Panasonic vs. NEC Plasma TV Review

 

 

 



Model: PANASONIC TH-50PHD6UY vs. NEC 50MP3
Description:50" HDTV Plasma Display Monitors/TVs, Widescreen 16:9 Format
Color:Both Charcoal Gray with a black border surrounding picture
Resolutions: 1366 x 768 (WXGA)
Include: Panaonic: Remote | NEC: Remote
Reviewer: Robert Wiley

INTRODUCTION

The ultimate test of all plasma TV's is how well they show when tested for video/computer display quality. Forget the native pixel resolution, the built in converter/scalar, the sometimes-unrealistic contrast ratio listed by the manufacturer. The real test is how the plasma monitor blends all elements of design and engineering to affect the picture being presented. To truly get an accurate idea of what monitor exceeds another in a particular area, we test the plasma TV's side by side using the exact same input source at precisely the same moment - thus insuring accuracy in the testing. Because the human eye perceives an endless palette of colors, TV's and in particular plasma TV's (which can display twice as many colors as normal CRT's) are susceptible to substantial variations in picture appearance.

PICTURE

Panasonic plasma tv vs nec plasma tv
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Both of these units have spectacular pictures. Previously, I never recommended 50" plasma monitors for home video viewing under 14' distance due to visible pixelation (motion artifacts) with 480 interlaced signal or lower. Now, with the introduction of these new models I feel comfortable stating that these superb models can be viewed from only 8'. However, your video source will determine how much pixelation or graininess and the level of detail you see. If you are planning to watch mostly lower end signals such as cable or satellite TV then I still recommend a viewing distance of 12' or greater with a 50" monitor.

PANASONIC - 97

(Click on the image to see the full size pictures)

While the advertised contrast ratio of 3000:1 is unrealistic, this unit certainly has intense black levels not met by other manufacturers. The built in scalar/converter is right on when converting a 4:3 NTSC signal to full screen viewing through optional modes. The colors on this unit are extremely accurate - lifelike. Due to the cooler settings used by Panasonic for white balance the flesh tones are realistic without taking on the warm red glow of other manufacturers. And the blending of all elements together is superb, producing a versatile monitor for home or office use. With an HDTV signal displayed accurately on this monitor, this is likely the best picture you can see today.

One possible explanation for this is one of the most recent improvements to this Plasma TV - the new asymmetrical pixel cell design, which appears to be having a desired effect of improving light-emitting balance throughout the color spectrum.

Panasonic has had the best picture performance in the 42" plasma monitor category for a couple of years now and this holds true for the 50" model as well. The black levels go deep when inputting a signal of 480p or better. This unit is capable of showing the very best picture with an 1080I HDTV or 480p signal even though the Panasonic and the NEC are close in quality. Out of the box no adjustment was necessary for the Panasonic with the remote control with a good signal. It was just stunningly clean and colorful. Compared to the NEC it was more realistic, more detailed.

With a standard DVD signal of 480I down to a normal NTSC cable signal of 250I to 300I the unit showed a bit more graininess and not as strong black levels. However, in the last two generations (from the PHD4UY) the unit has continued to show surprising improvements. The biggest improvements have been in gray scaling of dark to black scenes. This plasma screen has shown incredible improvement here and Panasonic is leading all manufacturers in black level and gray scaling. There is not even a question that they lead in this area. The deep black filter on the front glass panel continues to get better as it suffuses light admittance through the panel.

The new Panasonic 50PHD6UY offers several preset picture settings, which create ease of use depending upon input signal and ambient light conditions. This is becoming a stock function on plasma displays but that makes it no less important for the average user.

There is little to find wrong with the Panasonic 50" in the picture category. Sometimes, the unit does not look as bright as some of the competitors, but that is a trade off for more realistic color reproduction and gray scaling. In a lone setting, a competitor model does not matter, and realistic color will matter much over time.

When comparing a composite video (RCA) input to an s-video input (from a DVD Player), the Panasonics show a slightly better picture with the composite signal with less degradation and better color saturation (than the S-video signal). This points to a superior Y/C conversion chip set in the Panasonic as opposed to the outboard device being used.

NEC - 94

NEC Plasma TV
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The NEC has a great picture as well. NEC plasma panels have always had a white balance which causes the flesh tones to look too red to me. Colors tend to be too warm for my taste in NEC's standard mode of what realism should be. This newest offering from NEC offers some nice new fine tuning options - allowing the user to adjust individual color density without affecting the overall color temperature (in professional mode). With some toying with the picture adjustments, I could get the picture of the NEC 50XM3 looking almost exactly the same as the Panasonic, while pausing a couple of progressive scan DVD players. Following are the picture adjustments I found necessary to make with the NEC remote settings in order to create a more lifelike picture:

Contrast 80%
Brightness 25%
Sharpness 30%
Color 50%
Tint 35-40%

These adjustment settings are easy to make and apply to only one input signal. Therefore, different inputs can be set at different picture adjustments. This is a nice little design feature on the NEC, which Panasonic has now emulated. Both plasma TVs have memory settings available.

The built in scalar/converter in the NEC is very good at upgrading low-end signals to around a 480p image quality (by low-end I refer to satellite, cable, VCR) . Internal conversion and especially upgrading technology has always been a strong point of NEC product engineering. It really enhances the picture similar to the way an outboard line doubler might. One negative is that there is some stretching on certain aspect modes when converting. I find it necessary to adjust the aspect mode for every signal to find the mode that best suits the material displayed. This adjustment is simple enough through a button labeled "wide" on the remote control. Anamorphic 16:9 DVD's look best in Zoom mode, letterboxed widescreen DVD's look great in Full, a VCR or TV signal looks best in Stadium mode.

The main improvements of the NEC 50XM3 over its predecessor the 50MP2 are continued increase in black levels, and thus contrast ratio, fine tuning ability with the color fields, and continued improvements in anti-burn in techniques.

Overall the picture is vibrant, and very clear with vivid color. Light comes through the unit in a very bright 3-dimensional manner when reflecting off the subject matter (for instance with the sun or a lamp). It's a very real look a viewer may or may not like. It is a bit much for me at times, depending upon the scene.

OTHER CONSIDERATIONS

PANASONIC - 94


(Click on the image to see the full size picture)

The Panasonic 50" plasma TV offers 4 aspect ratio adjustments: 1) Normal displays an NTSC or VCR signal at it's standard 4:3 image with side bars. 2) Zoom (best for 16:9 anamorphic) magnifies the central section of the picture. 3) Full displays the picture at its maximum size but with slight elongation (best for widescreen, letterbox, HDTV). 4) Just mode displays 4:3 picture at the sreens maximum size, scaling the picture to fit the entire monitor. The remote control has a button marked "Aspect" to choose this crucially important picture mode choice.

Engineers at Panasonic have corrected the previous default color system setting of, "M. NTSC" out of the box. It is now set for normal NTSC however can sometimes be set to PAL. A black and white scrolling picture will alert you that the plasma display is set to PAL. Highlight the PAL selection and depress the right arrow key to set the unit to NTSC.

The remote control for the Panasonic is adequate, but cheap looking and includes a couple of extras such as a, "surround" button for virtual surround sound if the viewer is using the built amplifiers. The conveniently marked "input" button is used for choosing the input signal and will need to be located frequently. The "aspect" button will also be used frequently to choose the aspect ratio for the incoming signal.

Panasonic has continued to improve the flexibility of their plasma display offerings especially with regard to inputs. The new Panasonic TH-50PHD6UY has flex input terminals to allow the owner to swap input cards depending upon the needs of their configuration. This new feature is accomplished with optional video terminal boards which may be purchased to assist any user with their individual set up. These include component terminal boards, composite terminal boards, and DVI/HDCP terminal boards. There is an optional empty slot in the Panasonic plasma to allow the user to simply unscrew 4 screws on the back of the unit, take off a plate, and slide in an optional video terminal board. This may allow the consumer or professional user to be able to view picture in picture or side by side picture from the plasma - also a new feature.

The connections for this plasma monitor are ample without the extra terminal cards with s-video, composite video, left and right audio, Component/RGB inputs, 15 pin VGA style PC input (also used for HDTV from HDTV decoder box.), a Mac connection, and a 9 pin D-sub serial port. The VGA style 15 pin input may also be used as a secondary component video terminal by using a 3 pin RCA to 15 pin VGA cable. The input cavity is conveniently located on the bottom, back of the unit - giving ample room for a cable door if the unit is wall mounted.

Data signals accepted range from VGA to Wide XGA (at 60 Hz). I normally find SVGA or XGA to be the best alternatives. This unit does a superb job with XGA resolution, which matches well with the native pixel design of the unit. This can be accomplished through many Hertz rate ranges.

NEC - 95.5


(Click on the image to see the full size picture)

The NEC 50XM3 offers the same 4 aspect ratio adjustments as the Panasonic listed above. These are labeled: Zoom, Normal, Full, and Stadium and are accessed by pressing a button mysteriously labeled, "Wide" on the remote controller.

The NEC is set to proper settings to receive a color picture right out of the box. Adjustment to the color is necessary for me as mentioned previously in this review. The monitor conveniently memorizes these settings. There is a scary flicker when changing video inputs signals. Changing inputs is done with the," Video" button on the remote and there is an additional button labeled, "DVD/HD" and another one labeled, "RGB/PC to select in addition to the video button. The "proceed" button is used for picture adjustments as noted earlier.

The zoom function is much improved over the previous 50MP models model with gradual size increases making it easy to find that "just perfect" picture setting.

Aside from the cryptically marked controls on the remote, it is ergonomically pleasing.

The manual for the NEC is much more detailed and technically comprehensive than the Panasonic.

In addition to the inputs listed above for the Panasonic plasma, the NEC plasma has a convenient extra set of component inputs (RCA type). It also has a DVI connection (Digital Visual Interface), and an extra composite input giving it a much more complete set of inputs without having to purchase additional input terminal boards. The input cavity is located annoyingly to some, on the side of the unit.

Data signals accepted range from VGA to Wide XGA (at 60 Hz). I normally find SVGA or XGA to be the best alternatives. This unit does a superb job with XGA resolution, which matches well with the native pixel design of the unit. This can be accomplished through many Hertz rate ranges. NEC specialized in great computer compatibility and commercial display application readiness.

Lastly, the signal loopout capability on the NEC plasma allows for 4 plasma displays to be looped using the same input signal without additional signal amplification or equipment.

SPECIAL FEATURES

  • Both monitors have 1366 x 768 (horizontal lines) of Native Pixel Resolution
  • The Panasonic boasts an unrealistic contrast of 3000:1 while the NEC is more modestly accurate at 550:1. Nevertheless, the Panasonic plasmas always have the deepest black levels and best contrast in the market.
  • The Zoom function on the NEC gets the cool award. You can pick out a particular area of the image to enlarge.
  • Both the Panasonic and NEC plasma displays can be used vertically as displays, however the Panasonic does require a special fan kit.
  • Another classic feature of the NEC is a pointer located on the remote controller which is excellent for presentation material as well as highlighting a clue in the murder mystery.
  • Neither model has a tuner built in nor speakers included allowing for flexibility in processing and set up and avoiding unnecessary cost where they might not apply.
  • Both models have a built in scan converter. Both do a good job with scaling a 4;3 image to full size with the edge going to Panasonic. The NEC performs better 3:2 pulldown signal enhancements but only slightly.
  • Both models contain built in 7 or 8-watt amplifiers and optional speakers.

VALUE RATING

PANASONIC - 93

Recently priced at around $6,500 you pay for the picture. At 33% increase in viewing area over the 42" model the unit is also 33% more in price.

NEC - 92

Recently priced at around $7,000 - a steal!

OVERALL RATINGS (picture is double weighted)

PANASONIC TH-50PHD6UY - 95.25
NEC 50MX3- 93.80





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