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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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ImageBack in the day, which in the world of consumer electronics can mean yesterday, televisions and flat panel displays could cost as much as a car. Today, we have companies like Vizio that are feverishly working to put an end to the notion that you have to pay a lot to get a lot.

A few months ago I wrote about another fine Vizio product, the P42HDe plasma display. While P42 had its faults, it was one of the greatest values in all of home theater. I say “was” because the P42, as reviewed in January, has been discontinued to make way for a newer model coming out in March. Shortly, after my unsolicited review of the P42, Vizio contacted me and set me up with their 50-inch high-definition set, the P50HDM. The P50HDM has already found its way onto several publications’ Top 10 lists and is riding a huge wave of popularity among budget-conscious consumers. This didn’t surprise me. What did surprise me was the P50’s asking price: $2,599.99. That couldn’t possibly be right, even after my experience with the P42HDe. A quick gander at an online electronics giant revealed 55 different types of plasma or LCD TVs for sale. Out of the 55, there were 22 larger than 42 inches diagonally (all of them plasma). Out of that 22, not a single one was at or under the P50’s asking price. In fact, the only displays approaching the P50’s price range were all sporting screen sizes less than 37 inches diagonally.

Unpacking the P50 is a job for two people, so get ready to solicit a friend’s help, because you will need it. The box for the P50 is elegantly and intelligently designed, making it quite easy to get the screen free from the packaging and onto your table. Make sure whatever surface you place or hang the P50 on is strong enough to handle its 137 pounds. Out of the box, the P50 is simply stunning. While I liked the looks of the P42, I am in awe of the P50’s piano-black frame and silver-accented speakers. One can’t help but notice that the P50 bares a striking resemblance to some of Samsung’s current plasma designs. However, the P50 looks a lot more solid and, dare I say it, more upscale than the competition. There’s no getting around the fact that the P50 is big. While the P50’s screen is only eight inches larger (diagonally) than my P42, it simply dwarfs it visually. The P50 measures in at 48.5 inches wide by 34 inches tall and a mere four inches deep; if you include the attached table base, the depth then becomes a hair over 12 inches. Turning my attention back to the P50, I noticed that the bottom-mounted speakers are not detachable. This kind of bummed me out a bit. The minute I saw the P50’s piano-black frame, I thought how cool it was going to look flush against the wall without those silver speakers. But it wasn’t meant to be. The speakers don’t look bad and I prefer their placement along the bottom than on the sides like most plasma screens. Turning my attention away from the speakers, I focused on the P50’s screen. The façade of the P50 is somewhat featureless, in the sense that you won’t find any controls for power, volume, channel etc., just the Vizio logo and a few third-party logos in the lower left corner of the shiny black frame. The manual control panel for the P50 rests along the right edge of the screen out of plain sight and includes controls for power, channel, volume, input and menu. Turning my attention to the rear, or rather the bottom, of the P50, I found more than just the usual input/outputs. For starters, there are two, count ‘em two, HDMI inputs. Why two? Imagine you want to demo two different HDMI-compatible DVD players at the same time. Well, plug each of the players into the P50, activate the P50’s PIP option and, bam, you’re in business. While that may appeal to the reviewer in all of us, it has practical purposes as well. Say, for instance, your current receiver or processor doesn’t have HDMI switching or up-sampling capabilities, but your HD receiver and DVD play both have HDMI outs. To get the best possible picture, you could run two sets of HDMI cables to the P50 and enjoy all that the digital world has to offer. Next to the individual HDMI inputs are two pairs of standard RCA audio inputs, for those of you needing to use the P50’s built-in speakers. The P50 can also be used as a computer monitor via its RGB analog in. For those of you still rocking the analog video world, the P50 has two sets of component video inputs, labeled analog HD1 and HD2. The analog HD1 input (YPbPr) is capable of passing through signals ranging from 480i to 1080i, while the HD2 input (YCbCr) can only process 480i or 480p signals. Either way, a pair of analog audio inputs accompanies both the analog HD1 and HD2 inputs. Beyond the land of component video, somewhere around the dawn of Man, there was S-Video and composite video. Like the little brother you never wanted to hang out with, manufacturers still have to put these outdated connections on their sets for those few who still think the yellow cable that came with their DVD player works just fine. If this applies to you, you’re in luck, because the P50 has two composite and two S-video inputs, complete with their own analog audio inputs. There is even a headphone output for late-night or incognito listening. Throw in a pair of audio outs, a detachable power cord and a master power switch, and you’ve got the P50’s rear panel in a nutshell.

Turning my attention inward, I saw that the P50 boasts some very impressive specs, given its price range. For starters, the P50 has a respectable resolution of 1366 by 768 pixels at 720p, and while it’s not the highest resolution out there, it will more than deliver a clear HD picture. If this past CES show is any indicator, 1080p is all the rage. Or so they say. I’m not going to argue that 1080p isn’t the “best,” but with proper calibration, the difference between 1080p and 720p is hardly night and day. While the P50’s signal of choice is 720p, it can display 480i, 480p, 720p,and 1080i. The P50 also has one of the highest stated contrast ratios found in the market today at 10,000:1. Mate that with 231 billion colors and a typical brightness level of 1,000 cdm2, and you’ve got an image that should wow you with vivid detail, beautifully saturated colors and excellent black levels. A 170º viewing angle means no one in your family will have to suffer come movie night.

Beyond the normal facts and figures, the P50 includes some not-so-standard features, including DCDi deinterlacing from Faroudja. This is a huge step up from the P42’s generic deinterlacing software, giving you a much clearer image, freer from motion artifacts and “jaggies” than ever before. Aside from the third-party support from Faroudja, Vizio has included some of their own image-enhancing software, starting with DNR or Digital Noise Reduction. DNR basically helps to remove picture noise caused by numerous types of compression, mainly MPEG, found in many of today’s broadcast and DVD signals. Vizio also included their own MNR (or Motion Noise Reduction) software to aid in removing video noise from fast-moving images, such as broadcast sporting events or the latest action flick. The P50 also features PIP, or Picture in Picture, capability for those of you who like to watch multiple programs, like sports, at once.

This brings me to the remote. The more I review, the more that last bit is starting to sound like a catchphrase. The P50’s remote is better than the P42’s in terms of overall style, yet in functionality, it’s basically the same. You can gray-up all the plastic you want, but if your remote isn’t backlit or intelligently laid out, then I’m afraid you’re left with nothing but a New Age paper weight. Compared to the P42’s remote, the P50’s buttons have gotten smaller and a little more evenly spaced, but they’re harder to find and read in low light situations. As usual, I went ahead and programmed the P50 into my Harmony 880 remote and called it a day.

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