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It’s a relief, then, to find that what it lacks in standard definition connectivity the 61XR4G makes up for in HD connectivity, as it sports twin HDMIs (switchable between PC and video use) for digital HD sources, and twin component jacks for analogue HD sources like the Xbox 360.
The 61XR4G’s onscreen menus surprisingly contain a very decent collection of film-friendly features. For instance, there are two Theater picture presets; a noise reduction system; a cinema mode for improving how motion looks in movie sources; separate tweaks for the red, green, blue, yellow, magenta and cyan colour components; and the option to adjust the gamma levels. You can even call in some picture in picture facilities – including the option to show two HD sources simultaneously.
Let loose on a variety of Xbox 360 games, and HD movie recordings on our resident Sky HD box, the 61XR4G gets off to a snorting start by doing a particularly fine job of emphasising all the lovely fine detail and sharpness that make HD so special. You can see individual pores in skin during close ups, every leaf or brick in long distance shots, and pretty much every level of texture in between. Outstanding.
We were also taken with the NEC’s colour handling. This has tended to be a weakness of previous NEC plasma offerings, but here tones look really strikingly natural, be they full-on bright saturations or subtle muted ones. It’s nice – and again surprising – to also see that colours appear largely free of the striping that still afflicts many plasma TVs.
Having said earlier that we wouldn’t really expect a screen as big as the 61XR4G to handle standard definition very well, it actually does pretty decently with ordinary PAL material. Pictures appear considerably less noisy, soft and unnatural looking than we’d expected - making us wish, after all, that NEC had included a digital tuner and some SCARTs.