Marantz PD5010D 50-Inch Plasma HD Monitor
In the last couple of years, plasma displays have become increasingly popular. The technology has also come a long way in terms of picture quality. Initially, plasma's biggest performance pitfalls were in the areas of black level and color accuracy. Thanks to recent technological advances, black-level performance has improved significantly, but it still has a long way to go. Another performance issue with plasmas is something called "false contouring," which manifests itself as crawling patches or blotches of noise.
Marantz's PD5010D plasma monitor suffers from all of these problems to some degree, but so does all of its competition. This display is one of many plasmas on the market today and, at 50 inches, is among the largest available. While prices are beginning to come down from the stratospheric levels they were at when these displays were first introduced to the market in 1998, plasmas are still extremely expensive. In the 50-inch category, prices range from $18,000 to $25,000, and this Marantz model carries a suggested list price of $19,995.
The PD5010D features a high-resolution 1,365- by 768-pixel panel that's compatible with all digital sources, including 480p, 720p, and 1080i. Of course, the internal scaler either upconverts or downconverts incoming signals to the set's native resolution of 1,365 by 768. The PD5010D is also a multistandard display with PAL and SECAM capability. The unit itself measures a mere 4.2 inches deep and weighs a reasonable 101 pounds. One important feature is the set's multiple aspect ratios, including 4:3, stadium, zoom, and full modes. The full mode is the ratio for anamorphic DVDs and HDTV material, and the zoom mode is the correct ratio for regular wide-screen video sources. You can use the stadium mode to expand regular 4:3 program material to fill the set's 16:9 screen, keeping the image's center proportionate while expanding its sides. Of course, the 4:3 mode is for displaying 4:3 material.
Marantz has thoughtfully included an awesome feature that will prevent you from burning a 4:3 image into the PD5010D. In the 4:3 mode, the adjustable side panels allow you to change the black bars to gray and even adjust the level of gray so that you can customize the shade of the sidebars. Trust me, 4:3 burn-in on plasma panels is a serious issue. I've seen many a burnt panel, with clearly visible lines running vertically from top to bottom when viewing in a widescreen mode. Usually, plasma owners need to be hyper-conscious of this problem, but the Marantz—with its unique side-panel feature—makes burn-in a nonissue. This feature will be particularly useful and important if you use the PD5010D as a computer monitor.
The remote has an odd shape. It's quite thin but fits comfortably in the hand. Unfortunately, it's not backlit, which is a drawback for a set that's so clearly aimed at the home theater market. I've been barking about this for years, and few manufacturers have done anything about it. Their reasoning is that anyone with this kind of money to spend on a monitor will most likely invest in a control-panel remote from Crestron, Panja, or the like to control their entire system. That's all fine and dandy, but the person setting up the display in the dark is still forced to use the set's remote and a flashlight to see what he or she is doing. All of the remote's buttons and controls are fairly straightforward and intuitive, with one exception. The Proceed button on the upper right side of the unit begs the question: What does this do? It's actually the menu button, providing access to picture parameters like contrast, brightness, and color, as well as some other functions.
The connectivity suite is quite comprehensive. The PD5010D sports two composite video inputs (one RCA and one BNC), one S-video input, one set of RCA-type component video inputs (broadband 480p, 1080i, etc.), one set of RGBHV inputs that can also serve as component video inputs (all BNC connections), three stereo analog audio inputs, a second RGB input (which is actually DVI), and an RS-232 control port for use with touchpanel control systems for whole-system integration.
The PD5010D's performance is pretty impressive when compared with that of other 50-inch plasmas on the market, but (as I mentioned earlier) the technology has its limitations. The PD5010D's black-level capability isn't bad, but it's far from optimum and not nearly as good as that of CRT-based monitors. Whether it's displaying anamorphic DVDs or even HDTV sources, the PD5010D falls apart in dimly lit scenes. In dark scenes, there's little or no shadow detail and noticeable low-level noise. In all fairness to Marantz, all of the 50-inch plasmas I've seen exhibit these problems. Looking on the bright side, well-lit scenes look really good, particularly those from high-def sources.
I set up the PD5010D with test patterns from the Video Essentials DVD. I also tweaked the gray scale with my Visual Standard optical comparator. The display only has RGB gain and bias controls in its Pro color-temperature setting. One of the things that immediately struck me was how bright this plasma is. When I adjusted the contrast setting to about 10 percent on the graph, the image was extremely bright. At the factory preset of 50 percent, the display was simply too bright to watch in a darkened home theater environment without causing serious eye fatigue. By the way, a plasma is best-used in a room with some ambient light, where you need its intense light-output capabilities but black-level performance isn't as critical.