Mitsubishi PD-5030 & HD-5000 plasma monitor & HDTV receiver controller

Mitsubishi's PD-5030 Diamond-series 50-inch-diagonal plasma monitor represents the company's long-awaited step into flat-panel TVs, ostensibly to expand their product line beyond the CRT rear-projection sets that for years have been their hallmark. Mitsubishi also makes 61- and 42-inch plasmas, and even a few LCD sets in smaller sizes.

This diversification was necessary for a couple of reasons. First, it's becoming apparent that microdisplay technologies such as DLP and LCD will soon take over the rear-projection market. Second, consumers want their TVs to be as thin as possible, even if some of them have to pay considerably more for super-flat displays. Right now, the only way to get "big and flat" is to use plasma technology. LCD flat panels with large screens and high resolutions (up to 1920x1080) have been shown at the Consumer Electronics Shows and CEDIA Expos, but they are not yet ready for production. The market up to 40 inches (diagonal) is falling to LCD technology, but when it comes to larger screens, plasma rules the roost . . . for now.

The PD-5030 has its origins in NEC's plasma factory. The two companies have joint manufacturing and marketing relationships for a number of products, most notably LCD computer monitors, as well as 30- and 40-inch multimedia LCD monitors. So it's no surprise that NEC "glass" was chosen for the Mitsubishi line.

The PD-5030 is simply a monitor, but as you can see from the specifications, it isn't lacking for input and output connectors even when used by itself. Some users, however, might want an outboard control box to feed signals to the PD-5030, and Mitsubishi has thought of that, too. The HD-5000 is a rather bulky but comprehensive AV switcher, NTSC tuner, DTV receiver, and video scaler, all in one chassis. You don't need it to run the PD-5030, but the two interface nicely from one master remote control.

Out of the Box: PD-5030
The PD-5030 comes finished with an attractive silver bezel and housing that should match the décor of almost any room. That's nice for viewing in low to high levels of ambient light, but I wish they offered a darker bezel for use in a full-blown home theater with dimmed lights.

The monitor can be set up on a table with the matching MB-5030 stand, or hung on a wall with appropriate brackets (not included). I usually advise against hanging plasma monitors on a wall, unless you have secure anchors and strong wall studs. (The PD-5030 weighs 100 pounds.)

Given that stand and display together take up only 16 inches of depth, tabletop mounting shouldn't be a problem for anyone—and you'll keep the panel happy by letting lots of air circulate around it. Plasma monitors can get pretty warm and draw a lot of power. According to the PD-5030's spec sheet, its power consumption at 120VAC is about 480W!

The PD-5030 is pretty much agnostic when it comes to signal formats. You can connect an HD source to four different inputs, assuming the display is set up correctly, and the PD-5030 will recognize 'em all. Ditto a component or DVI connection from a DVD player, which can go into all four, if you have the appropriate cables (you'll need an adapter cable to use the 15-pin RGB input).

The supplied remote control is also a stock NEC design, and one that I've always liked. First, it's easy to use and has a minimum of buttons. Second, the buttons are large and laid out logically. You enter the menu by tapping one button, then use the mouse disc to navigate to your adjustment choice. Use the Enter and Exit buttons for fast navigation between and after adjustments.

The graphical user interface (GUI) is also a snap to figure out. Many of NEC's professional and industrial adjustments are retained, including access to five different picture gamma/brightness modes (stay away from Bright; you don't need it, and you'll just age the panel faster), three noise-reduction modes, aspect-ratio adjustments for HD and SD sources, H&V position and size, and a wealth of image tweaks.

There are four preset color temperatures, four steps of picture Gamma (I used "2" most of the time), a four-step Low Tone adjust ment for increasing shadow detail ("1" worked well), and access to red, green, and blue Drive and Bias. With these controls, you'll be able to get a pretty good gray scale from low end to high, but there's a catch: The RGB Drive and Bias adjustments are in coarse steps, not fine. That means you might end up jumping back and forth past a desired color-temperature setting without ever hitting it right on the money. Things are further complicated by the lack of numerical readouts for the Bias or Drive adjustments—if you do a full-scale calibration, you can't log what your settings are for future reference.

The rest of the adjustments you'll be interested in include several panel-saving tools. Among them is a power-management function for auto shutdown when no signals are present, a three-step peak-brightness limiter, image orbiting to minimize burn-in, an Inverse mode that's really intended for the professional market to equalize phosphor aging from static images, and a soft-focus mode that you should always leave off.

Out of the Box: HD-5000
The companion HD-5000 controller is quite a box. It's larger and heavier than any other tuner-switcher we've seen to date, with more ins and outs than you can shake a stick at. For starters, there are four individual 480i video inputs (your choice of composite or S-video), two component inputs for 480i/p sources such as DVD players, one full-bandwidth component input for everything from 480i to 1080i, and a 15-pin connector for VGA (640x480, 60Hz) signals only. Each of these inputs has a pair of stereo RCA jacks, and you can route selected composite, S-video, and component signals, along with their stereo analog audio, to the PD-5030 or any other compatible display. There's also a DVI connection (which Mitsubishi calls Monitor-Link), and a coaxial digital audio interface from the internal DTV tuner (no TosLink here!).

Both DVI and analog Y-Pb-Pr connections are listed as having HDCP copy-protection on them, which would lead you to believe that they could be downrezzed without your approval. Yet the HD-5000 owner's manual says that all analog component and DVI signals "will not be resolution restricted."

If you connect via DVI, the analog Y-Pb-Pr HD outputs are disabled. Apparently, you can't have your cake and eat it, too. Oddly enough, my Motorola 6200 set-top digital cable receiver keeps both types of outputs active at the same time, so I'm not sure why Mitsubishi took this approach.