Fujitsu Plasmavision SlimScreen P50XHA10U high-definition plasma display

"Remarkable things are happening in the plasma-display market . . . a big, flat screen hanging on the wall has universal appeal."

I wrote those words in my February 2002 review of Fujitsu's first 50-inch consumer plasma display, the PDS-5002. They remain true today, the only difference being that prices of plasma displays continue to drop. That earlier Fujitsu listed for $15,000. While still far from a bargain, the new Fujitsu P50XHA10U goes for just under $11,000, and may well represent the state of the art in 50-inch plasma displays.

Regular readers will recall that I was blown out of my chair by the PDS-5002. Of course, visual memory can be misleading, but everything I see in the new model suggests that, in nearly every respect, it's as good as that original design. Is it better? That's impossible to say without a direct comparison, but I'm just as enthusiastic about this new model.

Change is Good
To keep readers who saw my review of the PDS-5002 from drifting off, I'll restrict my discussion of the P50XHA10U's features to how it differs from that earlier design. Those unfamiliar with the original review can refer to the sidebar "DéjàVu All Over Again," or, better yet, check out the review of the earlier model in the Archive section of our website, www.guidetohometheater.com.

Apart from a relocation of the on-set controls to the lower right corner of the front bezel and some small trim changes, the P50 is very similar in appearance to its predecessor, very nearly the same size, and exactly the same weight. There are now component inputs, and the DVI connection is now specified to be HDCP-compliant.

The newer Fujitsu also has a built-in 12Wpc stereo amp (for use with external speakers, not included), but I suspect that most buyers will ignore it in favor of a separate, home-theater sound system. As with most plasma displays, there is no built-in NTSC or ATSC tuner; the P50XHA10U is strictly a monitor.

The remote differs slightly from Fujitsu remotes of the past. It isn't illuminated, but its simple layout makes it relatively easy to use by touch alone. But don't lose it! Not all of the control functions are accessible from the set's front panel.

The P50 offers a range of color-temperature settings, but in an unusual way. There's a Standard setting, specified as 6500K, which can be adjusted up or down in 500K increments to a maximum of ±3500K. There's also a User setting, which provides separate overall adjustment of red, green, and blue. If there are separate adjustments for each color at the top and bottom of the brightness range, they must be in a separate service menu for which Fujitsu declined to provide us access information.

The set provides a so-called Picture Mode adjustment with five settings: Dynamic, Fine, Real1, Real2, and Static. The primary effect of this control appears to be on the set's gamma–the way in which a display's brightness changes as the input level increases. I experimented with the three most promising of these settings–Dynamic, Fine, and Real2–and ended up preferring Real2 for most of my serious viewing. Dynamic proved a little too punchy, and Fine was often too pallid, although it worked well with some program material and very dim (or no) room lighting. However, none of these options looked their best without proper adjustment of the User Picture controls using a good setup DVD like Video Essentials or The Avia Guide to Home Theater, or, even better, a full calibration.

Repeat Performance
I'll first address the traditional drawbacks of plasma displays. Most significant is a limited depth of black, combined with less-than-sparkling shadow detail. The Fujitsu P50-XHA10U didn't eliminate those problems. An image-free screen on this display–as from an open input–didn't look all that dark. It was a deep gray rather than true black, and not the equal of an HD2-chipped DLP projector on a Stewart FireHawk screen, much less a good CRT.

But with most video images, the picture never looked pallid or washed-out, and it had the sort of 3-dimensionality usually found only on displays with exceptional blacks. Shadow detail wasn't quite as impressive, but the missing detail disappeared into a subjectively deep black, not a foggy gray. In other words, it was a limitation that was easy to ignore 99% of the time. Only on dark images with little inherent contrast did the P50 remind me that it wasn't a CRT, but even on these difficult scenes, its performance was never less than satisfactory. I've yet to see another plasma display that produces better blacks than this one.

Then there's false contouring, a common limitation of plasma displays that can cause a stair-stepped, paint-by-numbers appearance in images that should fall off gradually from light to shadow. This can be particularly noticeable on faces, at its worst making live actors look like cartoons. The Fujitsu was not entirely free of this, but I never saw any obvious sign of it on good program material. I did see it once, on a particularly bad, low-quality Replay PVR recording of so-so cable reception, but it was rare even with such poor material. Again, it did not detract from my enjoyment of the picture.

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