|Panasonic TH-103PF9UK 103-inch Plasma Display|
|Home Theater Flat Panel HDTVs Plasma HDTVs|
|Written by Andrew Robinson|
|Monday, 01 October 2007|
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To quote Nickelback front man Chad Kroeger, “I want a brand-new house on an episode of Cribs with a bathroom I can play baseball in.” It’s kind of a funny line, but also very true. As shows like MTV’s Cribs have shown us, there seems to be no limit to people’s need for more, especially when it comes their toys. So to you, my financially well-endowed reader, I say this: "I’ve got the toy for you." It is the world’s largest plasma screen, the Panasonic TH-103PF9UK, and at 103 inches diagonal, it will make that 50-inch plasma look about as big as the screen on an iPhone. Is it the best 1080p plasma screen money can buy? We’ll see, but there’s no denying it’s the largest and, as an editor of a publication with an 81-percent male readership, I know size matters.
Retailing for $69,995, the TH-103PF9UK is one of the most expensive displays on the market today (Runco has a $100,000 103-inch offering coming soon). Perhaps shockingly to some, your 70 grand doesn’t buy you much more than the 95-inch wide by 56-inch tall and five-inch deep display. 70 grand does not include a stand or mounting bracket; it doesn’t even include the required structural evaluation to see if your home can physically handle the load that the 475-pound TH-103PF9UK puts on your wall or sub floor. Nor does it include installation, which I’m told can be quoted any number of ways, including by the step (you might want to just get a projector if you live in a five-story walk-up in Chelsea). I know what you’re thinking – I have a couple of buddies with a Hummer and we can get the job done. Sorry, Panasonic installs all TH-103PF9UKs professionally to ensure there are no foul-ups or injuries to you, the customer, which also means the total price of the TH-103PF9UK when everything is said and done can hover around $100,000, according to one TH-103PF9UK retailer who spoke with me.
Let’s get past the price for a moment and focus on what the TH-103PF9UK has to offer in terms of performance. For starters, the TH-103PF9UK is a true 1080p plasma with a resolution of 1,920 by 1080. It also boasts a reported contrast ratio of 4,000:1 with 4,096 steps of gradation for what Panasonic claims are “exceptionally deep, rich blacks.” The TH-103PF9UK has what Panasonic calls a Deep Black Filter, which helps to improve the display’s contrast ratio to 400:1 in above average ambient lighting conditions. The TH-103PF9UK doesn’t have internal processing from the like of Faroudja the way most plasmas do. Instead, it has a Sub-Pixel Controller, which claims a 30 percent improvement in horizontal resolution rendering compared to other plasmas. Lastly, the TH-103PF9UK has Motion Pattern Noise Reduction, which anticipates patterns of motion, like those you’d find in a broadcast sporting event, then applies the appropriate digital noise reduction to ensure the best possible image. The TH-103PF9UK supports all common video standards in regards to NTSC and PAL formats, as well as a host of PC formats, for the TH-103PF9UK can do double-duty as both a home theater display and a computer/presentation monitor. As a commercial display device, the TH-103PF9UK is quite versatile in allowing its massive screen to be divided up into smaller sections for the ultimate in picture-in-picture, provided you have a multi-display processor, of course. The TH-103PF9UK can also be easily set up in a multi-panel array for the ultimate boardroom or lobby display. The TH-103PF9UK can be mounted and/or used vertically as well as horizontally. In terms of inputs, the TH-103PF9UK has a number of options because of Panasonic’s use of slot or card-based inputs. This allows you to essentially customize the TH-103PF9UK’s inputs to your needs. The TH-103PF9UK has three interchangeable slots, but comes standard with a DVI input board, as well as an analog component board. The PC inputs, as well as control options such as an RS-232 input, come standard and are fixed, leaving one open slot on the back of the TH-103PF9UK for future formats or upgrades. One input that we often take for granted or gloss over is power. Power? Power is not an input one has to worry about. Well, it is if you want to actually watch the TH-103PF9UK, for it requires a 240-volt AC receptacle.
This brings me to the remote. Honestly, I was expecting more from a remote that comes with such a high-ticket item as the TH-103PF9UK. The remote is not unlike one you’d expect from a home theater in a box. It is completely plastic and haphazardly laid out, and features no backlighting of any kind. It provides all the control and access you’ll need to manipulate the TH-103PF9UK’s various controls. However, finding them and manipulating them via the remote is frustrating at best. Obviously, Panasonic is expecting potential customers to have or utilize an aftermarket remote, such as a Crestron, AMX, Control 4, or at least something from Harmony.
There was no way I was going to be able to accommodate a display as large as the TH-103PF9UK in my home, so an outside audition had to be arranged. Luckily, I was able to coordinate such an audition at my local Ken Crane’s store in West Los Angeles, where they not only sell the massive TH-103PF9UK (and, yes, they have sold one), but have one on display. The fine folks over at Ken Crane’s were kind enough to allow me to put the TH-103PF9UK through its paces with a variety of high-definition discs and broadcasts via a Panasonic Blu-ray player and Direct TV HD feed. They even connected a Toshiba HD DVD player to the TH-103PF9UK for my audition period, although I was told Panasonic only likes the TH-103PF9UK displayed with their matching Panasonic Blu-ray player.
The TH-103PF9UK was on display near the center of the store, which is great for attracting attention. However, it was not so great for image quality, due to the excess of ambient light surrounding it. Luckily, the day I went in for the review, the skies were cloudy and overcast, which minimized, although did not eliminate, the direct light coming in from large floor-to-ceiling windows. Obviously, the TH-103PF9UK is not a display that is easily moved, so I had to make due with my surroundings, which proved to be rather educational, but I’ll get into that later. I did my best to dial the TH-103PF9UK’s image in a bit, for the store was displaying it in the Dynamic setting, with nearly every picture function maxed out for ultimate brightness and color saturation, no doubt to help the massive display stand out even more from the hundreds of other plasmas and LCD TVs on display around the store. After a few minor tweaks to the TH-103PF9UK’s Cinema setting, I achieved a suitable picture given the circumstances. I could’ve fussed with the TH-103PF9UK picture controls and menu options for hours, for I didn’t much care for how difficult they were to navigate and manipulate, but I only had so much time to spend with the TH-103PF9UK, so I pressed on. Obviously, professional calibration on a set such as the TH-103PF9UK isn’t a suggestion so much as a requirement if you want to get the most out of your investment.
The staff at Ken Crane’s did their best to detail just what goes into delivering and setting up a TH-103PF9UK in a potential customer’s home. For starters, a structural team from the store or hired by Panasonic comes out to your home to evaluate whether or not your home can accommodate the demands of a display as large as the TH-103PF9UK. Again, the TH-103PF9UK can be wall-mounted or sit on its pedestal stand, both of which are sold separately. While the guys at Ken Crane’s couldn’t give me a quote on what it would cost to wall-mount the TH-103PF9UK, they did say the pedestal stand was roughly $5,000. They also told me that the structural consultation ran anywhere between $1,000 and $10,000, depending on the home and complexity of the installation. This does not include the necessary 240-volt electrical installation, which can run anywhere from hundreds to thousands of dollars, based on your home and local building codes. If your home and budget can accommodate the TH-103PF9UK, then the order is placed and the display comes direct from Panasonic, along with a host of installers and a forklift, which again comes with its own fees. However, all of this is absolutely mandatory and necessary in order for Panasonic to ensure absolute customer satisfaction, as well as optimum performance.