Like many big-screen rear-projection TVs, the 50HX81 isn't supersleek-looking, but this big box finished in gunmetal grey is certainly attractive enough. The front bezel below the screen is sleeker and has a more high-tech appearance than those found in previous Toshiba Cinema Series models. And that bezel houses the flip-down door for access to the front panel, A/V inputs, and some limited functions. Better still, the newly designed universal remote is one of the best we've encountered. Extremely well laid out and almost fully backlit, it's a real pleasure to use in a darkened theater environment.
As far as convenience features go, the dual-tuner PIP (Picture-in-Picture) heads the list. There's also a one-button Sleep Timer function and a new 2-Level Mute function, which gives you a half-muted sound for late-night viewing. Audio features include a StableSound function that keeps the volume level equal between channels and commercial breaks where there are often large spikes in volume. The set also sports MTS stereo with SAP (Second Audio Program), a Sub Bass System, and an impressive 30 watts of overall audio power.
Picture-enhancing features include new HD Plus CRTs with a new High Contrast PowerFocus lens system. The TouchFocus automatic digital convergence is a first for Toshiba, but like all the other auto-convergence features that we've tested, it doesn't work well enough to replace a good service convergence. The Ambient Light Sensor and Dynamic Contrast features are designed to automatically adjust contrast and brightness levels depending on the amount of ambient light in the room. These are not features that we recommend using for serious movie watching, but they may come in handy for casual viewing in high ambient light conditions.
Toshiba has changed the internal line-doubler to do 540p up-conversion, which is not completely compatible with the 480p output from progressive-scan DVD players. However, the newly added 3:2 pull-down circuitry in the 50HX81's video processing is a welcome addition, as it aids in getting rid of jaggy artifacts typically generated with film-based material on DVD.
Connectivity options on the 50HX81 are generous. Most importantly, the set has two broadband component video inputs, both of which accept most component video formats (480i, 480p, and 1080i). The rear panel sports two full A/V inputs with S-Video, two RF inputs, a center-channel audio input, a single A/V output, and a set of variable audio outputs.