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Panasonic TH-103PF9UK 103-inch Plasma Display Print E-mail
Monday, 01 October 2007
Article Index
Panasonic TH-103PF9UK 103-inch Plasma Display
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Television And Movies
Let me just start by saying this: if you’re one of the few who can not only afford the TH-103PF9UK, but also can accommodate it in your home, then you will likely have (or will be buying) a high-definition source or two or three to go along with your new set. I’m not even going to discuss how horrible standard-definition material looks on most large HD displays, not to mention one as large as the TH-103PF9UK. Even badly compressed HD broadcasts can look rather unspectacular on the TH-103PF9UK. This is not a specific knock on the 103-inch Panasonic, as this is a universal phenomenon with standard-definition video on practically all large HD sets.

I kicked off my time spent with the TH-103PF9UK with Casino Royale on Blu-ray disc (Columbia/TriStar Home Entertainment). Starting with the opening scene, which is presented entirely in black and white, there were a few things about the TH-103PF9UK’s performance that were immediately apparent. For starters, the TH-103PF9UK’s black levels were very good, but a little below what you can see on the most expensive large plasmas on the market (or coming to market soon). Even when being able to darken just a section of the TH-103PF9UK’s large screen, I noticed the blacks were a very dark shade of gray, never reaching the deep black that videophiles clamor for. The lack of deep black caused the image to seem a bit shallow in terms of depth of field, as well as appearing a bit washed out. Likewise, for the TH-103PF9UK’s white levels, they were just not as brilliant as one would expect, with noticeable graying across almost the entire white spectrum. Skipping ahead to the chase scene between the bomber and Bond, the TH-103PF9UK was given the opportunity to flex some muscle. The first thing that jumped out at me was the amount of noise present in the wider shots of the scene. During close-ups and even medium close-ups, the noise level appeared natural and controlled. However, during wide shots, the noise levels seemed to increase, causing the detail and depth to suffer. Panning shots, especially across strong contrasting angles, resulted in some stair-stepping and shimmering, which not only caught my eye from a distance of eight feet, but also disrupted the otherwise smooth motion of the scene through the TH-103PF9UK. Color saturation was good and primary colors such as red and blue were very punchy. Skin tones looked natural and believable from the proper distance, but the TH-103PF9UK’s lack of deep black flattened out the three-dimensional feel, especially with characters’ faces, that you’d see in other quality displays including Panasonic’s “diminutive” TH-50PF9UK 50-inch plasma. Edge fidelity was about what you would expect from such a huge set. Again, it is necessary to remain at the proper distance from the set for the best results.

Switching gears, I put in the World War I epic Flyboys (MGM Home Entertainment) on Blu-ray disc. As with Casino Royale, the color in Flyboys was rather good and punchy, even in the face of so much ambient light. Skin tones were a bit improved, although Flyboys doesn’t have as sharp a picture or transfer as Casino Royale. Edge fidelity seemed to suffer slightly with of Flyboys. Skipping ahead to some aerial shots, I noticed excessive noise, especially in the low-lying brush and trees, during panning shots. There were also noticeable motion artifacts in the more complicated backgrounds. However, when panning across near-blue sky, the motion artifacts dissipated, although the noise did not. There was also noticeable pixilation and noise in the silvery skins of the pilots’ aircraft, which made them appear more moldy and rusty than sleek and shiny. Again, this effect was minimized when viewing further back, but it was still noticeable from approximately 13 feet back. Black levels seemed consistent with my findings during Casino Royale, but white levels seemed to improve slightly, although I did detect some slight blooming at the extremes.

Satisfied with Blu-ray, I spun up a personal favorite, Matrix Revolutions on HD DVD (Warner Home Video). By far, and to the eyes of everyone standing in the store, Matrix Revolutions provided the best image quality on the TH-103PF9UK thus far. Blacks were blacker and the whites were not only whiter, but also better controlled, as blooming was nearly nonexistent. Even the video noise seemed to drop considerably through all but the most complex scenes. Edge fidelity was still the Achilles heel of the TH-103PF9UK. The climatic fight between Neo and Agent Smith in the rain was impressive enough when the camera was near or around arm’s length of the actors. However, going wider caused the individual droplets of rain to lose all of their composure and appeared overly pixilated. That being said, shots comprised entirely of computer-generated elements looked best, which made me think Panasonic is smart in going after the computer or tech markets so heavily with the TH-103PF9UK. The weathered, metal texture of Zion’s army of robots proved a challenge for the TH-103PF9UK. However, it succeeded far more than with its rendering of the aircraft in Flyboys. Color rendering was more accurate with less yellow shift; in fact, the cooler color palette during the battle for Zion was on par with some of the best larger displays I’ve seen. Skin tones and detail were much improved as well. I was impressed by the TH-103PF9UK’s ability to render finer elements like sweat and blood during a few of the scene’s more intimate moments with the soldiers of Zion.

Overall, while I was amazed at the presence of the TH-103PF9UK, I found the picture to be good but not great, and for 70-plus grand, I was expecting great. Even so, I wish I had my laptop on hand to test the TH-103PF9UK’s ability as a computer monitor, for even Panasonic’s own literature makes it seem like that’s its primary purpose. In fact, throughout the entire brochure for the TH-103PF9UK, only two images and references are given for its home theater applications.

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