Vidikron PlasmaView VP-50 HD Monitor
I've recently noticed that most video companies have names that begin with letters at the end of the alphabet and most audio companies have names that start with letters at the beginning of the alphabet. Most of my theories on this are far-fetched (some involve mind control) and get me "the look" from other people whenever I share them. My need to get out more notwithstanding, perhaps it has something to do with the word "video" starting with a "V" and the word "audio" starting with an "A." If that's the case, then Vidikron not only starts with a "V," but it shares its first three letters with the word "video."
Move On, You're Rambling Already
Nomenclature and neurosis aside, Vidikron's VP-50 calmly enters a market that is saturated with cheap, Costco "buy a bulk-pack of plasmas" video displays that offer all the performance of a flickering 30-watt bulb and none of the ambiance. As with many step-up plasmas, the VP-50 has a beautiful frame (no plastic here). It's made of brushed metal, reminiscent of the accents on a luxury car. The remote matches the frame in color but not material (that would be one heavy remote), and it has discrete on/off buttons and single buttons for each type of input: RGB, component, and video. For example, if you wanted to select DVI, you would press the RGB button three times. You don't often see pink backlighting in the home theater realm, but at least the remote is backlit.
Setup is fairly easy, as long as you read the manual to decipher what some of the nomenclature means (I always knew I wanted an LWBLK2 setting). You even get user-accessible RGB gain and offset controls, but mess with these at your own peril. A series of fans on the back of the plasma keeps it cool. They're not the quietest of fans, but it's doubtful you'll hear them from your couch.
Give Me Movies
As Video Essentials was still in the DVD player after I set up the plasma, that's where I started my review. The "Montage of Images" gives you an overall view of the performance, as well as ideas about what other material to use to test the display. Shadow detail was excellent, but the overall black level wasn't great, although it was on par with most plasmas. Gradations from light to dark (as shown on a gray ramp) were decent and better than most plasmas, although not quite as smooth as some. There were a few noticeable steps, instead of a smooth transition from light to dark. Fortunately, there wasn't an abundance of noise at the edges of these steps, which is sometimes the case. Elsewhere on the disc, a Snell & Wilcox Zone Test Plate features a moving ball in a 3:2 film-based sequence. The VP-50 picked up the 3:2 sequence quickly and perfectly.
Next up was Gladiator, specifically the end of chapter 12. The shot is a flyover of Rome and the Colosseum. This scene has a lot of diagonal lines and fine detail, so it's generally a hard scene to process. Overall, the VP-50 had few problems, although I noticed some slight jagged edges. After I switched the DVD player into progressive mode, the jagged lines remained. Since I know that the DVD player I used deinterlaces the scene without any jagged edges, the fact that I still saw some indicates a slight scaling issue in the panel, rather than a deinterlacing one. Unless you're looking for it or seated fairly close, it's doubtful you'd even notice this.
The scaler's positive attributes more than make up for this. The Fifth Element Superbit DVD is one of those demo discs that shows up everywhere. Audio guys use the Diva scene to show off their speakers. Video guys use chapters 2 and 5 to demo their displays. I'm willing to bet this movie has made half of its DVD profits from salesmen and product guys who want to show off their A/V gear, and with good reason: It's a damn good demo disc.
Chapter 2 opens with a shot of the desert and then moves inside a crypt. There are a lot of close-ups, as well as dynamic lighting. The VP-50 did a truly impressive job scaling the DVD's 480i signal to the panel's 1365-by-768 resolution. Some close-ups were almost HD-like in their detail level. For those who don't think that processing makes a difference, check out this panel compared with most other 50-inch plasmas.
This chapter also shows off another of the VP-50's strengths: contrast ratio. While it's true that plasma as a category has some of the worst contrast ratios in the home theater world, some are noticeably better than others. The VP-50's black level is similar to that of other plasmas, but it's capable of a significantly higher light output. It's not as bright as at least one other plasma that we've reviewed, but it doesn't have that plasma's "gray level" blacks, either. This makes the image really pop off the screen.
Unfortunately, this level of light output causes the VP-50's biggest fault, phosphor lag, to become all too apparent. Phosphor lag occurs when a bright image lags on the screen for a few seconds after the signal has moved on. Common with many plasmas, phosphor lag that has become permanent is called burn-in. Fortunately, Vidikron gives you several tools to prevent burn-in, which together they call "Dynamic Pixel Protection." The first is a contrast control. Turn it down. There's also an Orbiter, which moves the image by a few pixels around the screen. Good luck seeing it do this, but rest assured that it does help. The last two (and these are great) are an inverter with a timer and a white-field generator. If you do burn something in, you can put that same image up on the screen, turn on the inverter, and "inverse burn." You can turn on the white-field generator to flush the whole screen with light and roast out any lagging phosphors.
As you can imagine, with HD sources through the component input, the picture was extremely detailed. Only one plasma on the market has more resolution, and by more I mean that it has one extra column of pixels. Using the opening test loop on the Digital Video Essentials D-VHS tape, I was very impressed with the detail level. The DVI input was even sharper.
Overall, the color was quite good with HD and DVD material. Greens were slightly oversaturated, but not nearly as bad as with other plasmas I've seen. And like I've said before, if you have to err one way or the other, a little oversaturated is far more pleasing than undersaturated. One factor that was most apparent with HD sources, but also with DVDs, was a certain amount of picture graininess. If you sit too close to any plasma, you're going to see noise, and this one is no exception. Sitting a little less than five times the picture height away, I didn't have a problem; however, at less than four times, it was quite noticeable.
That's $240 Per Inch
Finally, it comes to price. For $12,000, I would have hoped for an HD tuner, but otherwise this plasma is worth the price. If you're scouring the Internet to find the lowest priced 50-inch plasma, this one obviously isn't for you. For the money, though, you're getting one of the highest resolution plasmas with a good (for a plasma) contrast ratio, vibrant color, and a beautiful frame. What would you expect from a high-end company with most of the word "video" in their name?
• The silver frame looks like a picture frame
• High light output
• DVD images looked HD-like in their detail level