Sampo PME-50X6 Plasma HD Monitor Page 2

It's relatively easy to set the PME-50X6's brightness level, but, as with any plasma, setting the contrast level is somewhat tricky. Unlike CRT phosphors, plasma phosphors don't bloom, but they can burn. Plasmas use a picture-level limiter to prevent the panel from burning excessively bright. I used a stepped-gray-ramp image from Video Essentials (title 18, chapter 1) to set the contrast to a point just below where the two brightest bars blurred together. This was at about 20 percent of my review sample's contrast level, and it measured fairly bright. With a full-white image or an image with a high average picture level, however, the limiter kicked in, and the peak-light level dropped substantially (again, this is true of all plasmas). When I set the contrast to a point at which the peak-white level didn't change much between a small white window and a full-white image, the contrast was at about 2 percent. The picture was fairly dim at this setting, although it was still watchable. I did most of my viewing with the contrast at the 20 percent level, however, and I never really noticed the drop in light output on regular video material.

The PME-50X6 has a number of other great performance features. For example, the comb filter does a good job of removing dot crawl and cross-color artifacts from most composite sources, while the internal scaler does an excellent job of finding and deinterlacing the 3:2 frame sequence in film-based NTSC video material. The plasma then scales the resulting, artifact-free progressive-scan image to fit the panel's 768 vertical resolution. The panel even has a good handle on contouring artifacts. Rather than rendering smooth transitions, most plasmas manifest a stepped transition from an image's light areas to its dark areas. While this effect may still appear from time to time, the Sampo display does an excellent job with most images and lacks the random video noise that's often the contouring effect's most distracting element.

A few of the anomalies that were present in the 42-inch model are present here, as well. Most noticeably, small, bright images can create a dark streak that runs to the right of the screen, particularly when the image to the right of the bright object has a medium intensity. Another characteristic that's typical of a plasma display is a persistent phosphor lag. Bright scenes burn into the panel rather quickly, even though they eventually fade away. The FBI warning for Star Wars: Episode II—Attack of the Clones, for example, imprinted itself into the image's background briefly during the movie's opening-title scroll. This was probably the most noticeable artifact. I'd say that a poor black level is most plasmas' Achilles heel, but it's even more so with the Sampo panel. With the lights out, dark scenes just didn't have enough depth to make them look realistic. When I turned the lights up a bit, though, this effect hardly bothered me at all.

Overall, the PME-50X6's picture quality depends on your source material, but not as much as it did with the 42-inch model. Good source material, like well-transferred DVDs and true HD signals, can look outstanding. The snowflakes in the opening scene of Gladiator were incredibly detailed and seemed to float in front of the panel, while scenes from Attack of the Clones were vibrant and razor-sharp. Darker scenes are troublesome, as are low-resolution, off-air NTSC signals. Local channels, while soft and seemingly veiled, are clean and colorful.

I'm not trading in my CRT front projector any time soon. Then again, this plasma offers better resolution than most budget CRT projectors (like mine), which are also thoroughly unwatchable during the day. Having owned a front projector for so long, I don't think I could ever go back to a big-box rear-projection display. There may be other plasmas that excel in one area or another over the Sampo PME-50X6, but most of the ones I've seen also have significant drawbacks in other areas. This panel does a good job across the board and is the first plasma display that I'd consider owning in my own home. For those who know me, that's high praise.


• Great calibration menu
• High-def resolution at a low plasma price

PME-50X6 Plasma HD Monitor
Dealer Locator Code SPO
(866) SAMPO-22