Panasonic Frustration, Lossless Analog, Upgrade Blues

Can't Get No Satisfaction
Love your blog at It is very informative and has helped me in many ways.

Are you aware of any remedy for the black-level issue in Panasonic plasmas? Although my Panasonic TC-P50G10 (bought in 2009) still produces a pretty good picture, I do notice the change in black level now. Do you think tweaking the service menu would help at this stage?

Aopu Mohsin

Thanks for the kind words! I'm glad I can help improve your A/V experience.

As far as I know, there is no remedy such as a firmware update or service-menu adjustment for the Panasonic plasma black-level problem. However, we have been running a G20 24/7 in our studio, and after about 1200 hours so far, we have measured no increase in black level at all. So while I'm sure it does occur as some users have reported, the problem is not universal. How common is it? I don't know. Do the 2010 models exhibit the same problem? I don't know. We will continue to test review units in this way, but obviously, it takes time to know for sure.

The Only Way
What's the best way to connect the audio from a Samsung BD-P3600 Blu-ray player to my Denon AVR-5700, which has no HDMI? Buying a new receiver is not feasible at this time. My system is 5.1. The Denon has "6ch/8ch Ext In" jacks but only a 5-channel amp (140W x 5), so there is no power for the two surround-back channels even though there are input jacks for them. Can I get lossless Dolby TrueHD and DTS-HD Master Audio sound with my current setup, or do I have to have a 7.1 system for that?

Secondly, the Denon manual states, "the input signals connected to the...Ext In jacks are output directly...without passing through the surround circuitry." Does that mean all my surround parameters (speaker size, distance, level, etc.) are bypassed and handled by the Samsung player instead? The Samsung manual explains setting speaker size but nothing about distance; it also reveals how to turn on the test tone, but not how to adjust the speaker level.

Finally, should the player's Digital Output parameter be set on PCM, Bitstream (Re-encode), or Bitsteam (Audiophile)?

Dave Thomas

The only way to get lossless audio to your receiver is to connect the multichannel analog outputs on the player to the Ext In inputs on the AVR. Interestingly, the AVR-5700 has two sets of multichannel analog inputs—5.1 and 7.1—and you can use either one, but since your system is 5.1, I'd use the 5.1 inputs. If you were to add two back-surround speakers in the future, you'd need to switch to the 7.1 inputs and provide amplification for them, since the AVR has only five amp channels as you state. There's no need to have a 7.1 system for lossless audio—most Blu-rays at this point are 5.1, and the two extra channels on those that are 7.1 have been artificially synthesized.

Signals entering the Ext In jacks do indeed bypass your speaker settings, with one exception—levels. You can set the speaker sizes in the Samsung player, but it has no settings for delays or levels. The Digital Output parameter has no effect on the analog output, so its setting doesn't matter in your case.

FYI, for those using the HDMI output, setting the Digital Output parameter to "PCM" decodes all audio—primary (movie) and secondary (menu sounds, simultaneous commentaries, etc.)—to PCM, mixes it together, and sends it via HDMI. "Bitstream (Re-encode)" decodes all primary and secondary audio to PCM, mixes it, and re-encodes it to regular DTS before sending it via HDMI. And "Bitstream (Audiophile)" sends the primary audio in its native bitstream and ignores the secondary audio.

Time to Upgrade
I have been slowly upgrading my system in a piecemeal fashion. The display remains a limited-edition 35-inch Mitsubishi X7 CRT, which retailed for $7000 back in the early '90s. It still has a phenomenal picture, and since I just missed the Kuro boat, I have yet to find a flat panel or projector that I want to invest in.

Meanwhile, I've upgraded my old Pioneer receiver to a Pioneer Elite SC-27 that handles all the new codecs. I feed it with an Oppo BDP-83 DVD player using HDMI for the audio and passing an S-video signal through the receiver to the TV. If I install a Blu-ray player, can I listen to the new lossless audio streams via HDMI while living with an S-video signal until I can upgrade the TV? In other words, can I play a Blu-ray disc, listening to lossless audio while watching 480i video simultaneously? Are there Blu-ray players out there with S-video or component video outputs? Or do I just have to get a flat panel now if I want better audio now?

Bryan Fuller

The Mits CRT might have a phenomenal picture for what it is (especially in terms of black level), but it's standard-def, so it can't be that good compared with many modern HDTVs, which sell for a lot less than $7000! I strongly encourage you to bite the bullet and upgrade to HD ASAP! Despite the recent scare about rising black levels in Panasonic plasmas, our tests so far have not revealed any such problem on the G20 we've been running 24/7 for at least 1200 hours so far. That's not to say it doesn't happen in any Panasonic set, but it's clearly not universal. Otherwise, Panasonic plasmas are generally excellent. On the LCD side, I really like the LG LE8500 series.

If you must continue to use the Mits, you can hear lossless audio via HDMI while watching a standard-def downconversion of the video from the Oppo's composite output (ugh!)—all outputs are active simultaneously. Like more and more players these days, the Oppo doesn't even have an S-video output, though virtually all Blu-ray players still have a component and composite output.

To hear lossless audio and see standard-def video, go into the player's Video Setup menu and set the Primary Output parameter to "Component" and the output resolution to 720p or 1080i. Why not set the output to "Composite" and the resolution to 480i or 480p? Because doing so reduces the HDMI output's bandwidth, so it can't accommodate lossless audio. Video from the composite output will always be 480i, and setting the resolution to 720p or 1080i assures that the HDMI output has sufficient bandwidth to carry the lossless audio.

Seriously, it's time to upgrade to HD, dude!

If you have a home-theater question, please send it to

John R's picture

In your comments about Panasonic plasmas, you indicate it has been running 24/7 for 1200 hours. Since most electronics today are much like a computer, I have to wonder, if you turn it off, even briefly, then power it back up, would it re-boot running software within its program that would adjust the black level? In the real world people turn their TV off at least once a day.

Scott Wilkinson's picture

John, we have turned it off and on occasionally when we need the pattern generator to calibrate a different set, so if there were any sort of reset, we would have seen it. Other than those few brief exceptions, the set has been running continuously. Also, I have my doubts about your hypothesis; I've never seen a TV resest its black level after being turned off and on again.

KYO's picture


Scott Wilkinson's picture

Kyo, I assume you mean the TV has no built-in tuner. In that case, you have many choices, such as ATSC terrestrial tuners, cable and satellite receivers, and a growing number of Blu-ray players with access to lots of online content, not to mention Blu-ray and DVD.

mike p's picture

I am leaning towards the Zvox575shd(newest mod). I have 2 Sony W5100's W/dishHD sat . What can you tell me about Zvox vs say an Onkyo 9100 htib , for mainly viewing tv / blue ray dvd's . I am tired of chasing remotes to adjust volume levels , and "what did he say" replays . I love the hd quality of my tv's but this digital age volume thing has an old man upset.I do miss the ease of back lit,universal remotes and overall quality of my mitsu 36" crt's (std def only). Are the basic functions of zvox/onkyo systems compatible w/ my current remotes,Sony / dish722's .

Scott Wilkinson's picture

Mike, we haven't reviewed the Zvox 575, but we did review the 550, and it got high marks for what it is. But I don't think it comes close to the Onkyo 9100 HTIB. I'd much rather have real speakers arrayed around me than a 1-box speaker system. Yes, the Onkyo is more than twice as much as the Zvox ($1100 vs. $500), and it's undoubtedly more complex to set up. But it's also more flexible and provides much better surround sound.I don't know which remotes are compatible with what, so I can't answer your second question. I can say that a good universal remote—my fave is the Logitech Harmony One—can solve that problem handily. As for audio levels, the Onkyo might have a "midnight mode" that compresses the dynamic range, making everything closer to the same volume. It does not have an intelligent volume leveler such as Audyssey Dynamic Volume (though it does have Audyssey 2EQ auto-calibration, which is cool).

mikep's picture

Scott, thanks for the tips . W/O extended rambling (i hope), my major concern is signal loss thru a/v reciever. That is why i have considered the Zvox system .My budget is hampered by living in a semi rual area in okla. I have to travel appx 200+ miles r.t. to reach okc & dfw , to find a legimate dealer. Would i be asking too much for a recommendation(s), of a a/v system or htib for 2k budget? In the past i owned a Marantz 2270??? , H K , and Mac ,systems (tube type). I enjoy my music as much as anyone, but ever changing volume levels on video content, are a serious issue (to me)I read H T mag from cover to cover every month, but admittedly sometimes get lost in the jargon, as simple as it may be....

Scott Wilkinson's picture

Mike, I wouldn't worry about signal loss through a receiver, which would be far less than the loss of sound quality from a single-box speaker system. I still recommend the Onkyo 9100 or the new 9300 (both $1100), which leaves you enough budget for a good Blu-ray player and quite a few Blu-ray discs. The 9300 adds a few features, such as HDMI 1.4 for 3D, an overlaid onscreen user interface, Dolby Pro Logic IIz, and amp power for second-zone audio. Neither one has an auto volume leveler, but they do have Audyssey Dynamic EQ, which adjusts the EQ based on the volume setting so you can more easily hear things at lower volume.Neither one can compete with McIntosh tube gear, but they seem to be among the very best HTIB systems you can get.

Conrad's picture

Scott, I have been a loyal reader for years. I have a dilemma regarding my next purchase for flat panel. I have been debating between two sets: the Panasonic TC-P65VT25 and the Samsung PN63C8000 both are larger than my previous ancient sony RPTV which was 60" My question is this, I read your review in the September issue of the Panasonic TC-P50VT25 and actually had the chance to see it in a store. I loved the TC-P50VT25's picture quality and brightness was just incredible. My question is that since I want to possible purchase the 65" model from panasonic, I am concerned that going to the larger screen might not have the same quality/video that I saw in the Panasonic 50" model. I wanted your thoughts if you had the chance to see the 65" version. Also, the main debate on Samsung plasma v. Panasonic Plasma - with the black level issue (voltage increase over time) have you heard of anything like this in Samsung Plasma from your other testers?n thanks for your time. Conrad

Armaan's picture

Any updates on the black-level readings from the G20 you are testing? Last I read, Home Theater Mag was shooting for 1500 hours of usage, which was equivalent to one year's worth of usage. I'm still on the fence between either the Samsung or the Panasonic.

Harry B's picture

Mike, with your budget at around $2k, why limit yourself to a HTIB? Consider an Onkyo Tx-SR 680 receiver (which DOES have dynamic audio compensation/leveling) and a set of Energy speakers, such as the CB10 5.1 system. The receiver can be purchased factory refurbished (from an authorized online dealer with 1 yr factory warranty) for $349, and the speakers can probalby be had for around $1k via authorized online dealers (i.e. through ebay). Don't limit yourself to HTIB systmes. The speakers in the onkyo system get poor reviews!

mikep's picture

Harry , thank you for the tip. At my age, (close to 60) i lived thru the boom box era w/ some scars.Now w/HDTV & Quality music combined, i am getting the urge to find a system, close to self imposed budget(if possible).I needed a starting point, to begin my search. An Onkyo system of some sort is probable. With the added tip(s) i can now begin . Sorry for slow response time

Scott Wilkinson's picture

Conrad, I don't think the larger screen will be an issue unless you sit too close to it, which is unlikely, since most people sit too far away from their TVs. For a 65-inch screen, a seating distance of about 10 feet is ideal for an immersive image. I don't think the larger size will result in an automatic degradation of image quality, though I haven't seen the 65 myself.Tom Norton reviewed the TC-P50VT25 and PN58C7000, and he preferred the Panasonic with its slightly better blacks, more pop to the picture, and better 3D performance. On the other hand, Samsung TVs are considerably less expensive than Panasonic: the PN63C8000 is $3800, while the TC-P65VT25 lists for $4300.As for the black-level issue, I'm starting to worry less about it. For one thing, our G20 is at about 1500 hours, and no sign of rising black level. Also, I suspect Panasonic has addressed the problem in its latest models. I've not heard of the same problem with Samsung plasmas.

mikep's picture

Scott, the questions over the black levels on Panasonic Plasmas changing w/time have perked my interest . My son purchased a TC42G10 last fall . I have asked him several times , with ever increasing hours of viewing & everyday on/off, has he noticed any changes. The only changes he mentions are when switching to movie mode or back. Is this the "black level issue" or is it something else i might be missing? He bought this tv on my recommendations via H T review, and is very happy with it .