Panasonic TH-65VX100U Plasma Monitor Comparisons & Conclusion
Speaking of dark scenes and shadow detail, this brings up the $10,000 question: Just how good are this set's blacks compared to the current state of the art? Panasonic makes much of this in its press release for the Premiere Series sets. It trumpets its new plasma panels, which include a "Dynamic Black" layer on the front, a reduction of the pre-discharge idling current to one sixth of its previous value (which results in less residual light output in black areas of the image), and a claimed contrast ratio of 60,000:1.
Does all this deliver world-leading blacks? World-leading, no. World-class, yes. Put a full black field on the screen in a darkened room, and it's clearly lighter and more visibly gray (rather than inky black) than you'll see on, say, a Sony XBR8 LCD with local dimming or a Pioneer Kuro plasma.
The differences are most obvious on star fields—probably the darkest type of image that still has significant detail. The star field at the beginning of Stargate: Continuum (one of the most dynamically layered star fields I've ever seen on film) is superb when viewed on the Panasonic Premiere without benefit of a side-by-side comparison. It's arguably at least as good as on a local-dimming LCD like the Sony XBR8.
I was unable to view the 65VX100U directly next to a Pioneer Kuro in time for this review, but the Panasonic Premiere clearly doesn't deliver quite the same sensation of inky, infinite blackness of space behind the stars that the Pioneer can. This also translates to a slightly less rich look on other very dark scenes having few bright highlights, such as the darkest scenes in Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World. And the black letterbox bars on 2.35:1 films, while respectably dark on the Panasonic Premiere, are more visible than on a Pioneer.
In these comparisons, I'm definitely splitting hairs. But such hairs must be split considering that the Panasonic Premiere is much more expensive than the Pioneer and Sony flagship sets, which aren't exactly selling for chicken feed themselves. Still, apart from those sets and other LCDs with local dimming, the 65VX100U's blacks are the deepest we've yet measured on any plasma or LCD flat panel. The Panasonic Premiere never failed to produce a convincing image on any high-quality source, and by any reasonable standard, its overall performance on dark scenes is excellent.
And the 65VX100U's shadow detail is superb—arguably as good as or better than on those other sets. It's largely immune to the gray-fog effect—a lightening that can subtly wash out the dimmest regions of a dark scene. The inherent ability of plasmas to deliver punchy highlights in otherwise low brightness scenes also works to the Panasonic Premiere's advantage.
I had no complaints with the 65VX100U's performance in any other important respect. Motion lag was not an issue. Like other plasmas, it can be comfortably viewed from far off axis without any visible image degradation. And while reasonable caution should always be exercised with stationary or partial-screen images on any plasma display, including this one, I found its resistance to image retention—the first stage to possible permanent burn-in—well above average for a plasma.
Many if not most of the sets we review these days are excellent performers, but they nearly always have one or two major weaknesses, such as motion lag, off-axis viewing, video processing, or black level and shadow detail. This 65VX100U isn't perfect either (what is?), nor is it the best set we've reviewed in every respect. And it's undeniably pricey. But given good program material, it offers a canny balance of strengths with no serious weaknesses. It's the type of set that draws you in, the type of set that keeps you up to 1 AM watching stuff that's been sitting on your PVR for weeks, waiting for you to find time to see. It's the type of set that turns well-made and great-looking program material into compelling entertainment.
Near reference-quality blacks
No tuners or speakers
Color gamut wider than HD standard
No color-management system
HDMI input is 1.2a, not 1.3