Fujitsu Plasmavision SlimScreen PDS-6101 high-definition plasma display Page 2
To one degree or another, two problems continue to nag owners of many plasmas: the presence of a phenomenon known as "false contouring," or "posterization," and the quality of the blacks. (False contouring, which most often occurs in shadowed areas, can produce hard-edged gradations between colors and different light levels that look much like a paint-by-numbers portrait.) The good news is that many new plasma displays have reduced these problems to the status of occasional nuisance, largely limited to a lack of detail in otherwise respectably dark black and near-black areas of the image. Fujitsu's own PDS-5002 50-inch plasma falls squarely in this category.
The bad news is that the larger PDS-6101 doesn't. Its blacks were significantly inferior to the PDS-5002's. And while the shortfall seen on real program material is not nearly as severe as the contrast measurements might lead you to believe (as with the ear's reaction to sound, the eye does not respond linearly to visual stimuli; see "Calibration" sidebar), the difference was still clearly apparent. As scenes darkened, the picture lost most of its shadow detail and the image slowly developed a gray, hazy look. While few films contain many scenes that clearly and consistently reveal this shortcoming (Dark City and The Relic are two), I found it occasionally evident on many less challenging titles. The upside: While I also saw hints of false contouring with the big Fujitsu (more clearly than with the PDS-5002), they weren't serious enough to be distracting.
Those criticisms aside, the PDS-6101 performed well. The bright exterior scenes in the U-571 DVD were superbly detailed, with good color and insignificant video noise—even the more brightly lit sub interiors looked respectable. It was only when the images dropped into deep shadows that the Fujitsu's black shortcomings became apparent. The opening close-up of Jim Carrey in The Majestic was also eye-popping—crisp, clean, natural-looking, and 3-dimensional, with excellent flesh tones. A little of that gray haze turned up in that movie's darker scenes, but there are few dark scenes in this film to cause trouble. The same went for Shrek. Apart from too-vivid greens (partially tamed by simply backing off the Color control), everything but the darkest shots in this "film" jumped off the screen. The PDS-6101 was neither as sharp as the PDS-5002 from the same viewing distance (the same number of pixels on a larger screen virtually guarantees this) nor as 3-dimensional (a function of both sharpness and black level), but on the best material it still provided an impressive viewing experience. And its larger size guaranteed a greater impact.
The Fujitsu's AVM video scaler performed solidly. It wasn't quite as free of jagged edges as scalers based on the Faroudja technology—including the Faroudja chips built into an increasing number of progressive-scan DVD players—but it nevertheless performed well, marginally outclassing the deinterlacer built into the Pioneer DV-47 DVD player. Both did equally well on the pan across the ship in chapter 7 of Titanic (no significant artifacts) and the waving flag on the Video Essentials and Faroudja test DVDs (jaggies on both; Faroudja-based scalers are clearly superior on this test). But on the opening scene from Star Trek: Insurrection, the Fujitsu scaler was clearly better than the progressive output of the Pioneer; the slow pan across the village's buildings produced no ripples or jagged edges.
There's not much that needs to be said about the Fujitsu's performance with a high-definition feed. HD couldn't cure the black-level limitations, but as long as the HD material was reasonably well-lit, the set easily passed the "looking out the window" test. The inherent sharpness of a plasma display provides plenty of detail, and through the PDS-6101 the color of HD looked at least as good, and often better, than the color with the best DVDs.
All the 61-inch plasma displays we know of, including the Fujitsu, are built using plasma panels made by NEC. While it would be unfair to say that all such displays share the Fujitsu's black-level limitations (their electronics may be different), it is fair to say that you should look for problems in this area when auditioning them. In fact, this is something you should look for in any plasma display.
If you're in the market for a big plasma, the Fujitsu PDS-6101 does a lot right. While its performance in the blacks can't equal the best 50-inch plasma displays, including Fujitsu's own, giving it a black (so to speak) mark for this shortcoming may not be entirely fair—we're still looking for a plasma display of this size that can do better. We have not yet evaluated the latest models from Zenith (60 inches) or Samsung (63 inches); as we go to press, a sample of the Zenith is scheduled for review. Based on our current experience, however, if you want today's state-of-the-art performance in a plasma display and don't mind sacrificing size, we strongly recommend you look at the 50-inch models from Pioneer, Panasonic, and Fujitsu.
In fact, after I reviewed Fujitsu's 50-inch beauty last fall, I was ready to take her home to mother. The 61-inch Fujitsu PDS-6101 isn't quite there yet. Mother might still be impressed, but a little more seasoning is needed before I'd commit to a long-term relationship.