Rear-projection TVs used to be regarded as oversized alternatives that offered big-screen entertainment at the expense of living-room space and picture quality. And the emergence of large flat screens threatened to expel the technology altogether.
But improved picture performance, reduced dimensions and above all affordability has seen a resurgence in the rear-projection market. Sony's KDF-E50A12U is a huge 50-inch screen that claims to take up the same corner space as a 42-inch plasma -- and at only £1,220 online, it costs considerably less.
Sony's latest 3LCD technology has freed the picture of typical rear-projection constraints such as blurred detail, bleached colours and poor off-axis viewing to produce a surprisingly creditable picture. And the future-proof specification includes an integrated digital TV tuner and high-resolution panel with digital connectivity that's high-definition compatible.
There's few frills elsewhere, with only basic picture and sound settings available, but if saving money rather than space is a priority, this is an ideal alternative for large-screen enthusiasts.
The design of the KDF-E50A12U is virtually unrecognisable from the imposing constructions that characterised rear-projection screens in the past. In fact, when facing the television you could be forgiven for presuming it's a large-screen plasma. Only a glance around the side reveals otherwise, but even then the dimensions are less deep than a typical CRT television -- and it's also incredibly light, considering the size.
Sony's eye for inconspicuous style, featuring a slender matte-grey surround underscored by a narrow speaker system, reinforces the illusion that the design is slimmer than it actually is. Wall-mounting options are obviously out of the question, but the package includes an attractive, glass-tiered stand.
Primary controls are hidden in a lowered panel at the front of the screen and there's a comprehensive range of easily accessible connections across the screen's left side. Camcorder users and gamers can quickly connect using S-video or composite inputs while a 15-pin D-Sub terminal with accompanying PC-audio input caters for computer or media centre applications.
Other, more significant, connections are housed around the rear. There's a pair of Scart terminals, both of which are thankfully RGB-enabled for uncompromised picture performance. And owners of progressive-scan DVD players can improve image quality further by using the set of component inputs. Associated analogue audio inputs and a pair of stereo outputs are also included, but dedicated digital audio is ignored.
However, there is an HDMI input, which carries both high-definition digital audio and video signals for optimum performance. HDMI is the future of AV connections and essential if you want to receive Sky's upcoming HDTV broadcasts or watch hi-def quality video from a similarly equipped Blu-ray or HD DVD player.
Somewhat confusingly, there's three aerial connections, which can be used to receive analogue and digital broadcasts while supporting a recording device. If you're not connecting a recorder, then the unused aerial input and output must be linked using a supplied coaxial cable. Standard Freeview digital broadcasts are also supplemented by a CAM-card slot for receiving limited subscription services like TopUp TV.
Finally, the stylish, silver remote is intelligently arranged and comfortable without being confused by an overabundance of controls.