Panasonic's high-end Premiere plasmas put out professional-quality images for a correspondingly high price.
Panasonic TH-VX100U series overview
Available in two screen sizes, the 65-inch TH-65VX100U ($9,995 list) and the 50-inch TH-50VX100U ($4,995 list), the TH-VX100U is Panasonic's plasma monitor series designed for custom installation and high-end home theater.
It lacks the stark, industrial gray frame of the company's less-expensive TH-PF11UK series, instead going with a burnished metal black finish along the top and bottom and matte black metal along the sides. Abutting the glass of the screen itself is a black border about three-quarters of an inch thick. The entire frame is thicker than that of the 11UK series, but more attractive to our eyes.
As with the company's industrial models, Panasonic does not include a stand with the Premiere series. The company does sell sloped, matching black stands specifically for the series. The stand made for the 50-inch version, model TY-ST50VX100, lists for $350, while the stand made for the 65-inch version, model TY-ST65VX100, lists for a healthy $1,000.
In a first among high-def displays we've tested, the TH-VX100U is utterly without standard-definition inputs. There are no RF, S-Video, or composite-video inputs to be found, and unless you purchase an optional input board, you can't connect any gear that doesn't have a high-def output. By high-def we mean HDMI, of which the TH-VX100U has four; and component-video or VGA, of which it has one each. All of the inputs are arrayed in a downward-facing row around back, and joined by an RS-232 port for custom installations. Still, compared with most consumer displays, the Premiere sports a pretty anemic input selection.
Panasonic's dual HDMI board for professional plasmas
As with other Panasonic professional plasmas, most of the inputs are housed on removable boards that slide up into the back of the panel. You can replace any of the included boards--a long list of optional boards can be found on Panasonic's site.
Panasonic's small, text-heavy menu design immediately betrays the TH-VX100U's pro heritage. The many-paged menu is chockablock with options, yet getting around is surprisingly easy. Numerous technical terms await the uninitiated, from "Normalize" (known to mortals as "reset") to "3:2 pull-down." On a professional model we don't expect the nice explanations, common to consumer HDTVs, of such arcane terms, but buyers should be forewarned.
Picture adjustments abound, beginning with three adjustable picture modes and a fourth, called Monitor, which offers limited adjustments and is designed to provide a studio monitor-style picture. We appreciated the ability to save picture adjustments into a massive 16-slot memory bank.
Aside from the main picture menu are two others, Signal and Size/Pos, that allow further adjustment. Our favorite setting was the External Scalar mode, which basically turns off all of the video processing and scaling built into the TV, and displays the 1080p input signal as purely as possible. Unfortunately, when the TV is in this mode and you send it a signal that's not 1080p, the screen remains blank until you disengage the mode (easy enough since the remote has a dedicated "EXT. SCALER" toggle). We'd like to see this mode better implemented, with a warning message instead of a blank screen, but it's still nice to have.
As befits a monitor, the TH-VX100U has the ability to adjust the position and size of the onscreen image six ways from Sunday. The "1:1 pixel mode" is also a boon for use with 1080i and 1080p sources since it maps them to the display with no scaling or overscan, preserving the full resolution.
We appreciated that Panasonic included its standard consumer remote, with its big, well-differentiated buttons and simple layout, but there are a few key (pun intended) differences. The company added another row of four buttons to allow direct access to each of the four HDMI inputs; the PC and component-video inputs get dedicated keys, too. The volume and channel rockers are gone, replaced by input and video mode toggles. Some of the new key assignments go astray, though. For example, we kept inadvertently selecting the component-video input since its key lurked near the cursor control where "exit" or "back" usually belong. The remote can command three other pieces of equipment.
An excellent performer in its own right, the Premiere series nonetheless fell a bit short of Pioneer's Elite Kuro plasma, still the best display we've tested, in overall picture quality. Its black levels were excellent, as was shadow detail, but in these areas it couldn't beat the best. We were also a bit disappointed in its color accuracy, but nonetheless the TH-VX100U still delivers one of the best-quality pictures we've tested.