RCA HDLP50W151 Review

The RCA Scenium HDLP50W151 is an excellent display device that is very attractive and reasonably priced for an integrated HDTV set
The RCA Scenium HDLP50W151 is an excellent display device that is very attractive and reasonably priced for an integrated HDTV set
The RCA Scenium HDLP50W151 is an excellent display device that is very attractive and reasonably priced for an integrated HDTV set

Highs

  • It offers DLP technology at a very affordable price. Supports dual-way FireWire

Lows

  • Blacks could be a little bit darker

DT Editors' Rating

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Summary

To sum it up, the RCA Scenium HDLP50W151 is an excellent display device that is very attractive and reasonably priced for an integrated HDTV set.  At a suggested retail price of $3,999 (probably less than $3,500 street), it offers new DLP display technology featuring integrated HDTV tuning.  It’s also housed in an attractive cabinet that can easily fit sit onto a base with storage, or can be placed into a wall unit.  It has all of the right connections presently needed for any upscale Home Theater and then some.  Since it includes 2-way 1394, the set can easily be tethered to an HD-level DVHS VCR or HD PVR (such as RCA’s new DVR10) for the recording of pristine HD images.  The HDLP50W151 (or its identical, but larger 61-in. sibling – HDLP61W151) is strongly recommended for repeated viewings.

Introduction

RCA, which has long held a tradition as being a driving force in color television manufacturing, was the leading TV brand in the U.S for many years.   RCA was also the first company to introduce color TV back in 1954, and was also one of the first companies to introduce widescreen televisions in the early-to-mid 1990s (long before anyone was aware of HDTV), and put satellite television (DirecTV) on the map in 1994.  It was also one of the first companies to formally introduce HDTV in the late 1990s.  Today, RCA is part of the Thomson family of companies leading the world in color TV and other Consumer Electronics products including High Definition television.

Scenium is now considered to be RCA’s upscale brand including many technologies and features on the cutting edge of electronics development.  The RCA Scenium HDLP50W151 is a 50-in widescreen integrated HDTV featuring DLP technology, which is an acronym for Digital Light Processing.  Basically, DLP is a special type of display device that has been developed by Texas Instruments (TI), and acts as a new type of optical display engine placed onto a semiconductor chip and is used in front and rear projection television sets instead of traditional CRTs (cathode ray tubes).

Features and Design

The HDLP50W151 includes three television tuners: NTSC (for regular TV broadcasts), ATSC (for over-the-air HD broadcasts), and QAM (for “in-the-clear” cable HD broadcasts).

Consumer DLP presently uses a single-chip design, which means no convergence problems (like CRT Television) or phosphor burn in problems (like plasma displays).  DLP projectors have the capability of displaying images up to HD quality of 1,280 x 720 pixels for true 720p (p = progressive) native HD resolution.  RCA’s model HDLP50W151 uses TI’s Mustang II HD2 chip that offers an HD resolution of 1280×720 or 720p.  TI’s HD-2 optical semiconductor 16:9 chips use in excess of 1,300,000 digital microscopic mirrors (DMDs) that build a digital image by switching on/off more than 50,000 times a second via a digitally controlled light beam source.

Unlike many rear projection televisions today, the HDLP50W151 is a tabletop model with a depth of less than 16-inches, and weighs about 90 lbs.  So, it can easily fit into many living/family rooms.  It can sit upon its optional base (RDLP50MD2 priced at $449) that features storage for up to four components, or on any base that can hold a 50-inch tabletop TV.  As previously noted, the HDLP50W151 displays HD images at 720p, has a brightness level of 900 cd/m2, and a contrast ratio of 800:1.  Its DLP light engine was designed by InFocus, and it uses a 16-element lens system along with a 6-segment color wheel.  To help display HD images, the set employs TruScan Digital Reality Intelligent Signal Processing that uses progressive scan circuitry with 3/2 pull-down for the best images possible from HD signals and all video sources such as DVD players.  It is housed in a sleekly styled brushed aluminum cabinet featuring a gloss black picture frame.

The HDLP50W151 includes numerous convenience features including twin-tuner PIP, and GuidePlus+ on-screen program guide.  By simply pressing the guide button on the remote, it brings all of the receivable channels (both analog and digital) within your zip code.  During set-up, the set has enough intelligence to know what type of signals you receive — over-the-air, cable or both.  It will place all of those receivable channels into a grid-like 3-day guide.  If you’ve attached a VCR that can controlled via the TV, simply “click” onto a particular program in the guide, and the TV will instruct the VCR to record a particular program at a specific time, e.g. “Alias” on Sunday at 9pm on ABC.  It could not be simpler, and it works with any brand of VCR.  If you’ve attached RCA’s new DVR10 HD PVR, it will automatically record HD programs in HD as well by simply “clicking” on the desired program, e.g. C.S.I. on Thursday night at 9pm on CBS.  Of course, the DVR10 must be attached to the television via the 2-way 1394 port.

Sound quality is rated at 30-watts total or 15-watts per channel.  There are four speakers with two passive radiators.  Sound quality was fair from the set’s internal speakers, which was helped tremendously by SRS Focus and SRS TruSurround XT.  These sound altering schemes certainly helped the set’s overall aural quality somewhat.  On the other hand, the set can be used as one center channel speaker via the speaker inputs on the back of the set.  Or, sound can be piped via its digital audio outputs to a separate A/V Receiver or Processor (which is recommended by this reviewer).

Setup and Use

Connection was easy and straight-forward.  Since I have two source components with DVI (LG LSS-3200A DirecTV HD Receiver and Marantz DV8400 DVD player, I used Gefen’s new HDTV switcher (priced at $249) that allowed me easily switch back and forth between digital sources without any signal loss on Video input 5.  Video 1 and Video 2 include both composite and auto-detect S-Video inputs.  Video 3 and 4 are progressive component video inputs, and Video 5 is DVI-HDTV.  As well, there are coaxial and optical digital audio outputs, twin IEEE 1394 (6-pin) connectors, 1 Ethernet connector (for web browsing), and 2 RF antenna connectors (so that you can attach both off-the-air plus cable to your set).  A Toshiba VCR was attached to Video 1 via composite, and a RePlayTV PVR (Series 5500) was attached to Video 3 via component video.  Lastly, the set includes a front panel A/V/S-Video inputs along with a headphone jack, which are hidden under a drop-down flap.

As soon as the television is turned on for the first time, it automatically goes into the set-up screen mode.  It asks you various questions including your zip code, and what components are attached to the television.  It’s very simple and intuitive to use.  To calibrate this DLP set for optimal picture playback, I used a special DVD entitled Digital Video Essentials by Joe Kane Productions.  This special disc allows you to correctly set contrast, brightness, black levels, color, sharpness, and gray scale among other video settings.  It also educates about different signals received, and helps set-up your audio system also.  I was surprised that I also received HD signals from Cablevision without their HD set-top box.  Obviously, Cablevision is sending their HD signals, which are encoded in QAM, “in-the-clear.”  Sweet!

My only complaint here is that the keys on their newly designed silver remote are a tad small – some of which are very tiny squares.  The illuminated remote is both universal with pre-programmed codes, and also has learning capability.  It certainly looks sleek.  Personally, I preferred the older ergonomic remotes that RCA used to make with larger color-coded rubberized keys of different shapes.  Certainly, the keys are logically laid out with DVD/VCR/PVR transport keys located at the bottom of the remote for ease of use.

Evaluation

Image quality is quite good!  Originally, RCA had been in the LCoS (Liquid Crystal on Silicon) camp with a similarly designed 1-chip model, but it didn’t perform very well.  Nor was its picture quality very good either.  Well, its first DLP offering is truly amazing.  For RCA, they have seen the future and it’s DLP.  And, for them, it is certainly the right choice.  DLP is an exciting technology offering picture quality on-par with the best rear projection CRT sets out there, but at a quarter of the girth.  According to RCA, this set is the first in a new family of DLP display products.  Currently, this set has a bigger brother – the HDLP61W151 – that is 61-in. widescreen model.

HDTV images from CBS were simply awesome from both over-the-air antenna and Cablevision.  HD offers unparallel image quality to begin with.  CBS shows like C.S.I. Miami, Navy NCIS, C. S. I.: Crime Scene Investigation, Without A Trace, or The Handler, for example, looked especially realistic and gritty with newly found clarity.  PBS continues to show travelogues for the most part in HD, which looked stunning as well from Cable.  On the satellite front, HD-Net is always is my first choice to watch HD images because there is such a variety of programming from sporting events to movies to travelogues.  And, I can say that they looked especially compelling on RCA’s HDLP50W151.  According to HDNet, their programming “captures viewers with the stunning visual images and colors that only 1080i HDTV can offer.” And, it does!  Of course, films on HBO-HD (like The Road to Perdition) and Showtime HD’s original series Jeremiah looked especially compelling also.

Another test for any new HDTV is how they display images from a high-end progressive scan DVD player.  For this evaluation, I used my current reference player – the Marantz DV8400 which is DVI-enabled.  Images produced were very natural and life-like.  By using DVI, all images were passed from player to television completely uncompressed staying in the digital domain.  Different types of programming was watched to get a good feel as to how different films looked on this television display ranging from restored classics like “Casablanca” to “The Adventures of Robin Hood” and “The Mark of Zorro” to more recently released films such as “The Matrix Reloaded” to “The Italian Job” and “2 Fast and 2 Furious.”  Whether the images were in black & white or 21st century color, the images displayed were crisp and simply stunning looking as good as 35mm film showing very little color noise.  Of course, I should note that the blacks could be a tad darker.  However, this is an inherent problem with all light-engine televisions.  It should be noted that it was not as objectionable as some light-engine sets currently in the marketplace.

Conclusion

To sum it up, the RCA Scenium HDLP50W151 is an excellent display device that is very attractive and reasonably priced for an integrated HDTV set.  At a suggested retail price of $3,999 (probably less than $3,500 street), it offers new DLP display technology featuring integrated HDTV tuning.  It’s also housed in an attractive cabinet that can easily fit sit onto a base with storage, or can be placed into a wall unit.  It has all of the right connections presently needed for any upscale Home Theater and then some.  Since it includes 2-way 1394, the set can easily be tethered to an HD-level DVHS VCR or HD PVR (such as RCA’s new DVR10) for the recording of pristine HD images.  The HDLP50W151 (or its identical, but larger 61-in. sibling – HDLP61W151) is strongly recommended for repeated viewings.