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Plasma Television Review

Model: Akai PDP5006H Plasma TV
Description: 50" Plasma Television, 16:9 Widescreen Format
Resolution: 1,366 x 768 (HDTV)
Includes: Remote control, integrated NTSC Tuner, removable, side-mounted speakers, tabletop stand
Color: Black speakers and black matte framing bezel
Reviewer: Reviewer: Charles La Rosa
Date: June 2005


INTRODUCTION

Will four-letter, three-vowel, one-k Akai do for television what four-letter, three-vowel, one-k Ikea did for home furnishings? I'm guessing 'no,' based on my time spent with the 50-inch PDP5006H plasma TV. The 3rd-tier China manufactured Akai PDP5006H produces an almost passable picture, but has severe weaknesses in some areas of picture quality, internal processing, and operational efficiency.

The Akai PDP5006H plasma television features a standard, black industrial design. The front is hard, black plastic and the back is metal. There are no fancy adornments and the TV's speakers, also black, are screwed onto the TVs sides.


Akai Plasma TV Review

The Akai plasma we tested displayed weaknesses in picture quality, internal processing, and usability.

PICTURE QUALITY: 78/100

The AKAI displays color well with few adjustments. The TV holds black levels during bright scenes but spills light into dark areas directly adjacent bright parts of the picture. False contouring is a serious problem with the Akai PDP5006H plasma television.

Color rendition was not much better. This plasma TVs white balance runs very warm. To adjust the picture on the Akai PDP5006H for improved results (than what we started with), we began by changing the color temperature to Cool. The Warm setting rendered indoor scenes falsely as though they were drenched in natural sunlight. Neutral still turned out overly rosy cheeks: reddish skin tones. Finally, the Cool setting, although it made blues appear slightly aquamarine, delivered more realistic whites and skin tones for both indoor and outdoor scenes.

All picture settings are adjusted on a 1 to 100 scale and, even though the digital on-screen display doesn't indicate it, there are two steps between some numbers on the scale and three steps between other sequential numbers. It took a bit of trial and error to figure out that there's no obvious pattern. So, if we suggest a setting of 45 for color here, it could be 45, 45½, 45⅓, or 45⅔—your guess is as good as ours.

My eye, Philips light meter, and color analyzer combined initially put the TV's picture settings with brightness at 42, contrast around 50, and color at 45. After noticing that the TV was "spilling" light from bright areas into dark parts of the picture I pulled out the Video Essentials DVD for serious tuning. After adjusting the brightness and contrast to a point where light didn't leak out of the brighter boxes in the PLUGE test the settings were very low. Although plasma TVs don't "bloom" to the degree, or even in the same manner, that tube TVs do, they can spill light out of their bright areas into the dark areas around them. We had to turn our contrast down below 20 to eliminate the noticeable, bright halo glowing around bright areas during the Video Essentials bloom test. Unless you will watch this TV exclusively in a pitch-dark room, the no-bloom contrast setting will be too low. Therefore, you might conclude that this is a very poor choice of a plasma TV for brightly lit rooms with a lot of ambient lighting.

At any setting, the Akai doesn't shift between hues or different levels of gray with the smoothness of a 1st Tier plasma TV. False contouring is a persistent problem with this TV. In After the Sunset, with Pierce Brosnan and Salma Hayek, the TV used about 5 shades of pink and yellow to render a sun setting against the ocean. It was a scene that should've used hundreds, if not thousands, of hues. After watching the sunset scene we held little hope for Akai. False contouring (banded patterns of color displaying the difficulty in the plasma TVs gray scaling) was very evident. This was a common problem with plasma TVs in early production models of 2000/2001, but I have not seen it this bad in years.

Even though sharpness is displayed on a 1-100 scale it can only be adjusted in blocks of seventeen, giving users a total of seven settings. Unlike most TVs, which primarily perform artificial edge enhancement as sharpness increases from zero, this TV seems to perform artificial blurring at its lower settings. Normally, keeping sharpness turned down eliminates eyestrain and makes for better viewing. On the Akai PDP5006H keep the sharpness setting no lower than 33. Image clarity suffered at the lower resolution as the Akai was unequipped to handle challenges associated with 3:2 pulldown and neutralizing annoying edge enhancement technologies.

The 50-inch HDTV performed well when displaying a 1080i video feed. HD input couldn't fix our problems with false-contouring, but picture clarity improved significantly. Unfortunately, with no built-in ATSC tuner, we couldn't enjoy our local PBS documentary channel in HD without employing an outboard HD receiver. Most cable or satellite customers won't be affected by this shortcoming, though they might have appreciated a built-in CableCARD slot.

Image clarity became an issue when watching non-HD sources. While viewing from 12 feet away from the 50-inch plasma TV, we weren't expecting small-LCD-like-precision, but with 480i sources the TV was deficient at producing skin detail. Even when we displayed the signal using the normal aspect ratio (which does not perform a zoom function) resolution detail with 480i didn't match what we've seen on even first-tier EDTV plasmas. The edge enhancement techniques used by the Akai plasma placed considerable strain on my eyes after a couple of hours of viewing. Turning down sharpness to eliminate these techniques was not an option because of significant image blurring.

Other aspect ratio settings include fill, which scales to a wider screen, and letterbox, which does a decent but not impressive job of algorithmically enlarging images to full screen. Panorama, TV mode, and anamorphic all attempt scaling to maximize the display area. Some of the settings focus on keeping important parts on the picture visible and others try to keep the center region's aspect ratio correct while filling the 16:9 screen with a 4:3 image. None of these three settings produced exceptionally clear images from our 4:3 sources. Turning on our DVD player's built in 3:2 pull down to test the TV with a 480p signal decreased the number of conversion artifacts we saw with 480i inputs on this TV. Unfortunately the switch to 480p only made the TV's serious false-contouring problems even more obvious.

The PDP5006 has an excellent viewing angle, as most all plasma TVs do. Off-axis viewing is fine to about 160 degrees. We observed a double image as the picture could be seen on the plasma glass, which is typical for a plasma display at that angle. Anti-glare performance is inline with other plasma displays.


Plasma Television Review

Inputs are difficult to access, and hiding cables is difficult

OTHER CONSIDERATIONS: 75/100

The plasma TVs speakers have an artificial cloth cover that has the texture of a pair of polyester pantyhose. The speakers screw onto the TV's sides using metal L-brackets. The setup is chintzy-looking and the speakers produce sound that, though passable, won't make any self-respecting 50-inch plasma TV owner proud. The speakers are rated for 15 watts, but Akai doesn't report the built-in amplifier's power in the owner's manual.

The Akai PDP5006H includes two component inputs, with strangely only one supporting 480p signals. There is one RCA-type composite input, one S-video composite connector, one VGA jack, and one DVI input. All the inputs are angled in a way that makes them difficult to see and located so that hiding cables is difficult. There is no HDMI input. Stereo sound and composite video out are available via RCA-type jacks.

The remote is cheap and many important buttons are small, poorly labeled, and difficult to locate. The onscreen menu is small, unattractive, and unintuitive. An onscreen mute indicator shifts to prevent screen burn. The movement of the mute indicator is random, fast, visible, and very distracting.

Two inputs can be watched simultaneously either in a picture-in-picture layout or a split-screen layout. One source can be from the built-in NTSC tuner, which is decent and quick.

With the speakers and base attached, the Akai PDP5006H is 57 inches wide, 32 inches tall, and 11.5 inches deep. Plasma appearance is a preference thing, and I rather like the black on black matt finish of this product. The speakers have a detracting influence though. Handles screwed into the back of the metal frame to ease moving the large unit. Power consumption peaks at 480 watts and heat pours from the top of this TV during operation. There was little noise output, which surprised me given the heat generation. You could almost fry an omelet on the top of it.


VALUE: 78/100

The third-tier manufactured Akai PDP5006H costs about $3,000. The Akai includes bolt-on speakers, a remote control, and a built-in NTSC tuner. All of these accessories and features are below average for a TV of this size and price. A first-tier, 42-inch high resolution plasma will cost about the same as the PDP5006H. A 42-inch EDTV plasma from a manufacturer like Sony or Panasonic will save $1,000 off the price of a PDP5006H. Either of these smart options will save you the sadness you'll experience watching the Akai-PDP5006H try to fade to black.


OVERALL RATING (picture double-weighted: 77.25/100

Rating scale from 70 (denoting poorest quality) to 100 (signifying the very best quality). A rating in the 60s for any particular category of a product review indicates a serious defect which causes the product not to operate properly. Picture quality is double-weighted in the Overall Rating Score calculation.







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