enjoyable aspect of a noticeably shattered performance. Guy Cocker