Panasonic Premiere TH-65VX100U 65-inch plasma HDTV

The Short Form
$10,000 / PANASONIC.COM/BUSINESS/PLASMA/PREMIERE_SERIES
Snapshot
Panasonic's Premiere plasma lives up to its name, but at a premium price
Plus
• Stable, filmlike picture • Punchy contrast • Natural-looking color • Excellent shadow detail • Impressive industrial look and build quality
Minus
• Plug-in input card options may be limiting • Expensive for its size class
Key Features
• 65-inch (diagonal) screen • Wide color gamut • 60,000:1 specified contrast ratio • 18-bit video processing • 16 user-adjustable picture memories • Interchangeable plug-in input cards • Optional stand TY-ST65VX100, ($1,000) • 61¼ x 36½ x 3¾ in; 152¼ lb
Now that plasma technology leader Pioneer has exited the TV market, Panasonic's plasmas appear well positioned to fill the vacuum the well-regarded Kuro line left behind. The company's 65-inch Premiere TH-65VX100U, which is sold by Panasonic's industrial division to custom home theater integrators, is at once high-end in build quality, performance, and price. Indeed, it s $10,000 ticket belies its sparse features: the set has limited input connections and, as a monitor, comes with no built-in tuner or speakers. Even the matching tabletop stand is sold separately and costs $1,000 . But, oh my, what a picture.

On first glance, I was impressed by the Panasonic's heft and construction. A black, brushed-aluminum bezel with a raised logo surrounds the screen. Around the perimeter is another 1 [1/2 ] inches of black masking that further surrounds the image. All of this substantial framing adds to the TV's wow factor even before it gets turned on. Panasonic's matching tabletop stand (model TY-ST65VX100 ) is a sturdy plastic affair that looks fine but doesn't quite live up to the panel's high-end aesthetics.

Around back, you'll find only two fixed connections: a standard 15- pin RGB PC input with audio and an RS-232C control port. Other inputs reside on optional plug-in cards that can be swapped based on your needs. Many of the available cards are for professional applications. But the unit comes standard with two HDMI cards, each with a pair of ports, and my sample was outfitted with a component-video plus stereo audio card. (Installers take note: An infrared pass-through card is also available.) Though Panasonic neither provides nor sells optional speakers for the 65VX100U, it has an internal amplifier along with spring-clip connections for a pair you might provide yourself. There are no composite- or S-video inputs (not even on optional plug-in cards), and no convenience terminals on the front or side for jacking in a camcorder, camera, or game console. Granted, the dearth of inputs won't be an issue when an A/V receiver or external switcher is used, but I can see it causing headaches in some installations.

A few basic controls are hidden under the bezel on the TV's bottom left . Its supplied plastic remote - a likely throwaway in custom installs - is nicely weighted. There's a big Menu button above the navigation cluster, and direct buttons nearby for all the inputs. Rockers traditionally used for volume and channel are labeled Input and Video Menu here . The latter steps you through the picture presets: Standard, Dynamic, Cinema, and Monitor. The Aspect button walks you through several options that vary with the input signal; for high-def these include Full (16:9), Zoom, Just, 4:3, and Horizontal Fill. The 1:1 "pixel-for-pixel" mode affects the Full mode when it's selected and can be chosen as the default in the setup menu.

SETUP

The 65VX100U's menu system had just enough cool video options to satisfy my inner tweak without overwhelming me with useless features. Panasonic's Cinema preset provided the best starting point, though I was at first tempted to use its Monitor mode, which is intended for professional video post-production . However, I quickly learned that this mode's purpose is to clamp the brightness level of highlights, with the effect of reducing the picture's overall punch. Bottom line: Monitor mode is not recommended for regular consumer use.

Helpful video adjustments include a white balance control with a full set of gains and cuts , a Black Extension control to "deepen" blacks, and a multi setting gamma control. An unusual option allows the set's internal video scaler to be turned off so that an external video processor can be used . I loved that the TV's menu button always remembered both the last submenu it had visited and the last item selected, which streamlines setup. You can also store up to 16 sets of customized adjustments to create presets that can be recalled via the menu or a button on the remote.

Out of the box, the Cinema mode's Warm color temperature option displayed an overly reddish balance, but this was easily adjusted for during calibration (see Test Bench) and the Panasonic ended up closely tracking the industry standard 6, 500-K gray across its full brightness range. After some experimentation both with test patterns and with subjective viewing, I ended up notching up the Black Extension from its 0 setting to 1, and left the Gamma control at its default 2.2 preset. The AGC (auto gain control) auto contrast function remained in the default Off position.

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