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Vizio P50HDM 50-inch Plasma Display Print E-mail
Wednesday, 01 March 2006
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Vizio P50HDM 50-inch Plasma Display
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Once I got the P50 out of the box, I knew I had to have it on my wall. It took one quick phone call to Vizio for them to hook me up with one of their own wall mounts. I could write a whole article on the conundrum of why plasma mounts cost so much. Let me just say this: Vizio’s mounts are the least expensive, a snap to install, and the easiest to live with day to day of any brand that I’ve seen. Once the mount arrived, I had the P50 installed, with the help of a friend, in about an hour. I chose to hook up the P50 to my reference receiver, the Denon 4806, via its component and HDMI inputs. For DVD, I chose my ever-ready Denon 3910 universal player, with the TV duties falling to my new Motorola HD receiver from Adelphia. I connected everything using Monster M Series Cable for both audio and video. I did listen to the P50’s internal speakers, but 90 percent of the time, the audio duties rested on the shoulders of my new JBL L Series loudspeakers.

Once everything was connected and ready, I popped the Digital Video Essentials Disc into my DVD player and began calibrating the P50. For those of you unfamiliar with the Digital Video Essentials Disc, you’re really missing out. While professional video calibration is always preferred, this do-it-yourself calibration disc really can work wonders, so long as you’re willing to put in the time. I calibrated both the HDMI and component inputs of the P50, since I tried to split my time between the two formats equally. The P50’s menus were easy enough to navigate without having to consult the manual. The manual is very handy and well-written for those of you just getting started in the high-definition realm, but if this isn’t your first HD set, you’ll probably find it a bit elementary. Moving on to the image controls, I noticed there were fewer options than on the P42. I was a bit perplexed by this, yet when I began to calibrate the P50, I found the controls there were much more responsive to minute changes than those of the P42. Overall, I found the P50 very easy to calibrate. Shockingly, the P50’s factory setting, “movie,” turned out to be dangerously close to my custom results. In fact, at one point, my settings were erased and I didn’t realize that I was watching the factory default setting until two days later. Bottom line: out of the box and with very little effort, the P50 was ready to shine.

Television and Movies
I started my evaluation of the P50 with one of my favorite films from director Michael Mann, “The Insider” (Touchstone Pictures). Shown through the P50’s HDMI input, with my DVD player set to 720p, the image was breathtaking. Right off the bat, the image depth just captivated me. The P50’s edge fidelity was as sharp as I’ve seen out of any plasma screen regardless of price, which only furthered the pictures already stellar three-dimensional feeling. “The Insider” features some of the most amazing close-up shots that I’ve seen captured on film in the past 20 years. One such close-up, towards the beginning of the film where Russell Crowe stares out the window before turning towards camera to face Al Pacino, was captured in all its glory by the P50. The P50 didn’t rob the image of the almost infinite detail found in the strands of Crowe’s bleached white locks. Likewise, the P50’s rendering of skin tones maintains every wrinkle and pore on the characters’ faces without making them appear plastic or glassy. When I focused on the skin tones for a moment, the P50’s color saturation was excellent. I felt the saturation at times was a little too poppy, given the film’s muted color palette, yet it never got in the way or ruined my enjoyment of the film. The P50’s white levels were held beautifully in check with zero signs of blooming. The P50 also showed signs of improvement over the P42 when it came to displaying black levels. The P50 seemed to go blacker than the P42 and have a much tighter grip on the image during darker scenes. Noise levels had also dramatically reduced through the P50, which solved a lot of the banding issues I had with the P42. I also couldn’t detect any motion artifacts or de-interlacing issues at any point during the film. If I had to fault the P50’s image, it would have to be in its portrayal of dark grays. The P50 didn’t go from absolute black to the lighter shades of gray quite as smoothly as I would have liked. However, I’ve seen plasma TVs three times the P50’s price that don’t make this transition at all.

Moving on, I cued up the comic book classic “Spider-Man 2” (Columbia/TriStar Home Entertainment). I skipped ahead to the film’s numerous highflying fight scenes between Doc Ock (Alfred Molina) and Spider-Man (Tobey Maguire). During the scene where Doc OcK and Spider-Man are duking it out on the top of the commuter train, I was unable to really detect any motion artifacts. Even among the scene’s countless buildings and rows of glass, I never saw any traces of “jaggies” or pixilation. The film’s color palette was astonishing. There was a slight emphasis on the red side of the spectrum, but again, it never became objectionable. Spider-Man’s suit was vibrant and punchy, yet it never overpowered its surroundings or bled outside into the subtle hues of the buildings. The buildings themselves seemed to continue on indefinitely, creating an almost hyper-real depth of field, which helped to create a clear separation between foreground and background elements that resulted in one of the most dynamic 3D images I’ve experienced in this price range. The black levels were also quite good – while not as deep as “The Insider,” the transition was much smoother between absolute black and darker shades of gray. Picture noise was kept to a minimum, although some of the textures, mainly natural stone on some of the buildings, provided a bit of a workout for some of the P50’s internal software.

All in all, the P50 didn’t disappoint me when it came to DVD viewing. In fact, I was rather surprised, given my experience with the P42. Where the P42 came up short, the P50 shone, and where the P50 wasn’t quite the best, it proved it could still keep pace.

This is the year for all things high-definition, and what better example than the Super Bowl on ABC. Say what you want about the game – the official calls or whether or not your team won – the image looked marvelous. The “grass” had excellent saturation without seeming too cartoonish and never became pixilated as it does in standard broadcasts. The colors were beautifully rendered with the sort of real presence previously unavailable at the P50’s asking price. The detail on the players’ helmets was superb. At one point, I paused the game, walked up to the screen and could clearly see the lights in the stadium reflected in the helmets. The P50’s higher resolution and sheer clarity allowed me see the differences in fabric on the players’ uniforms, even during the game’s wider shots. While the game may not have been the barnburner I was hoping for, it did feature some spectacular long yardage plays. During one such play, I was unable to detect any motion artifacts in the crowd as the camera panned across the field in an attempt to keep up with the Steelers’ player. The black levels were excellent, on par with what I experienced with “The Insider.” The P50 seemed to have an easier time transitioning out of the darkest regions with the high-definition broadcast material than it did with the “Insider” DVD. During the Super Bowl and other HD broadcasts, I did notice the P50 becoming a bit noisy in the lighter regions of the screen. Also, the P50 wasn’t completely immune to banding when transitioning out of white. However, this also has a lot to do with the purity of the signal. With everyone and their mother watching the Super Bowl it may have brought on the slightly degraded image quality.

But what about standard broadcasts? The P50 performed very well with standard-definition material, much better than the P42. Standard digital cable is pretty much crap in my opinion, and while the P50 couldn’t turn apples into oranges, it did wash ‘em off a bit. Again, if I had to dock points off the P50’s performance, it would have to be for its slightly noisy picture with certain source material and its tendency to band at the light and dark extremes. Keep in mind, this is a $2,600 HDTV, and even sets costing tens of thousands of dollars can have these same issues.

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