Panasonic Plasma Review

Model: Panasonic TH-50PH10UK Plasma Display Review
Description: 50" HDTV Plasma Television, Widescreen 16:9 format
Resolution: 1366 X 768 (HDTV 720p)
Includes: remote control, VGA input board, composite input board, component input board
Color:Charcoal Black



Panasonic has been a leader as one of the top 3 manufacturers of plasma display products and was the first manufacturer to obtain CRT-like black levels by reducing pre-discharge emission. They have managed to maintain the competitive advantage that the company became known for in 2000 and 2001 with regard to black levels and gray scaling. Nevertheless, Panasonic is always tweaking performance, trying to find better ways to improve plasma. Though Panasonic also produces a limited number of LCD TVs, their focus has been plasma technology.

In this review we summarize the 50 offerings in Panasonic’s professional HDTV lineup, including the new 10th generation TH-50PH10UK. The plasma panels used in Panasonic’s professional line of displays are typically cycled into the consumer line of TVs after they have run for a while in the pro-lineup. For example, the current-generation 50-inch consumer model, the TH-50PX75U uses the same panel 9th generation panel as the discontinued 50-inch TH-50PH9U pro display. While picture quality has been consistent throughout the latest 4 or 5 versions of the Panasonic professional plasma, we explain the small changes that were made with each generation.

INTRODUCTION

The Panasonic professional plasma televisions may be purchased for professional or commercial display/broadcast use, but also can work well for the consumer in the home theater. They do not include tuners or speakers, both of which can be purchased and installed as optional accessories.

The ultimate test of all plasma televisions is how well they show when they are actually tested for video quality. Forget the native pixel resolution, the built in progressive scanning converter, the astronomically unrealistic contrast ratio figure shown. The manufacturers wanting to sell their product provide the specifications. Comparing TV's of any kind side by side with the same input source at the same starting point is the way to truly understand how the signal information is converted, processed and shown. Call it the eyeball test. With plasma displays the differences are much more considerable with the competing LCD technologies than with other quality plasma manuacturers. Reviewing across different technologies is very difficult due to inherent strengths and weaknesses.

The new TH-50PH10UK offers very little differentiation from its predecessor, however Panasonic has had 10 generations to work out the flaws! The company has been consumed with addressing the following concerns: 1) "How long does the plasma last", 2) "Will the plasma develop burn in?", 3) " Is plasma as bright as LCD?" 4) "What are the best inputs to use with plasma?" 5) What about energy consumption?" These are legitimate questions given of all the conflicting information consumers are fed. So Panasonic has strived to answer and ease these concerns and has addressed them all with their new specifications and improvements introduced first in the 7UY series and carried through to the 10U series.

As listed above, life span is up to 60,000 hours for the two most recent series, phoshor burn in effects are substantially non-existent, power consumption was reduced in the 7UY series and then again in the 8 and 9 series, brightness levels have also been increased with each generation. However the very best improvement, and the area in which Panasonic is constantly thumping the competition, is in gray scaling. Not only have they maintained the gap in gray scale performance, they have widened it by adding (according to their specifications) up to 2,048 shades of gray for the 10U series. This translates into an improved viewing experience for the user - by enabling more detail in dark scenes and images. The Panasonic pro series of TVs is very sound technically and can be used in professional installations or a consumer environment. Panasonic Plasma TV Review

Panasonic TH-50PH10-UK

THE PICTURE - 95.5/100

Since plasma monitors are primarily visual devices the picture displayed is omnipotent in consideration for which one to purchase. There are a few other considerations (listed in this review under "Other Considerations") but image quality is of primary importance unless computer presentation scaling is the call. The Panasonic TH-50PH10UK shows one of the best most realistic pictures you will see on a high definition plasma TV. With higher end signals of HDTV 1080I or progressive scan 480P the unit is rarely matched for an 1366 X 768 native pixel resolution plasma TV. We have reviewed the Gateway, Sampo, Samsung, Akai, LG, NEC, Hitachi, Visio, and Sony plasmas, and the unanimous feeling among our reviewers is that Panasonic, Pioneer, Samsung and LG are the overall winners on plasma picture quality.

Images are exceptionally sharp and crisp for HDTV input signals. Color reproduction was superb but the words most often used to describe the unit's on-screen image versus the other flat screen TV's were, "great depth, rich and clear, vibrant." I know the description of the picture sounds a bit like a good cabernet, but those are our thoughts. There are a few standout reasons that the Panasonic Plasmas triumph. One is the gray scaling in dark scenes. Two is the black levels. And three is color reproduction.

  1. Gray Scaling: Image detailing in dark scenes is a sticking point with most plasma manufacturers due to the pressure of always attempting to increase black levels and contrast to keep up with the competition. With many manufacturers, much feature matter is lost as what was intended to be shadow detail turns to an over saturated black - thus losing all detail. Panasonic plasmas have been overcoming this problem for years and are only getting better.
  2. Black Levels: The Panasonic TH-50PH10UK continues to show the dominant deep black levels that have won Panasonic so many accolades in this area. As discussed with gray scaling, it's really a combination of excellent black levels and great dark matter detailing within gray scales that create a superb picture for the human eye. Though we don’t entirely buy into the Panasonic (nor any other manufacturer) contrast ratio listing of 10,000:1 (we measured the 10U at around 855:1), I do believe they have the best black level technology.
  3. Panasonic's plasma color reproduction strives for realism - not overjuiced overipe colors. The Panasonic professional model plasma is very well calibrated right out of the box in movie or standard mode to settings that will not fatigue the eye.

Dark Scene detailing in Fight Club was superb

When viewing progressive 720P or 1080I HD signals I'm always pleased with the reproduction and picture depth. 3 dimensional images on a good plasma will surpass LCD every time.

When changing the signal from a DVD player to 480I from 480P, there is now an almost imperceptible decrease noticed in the picture quality on this plasma TV. This is due to an excellent 3:2 pulldown conversion chip for film and video processing is also included to deliver clear, smooth images from film sources. The Panasonic TH-50PH10UK also upconverts satellite and cable signals to progressive scan quality, thus giving much better picture quality than before on television grade signals.

While several manufacturers claim to have almost caught Panasonic in black level production and contrast, the Panasonic models continue to display the deepest blacks and smoothest gray scaling that I have seen. While viewing the anamorphic widescreen 2.40:1 DVD release of Fight Club—a dark film by anyone's description—I was able to discern sufficient definition in the dark detailing of fight scenes, clothing, and distanced objects. The proof that the Panasonic plasma could handle gray scales with no false contouring (banding effects in dark gradations) was also evidenced in the DVD release of Scorcese's Raging Bull. As De Niro pummeled opponents relentlessly, I was amazed that even with this black and white DVD release there were zero banding/ false contouring effects evident. It is not even a consideration any more with Panasonic's plasma TV offerings. This accomplishment is very difficult for most plasma TVs. The picture from the Panasonic plasma always deliver the most realistic colors, in part because these units do not get offensively warm with oversaturated reds as do so many other models. Gray scaling is drastically improved on this new model—with the most even dark level variations witnessed and monitored by my Sencore color analyzer.

In addition to their phenomenal film and video handing, Panasonic plasma's are hands-down the most versatile displays to use with computer inputs. We tested several previous Panasonic models extensively using the display’s VGA input. The VGA board down-sampled and up-sampled input resolutions ranging from 640x480 to 1920x1200 with incredible clarity. We tested 18 different resolutions supported by the TV's video board and each one immediately scaled to the center of the screen with incredible clarity.. With Panasonic's scaling technology we saw quality at higher resolutions that exceeded what we've observed on even higher resolution LCDs. With more than 70 different resolution/refresh combinations supported, the TH-50PH10UK is a great choice for conference room type installations or public display signage.

OTHER CONSIDERATIONS - 84/100

This plasma TV runs virtually silent. It is fan-less and has one of the lowest power consumption ratings of any plasma along with Pioneer. I could not hear the unit running at all. Not even from a foot away. Easily the best in the market.

Another overlooked positive with this plasma display is that it remains slim at only 3.7" depth. Many LCD and Plasma models have been creeping over the 4.5" depth mark lately.

Input connection options are weak but sufficient for most uses. Included video input connections include S-video, composite video (BNC), a row of 3 BNC connections for component/RGB, a serial port, a 15 pin VGA, and the two speaker output terminals from the built in amps. Absent is the newly quintessential HDMI input, however optional input connection boards (HDMI, DVI, Component) may purchased and inserted to satisfy your configuration needs. The back bottom input cavity is conveniently located for wall mounting and accessibility.

The onscreen graphic user display on this plasma television is excellent and easy to use. There are options available for color temp adjustment, sharpness, color, brightness, tint, and picture. Picture controls contrast. If you have a darker room environment it is always a good idea to lower the contrast from the factory presetting of 25 on a scale of -30 to 30. Lower it to around 20 in a darker home theater room. As well I lowered sharpness to -15 - the minimum setting available. There is a sound adjustment menu if you are using the built in 15 watt amplifiers from which the outputs are neatly placed on the lower right and lower left back of the unit.

The five aspect ratio options include Zoom, Normal (for 4:3 picture), Full, Just (displays 4:3 picture at full screen size but with justification algorithms in effect), Panasonic Auto (used to handle a mix of 16:9 and 4:3 programming, acting similar to Just mode). Color adjustments were spot on for me right out of the box at factory set levels.

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The Panasonic TH-50PH10UK features interchangeable terminal boards.

A home theater user could set up the plasma configuration as:

*HDTV Cable Box connected to optional HDMI terminal board inserted in Slot 1

*Component video cable from DVD to existing component video input

A professional/commercial user may set up the plasma for use with the optional DVI board for HD computer use.

Panasonic Plasma Input Slots cycle through the Multi PIP button on the remote then hit the select button then the input button to display PIP or Side by Side picture. Be sure to press the select button twice when necessary to change the input selection before depressing Input.

The TH-PH10U's styling is very similar to previous generations. The bezel/frame comes is a matte dark charcoal gray with black banding around the picture element. It is straightforward, unobtrusive and understated next to some of the new shiny black consumer plasma models. The bezel is only an inch wide on all sides and slightly beveled along the exterior edges. The Th50PH10U series has been reduced to 82 pounds. The plasma makes no noise at all. Its silence has yet to be matched by other brands.

VALUE RATING - 95/100

With a new dealer price of sub $1800 the for the new TH-50PH10UK, this plasma sits in a very competitive position against other professional plasma models. Only Panasonics consumer 720p plasma model may be a better buy. For home theater use this plasma is a great choice because it comes without speakers, and a stand - thus saving come cost. For commercial signage it's a great choice because of its reliability and probable long mileage. The internal chip sets and components used in Panasonic plasma products keep getting better and for less $$!

OVERALL RATING - (picture double weighted) - 92.5/100

* Ratings from 70 to 100. Ratings in the 60s for any category are reserved for product with a serious defect or design flaw.

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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