Panasonic TH-50PX600U High-definition Plasma TV Page 2
As with every set I have ever reviewed, this one pushes red so that you have to lower the overall color control to tame it. Still, with the normal user controls, I was able to produce a properly balanced picture in short order. One sour note: Don't hesitate while making picture adjustments. The adjustment graphic stays up only while you are changing values. It snaps off instantly if you pause.
The set offers the standard array of aspect ratio settings: 4x3, anamorphic, full, zoom, and justified. The latter is supposed to leave the center of the screen largely intact while stretching the edges. I used this setting with 4x3 material quite often but found that even faces in the center of the screen looked fat. The TV also comes with a TV Guide on-screen program guide, which gives a complete scrolling program grid (particularly valuable when using CableCARD- Ed.) along with lots of on-screen commercials.
The remote control is barely acceptable, a brushed aluminum number that is not backlit. It does not have buttons for immediate access to input sources, but it does have the next best thing. Push the input button, and a graphic list appears on screen allowing you to scroll to the one you want.
I will cut to the chase. Black levels are historically the greatest weakness of plasma displays. Plasmas have gotten a lot better at this over the years, and the 42-inch Panasonic professional model I reviewed last spring performed as well as any plasma I had ever seen. The 50-inch under review here did not fare as well in absolute depth of black and test patterns also revealed that it was not able to maintain detail near black when brighter material was also on-screen.
In November, I had a look at Pioneer Elite's PRO-FHD1, a 50-inch 1080p plasma then under review by my colleague Shane Buettner, and we put up the same test patterns. The Pioneer performed notably better than the Panasonic. But at $8,000 the Pioneer costs almost $5,000 more than the Panasonic. We shall see if Panasonic's new 1080p plasma can reclaim the title.
This is not merely an academic distinction. Any loss in black level will reduce the contrast ratio that gives the image its 'punch," offering a "washed out" look instead. And, of course, you lose detail in black areas. Watching parts of Dark City and Master and Commander, dark areas were merely dark gray voids with no detail. One disturbing scene, put up by Buettner when he came by to do measurements on the set, came from chapter 25 of Seabiscuit on DVD. During the horse race a jet-black horse rides past. That horse was a black void with no detail. None. It looked like a black cardboard cutout being pulled across the screen.
I ran the set through the Silicon Optix HQV Benchmark test disc, and its performance on this disc's standard definition test patterns was good, not great. It failed the interlace error, or "jaggies" tests, but just barely. This means its video processing circuitry is mediocre, and it does not handle 3-2 pulldown well either. On one test showing empty stands at a racetrack, as the camera panned the chairs broke apart for almost a full second before the circuitry caught up and corrected the problem – easily long enough to notice. Even then, the picture was noisy. But seldom will you see a scene in normal video where the problem is so obviously visible.
This set did sail through tests for video noise – it eliminated noise in solid, static screens, like clouds and sky. Color fidelity was excellent. Looking at test patterns and program material, I did not see any colors that seemed to be skewed.
Over time I watched a lot of standard-definition TV upconverted by the set to the TV's native resolution, 1366 x 768. By no means did the network TV look like high-definition. But it was pleasantly watchable, though "jaggies" were frequently apparent. Without adequate upconversion, conventional TV on a screen this large can look soft, mushy – unpleasant. I have seen that on other displays, but not this one.
I watched a number of DVDs, including 16 Blocks, X-Men United and Mission: Impossible 3. It is generally true that when the problems turned up on test discs are relatively minor, they are not readily visible when watching movies. Other than the jaggies, that was generally the case with the Panasonic. On M:I 3, faces of the actors were radiant but did not glow. Fast moving objects screamed across the screen but left no trails. Most often program material did not throw up scenes that accented the set's weakness in displaying black.
I tried to use the set as a computer monitor. I connected my laptop through the VGA input, and the Windows start page big popped onto the screen. I suppose you would use this feature if you wanted to make a PowerPoint demonstration on your TV. But I simply tried to do a bit of writing – until I noticed a problem. On the Panasonic, the Windows "close program" box – that tiny red box with the 'x' in the middle at the top right corner – glowed with such a ferocity that I feared "burning-in" this image on the plasma panel. Other red Windows features also looked radioactive. I turned down the brightness and contrast down as far as they would go, but the red boxes still glowed dangerously. I terminated that experiment quickly, for fear of screen burn-in.
I watched a lot of high-definition, from digital cable and D-VHS movies. On Comcast high-definition cable, the picture was, well, just plain terrible – noisy as can be and not very sharp. I choose to believe that was the fault of Comcast. The company's production values are dreadful across the board. So I watched a couple of D-VHS movies, I, Robot and The Peacemaker, and the noise was gone. Resolution was pretty good. Color rendition was superb, but detail rendition, the hallmark of HDTV, was not the best I have seen for a 1366 x 768 display. Later, when Buettner came by, we found that the set's circuitry for down converting 1080i programming to the set's native resolution was doing the set a disservice. It radically damaged the resolution. (See the "Tests and Calibration" sidebar.) We determined that to get the best out of this set as a high-definition display, you will get the best result with a 720p source. Our tests showed that the set offered far better resolution at 720p. (An outboard video processor capable of good 1080i to 720p conversion might also help.—Ed.)
Even then, however, the set was incapable of offering high-definition at its full, looking-through-a-window resolution.
The 50-inch plasmas I reviewed as recently as three years ago were rarified products that in some respects performed better than this one– at more than double the price. I feel that Panasonic, an estimable brand, has let its guard down to become a mass-market producer, the dominant player in plasma sales. Still, even with the problems, for the price, $3,300, you will not likely find a better 50-inch plasma display.
Excellent color fidelity
Impressive 720P high-definition
Middling detail resolution with 1080i HDTV