King Plasma

During a gala event last night at Ken Cranes Home Entertainment on the tony west side of Los Angeles, LG Electronics hosted the launch of its long-awaited 71-inch plasma display, the MW-71PY10. As the press handout states, it's the first plasma you can speak of in feet, not inches (they should have made it an even six feet—what's an itty bitty inch among friends).

You may be familiar with the Ken Cranes name from its famous laserdisc store at a different southern California location. That store has now been moved, repurposed for DVD, and renamed DVD Planet. One wonders if in five years it will be HD-DVD Planet, or Blu-ray Moon.

I digress. Ken Cranes still exists as a nine-location video retailer that sits a few steps up on the exclusivity and class ladder from the Best Buy and Circuit City outlets around town. The West LA location is their flagship. It's probably the most elegant video store in the Southland (local shorthand for everything from Santa Barbara in the north to Camp Pendleton in the south, and the mountains to the sea in between), and certainly the right location to hold a coming-out party for such an upscale product. Ken Cranes is only one of two retailers in the country selected for the initial launch of the MW-71PY10 (the other is 6th Avenue Electronics in New Jersey).

The food and wine flowed freely at this invitation-only event (your-truly pulled a boneheaded move and stopped to eat before the 6:30PM start). Dozens, perhaps hundreds, of sets from all manufacturers were all going strong throughout the evening, but the star attraction was, of course, LG's 71-inch monster. At 8:30 the attendees were rounded up for formal presentation given by LG's Bob Perry, in a talk that was mercifully brief and hype-free.

But the plasma had been available for viewing from the 6:30 opening. My first reaction was that it was big but not BIG. But that's a common perception at shows and dealers. The bigger the space, the smaller the screen looks, though in this case the display area, off to the side of the main showroom floor, was a partially open space not much larger than the average living room. But the set definitely dwarfed the three 50-inch LG plasmas located nearby.

The MW-71PY10 boasts full 1920x1080p resolution, both HDMI and DVI inputs (HDCP compliant, of course), LG's proprietary XD Engine video processing technology, and a claimed 1200:1 contrast ratio.

I was most impressed by the image—of the 50-inch LG plasma sitting next to its big brother. It had good color, unmuddied blacks (though as in all such store demos, there were no truly dark scenes in the Discovery HD theater demo material), and what looked like a respectable contrast ratio.

The 71-incher certainly produced a solid, watchable picture likely to impress the average viewer. It did, however, show some subtle pixilation, looked a little crushed in the blacks, and was a wee bit soft next to the crisper-looking 50-inch sets.

But a bigger screen, combined with 1080p resolution, will always show flaws in the source more clearly. And that may simply be what I saw. I didn't get the chance to check, but it was likely that the set was driven with a component connection. The same material was being used on many other sets in the store. Long component leads are subject to signal losses, which together with the distribution amps required might subtly degrade a big-screen image.

At $70,000 (no, I didn't add an extra zero!), however, the customer has a right to be picky. Consider the alternatives you can set up in your home for the same money with change left over, such as ten 70-inch rear projection sets or a brace of Sony Qualia 004 projectors.

But the market for a such a display doesn't deal in such dry tradeoffs. There's a reason why the first two dealers for this product are located in upscale West LA and northern New Jersey. This is the largest flat panel television on the market that you can hang on the wall (though at 200 lbs. the wall had better be a sturdy one). That, plus a picture that few of those potential customers are likely to complain about, may be enough to insure its commercial success.