V, Inc. VIZIO P50 HDM PDP (plasma) Monitor

If you haven't shopped at Costco in a while, you might not know that the giant membership-warehouse chain now accounts for a sizeable chunk of U.S. retail HDTV sales. Most stores prominently display an assortment of HD-capable TVs, ranging from 32-inch direct-view TVs to 70-inch rear-projectors. But pride of place belongs to the sexy (and highly profitable) flat-panel LCD and PDP (plasma) displays, which are mounted up high and carefully positioned to be visible to shoppers from most of the sales floor. (The new industry buzzword for plasma displays, which you'll find in the remainder of this report, is PDP, for plasma display panel.—Ed.)

The Costco buyers know a value when they see one, and so side-by-side with traditional name brands such as Sony, Pioneer, and Panasonic, you'll find intriguing products from up-and-coming manufacturers with factories located in China, South Korea, and Taiwan. One such company is V, Inc., a Costa Mesa, CA-based firm whose Bravo DVD players and VIZIO DLP and PDP televisions have been widely praised in this and other publications for delivering cutting-edge technology at unheard of price points.

V, Inc.'s latest offering is the P50 HDM, a feature-packed 50-inch high-definition PDP monitor that lists for just $3299. That's already lower than the competition, but it gets better—the P50 HDM is available at Costco for the mind-blowing price of $2999. And if that's not aggressive enough, Costco offered a $400-off coupon on this model in August that brought the price down to a jaw-dropping $2599!

Value Proposition
Despite its low price, the P50 HDM is no stripped-down loss leader. This 50-inch diagonal 16:9 PDP display panel (PDP) has a native resolution of 1366x768 pixels—all incoming signal formats (including 480i/p, 720p and 1080i) are scaled to 1366x768. Video processing is 10-bit and deinterlacing chores are handled by the highly regarded Faroudja solution with DCDi.

According to V, Inc.'s web site, the P50 HDM features the "Latest single scan PDP technology with more than 60,000 hours life time to half brightness, equivalent to 25 years." The company claims a contrast ratio of 10,000:1 and maximum light output of 1000 cd/m2. The latter specs should of course be taken with a hefty grain of salt, but the point is, the P50 HDM incorporates the "latest glass" rather than some outmoded PDP panel technology.

The P50 HDM is also no slouch in the input department. There are two High Definition Multimedia Interface (HDMI) inputs, two component-video inputs, an RGB input, and two inputs with composite and S-video jacks. All of the video inputs have accompanying stereo audio jacks. In addition to traditional standard and high definition signals, the RGB (analog) input accepts computer video signals at 640x480, 800x600, 1024x768, and 1280x1024 resolutions, and the HDMI (digital) input accepts 640x480 inputs from computer DVI outputs. And unlike the HDMI inputs on some sets, these accept all standard and HD video signal formats, including 480i. Both HDMI inputs are compatible with the HDCP High-bandwidth Digital Content Protection scheme.

Fans of picture-In-picture (PIP) functionality will find themselves in hog heaven here. You can display various sized inset windows or two side-by-side images. The PIP source can be selected from any of the available inputs, including HDMI. In other words, you can view one HDMI input as the main source, while viewing the other HDMI input in a PIP window.

One thing you won't find on the P50 HDM is a TV tuner of any sort. This is a monitor, after all, which means you'll need to connect it to an outboard NTSC tuner (cable or satellite box, VCR) to view regular analog TV channels, and/or an HD tuner to receive over-the-air, cable or satellite HDTV broadcasts.

Personally, I don't consider the lack of an onboard tuner to be a drawback—quite the contrary! These days, I rely on digital cable to receive broadcast programming, courtesy of an HD-compatible Motorola Moxi digital video recorder (DVR). Satellite users will be in a similar boat. Why pay extra for tuners you will never use? Similarly, the P50 HDM has no slot for a CableCARD. But given my disappointing past experience with a CableCARD, I consider this even less of an issue.

Wall Flower
The P50 HDM is a handsome and well-built component, with all the sex appeal of today's hang-'em-on-the-wall flat-panel displays. As shipped, the VIZIO comes with a table-top stand, which I used for my review. The stand can be easily removed for wall mounting, using your choice of accessory hardware. The company's web site lists two options: the VWM02 Wall Mount ($199.99), which can be tilted, and the VWM04 ($149.99), which enables you to mount the monitor "flush to the wall like an impressive piece of art." (While you're visiting V, Inc.'s web site, check out their reasonably-priced HDMI and component-video cables.) A coupon good for 10% off on these and other accessories is included with the set.

Surrounding the screen is a shiny black bezel, which is very attractive—and can be rather too reflective at times. The display surface is equally shiny, and I found that I had to turn off most room lights to eliminate annoying reflections.

Below the screen is a perforated silver speaker grille that curves slightly inward from either side to converge at a central valley. The speaker panel is not removable.

The front-panel controls are actually hidden out of sight near the bottom of the skinny right side panel. There are no front-panel inputs anywhere on the TV, which is a bit disappointing. The rear-panel inputs face downwards and are recessed in such a way that you can in theory access them from under the set even after it has been wall-mounted. But in practice it's not going to be easy to find the correct jacks by feel, and I highly recommend that you attach all the cables you are using now as well as any you even suspect might come in useful in the future before bolting the set permanently in place.

The rear-mounted cooling fans on my review sample are unacceptably noisy, producing a sort of throbbing effect that is annoyingly obvious during any quiet passage. I have to assume this flaw is limited to my review sample, and is not something endemic to all production models. It's loud enough to be a deal breaker. Keep in mind that Costco will take back just about anything purchased from them, no questions asked! V, Inc. has also informed us that they will send on-site service to any customer that notifies the tech support department of this problem by phone or e-mail.

What's on the Menu?
Included with the P50 HDM is a much better-than-average preprogrammed universal remote. It's clearly labeled and logically laid-out, but not illuminated. In addition to the usual Input button that cycles through the inputs one at a time, there are direct access buttons for the AV (push once for AV1 and again for AV2, etc.), Analog HD (component), and Digital HD (HDMI) inputs. These quick access buttons are much appreciated on a set with as many input options as this one has.