Toshiba 50H81 HD-Ready 16:9 rear-projection television Page 3
During the two months I lived with the 50H81 I watched it nearly every day, logging all or parts of dozens of films and hours of ordinary television watching. After that full calibration, which helped sort out some of my early reservations about the set, the only concern that showed up regularly on most program material was the slightly soft picture. At least some of that, certainly, was subjective; I reviewed the Toshiba immediately after reviewing the Fujitsu PDS-5002, a plasma display that would make almost any CRT set look soft in comparison. But the Fujitsu is hardly competitive in price with the Toshiba. The plasma review sample had to be returned, and as it faded into memory, the Toshiba looked better and better as the weeks wore on. Some of this was due to the calibration and subsequent adjustments. (The convergence, in particular, improved the more I tweaked it.)
While the 50H81 was never quite as crisp-looking as I'd like, it was watchable with cable reception (though as underwhelming as much of the material), and often surprisingly good with DVDs. It had enough resolution to differentiate between decent but not particularly sharp transfers like Legally Blonde, better ones like Shadow Magic and *61, and superb ones like Atlantis (animated, to be sure, which helps) and Bubble Boy. The latter film looked amazingly good on the Toshiba, actually managing to transcend the softness visible on most other discs. This is one of those surprising transfers that turn up in the most unexpected places. (To paraphrase a classic J. Gordon Holtism, the better the transfer, the worse the movie. Bubble Boy is often very funny, but doesn't care who it offends, taking one or more swipes at Christians, Hindus, Jews, cults, bikers, dwarves, circus freaks, rockers, old folks, the Japanese, the Chinese, rednecks, and some I've probably missed. Not for the younger set. You have been warned.)
The Toshiba fell just short of the "looking out the window" criterion that distinguishes the best HDTV. Good HD material was so far over the subjective threshold that separates soft from crisp that, had I not been specifically looking for evidence of its resolution limits, I would have noticed nothing missing. Colors were noticeably richer than with standard-definition material. Blacks were excellent, contributing to a rich, 3-dimensional presentation. In short, while this wasn't the best HD I've ever seen, the 50H81 certainly did a fine job at a price that would have seemed unattainable a year or two ago.
The Toshiba 50H81 is a solidly designed set at a good price. It offers a fine picture that, after calibration, sparkles on DVDs and looks even better on high-definition sources. Colors are saturated and true, blacks are rich, and the images, on good program material, have a pleasing and believable depth. On the negative side, the 50H81 doesn't retrieve all the detail present in the best material. But you won't often notice this, and the Toshiba's pluses far outweigh its minuses. Buyers of the 50H81 would do well to consider a professional calibration—good advice with almost any set. With that proviso, I definitely recommend it.