3 Faces of HDTV Page 3

Panasonic PT-50LC14 Compared with other new display types like DLP and plasma, LCD has been around for a long time. But it's only been in the past few years that the technology has started to show up in living rooms. Suddenly, LCD is everywhere. You'll find it in direct-view models, front projectors, and even rear-projection TVs, most of which have cabinets that are much slimmer than those of CRT models with the same size screen. Panasonic PT-50LC14

Panasonic PT-50LC14

DIMENSIONS (WxHxD) 55 3/4 x 35 1/4 x 15 1/4 inches WEIGHT 84 pounds PRICE $3,000 MANUFACTURER Panasonic, www.panasonic.com, 800-211-7262

PLUS • Crisp high-def picture • Excellent screen uniformity and brightnesss • Picture looks good in bright rooms • Slim cabinet • Extensive video inputs

MINUS • Poor shadow detail in dark scenes • "Screen-door effect" if you sit too close • Some picture distortion with interlaced TV

Measuring a mere 15 inches deep, Panasonic's silver-toned PT-50LC14 embodies the slim aesthetic of the new tube-free rear-projection TVs. Viewing the 50-inch screen head-on, you might mistake it for a flat-panel set. The TV's narrow base section lies beneath the screen and contains basic controls like channel selection. The only other visible features are a door that covers a set of PC Card and SD/MMC memory-card slots for viewing digital photos.

In the owner's manual, Panasonic calls the PT-50LC14 a "multimedia" display, and the sheer number and variety of its video inputs provides a good indication why. Along with the memory-card slots, there are two VGA-style RGB inputs for connecting a computer (one is on the front panel), an HDMI port, and four sets of component-video jacks. The remote control has both a fully backlit keypad and a clean button layout - no problem using this one in a dark room. You cycle through inputs by pressing the TV/Video button and use the Aspect button to change display formats. The settings for regular TV and progressive-scan DVD (480i/480p) include Normal (for standard 4:3 programs), Full (for widescreen 16:9 programs), and Zoom. A Just setting that stretches the outer edges of the screen while preserving the center is also available for regular TV and DVD (480i) inputs. High-def programs are displayed only in Full mode.

Panasonic PT-50LC14 remotePanasonic's LCD TV provides plenty of setup flexibility. Each of its picture presets - Vivid, Cinema, and Normal - can be adjusted and stored in memory for instant recall. Not only that, but you can customize these settings independently for each of the TV's inputs. The Input Label menu, meanwhile, allows you to skip inputs entirely - a handy feature in a set with this many jacks.

PICTURE QUALITY After selecting the TV's Warm color temperature and Mid gamma settings from the Picture menu, I made a few more adjustments in the hidden service menu to optimize the picture (see "in the lab"). Colors looked vivid and lifelike in the Seabiscuit DVD. In a scene where horse owner Charles Howard and his wife root for Seabiscuit, her skin had a milky white tone while his looked more red and weatherbeaten. And the green turf inside the track didn't look fake, the way grass comes across on some LCD TVs. But in most of the darker horse-stable scenes, detail was lacking, with many shadow elements fusing into a gray mass. And when I sat close to the screen, I could see the texture of the set's LCD display chips - something we geeks call "the screen-door effect." This problem was easily avoided, though, by sitting 11 or more feet from the screen. But with a TV that provides so much detail, you tend to want to get up close.

Panasonic PT-50LC14 backWatching DVDs with my player set for interlaced output, I noticed jagged diagonal lines in some scenes and occasional wavelike distortion at the sides of the image. This was mostly visible in shots from widescreen movies where there was horizontal motion, like the track scenes in Seabiscuit. The way around these problems is to use this TV with a good progressive-scan player.

If movies like Seabiscuit posed a challenge to the Panasonic, it really shined with sports like a U.S. vs. Honduras soccer match I caught on HDNet. The high-def image looked wonderfully crisp and bright from most angles, even in seating positions well off to one side of the couch. The picture was packed with detail like grass stains on the players' uniforms. I was also impressed with how good it looked when the room lights were turned on. Unlike CRT sets, LCD models have no problem with screen reflectivity, and the image held its eye-popping brightness and contrast. Multitasking sports junkies will also appreciate the Panasonic's PIP/POP feature, which lets you watch either two high-def channels or a high- and a standard-def channel at the same time.

Panasonic's PT-50LC14 combines a slim, cool-looking cabinet with a high-resolution image that retains its brightness at off-center seating positions and in rooms with a lot of ambient light. That kind of flexibility will give it an edge for those who want a set that doesn't require a cavelike environment to perform its best. Although I'd especially recommend the Panasonic to sports enthusiasts, I'm sure many people will be wowed by its crisp picture and natural color rendition.

PDF: Features Checklist PDF: In the Lab