- Review Price: £12500.00
We guess there’s every chance that many of you aren’t even reading this. You probably clocked the £12.5k price tag presented above and clicked your browser’s back button faster than we could say ‘how much?!!’. But if you are still with us, either because money’s no object or you’re intrigued as to precisely why any 50in plasma TV should believe it’s worth so much money, you’re in for a treat. For the key point about the HD50 is that it’s certainly not just a plasma TV.
Vivadi, the British company behind the Saturn HD50, was formed on the back of a single big idea: why not make a TV that’s as much a piece of designer furniture as it is a TV and which can be almost infinitely upgraded to keep up with new technologies as and when they arrive? In other words, Vivadi wanted to create a TV that you didn’t have to completely replace every couple of years, but which could grow old with you like a pair of cutting edge AV slippers…
The early signs from the Saturn HD50 are that Vivadi has achieved its dreams with a really quite remarkable degree of success. For starters, we can guarantee you that you will never have seen a plasma TV that looks anywhere near as dramatic, stylish and, let’s face it, just plain opulent as the HD50.
The 50in screen is reasonably pretty in itself, but what makes the Saturn truly special is what the screen’s mounted on: namely a sumptuous floor-standing console made from curved wood available in any of three finishes: Natural Cherry, Morello Cherry, and Natural Maple. So immediately Vivadi has ticked the ‘TV as furniture’ box in quite spectacular fashion.
But we’ve barely scratched the surface of the Saturn HD50’s design ambitions yet, as Vivadi also does – for an extra £5,000 – a full set of surround sound speakers using NXT flat-panel technology that match the Saturn HD50 in wood-finished style and, amazingly, scale. What’s more, you can even select the colour of the speaker grilles from a choice of Petrol Blue, Ruby Red, or Ebony. Vivadi claims it will consider bespoke finishes for all elements of the system, too – provided they’re possible and you’re willing to pay whatever extra they cost to produce.
Covering every single one of the Saturn HD50’s features would require something akin to the Encyclopaedia Britannica. But to give you at least some comprehension of the level of sophistication we’re talking about, built into that console stand is a high-spec ‘media gateway’: effectively a mega-powerful Windows Media Centre PC. This makes the Saturn HD50 capable of doing everything you’d expect a normal PC to do – ripping your CDs to hard disk, surfing the Internet, downloading movies, sending emails, and so on.
The Saturn HD50 also comes with two digital tuners built into its PC section, which enables you to record vast quantities of TV shows onto a seriously large 400GB built-in hard disk. Plus there’s a built-in DVD player that could in the future be replaced by a Blu-ray or HD DVD deck depending on what you want/which format succeeds. Vivadi is already working on an HD DVD option, in fact.
When it comes to connections, things are necessarily slightly affected by the TV’s PC ‘middle man’ approach. But all you really need to know is that the set carries two HDMI inputs for digital high definition sources, but that the component video inputs surprisingly only take standard definition feeds – a shortcoming that prevents the Saturn HD50 from earning the AV world’s HD Ready badge.
While this initially appears daft on such a posh TV, it’s arguably not as serious as it sounds. The set still has an HD friendly native resolution of 1,366 x 768 and its HDMI jacks will take the key 720p and 1080i formats. And going forward digital connections will doubtless start to render HD component connections redundant. But the lack of a component HD option does mean the HD50 won’t let you connect an Xbox 360 in HD mode via the normal Microsoft component cable.
The final point to make about the Saturn HD50 is that it features a racking system tastefully tucked away inside the cabinet where you can invisibly add, say, a Sky HD box.
It would be a real shame if all this striking innovation, unique flexibility and almost total future proofing wasn’t partnered by quality where it really matters, in the picture and sound departments. But happily Vivadi has worked its magic on those too.
Starting with the picture quality, the 50in plasma screen delivers impressive results that at least get close to what we’ve seen from the very best ‘normal’ plasma TVs. Straight away, for instance, our eye is caught by deep and naturally-toned black levels during scenes in our favourite movies and games. These dark areas are also unusually full of shadow detail and depth.
The picture looks vibrant, too, with bright colours radiating forth with real dynamism and richness. Even better, this is achieved without damaging the authenticity of most of the colour tones.
Viewing in HD, meanwhile, reveals some exceptional sharpness in the Saturn 50’s pictures, as it delivers all the extra texture and detailing that makes HD so special.
Add to all this admirable freedom from practically all types of noise and fluid, smear-free motion, and you’ve got pictures that really are never less than extremely enjoyable.
We’re not talking perfection, though. For instance, the latest plasmas from Panasonic and Pioneer (which we’ve also reviewed recently) can deliver even more vibrancy. And while colours are generally natural, occasional hues of green and deep red can occasionally become a touch odd.
There’s nothing odd about the Vivadi’s audio, though. Even if you’re just using the speakers built into the main console the quality is outstanding, with effortless power, dynamic range and clarity. But splash the cash on that extra surround sound speaker set and you’ll experience the sort of home cinema and hi-fi heaven only usually found on megabucks separates systems for the blue-blood audiophile set.
It goes without saying that with a price tag like £12,500, the Vivadi Saturn HD50 won’t be for everyone. But if your ship’s come in recently and you fancy a plasma TV that’s a) stylistically iconic, b) completely future-proofed to the point where it might actually outlive you, c) stuffed full of more features than we’ve had steamed treacle puddings, and d) an outstanding performer to boot, then this is the only TV in Britain, if not the world, that hits every spot.
Score in detail
Image Quality 9
Sound Quality 10
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