Fujitsu P50XTA51US Plasma Display: Short Take

  • $6,499
  • Technology: Plasma Display Panel
  • Resolution: 1366x768
  • Size: 50"
  • Inputs: One HDMI, two component, one each composite and S-video, one RGB on 15-Pin DSUB
  • Feature Highlights: CableCARD HD Tuner, AVM-II video processing, advanced color management,built-in speakers, tabletop stand
Fujitsu plasmas cost more but have the enviable reputation for offering the kind of flexibility and improved processing that separates the premium designs from the loss leaders you see at Costco. This latest Fujitsu 50" plasma has a model number that's too long for me to repeat, but it costs $6499 and aims to justify its premium price.

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Although Fujitsu co-owns a plasma factory with Hitachi, word on the street is that it doesn't manufacture 50" glass, and is still using Panasonic glass at that screen size. This is actually a bonus- Panasonic has always been considered at having the sweet glass with the best blacks and contrast.

The Fujitsu works hard with its video input set, but not as smart as it could be. While it provides a CableCARD HD tuner, two component inputs, and even an RGB on 15-Pin DSUB there's only one HDMI input. This isn't enough for a premium set. Plenty of people out have or will soon have next-gen disc players with HDMI, and while CableCARD is good, lots of people use the STB tuners provided by cable and satellite companies that are also coming equipped with HDMI more and more frequently.

Consider the Pioneer Elite PRO-1130HD that TJN recently reviewed. This plasma costs a full thousand bucks less, has a separate media receiver, two HDMI inputs, and two i.LINK inputs.

Setting up the Fujitsu for use is also no picnic thanks to the collusion between the user manual and on-screen menus, which are equally inscrutable. I won't beat this dead horse too long, but a classic example is that unlike any other set I've seen, this plasma provides two contrast adjustments- "Signal Contrast" and "Drive Contrast." While it appears through use that the Drive Contrast adjusts the overall light output of the set, and the Signal Contrast adjusts the white levels in a more traditional fashion. The user manual only offers this by way of explanation: "Drive Contrast can be adjusted." Thanks for coming, folks!

When an expert who's screwed around with as many TVs as I have is baffled, what hope does the average guy off the street have in figuring out a TV like this?

Other useful features include the ability to save and "Load" eight sets of image adjustments, and a screen orbiter to eliminate burn-in. A not so useful feature is that there isn't direct access to the video inputs. The closest thing to it is pressing the "Video" button on the remote and then manually entering the input number. A poor substitute.

Watching video on this Fujitsu makes it readily apparent why plasma screens are so appealing to people, their sexy, 4" depth notwithstanding. Plasmas have some things in common with CRT direct-views in that the panel you see emits its own light, and phosphors are right there on the screen. As a result, there are times when plasmas really look like large, bright, sharp CRTs and this Fujitsu fits in that class.

This plasma simply looks a bit more natural and realistic in many ways than just about all of the LCD flat panels I've seen. This isn't to say the colorimetry is necessarily better, because the greens here do show that nuclear lime color a lot more than I'd like them to. But there's still something more organic about the picture that I really like. And the blacks and contrast are part of it.

This Fujitsu's blacks, contrast and shadow detail aren't equal to the best digital front projectors out there. The overall contrast is noticeably compressed in comparison, and occasionally I saw more noise and false contouring than I wanted to. Still in all these critical regards this set is superior to any plasma I've actually seen, and miles beyond the best LCD flat panels I've seen.

So far, I like what I see from this Fujitsu. It's big, bright, and is very sharp, especially with the best video-based HD material (this year's NBA playoffs on TNT HD for example, have been spectacular). So far, while the blacks and contrast are better than I've seen from plasma or LCD, the nitpicky videophile in me is not convinced that this set has what it takes to the main display in a darkened theater environment where movie watching is prioritized above all else. But for a big second TV somewhere else in the house? Oh yeah!

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