Sony PFM-50C1 plasma display Page 2
The PFM-50C1 provides multiple aspect-ratio options. With composite, S-video, or component 480i/480p inputs, you have your choice of 4/3 (a 4:3 image centered on the 16:9 screen), Letterbox (enlarges letterboxed 4:3 images to fill the width of the screen), Restore (used to expand anamorphic DVDs to fill the width of the screen), Subtitle (stretches 4:3 material to fit the width of the screen but leaves room for subtitles), and 4/3 Expand (stretches 4:3 to fit the width of the screen in a nonlinear fashion, stretching the edges of the image more than the middle).
As mentioned earlier, the two 15-pin jacks accept just about any type of signal you can feed them, either component or RGBHV, standard- or high-definition. Have an existing video scaler with that type of connection? The PFM-50C1 will work just fine with it. (Some plasma and LCD monitors don't recognize 480p, 720p, and 1080i as RGBHV signals.) The RCA DTC-100 DTV set-top receiver (now being phased out) will also work with the Sony, although you may need to tweak the horizontal position of the picture slightly.
Other menu options of interest include Cinema Drive and Dynamic Picture. Cinema Drive activates the PFM-50C1's 3:2 inverse pulldown circuit for films transferred to DVD; you can simply leave this function set in Auto mode. Dynamic Picture is adapted from the D. Picture setting, first seen on Sony's VPL-VW10HT home theater projector. Dynamic Picture improves the apparent contrast ratio by boosting white levels. As a result, black levels are made to appear lower. This function does not work with component or RGB inputs.
The picture gamma settings are Low, Mid, and High. High would be used to boost shadow detail, while Mid and Low look better with movies. There's even a Color Correct selection; turning this on adds a bit of red to the image—not a whole lot, but you can see it. The owner's manual says that, with this function, "you can reproduce a beautiful, healthy color." Sounds like a shampoo ad.
For my image-quality tests, I used the tried-and-true Video Essentials disc and two DVD players. To test 480i composite and component playback, out came Ol' Faithful—my Sony DVP-S7000 player—while 480p video was provided by a Panasonic DVD-RP56. DTV and HDTV programming came from my library of D-VHS material, including the first episode of Alias in 720p, and, in 1080i, The Tonight Show, various CBS broadcasts of basketball and football, and a PBS special on Thomas Eakins.
Over-the-air HDTV was captured with a pair of Samsung set-top boxes, the new SIRT-151 and the older SIRT-150. Since most of these sources provide component-only output, RGBHV DTV compatibility was tested with an Extron CVC200 transcoder (converts component to RGBHV) and through the SIRT-150's RGBHV outputs. An AccuPel HDG2000 720p/1080i test-pattern generator and DisplayMate for Windows software on my Pentium III generated many test patterns, including Pluge, gray-scale ramps, and fine text for sync timing. (See "Calibration" sidebar.)
With native HDTV sources and the Panasonic 480p DVD input, the optimum viewing distance was 6 feet or more from the PFM-50C1. If I got much closer I began to see the pixel structure. This was less of a problem when viewing static computer images or even playing a video or computer game.
A plasma display is inherently very nonlinear. Its blacks can't equal a CRT's and it can be easily overdriven or "crushed" in the whites. So care must be taken to operate one within its limitations. Set up properly, its brightness may drop considerably from the factory video settings, but the picture will be cleaner and more accurate, with the best possible contrast and gray-scale tracking.
Once the PFM-50C1's gray scale was calibrated, I put on Video Essentials' Zone Plate test pattern to check the Sony's 3:2 detection circuitry. The PFM-50C1's Cinema Drive circuit locked into and came out of 3:2 mode quickly, with no apparent dropped frames or stutter-stepping. The internal Y/C comb filter did a good job with composite sources, and image detail was present in the 300- and 400-line charts. Component Y-Pb-Pr video was, of course, much cleaner and quite a bit crisper.