Fujitsu Plasmavision SlimScreen PDS-5002 HD plasma display

Remarkable things are happening in the plasma-display market. Just the other day I saw one for sale in Costco for under $6000. Costco! While one might ponder the cosmic significance of plasma televisions at a warehouse retailer, there's no denying that these displays attract a lot of attention. A big, flat screen hanging on the wall has universal appeal.

For most of us, however, it will be a long time before plasma displays qualify as blue-light specials. Nevertheless, their prices are dropping dramatically. The last Fujitsu we reviewed, the Plasmavision SlimScreen PDS-4221 (July/August 2000), was a 42-incher at $15,999. Fujitsu's newest model, the Plasmavision PDS-5002, not only costs $1k less but measures 50 diagonal inches to boot. It is, in fact, not only the least expensive 50-inch plasma we've yet seen, but arguably the best as well.

On the Level
A phosphor display is a fixed-pixel device; that is, its native resolution is determined by how many pixels have been designed into its panel. Each of these tiny elements is filled with one or more rare gases and includes a set of electrodes and red, green, and blue phosphors. When a pixel is fired, an electric discharge excites the gases. These, in turn, become conductive and emit ultraviolet light. The latter causes the pixel's red, green, or blue phosphors to glow.

While each pixel is separately addressed by the display's driving circuits, they are not—as yet—addressable directly, pixel for pixel, by a digital source such as DVD or DTV. The video inputs are analog, which must be converted inside the set to a digital signal that drives the pixels. The Fujitsu PDS-5002 does have a digital (DVI) RGB input, but there are, at present, no consumer sources that can make use of it.

In its physical appearance and features, the Fujitsu PDS-5002 differs little from other plasma displays. It can be mounted on a wall or on its own (optional) stand. All of its inputs are located on the bottom edge, just behind the frame. This makes it relatively easy to hide the connections in a wall-mount, but rather difficult to access the input terminals if you need to make changes. The on-set controls are also located behind the bottom edge of the frame. While these are also a little awkward to use—not unusual with plasmas—you'll have few occasions to use them as long as you don't lose the remote.

Like all the plasmas we've seen to date, the Fujitsu is strictly a monitor. There's no onboard sound system, and no built-in tuner of any sort. A VCR can be used for broadcast reception, but a tuner providing both SDTV and high-definition reception would make better use of the set's capabilities.

There are five video inputs, plus an RS-232 connection for control of the display from a PC. Three RGB inputs are provided (including that DVI, or digital video, connection), but only one set of component jacks. And the latter is shared with the RGB 3 input; if you use RGB 3, the component input is not available, and vice versa. Having only a single component input means that you must plan to do your component switching with the video switcher built into your A/V receiver or surround processor—assuming it provides this feature. If you plan to use the PDS-5002 for DVD and HDTV sources, you must also ensure that your component switcher is capable of passing HD signals without degradation. Not all are.

Five different video configurations are available from the component input. In addition to the expected modes for 4:3 (Normal), anamorphic stretch (Wide2), and standard letterbox (Zoom1), there is a nonlinear mode (Wide1) that fills the screen with a 4:3 source by stretching the sides more than the center. I found it tolerable for non-critical viewing. A second zoom mode (Zoom2) is the same as Zoom1 but with a slight vertical squeeze to show captions and subtitles that may have been recorded on the lower black bar of a letterbox transfer. For video and S-video, an Auto mode automatically selects the correct aspect ratio for some sources. RGB provides only three modes: Normal, Wide (=Wide2), and Zoom (=Zoom1).

The PDS-5002 converts all sources to its native resolution of 1366x768 pixels, progressive scan, using Fujitsu's newly developed AVM (Advanced Video Movement) processor/scaler. In addition to NTSC and full HDTV capability (both 720p in its native form and rescaled 1080i), it can display a wide variety of computer sources, including UXGA (1600x1200) at a 60Hz refresh rate.