Features, Delivery & Setup
LCD, plasma, LCD plasma... So many choices, and the prices are dropping rapidly (to the dismay of non-Korean-based manufacturers you can be sure). We happened to get our hands on one of the least expensive 50-inch plasma televisions around. What we've found is that these models lack the customization, and often color accuracy, of more expensive models, but compensate by bringing large, flat-screen technology to consumers at an affordable price. The key is knowing their strengths and weaknesses and using them properly to their best advantage. With this in mind, we tore into the Optoma PD50A 50-inch plasma television and began our evaluation.
There isn't much in the way of features on this unit - this is about as bare bones as you will find in a display intended for entry-level consumers who want an affordable large screen plasma television. Settings vary per input, but in general you have access to black level, white level, color and tint controls and you can adjust audio via bass, treble and balance sliders. The MODE feature adjusts color temperature, but only slightly and should probably stay in the Cinema setting at all times. One feature I found helpful was the "Favorite Channel" functionality found on the remote control. I only watch a few television stations, so having this "on-the-fly" method of adding and subtracting a small number of channels to a navigable list was quite appealing.
Delivery and Setup
We always recommend a two-person installation when handling LCD or plasma televisions over 30" in size (OK, probably any televisions over 30" in size). The Optoma is heavy, but the box was easily lifted up a flight of stairs with the help of my lovely wife. The unit is packaged as a box-within-a-box which is generally the safest way to ship more fragile electronics and the way most larger screen televisions are shipped nowadays. The Optoma PD50A requires a pedestal stand (sold separately, batteries not included, see your store for details, etc) in order to place it on a tabletop or display stand. If you want to wall mount it, you're in luck as it has four very easy to access mount points on the back that will work with any number of universal mounts. Wall mounts typically range from $100-$300 (higher if you want something that has more movement) and the pedestal can be found for around $99. Keep in mind that the pedestal is a custom piece particular to the PD50A and third-party options are likely not compatible.
The inputs are accessible from the bottom rear of the unit (no front or side inputs or outputs are present). We found the input layout to be slightly confusing, though this isn't a big deal as most people aren't connecting and disconnecting all week long as we are. Pay particular attention when utilizing the HD1 component inputs. You will notice that on first glance you would assume that the top (back) row of green, blue and red RCA connections make up the YPbPr inputs. On this display, the Pr (red) connection is actually located below (behind) the blue RCA. Let's just say that I enjoyed some very entertaining color gymnastics when I first connected a DVD player to this display!
Before using the on-board NTSC tuner (the TV input), you'll first need to go into the TUNER menu and select either "antenna" or "cable" as the RF input source. The cable type for most people will be "standard". If you believe that your cable system will respond better to HRC (harmonically related carriers - generally tuned slightly below standard cable frequencies) or IRC (incrementally related carriers - generally tuned slightly above standard cable frequencies) then by all means select those options before proceeding. Selecting "autoset" at this point will initiate a fairly quick programming sequence whereby all available channels will be scanned and unavailable channels will be discarded (channels can then be manually added or subtracted later using the "edit channel" if needed).