Fujitsu Plasmavision SlimScreen PDS-5002 HD plasma display Page 3
One problem I'd noticed on earlier plasmas was video noise. It wasn't a major negative on the best sets, but nevertheless could occasionally distract. But unless it was already present in the program material, video noise was simply not a problem with the Fujitsu. Yes, if you look very carefully at some darker backgrounds, you may see traces of dither—noise that is deliberately introduced in plasmas to reduce the false contouring mentioned above. But only rarely did this disturb the Fujitsu's smooth, creamy look on large areas of color.
Fujitsu's AVS processor/scaler turned in a solid performance, with minor exceptions. With typical broadcast material it performed satisfactorily, though with occasional, fleeting jagged edges. But fast-moving sports rarely exhibited distracting artifacts. With better-quality program material, the image looked even better. On the Titanic test, the railings of the salvage ship in chapter 3 and the superstructure of the Titanic in chapter 7 were steady as rocks in the 24fps Film mode—although, as you might expect, they were riddled with jagged lines with the Film mode disabled. Unfortunately, there is no "Auto" mode that detects the type of programming and switches automatically between film and video as required, which suggests that you'll have to compromise with some program material. I found that Film mode worked fine most of the time.
An exception was the "making of" feature on the Pearl Harbor DVD. There are apparently two factors that make this particular material a good scaler-busting test: frequent switching between film and video sources, and apparent bad edits that break the 3:2 pulldown cadence of the filmed sequences. There were fleeting but still visible artifacts in both modes, but slightly fewer with the Film mode turned off. Fujitsu's own scaler performed well enough on this acid test, but the use of a DVD player with a good progressive-scan mode, such as the Kenwood DV-5700 I used (see review elsewhere in this issue), provided a considerably cleaner image. But overall, Fujitsu's internal AVM processor is a good one, particularly on film-based DVDs, and will not drive you to buy an outboard box—be it a progressive-scan DVD player or an outboard scaler—to get outstanding performance.
Outstanding performance is what the Fujitsu PDS-5002 provided. I haven't seen all the potential candidates, but I seriously doubt that there's anything else out there of this size that can exceed it for overall picture quality. The first genuine surprise was the Fujitsu's blacks. No, it couldn't quite measure up to a good CRT in that respect; Dark City was watchable but still marginal. But apart from a very few films such as that one, or a full-black screen that was dark gray rather than black, I was almost never distracted by either a sense that the image was washed-out or that black details were lost in a foggy haze.
My current favorite DVD for checking blacks is High Fidelity. This film has a variety of scenes: low contrast, dark but with bright highlights, and brightly lit. The beginning of chapter 13 demonstrates all three: the inside of a dark movie theater, with the average picture level shifting as the camera pans, is followed by a short night scene outside the theater combining dark shadows with lighter areas, and finally by a scene inside a restaurant with average illumination. The Fujitsu turned in sparkling performance on all three, and on the rest of the film as well. The only exception was a bit of false contouring on the very dark walls of Rob's apartment in chapter 2.
The Fujitsu also displayed remarkable depth of image. On DVD after DVD, the result was convincingly real on live action, but—as you might expect—it ascended to a near magical plane with good computer animation. I know, it's "cheating" to use animation to demonstrate a video display—it almost always looks good. But Shrek displayed on the properly calibrated Fujitsu PDS-5002 was little short of spectacular—a crisply detailed and 3-dimensional image rich in deep, vibrant colors. And the post-calibration peak brightness of 27ft-L made this animated world seem almost real.
Hi-def was even better. Piano Grand, a PBS documentary, looked, well, grand, with great detail, natural color (including those spot-on flesh tones), and no hint of video noise, artifacts, or inadequate blacks. Sports were eye-popping, even to someone familiar with what to expect from such hi-def material. Traditional cel animation—Tarzan and The Road to El Dorado—looked even better than on DVD. Neither 720p nor rescaled 1080i were shortchanged—both looked stunning.
The Straight Skinny
If I had the cash and was looking for the best 50-inch picture I could find, the Fujitsu Plasmavision PDS-5002 is the one I'd buy. Within a few weeks of evaluating this set, I had two video projectors in my studio: a $60,000 Madrigal CRT and an $11,000 Sharp DLP. While both had their strengths—the CRT's blacks, of course, chief among them—neither provided consistently better overall subjective image quality than the Fujitsu. A large measure of this, of course, was due to image size: the projectors were working on a screen four times the size of the Fujitsu panel, which made their jobs about 16 times more difficult. This disparity alone gave the Fujitsu an advantage in apparent sharpness, though in actuality its resolution was no better than the DLP's and inferior to the CRT's. The CRT could probably match the light output, or nearly so, on a 50-inch screen, but who's going to use that type of setup?
Judging by the Fujitsu PDS-5002, plasma technology is advancing rapidly. At its best, the only serious shortcoming is price. That limitation aside, the Fujitsu appears to be at least a generation ahead of past plasmas in image quality. Other manufacturers will surely catch up, but for now, this is our benchmark for plasma displays. For that matter, it's my benchmark for a display of this size using any technology. It's that good.