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Panasonic TH-50PH9UK 50-inch Plasma HDTV Print E-mail
Sunday, 01 October 2006
Article Index
Panasonic TH-50PH9UK 50-inch Plasma HDTV
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Panasonic’s industrial model plasma panels have long been my favorite, going back to the 6 series from several years ago. Their biggest strength is without a doubt the excellent black level performance they are capable of when set up properly. The ability to do black well is largely responsible for achieving good contrast ratio, which happens to be the most important aspect of a picture for the human eye’s ability to detect. With that said, Panasonic’s 10,000:1 contrast ratio spec is absolutely a bogus number. Real world contrast ratios on this panel are in the neighborhood of about 400:1, depending on the environment the set is in and how well it is set up. As a reference, the eye can only see between 800 and 1200:1, so specifications that claim 3000, 4000 and up contrast ratios become meaningless, even if they were true. This panel does float black a little, meaning the panel’s ability to hold black at black independent of what is in the picture is not perfect. This means that black level changes, depending on whether the picture is dark or has bright content. Some call it “Floating Blacks.” For set-up in a home theater application, you should simply set black level with a standard low APL (Average Picture Level) PLUGE pattern and leave it at that. I must say I do find this to be a minor problem, and certainly prefer dealing with this over a plasma panel that won’t render a deep rich black in the first place, which is a problem that continues to plaque most plasma panels.

Two other important components of color fidelity are gamma and grayscale tracking. As mentioned earlier, I ended up using the 2.5 gamma setting and the Warm color temperature as my baseline for calibration of the set. I achieved a very linear and accurate grayscale from top to bottom, measuring 6450 Kelvins at 20 IRE, and 6575 at 80 IRE after calibration. With the accuracy of the color decoding, gamma and grayscale combined, the colors and skin tones looked quite natural. If the red and the green could be tweaked to be more accurate, it would deliver exceptionally good color. Video processing is relatively good, with solid 2:3 pull-down, and crisp, clean artifact-free delivery from 480i interlaced sources like a good standard-definition DVD player. Interlaced standard-definition and high-definition pictures are delivered quite cleanly.

Color accuracy is a mixed bag with the Panasonic. Color decoding is dead on accurate with no “Red Push” whatsoever, and it also decodes green well. Grayscale tracking, which is another measure of color accuracy, is also outstanding. However, the primary colors of red and green, and the secondary colors of cyan, yellow and magenta, are fairly far from accurate. Red measured x=659 and y=325, with the ATSC reference being x=640 and y=330. Green measured x=264 and y=652, with the ATSC reference being x=300 and y=600, which is way off the reference. Blue was nearly perfect, measuring x=151 and y=062, with the reference being x=150 and y=060. The importance of primary and secondary color accuracy should not be underemphasized. It makes the difference in subjects like football or baseball fields and tree leaves, things that we all know intimately well, looking natural or looking downright cartoony or neony and clearly wrong. This is the one area where I would like to see Panasonic improve on picture performance. A number of TV manufacturers now offer Color Management Systems (CMS) that address this problem, and allow technicians like myself the ability to fix the problem in the field.

Several chapters from the excellent DVD transfer of Seabiscuit revealed excellent color saturation and exceptionally natural-looking skin tone rendition. However, there is a lot of rich saturated color, and shots of grass in particular belied the inaccuracy of the panel’s greens. Hollow Man, another superb transfer, is also a good DVD for deep saturated color. The scene where they bring back the ape from invisibility is particularly telling. On the Panasonic, this scene revealed exceptionally well-saturated colors and it was razor sharp, practically popping off the screen with a three-dimensional feel to it.

Blacks are also extremely clean and smooth, with no false contouring or solarization artifacts in very dark scenes. I have watched a variety of DVDs on the TH-50PH9UK, but for a serious black level test, I used the excellent transfer of Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back. The opening scene of this movie with the space shots is perfect material for detecting problems with black level performance, and artifacts related to those issues. Other dark parts of this film also revealed extremely clean, dark, rich blacks that actually approach the holy grail of all black level performance in home theater displays, the vaunted and now nearly extinct CRT.

The TH-50PH9UK delivered all of the resolution from a 720p resolution test pattern at the component input. Consequently, HD looked crisp and clean on the Panasonic. Unfortunately, I didn’t have an HDMI input to test resolution on my review sample. I spent a lot of time watching HD from a high-definition TiVo-based satellite system. Dark concert footage on HDNET looked convincing, with good shadow detail in the background of the crowd. The Discovery HD channel looked particularly impressive, with excellent color, and awesome detail, and the HDNET movie channel was also impressive-looking. Sporting events in HD on the Panasonic are particularly exciting and engaging. Yankee baseball on the Yes HD channel in New York looks awesome on the 9UK, with clarity that practically puts you in the ballpark. I can only imagine how good the new HD DVDs will look on this panel.

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