Panasonic Viera TH-50PZ85U Plasma HDTV Page 2
An Advanced menu includes controls for Color Matrix, which offers a choice of SD or HD color decoding. But you can only change it with 480p inputs, which seems to make it rather pointless. The Advanced menu also offers controls for black level (the Light setting reproduces above white and below black) and HD Size. The latter, with two options, produces zero overscan at 1080i/p in Size 2. However, in all other resolutions, including 720p, the minimum overscan was 2 percent to 3 percent per side.
The onscreen controls are generally well designed. When you select most of the video con-trols, the menu disappears and only the selected control remains visible. This lets you see the effect of your adjustments. But this quickly reverts back to the full-screen control menu as soon as you stop adjusting. This may be fine for casual adjustments, but it’s a major annoyance when you’re performing a calibration with test tools that take a few seconds to get a reading.
The remote control can operate three components in addition to the set itself. It doesn’t offer direct input selection, nor is it backlit. But the most often-used buttons are reasonably large, so after I became accustomed to the remote, I had little trouble using it in the dark.
The Panasonic’s video processing didn’t really shine. On the jaggies tests on the standard-definition HQV Benchmark disc, its 480i-to-1080p upconversion performance ranged from fair to poor. It did lock onto 3:2 pulldown, but it was relatively slow doing so. However, it did a good job on my real-world SD tests from Gladiator, Star Trek: Insurrection, and The Day the Earth Stood Still.
Converting 1080i to 1080p is important for broadcast HD and most concert Blu-ray Discs and HD DVDs. While the Panasonic deinterlaced correctly, it didn’t properly handle 3:2 pulldown. It also displayed flashes of moiré on real-world scenes from Mission: Impossible III and stumbled on mixed film and video content (a message scroll below a filmed image).
With real-world programming, rather than material specifically designed to reveal problems, the Panasonic’s video processing rarely distracted me. In all other respects, its performance ranged from good to, more often, superb.
I did most of my viewing over HDMI. This set is so impressive overall that it’s clearly the one to beat in its price category. It will show up more than a few expensive flat-panel displays as well. The 50-inch Panasonic cannot, of course, provide the sort of scope and impact that’s possible with a big-screen projection system, particularly one as accomplished as the anamorphic setup I described in my “Constant Height Projection” feature on page 52. Nevertheless, the Panasonic held its own in other ways against this setup, which is nearly six times its size and over 20 times its cost. The Golden
Compass may be the best Blu-ray transfer I’ve seen this year. It’s so good, it appears nearly flawless even on a very large screen. On the Panasonic, with its crisp, natural-looking detail, discs such as this one and others did not let me down. I can’t think of another set I’ve reviewed that resolves detail better, with both test patterns and real-world programming. Some sets I’ve seen can match it, but none has exceeded it.
The Panasonic’s resolution isn’t just subjective, either. In 1080i or 1080p HDMI, a sharpness pattern showed an unequivocal single-pixel line, with no bleedthrough to adjacent pixels. A multidirectional one-pixel-on/one-pixel-off test pattern (technically known as a pixel phase pattern) also displayed the individual pixels clearly, without shading or smearing. This pattern did have an odd, reddish tint on the Panasonic, but there was no hint of this discoloration on program material.
The Panasonic’s color was good. Yes, there was a bit too much saturation in red and green, which is a common problem in modern displays. Fleshtones were just a shade reddish, and greens looked slightly phosphorescent. The Color Management control, which is simply an on-or-off feature, did not affect this. It also had no measurable effect on the color space, apart from a slightly less accurate cyan when turned on. But these issues improved considerably when I turned down the color control to 37. (The midpoint/factory setting is 50.) Judging from color bars viewed through a color filter, this color setting was way below optimum. But no color setting produced a technically “correct” result with test patterns. The lowered setting produced the most natural-looking images with a wide range of real program material.
The Panasonic’s blacks were good. They weren’t the best I’ve seen or measured (that honor still clearly goes to the Pioneer KUROs). Still, they were far better than what you’ll see from all but the best, most expensive LCDs. The Panasonic won’t likely draw complaints about its performance on scenes with mixed bright and dark content. It won’t from me.
Even on dark scenes with bright highlights, the Panasonic still produced good subjective contrast, with no hint of the gray fog that afflicts so many flat-panel displays with such material. The dark scenes near the end of Men in Black (Blu-ray), where J and K battle the giant bug from space, looked excellent. The Spiderwick Chronicles (Blu-ray) has many dark sequences, and nearly all of them looked fully convincing thanks to the Panasonic’s black level and shadow detail. A set with deeper blacks will buy you additional richness on such material, plus a shade more subjective depth and dimensionality. But you’re not likely to notice the difference outside of a direct, side-by-side comparison in a fully darkened room.
I only missed having deeper blacks on the darkest scenes. The black of space behind the star fields in the opening titles of Men in Black had a distinctly grayish look. So did the darkest scenes in Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World, including the belowdecks sequence near the beginning and the night scene in chapter 13 where the crew launches a decoy raft. But only the Pioneer KUROs clearly do dramatically better with such material. And they will cost you a lot more money.
To one degree or another, both off-axis viewing and motion lag are shortcomings of LCD displays, but not of plasmas. True to form, the Panasonic’s off-axis viewing angle was non-critical. There was also no perceptible motion lag. But like other plasmas (but not most LCDs), the Panasonic’s screen is prone to reflections, despite its claims of a low reflective design. You might or might not find this annoying. It will depend on the amount of ambient light in your room.
The Panasonic’s audio performance was better than I expected. It should suit Uncle Harry and Aunt Nancy just fine, but it’s certainly no replacement for your outboard home theater sound system.
I’m trying to think of another set at or below this price that impressed me as much as this one. Nope, no luck. You’re likely to pay at least $1,000 more for a 50-inch model that can do better than this one. Even then, it wouldn’t be by much. That may change as the ever-fluid flat-panel display landscape continues its tectonic shifts. But as of now, the Panasonic Viera
TH-50PZ85U belongs on your must-see list and clearly earns a strong recommendation.
Superbly detailed image
Good blacks and shadow detail
Accepts a 24-fps source, but only displays it at 60 fps