If we had to sum up our previous experience with NEC flat screens, we'd probably have to go with ‘solid'. For while they've excelled in one or two areas - most notably their detailing and freedom from video noise - they've also tended to come a cropper elsewhere. Usually their pricing, lack of domesticated features, and black levels.
But we find ourselves unboxing the brand's latest 50in offering, the 50XR6, with a greater feeling of anticipation than usual. Why? For the simple reason that NEC's plasma TVs now herald from the factory lines of Pioneer. And if there's one plasma brand you really don't mind putting your screens together for you, it's Pioneer. Is it possible that the 50XR6 might reach the same dizzying performance heights that Pioneer's own new KURO models have done?
Before we find out, it's a little disappointing to find that even though it belongs in what NEC calls its ‘residential range', the 50XR6 doesn't really seem very bothered about the domestic UK TV market - it sports no built-in tuner or SCARTs, while stereo speakers are an optional extra rather than being included in the £1,250-ish price. And at £300, they're hardly the most affordable optional extra we've heard of…
Of course, though, it's entirely possible that the sort of person who might be interested in a 50XR6 might not actually need any of the absent features just listed. For example, a high-level AV system would surely have a Sky HD receiver for TV duties (complete with HDMI or component video output meaning there's no need for SCARTs), plus a separate home cinema sound system.
Nonetheless, we still can't help but be concerned that the lack of interest in home users shown by the missing domestic features will also colour its performance, with images that favour PC users over film fans.
Getting into stuff the 50XR6 does have, the first thing to catch our eye is a surprisingly smart design delivered courtesy of a minimalist matt-black fascia and impressively lean bezel. Next, while connections may lack tuner or SCART inputs, you do get a pair of HD Video-capable HDMIs, two component video inputs where many flat TVs only give you one, a D-Sub PC port, and an RS232 control port for system building. Plus it turns out that you can attach a SCART to one of the component ports via a suitable adaptor. But then NEC hasn't actually bothered to include one of those adaptors in the package.