A big screen with high-end-styling
The best-looking of the three sets, the $2,199 RCA HD52W58 has a smart two-tone color scheme, with a swath of silver above a completely black speaker grille. The 52-inch screen has a protective pane of transparent acrylic that can't be removed, which is too bad since it tends to reflect room light.
I'm not a big fan of RCA's small remote. It lacks backlighting, and the button labels are difficult to read. But the excellent onscreen menu system is another story. Its intuitive design, packed with common-language explanations, makes it easy to adjust even the most esoteric parameters - settings like edge enhancement and color temperature.
Among its numerous other jacks, the set's back panel includes an HDMI input and a CableCARD slot. The built-in digital tuner bested that of the Mitsubishi TV and our Dish DVR 921 satellite receiver, although it couldn't quite match the station-pulling prowess of the Zenith TV.
SETUP The RCA's PIP (picture-in-picture) feature is more limited than those of the other two sets since it won't work with any high-def or 480p sources - either in the main or the smaller window. On the other hand, the RCA outdoes the other two by offering five picture presets and allowing each input to remember custom settings for brightness, contrast, and so on. The set also includes both automatic and manual convergence adjustments, although the latter has only rudimentary one-point control.
PICTURE QUALITY After calibrating the RCA, I rejoined Riddick. Outer space looked a familiar deep black shade as he piloted his vessel toward Helion Prime, and the picture generally maintained its depth throughout. I quickly noticed, however, that edges looked somewhat unnatural: the mercenary's face and Riddick's hair as he leaned toward him with a knife were surrounded by faint halos. I couldn't fix this sometimes-distracting effect even though I switched off the TV's edge-enhancement circuit and turned the sharpness control all the way down.
During the confrontation between Aereon and Riddick, his tan head and her red lipstick appeared realistic enough, if a bit pale. I could easily see the brown color of the darkest areas of his garb and make out its wrinkles. And when the Necromongers attempt to convert Riddick, the RCA offered up plenty of detail. I could make out the vague, veiled female forms in the four cavorting ghost-creatures, the complex Baroque whorls and curves in their ghost-hutches, and the crisp water ripples in the bowls they carried. The image did appear slightly softer than on the other two sets.
Of course, I saw even more detail when I slipped in the high-def Digital Video Essentials tape. I could distinguish numerous windows during the pan of the skyscrapers, but I also noticed trailing edges along a lamppost and the side of a building.
Colors appeared more brilliant with HDTV than with DVD, and the blue of the sky above the dancing couple seemed relatively even from edge to edge. There was a hot spot, but it wasn't quite as intense as the Zenith's. I couldn't discern individual links in the silhouette of the chain, and again some fine details, like the freckles on the face of the beautiful woman picking fruit, seemed a bit soft.
With CableCARD, a large image, and a relatively low price, the RCA HD52W58 will appeal to just about every HDTV shopper. Videophiles will shun its nonremovable screen protector, but people looking for a classy big-screen TV will love its style.
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