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Plasma TV Shootout - September 2002

Reviewer: Robert Wiley
Review Date: 09-01-2002

CONTESTANTS IN THE 14 CATEGORY SHOOTOUT COMPARISON

PANASONIC TH-42PHD5UY or PT-42PHD4P (same piece) Plasma Display
NEC 42MP4 Plasma Display
PIONEER PDP-433CMX or Elite PRO800HD Plasma Display
SAMPO PME-42S6 Plasma Display (Made in Taiwan)
LG 42PZ158 Plasma Display (Made in Korea)




Top Left: Pioneer PDP-433CMX - Top Center: Panasonic TH-42PHD5UY - Top Right: NEC 42MP4 - Bottom Center: Sampo PME-42S6 - Bottom Right: LG 42PZ158

The above listed models have been put to some serious scrutiny in our latest plasma TV shootout. The models have been tested with different “clean” sources with no loop through. This extensive testing requires a lot of extra time and effort but yields the most relevant results. If testing is to occur side-by-side then we use 5 different video sources at the same moment or a switching device that accomplishes the same. We use Sencore VSB players for HDTV material, Extron video switchers, and HDTV decoder boxes by Sony or Panasonic. We test the units with progressive scan DVD players with both progressive 480p and 480i signals. And we test lowly signals of cable and VCRs, before lastly moving to PC computer testing.

We enjoyed testing these units very much and were pleased to also be able to test plasma displays from three different countries – Japan, Korea, and Taiwan. Though plasma technology is becoming more uniform as different manufacturers integrate the best features from one another, there are still major differences in quality regarding contrast, black levels, up and down conversion techniques, interpolation, scaling, power consumption, white balance, menu adjustments and options, and many more.

We have attempted to cover some of the biggest areas of concern for potential buyers as well as owners of these plasma makes. Some considerations have been left out but we do exhibit trait patterns in such a way that we believe it will help you with your evaluation. Factory settings were used for testing rather than fine tuning picture settings before testing, however menu adjustments and setting options are discussed.

These plasma monitors are ranked in order of performance for each category. The final ratings are simply the ratings multiplied by their inverse relation. 

Plasma TV Shooutout Pics
Top Left: Pioneer PDP-433CMX - Top Center: Panasonic TH-42PHD5UY - Top Right: NEC 42MP4 - Bottom Center: Sampo PME-42S6 - Bottom Right: LG 42PZ158

Category 1: BLACK LEVELS

  1. Panasonic – blow it away with the deepest blacks and excellent gray scaling
  2. NEC – a bit more noticeable false contouring in graduation of dark scenes but still impressive
  3. Sampo – Gets some pixelation in dark scenes
  4. Pioneer – Darks and blacks looked faded and hazy at times
  5. LG – Definition is sometimes totally lost in dark tones and blacks. Dark colors even get lost. Adjustments would not clear up problems with the unit remaining too dark

Category 2: COLOR SATURATION

  1. Sampo – Overemphasized but radiant. Sometimes less realistic, but the unit really pumps the volts through the phosphors
  2. Panasonic – Just perfect at normal. The tones seem just right at factory set.
  3. NEC – Just a little heavy on the reds always leaning that way
  4. Pioneer – Had some green tinting as it struggled to get light through its deeper pixel cells
  5. LG – Again, too dark

Category 3: CLARITY (480P to 1080i High Def)

  1. NEC – Stunningly clean, clear images with high-end signals
  2. Panasonic
  3. Pioneer
  4. Sampo
  5. LG 

Note: 1-4 All had excellent clarity with a high definition image. Blemishes on actors faces were often visible except with the LG.

Category 4: BRIGHTNESS

  1. Sampo - Runs very hard (as you will read) Really pumps a lot of light through
  2. Panasonic – Excellent
  3. NEC – Excellent
  4. LG – Dim – very dark overall images
  5. Pioneer – struggled to get light through phosphors

Category 5: COLOR TEMP

  1. Panasonic – Perfect at “Normal” setting but the unit gives nice options for warm/cool/normal
  2. NEC – Runs a little warm to red. Tone down color setting adjustment 5% for more realistic color
  3. Sampo – Tone down tint setting to 40
  4. Pioneer – Runs to green – tint – not much you can do about it
  5. LG – Runs hot to reds

Category 6: PIXELATION / MOTION ARTIFACTS

  1. Pioneer – Smooth images with no artifacts a result of those deep pixel cells
  2. Panasonic
  3. NEC
  4. LG
  5. Sampo – Part of the payment for the vibrant color saturation and driving the unit hard is more motion artifacts and pixelation (blending elements). This is even more evident with lower end cable, satellite, VCR signals as the unit tends to flicker and show lots of elements especially up close 

Category 7: CONTRAST (Whitest white to the darkest black/levels in between)

  1. Panasonic – though they tout some totally unrealistic spec, it really does have great contrast
  2. NEC
  3. Sampo
  4. Pioneer
  5. LG

Category 8: SCALING (Taking 4:3 to full widescreen, or 16:9 to full screen)

  1. Panasonic – Great job on “Just” mode
  2. NEC – Also excellent in “Stadium” mode
  3. Pioneer – Also great, “wide” mode
  4. LG – really poor with a lot of visible “stretching” of the image
  5. Sampo – Visible stretching apparent

Category 9: ZOOM Mode Scaling and Functionality

  1. NEC – Amazing step zoom function. Very advanced
  2. Pioneer – Shows little loss of definition
  3. Panasonic – Gained some fuzzies on zoom
  4. Sampo – 3 Zoom levels
  5. LG – Shaky when zoomed 

Category 10: AESTHETICS (Overall appearance of unit when turned off)

  1. Panasonic – Subjective opinion but I like the 1 inch wide bezel with the thick black ribbon framing the picture. Sleek and non obtrusive. Charcoal.
  2. Sampo – Interesting appearance with silver 1 inch wide trim around charcoal and then black ribbon. Very nice and different.
  3. Pioneer – 1 and ½ inch wide bezel. Does not distract from the picture but a rather plain gray color takes away a bit.
  4. NEC – Almost 3” wide bezel in a nice deep charcoal. Wide and a bit industrial for my taste.
  5. LG – Same as NEC but slightly darker with LG logo plastered front center bottom. 

Category 11: MENU/FUNCTIONALITY/ OPTIONS/REMOTE

  1. Panasonic – A pleasure to use. Blue colorful menu with easy navigation, the right set of options and controls and well planned extras. Tidy remote with simple commands
  2. Pioneer – Very complete as well. Remote almost same as Panasonic
  3. Sampo – Womens billfold size remote has enough buttons to control the space shuttle. Some of the most important controls for the unit are unexposed, under the slide top
  4. NEC – Small cryptic characters goes with the more industrial look. No numerals for settings is an obvious drawback. Nice slim 6” remote with zoom key
  5. LG – Confusing, terrible menu system. Remote – think 70’s 8” monster with a cheap metal plate framing the buttons. Very difficult navigation takes a lot of time to figure 

Category 12: NOISE LEVELS/ POWER CONSUMPTION/ HEAT OUTPUT

  1. Pioneer – Stays cool and quiet. Energy star power rating
  2. Panasonic – same as the Pioneer
  3. LG – Audible from 3ft. Good bit of heat radiance
  4. NEC – Got very warm. Hot to the touch which means she’s pulling the power and the cooling system isn’t keeping up. Kept a static “monitor” hum going. Audible noise from 5 ft. with no audio in use
  5. Sampo – Alright most if the time but really pulls the juice when displaying white and very bright scenes (which require more power usage) then she sings out like a cricket and is audible from 8 to 10ft. Stays pretty warm and runs the brights very hard meaning this unit will not last as long as the Pioneer or Panasonic

With only the Pioneer and Panasonic units running the testing room is virtually silent. Noise is introduced with the running of the LG, Sampo, and NEC – progressively getting louder.

Category 13: CONVERSION FROM 250i, 4:3 IMAGE (Cable, VCR)

  1. Panasonic – Panasonic Auto or Just mode used to achieve the correct ratio to fill the screen. Fantastic upconversion of the signal. The built in doubler 3:2 pulldown is excellent and by far the best of the bunch. The worst signal I could give the unit looked very good after the Panasonic scaled and upconverted it. Best I’ve seen
  2. Pioneer – Wide mode sets the unit straight and the picture remains smooth with little visible motion noise or artifacts from low end signals. The scaling is satisfactory but with some image stretching to fill the screen. Still, the doubling is great. No pixelation
  3. NEC – Stadium mode does a great job with preventing “strectched” appearance when scaling to full screen size. Dark scenes lost definition and detail. Reasonably good job but the NEC does obtain some graininess as it struggles to upconvert
  4. Sampo – Wide Panarama mode is correct setting or Wide 4:3. Fair job of conversion but the picture jumps as the Sampo’s technology can barely handle the task. Had a hard time holding color with low end signals – rendering the experience almost not enjoyable. Not impressed with the upconversion
  5. LG – Only 16:9 mode can be used to display full image and considering that – the picture was surprisingly tolerable. Picture a bit grainy but the main problem is just that the unit runs too dark and loses detail in shadowy dark scenes

Category 14: COMPUTER using RGB 15 pin connection

  1. NEC – XGA 1024X768 def very clear and clean with text. Matches up great with native pixel resolution. Goes all the way to UXGA. Seemed to look great with any resolutions
  2. Panasonic – Same as NEC
  3. Pioneer – XGA or lower looks really nice even with text. Only supports up to XGA
  4. LG – Could display up to XGA
  5. Sampo – lots of flicker from the RGB computer signal. Visible pixelation with SVGA 800X600 which is normally the easiest signal to display and the best looking with most plasma displays. Only displays up to SVGA comforatably

OVERALL COMPARISON POINTS

(calculated by inverting rating values 1=5, 5=1 etc)

  1. Panasonic TH-42PHD5UY or PT-42PHD4P– 62
  2. NEC MP4– 49
  3. Pioneer PRO800HD or PDP-433CMX– 43
  4. Sampo PME-42S6– 36
  5. LG 42PZ158– 20

MODEL NUMBER OVERALL RATING
Panasonic TH-42PHD5UY or PT-42PHD4P 62
NEC 42MP4 49
Pioneer PRO800HD or PDP-433CMX 43

Sampo PME-42S6

36
LG 42PZ158 20


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