In the flat world of plasma HDTV, 50 is the new 42. Big-screen 50-inch plasmas are coming down in price just as quickly as 42-inch models, hitting price points as low as $2,500. These prices prompt buyers to ask themselves whether they can't afford the extra grand or so to go bigger. Dell is taking advantage of the move upward in affordable plasma screen sizes with its first 50-inch model, the W5001C ($3,800 list). No, it's not as inexpensive as some of the no-name competition, but it does bring tempting specs to the table, such as an excellent connectivity suite and an impressive 10,000:1 contrast-ratio claim. It shares these characteristics with its 42-inch brother, the Dell W4201C, but the two performed differently in our tests. In terms of picture quality, the W5001C does some things well, but despite nice, deep blacks, it exhibits problems that keep it from earning our full recommendation. The Dell W5001C won't dazzle you with its conservative looks, but it probably won't offend you either. The overall look, identical to that of the W4201C and the W3201C, employs a two-tone silver-and-black motif. Silver takes precedence, although a 1-inch black bezel surrounds the screen area. The included table stand supports the panel with two round, silver posts with black accents, and the flat portion of the stand is mostly black with hints of silver.
In its base configuration the Dell W5001C includes speakers (not pictured), although some configurations on Dell's site do not. The speakers can either attach to the panel itself or stand alone. With the speakers attached and including the stand, the W5001C measures 56.6 by 31.6 by 11 inches (WHD) and weighs 131 pounds.
The remote is one of the most stylish we've seen to date. It's black with silver buttons, and with the touch of any key, it becomes completely backlit for use in a darkened room. All of the most commonly used buttons are within easy reach of your thumb, and button layout is logical for the most part. However, the placement of the cursor control at the top of the remote, instead of the middle, was confusing at first.
The internal menu system is also a bit awkward. The main menu runs horizontally across the bottom of the screen, but selecting an option calls up a vertically aligned submenu in the top portion, making navigation somewhat counterintuitive. The Dell W5001C shares with most 50-inch plasmas on the market a native resolution of 1,366x768. That's plenty of pixels to fully resolve 720p HDTV sources. All sources, including high-def, standard TV, DVD, and computers, are scaled to fit the available pixels.
Apart from screen size and native resolution, the 50-inch Dell W5001C and the 42-inch Dell W4201C share the same feature set. Dell includes an ATSC tuner, which allows the W5001C to tune in free digital and HDTV stations when connected to an antenna; however, the company neglects the CableCard slot. That's a minor omission in our book but notable since many sets in this range, such as the Panasonic TH-50PX50U, include the slot.
The Dell W5001C offers a few other conveniences, with PIP (picture-in-picture) heading up the list. The set has numerous PIP configurations for watching two sources at once, such as PC and HDTV. The only two sources you can't watch side by side are the HDMI inputs. We also appreciated the five aspect-ratio selections for standard-def and the three for HD.
Selectable color temperatures include Normal, Natural, Blue, and Red. Blue is definitely way too blue, and Red is definitely too red--we found that Natural color temperature came closest to the standard. (Interestingly, Normal was closest on the Dell W4201C.) All the picture modes except for Personal have fixed presets for all picture parameters and cannot be changed. The Personal setting is adjustable, however, and changes to picture controls, such as contrast and brightness, are saved separately for each input. This capability, known as independent input memories, is critical to optimizing the picture for all your sources.
Like some other plasmas we've seen, the Dell W5001C offers a setting to help get rid of burn-in, which may occur from keeping a static image element onscreen for long periods of time. Called plasma conditioning, the setting displays a full white screen and engages a timer.
With the ability to connect to up to 13 different video sources, the Dell W5001C offers one of the most comprehensive input bays we've seen on any plasma TV. Unlike those on some panels, such as the , the W5001C's jacks are all discrete, so you don't have to sacrifice one type of connection for another. You can give the inputs names, such as DVD, and elect to have the input menu show only active jacks.
The two HDMI inputs are the most important connections, and one includes stereo audio jacks for connecting a DVI source (DVI-to-HDMI adapter required). The set also has two component-video inputs, two S-Video inputs, two composite-video inputs, and a 15-pin VGA input for computers--each with stereo audio jacks. Screw-type RF connections for both analog and digital antennas are provided, along with optical and coaxial audio outputs for getting digital audio from the Dell's ATSC tuner. On the right side of the panel is a set of A/V inputs with S-Video, making it easy to connect portable video sources such as camcorders and game consoles. In our tests, the Dell W5001C displayed a few strengths but also a couple significant weaknesses, and its black-level performance--that is, its ability to accurately render dark scenes--showed both. On the one hand, the Dell produces solid, deep, and rich blacks. However, it also exhibits some of the worst false-contouring artifacts we've seen on any plasma.
Many of the darkest scenes on the Alien: The Director's Cut DVD, for example, were riddled with floating fields of hazy video noise. In the beginning, when you first see the Nostromo traveling through space, it appears to be surrounded by a cloud of fine moving particles. We tried minimizing the effect by reducing the brightness control, but that caused the W5001C to lose far too much shadow detail. The 42-inch Dell W4201C fared marginally better in these tests, so we awarded it a higher performance score.
Fortunately, the W5001C's grayscale in the Natural color-temperature setting came reasonably close to the standard of 6,500K (see the geek box below). This is doubly important since, according to Dell, changes to color temperature made in the service menu do not stay saved after you power off the set, which makes a thorough professional calibration impossible. The W5001C's color decoding is quite good, without any red push, which means you get excellent color saturation when color and tint are set correctly.
The Dell's video processing does have the all-important 2:3 pull-down for eliminating motion artifacts from film-based material. The opening scene from Star Trek: Insurrection appeared noisier than we were used to, however, indicating that video processing could definitely be improved.
Brighter material fares much better than dark on the Dell W5001C. In one example, the sunlit scenes from the excellent Superbit version of the Vertical Limit DVD appeared sharp and well defined, with excellent color saturation and natural-looking skin tones.
During our tests with high-def material, we measured slightly more resolution at the HDMI input than the component input with a 720p HDTV-resolution pattern, which is quite common on digital displays. We certainly recommend using HDMI for high-def with this panel. HD content on our DirecTV HD satellite feed was a mixed bag. Darker scenes were riddled with the aforementioned artifacts, while brighter material was much easier on the eyes.
Given its issues displaying darker material, the Dell W5001C is not suitable as the centerpiece of a home-theater system where you'll turn the lights down low and watch a dimly lit movie. It would be better suited for placement in a bright room, displaying brighter TV programming.
|Before color temp (20/80)||6,925/7,425K||Average|
|After color temp||N/A|
|Before grayscale variation||753K||Average|
|After grayscale variation||N/A|
|Color of red (x/y)||0.657/0.322||Average|
|Color of green||0.255/0.673||Poor|
|Color of blue||0.144/0.073||Average|
|DC restoration||All patterns stable||Good|
|2:3 pull-down, 24fps||Yes||Good|
|Defeatable edge enhancement||No||Poor|