The KDF-E50A12U uses Sony's latest 3LCD technology which divides light from the projection lamp into three basic colours -- red, green and blue -- before shining them through three separate LCD panels. This separation is intended to produce more consistent, rich colours with excellent image quality.
An impressive future-proof specification, a rarity for rear-projection screens, supports this underlying technology. The screen's high-resolution (1280x720-pixel) panel and HDMI connectivity will support high-definition images using formats up to 720p and 1080i. And, before the mainstream arrival of HDTV, you can watch standard analogue and Freeview digital channels from a pair of integrated tuners.
There are still some weaknesses with rear-projection models -- a slight delay when you turn the screen on as the projector warms up, and you'll hear a gentle hum from the lamp's fan while you're watching. But the simplified operation with few frills makes the screen extremely easy to use.
A mildly transparent menu system is neatly presented at the corner of the screen and lists all adjustment options inclusively -- making it easy to navigate through various settings using simple scrolling. Only relatively basic adjustments are available, with custom picture and sound settings supported by limited preset modes, and there's little else to play with.
For the picture, the Vivid preset mode performs best, especially since tinkering with the custom settings appears to have little effect on the image. Sound presets include a Dolby Virtual Surround mode that recreates superficial depth and dynamics from two speakers. Shortcut keys used to select presets or change inputs mean you rarely have to access the full menu.
The digital TV menus are graphically removed from the main menu system, but are nonetheless simple to operate. Freeview channels are supported by a decent electronic programme guide that allows you to view schedules by category, co-ordinate recordings if you've got a device with Smartlink compatibility and set up programme reminders. Its only fault is that by listing details of 12 channels at a time it can appear overcrowded and, although you can hear sound, there's no thumbnail picture to prevent you from missing what's on.
The quality of pictures produced by the KDF-E50A12U is testament to how far rear-projection technology has improved in recent years. You will need a distance of at least 2m from the screen and soft lighting to avoid glare and a softening of the image, but if you can meet these needs the picture is surprisingly commendable.
HDMI-induced images are at the forefront of picture performance. Colours are immediately engaging, with a rich spectrum of shades boasting excellent gradation and balance between natural and superficial tones. Decent contrast creates bold images with depth and solidity, while detail is precise enough to compare to considerably more expensive plasma screens. There are also fewer digital disturbances than you'll find from a flat screen.
Digital TV broadcasts display the same density and intense colours, but with less stability. Challenging programmes, especially the unpredictable movement in sport, can suffer from staggered movement and motion streaming, but otherwise the picture is fine. Analogue broadcasts are inevitably less impressive, with coarse detail and constant noise disturbing a picture that's best ignored unless you fall outside of the digital reception area.
The audio ability of standard TV speakers is rarely anything above acceptable and although the sound is reasonably detailed and expressive, it lacks the scale that this size screen deserves.
Edited by Mary Lojkine
Additional editing by Nick Hide