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V, Inc. VIZIO P50 HDM PDP (plasma) Monitor Page 2

The onscreen menus are colorful and relatively easy to navigate, though some adjustments require a few button pushes too many. When adjusting an individual video parameter (brightness, contrast, etc.), the full menu display is replaced by a graphic slider, which appears larger than necessary but doesn't interfere with test patterns.

Each input stores its own video settings. There are four preset Picture Modes -- Vivid, Movie, Game, and Sport – and one User setting. The Movie mode actually gets you into the ballpark, adjustment wise; the other presets are a joke, being far too bright.

A few additional functions are hidden in an Advanced menu page. These include separate Motion and Digital Noise Reduction controls, a Fleshtone adjustment, and something called Dynamic Contrast. I experimented with the Noise Reduction functions using the noisiest DVD in my collection, Close Encounters of the Third Kind, and found they didn't make much of a difference. Fleshtone seems to add even more red to an already ruddy picture, and Dynamic Contrast progressively compresses the image's dynamic range, making for a punchy but absurdly inaccurate picture.

At first, it appears that the P50 HDM has no adjustment for color temperature. There's certainly no menu item for it on any of pages used to adjust the AV, component, or HDMI inputs. Oddly, there is a color temperature control, but only on the Advanced page of the RGB input! For this input and this input only, you can select between Standard, Cool, and Warm settings, plus a Custom setting that can be adjusted. The rest of the inputs are all non-adjustable, unless you calibrate the set using the non-user-accessible Service menu. (See "Calibration.") Why they did not simply provide a global user setting that affects all the inputs is beyond me.

Image Sticking
As with all 16:9 widescreen sets, the P50 HDM has several aspect ratios that can be selected. The most important of these is Normal Mode, which displays a 4:3 image in the center of the screen, framed by black bars on either side. Although there is some potential for screen burn-in, or "Image Sticking" as V, Inc. calls it, I much prefer black bars over the obnoxious gray ones found on some other widescreen sets.

The manual warns that, "Continuous viewing of Standard Definition (4:3) in Normal Mode will result in the appearance of left side and right side vertical bands caused by Image Sticking." Other warnings mention that you can avoid this by "mixing your viewing patterns" and by not showing "the same stationary image for more that 15% of the total monitor viewing in any one week." The manual goes on to note, "Image Sticking constitutes misuse and is not covered by the manufacturer's warranty."

Indeed, after watching 4:3 material for several hours, you can see some evidence of these bands on the sides when the screen goes black. And even relatively limited viewing of a geometry test pattern that consists of a bright white grid on a black background leaves a ghostly impression that persists for several minutes after the video signal is muted. However, these artifacts quickly disappear when regular program material is played in full screen mode for even a few minutes. (Alternatively, an "Image Clean" feature, when activated, runs for an hour to eliminate such after images. It then turns off the set.)

But I wouldn't let this issue scare me away from a PDP display if I wanted one – CRT sets have always had the same problem, and as long as you use common sense, it should be a non-issue. But if you plan to run the display with its contrast maxed out, or insist on extended viewing of 4:3 material in Normal Mode, or if you plan to use the set primarily as a computer or videogame monitor, you might want to consider either an LCD- or DLP-based alternative.

Flat is Beautiful
The P50 HDM needed only a minimal amount of tweaking to look remarkably good right out of the box. I simply called up Movie Mode, then reduced the Brightness setting to 43, Contrast to 40, Saturation (color) to 46, and Sharpness to 11. Your sample may be slightly different, but these settings should at least get you in the ballpark for component-video (DVD) and HDMI sources; composite-vide sources such as VCRs and the like might require additional adjustment to look their best. You will not be able to do anything about the color temperature without hiring a trained ISF calibrator, but in this case – and I'm sure there will be those who will want to hang me for saying so—I just don't think it's worth the effort and expense.

As you can read in the Calibration sidebar, editor Tom Norton came over to my house to the help measure and calibrate the set. We did manage to lower the color temperature from its bluish 8000K factory setting, bringing it closer to the neutral D6500 standard. Ironically, I found the color accuracy more natural and pleasing with the VIZIO in its factory preset. Post calibration, the color saturation had to be reduced to bring reds under control, and greens and yellows no longer looked as natural as they did with the set in factory trim. These problems can likely be addressed with further calibration, but then who knows what other problems might crop up?

In any event, the VIZIO produces a beautifully detailed image, with plenty of light output and impressively deep blacks. Colors sometimes appear a bit hyped, especially with HDTV sources, but are nevertheless considerably better than any I've seen from the DLP sets I've reviewed recently. There is some video noise present on dark scenes, and bands of false contouring can and do appear, especially when a scene slowly fades out to black. But this is videophile nit-picking.

Well-transferred DVDs look fantastic on the P50 HDM. Shakespeare in Love sparkles with detail and texture, and conveys a three-dimensional feeling thanks to the plasma's excellent blacks and extended whites. A fairy tale of a very different sort, Shrek 2, also revels a wealth of detail and subtlety the DLP sets that have passed through my studio in recent months can't match.

For the calibration session, editor Tom Norton brought along his usual assortment of video-processor torture-test DVDs, including ones from Faroudja and Silicon Optix. The VIZIO's Faroudja DCDi processor passed every test--swinging pendulums, rotating bars, and waving flags—with flying colors. As we've come to expect from Faroudja-equipped displays, jaggies were well suppressed and there were no serious cross-color problems. Difficult program material is equally well served. The rippling water, curved bridge railings, and diagonal roof lines in the slowly moving pan shot that opens Star Trek: Insurrection look smooth and natural, which is often not the case when lesser processors are crunching the video numbers.

My HDTV source is Adelphia cable, and to paraphrase Spinal Tap's lead guitarist Nigel Tufnel (Christopher Guest), their MPEG compression knob goes all the way up to 11. Still, on those rare occasions when the bandwidth Gods smile upon me, the VIZIO shows off HDTV to excellent effect. Of course, this is not the ultimate HDTV display – no 1366x768 device will qualify for that title. And if you are willing to pay more – a lot more – I have no doubt you can find a PDP display that will render HDTV with better detail than the VIZIO. But that should go without saying.

Conclusion
Viewed in context of its price and versus similarly priced available competitors, the P50 HDM is an incredible value. Here's a 50-inch PDP monitor for less than the price of some DLP rear-projectors. The VIZIO has better blacks and more natural colors than the DLPs I've seen, and doesn't exhibit the dreaded "rainbow" artifacts that are common to DLP-based sets (though not all viewers are sensitive to them). Furthermore, the flat panel VIZIO has a way wider viewing angle than any rear-projector I've seen, with no hot spots.

If you've been waiting patiently for prices on big flat-panel displays to drop to reasonable levels, your time has come. Head on over to your local Costco and see the VIZIO P50 HDM for yourself. It's too late to qualify for this year's "Editor's Choice Awards," but I have little doubt that when the time comes to nominate products for next year's Budget Product of the Year, the P50 HDM is going to rank high on my list.

Highs and Lows

Highs
• Incredible value
• High performance Faroudja video processing
• Dual HDMI and component video inputs
• Excellent blacks, ample light output, and fine detail

Lows
• Noisy fans
• No user color temperature control
•Some video noise

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