|Panasonic TH-50PH9UK 50-inch Plasma HDTV|
|Home Theater Flat Panel HDTVs Plasma HDTVs|
|Written by Kevin Miller|
|Sunday, 01 October 2006|
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Panasonic has just introduced the latest version of its commercial panel line, which many reviewers, me included, believe to deliver superior picture performance over their consumer line. The new 9UK series replaces last year’s 8UK series, and the TH-50PH9UK, the subject of this review, is certainly one of the best values in its category. Plasma panels have plummeted in price in the last year or so, and are now quite competitive with similar screen sizes in the LCD flat panel category. A year and a half to two years ago, most 50-inch plasma panels were in the $8,000 to $10,000 range. Today, this 50-incher can be found in the $3,500 to $4,000 range, depending on accessories, and will give just about any plasma in its size range a run for its money in terms of picture quality and performance.
Panasonic’s industrial panels are a do-it-yourselfers dream. Simple and basic in design, the 9UK series is a fully customizable panel. While it doesn’t come with attached speakers, a built-in amplifier and speaker outputs are on tap for either the optional Panasonic speakers or another set of your choice. It measures 47.6 inches wide by 28.5 inches high by 3.7 inches deep, and weighs a hair under 95 lbs. The panel is finished in a very dark gray; there are no other color choices. Other optional accessories for the panel include a table-top stand, wall-mount kit and digital input card blades (both DVI and HDMI are available).
Connection options on the TH-50PH9UK are somewhat limited, but unlike any other panel I have ever evaluated, you can actually add input cards to it to customize the panel’s inputs to your system’s needs. It comes with one set of component video inputs, one S-Video and one composite video input, and a 15-pin VGA input for computer use. One empty slot allows you to add the input blade of your choice, whether it be DVI, HDMI or component, and the other input cards can be swapped out and changed to a different type of input based on what you need to do to accommodate your video system’s various sources. Input blades cost between $145 and $250 apiece. Essentially, you can customize these industrial panels to your exact system requirements. Therefore, you don’t pay for what you don’t need.
The remote control is a well-thought-out and designed unit. Discrete input selection is one of its most convenient features, and also one that will appeal to custom installers who want to program that functionality into a touch panel remote system like a Crestron or an AMX, which of course is easier to do with discrete access than without. All the most commonly used keys are within easy thumb’s reach, and the buttons are differentiated by size and shape. An aspect key gives you control over the aspect ratio of the set directly from the remote as well.
Since it is an industrial product, the TH-50PH9UK has few if any of the standard convenience features that you would find on a consumer plasma TV. It is strictly a monitor with no built-in tuner, so you will need a cable or satellite set-top box for tuning capabilities. I was pleasantly surprised to find that the panel does offer PIP (Picture-in-Picture), but you will need an external tuner from a VCR, cable or satellite set-top box to make it work. The TH-50PH9UK also has some set-up features worth mentioning that can enhance the picture quality of the set.
Unlike most other plasma panels, the TH-50PH9UK does allow you to fully calibrate each input/source independently. In the advanced menu, there are separate grayscale controls for each input. There are a number of different gamma choices, with 2.5 being the most accurate and delivering the best rise out of black and grayscale tracking performance. Other features include all you have come to expect from just about any high-definition TV, like selectable color temperatures, which include Warm, Normal and Cool. Since Warm is the closest to the broadcast standard color temperature of 6500 Kelvins, I used this setting to calibrate the set. Several picture modes are also available to choose from, including Dynamic, Standard and Cinema. I chose the Standard mode for my set-up, because the Dynamic mode is way too punchy and overdriven, and the Cinema mode is somewhat dull, lacking contrast ratio and snap.