Panasonic TH-103PF9UK 103-inch Plasma Display 
Home Theater Flat Panel HDTVs Plasma HDTVs
Written by Andrew Robinson   
Monday, 01 October 2007

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.

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.

The Downside
While the TH-103PF9UK’s greatest draw is undoubtedly its size, it may also be its greatest drawback for a multitude of reasons. For starters, one of the strengths of a plasma or LCD display is its ability to provide a powerful display in ambient and even bright light; however, this is not the case with the TH-103PF9UK. While you may be able to get away with having a fair amount of light surrounding say a 50- or 60-inch display, when you double that, the sheer size of the screen begins to act more like a mirror, reflecting everything in the surrounding area when presented with even the slightest of light sources, washing out not only your experience but the image as well. For a home theater-like application, I wouldn’t treat the TH-103PF9UK any differently than I would a large front-projection screen, for the image quality reacts much in the same way. Businesses considering the TH-103PF9UK for their boardroom should avoid placing the TH-103PF9UK near windows or under direct light for the best possible presentation.

Next, due to its size, I felt as if the TH-103PF9UK was having a bit of a tough time actually filling up all of that real estate. Even when I darkened an area around a portion of the screen, the image, mainly the blacks, still didn’t pop the way I had expected. The image always suffered a bit of excess noise and didn’t fare as well as other Panasonic plasmas have with rapid motion or the rendering of stark vertical and horizontal lines. To combat the noise and “jaggies,” I would have to recommend that any potential owner invest in an outboard scaler, such as DVDO’s VP50.

Proper viewing distance is key with any display, but more so with the TH-103PF9UK. The general rule of thumb is one-and-one-half times the diagonal of the screen is the closest you should sit to your display for the best performance. With a display as large as the TH-103PF9UK, that puts your first viewing position roughly 13 feet away. However, I found that when I increased the viewing distance to even 16 feet, the quality of the image improved across the board, provided you could darken your room. This said, from 16 feet away, the perceived size of 103-inches does decrease, making the 103-inch TH-103PF9UK seem more like a traditional 50 or 60-inch plasma at eight or so feet away.

I’m not going to beat around the bush: the Panasonic TH-103PF9UK might just be the ultimate luxury goods product. At roughly $70,000.00 retail, not including installation and consulting fees, it is, if nothing else, a statement on style, technology and beyond. Still, there are more cost-effective ways to get an image as large as the Panasonic TH-103PF9UK, as well as better video performance (think a projector and a screen), but I cannot imagine potential buyers concerning themselves so much with performance as much as with owning the one piece of home theater gear few will ever be able to possess. The Panasonic TH-103PF9UK is ultra-exotic without question. If you have the money and are looking to make a statement, at 103 inches of beaming HDTV, this set will do the trick.
Manufacturer Panasonic
Model TH-103PF9UK 103-inch 1080p Plasma Display
Reviewer Andrew Robinson
Diagonal Screen Size More than 56-inches

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