As savvy shoppers have known for the last couple of years, Panasonic's industrial plasma models are outstanding bargains. The TH-50PHD6UY, for example, is one of the best-performing 50-inch plasma panels we have seen to date. It's also aggressively priced, a combination that makes it one of the best values in plasma (if there is such a thing). This panel may not be much to look at from a design perspective, and it won't give you the consumer features that most of its competitors offer, but it will outperform any 50-inch panel--at any price--currently on the market.
Editor's note: We have changed the rating in this review to reflect recent changes in our rating scale. Click here to find out more.The TH-50PHD6UY won't win any design awards, but we found its stark look refreshing after all the gaudy design elements that characterize "consumer" panels. It's basically all picture, finished in dark gray, and is conspicuously missing speakers. A short row of front-panel buttons provides quick access to basic functions.
True to the panel's stripped-down aesthetic, Panasonic does not include a tabletop stand. Instead, you can choose from a variety of optional stands and wall mounts (here's the official list) or just lean it up against the wall--something we do not recommend. This king-size TV weighs 97 pounds and measures a substantial 47 inches wide by 28.5 inches tall, despite being only 3.7 inches deep.
The remote is smallish and well laid out. It cannot control any other equipment, nor are the keys backlit, but we found it easy to navigate, thanks in part to the small number of keys. The graphical internal menu system (GUI) lacks icons and pretty pictures but does offer plenty of options. Like most other 50-inch plasma panels, the TH-50PHD6UY has a native resolution of 1,366x768, which definitely qualifies it as HDTV capable. Sure, it doesn't have the pixels to fully resolve 1080i HDTV (no plasma does), but it can show every detail of 720p images. All incoming sources are scaled to fit the panel's pixels.
If you gaze at the spec sheet, you won't find any consumer-friendly features such as PIP (picture-in-picture) or even a built-in tuner. You'll need to connect some kind of external standard-def or HDTV tuner, such as a cable or satellite box or perhaps a VCR connected to an antenna, to watch TV. Speakers are also MIA, so you'll have to use your own audio system or purchase the optional speakers (TY-SP50P5WK, $700 list).
We did count a couple of picture-enhancing features, such as selectable color temperatures (Normal, Warm, and Cool) and 2:3 pull-down in the video processing, for artifact-free images from film-based material such as DVD movies. The CATS (Contrast Automatic Tracking System) is a feature that automatically changes the brightness according to room lighting, and we strongly recommend you shut it off for critical viewing. Several picture modes that change the character of the picture are also on tap. You do get a selection of five aspect-ratio modes, but since they don't work with HDTV sources, you should make sure that your HD tuner can change aspects.
The set's base connectivity is also quite limited. It ships with one component/RGBHV input with stereo audio, one A/V input with S-Video, one 15-pin VGA style RGB input for PC use, one RS-232 control port, and one composite-video output. Most jacks are BNC-style, which require inexpensive adapters such as these to convert to standard RCA plugs.
Happily, you can choose from numerous optional input cards, which slide right into the panel, if you want more connectivity. For example, a second component-video input card sells for $110, and a DVI with HDCP card costs $145. Check out the full list of compatible cards here. Aside from a relatively blue out-of-the-box grayscale, we found very little wrong with the Panasonic TH-50HD6UY's picture. Color decoding was about as accurate as it gets, with no red push whatsoever and only a slight error on green. The video processing with 2:3 pull-down was excellent, and dancing pixel (false contouring) artifacts were nearly nonexistent. Best of all, the black-level performance of this panel was second to none. While still not as good as those of a CRT-based display, blacks on the TH-50PHD6UY are extremely deep.
One of the biggest pluses of this panel is that it will save custom settings for each input (a feature we refer to as independent input memory). We were even able to calibrate the grayscale for each individual input source, which means that all video sources fed into the panel can be fully optimized. After a full calibration for both NTSC DVDs and HDTV from our DirecTV HD satellite feed, the set's color accuracy was spot-on.
Watching chapter 25 of the Seabiscuit DVD was a pleasure, as the TH-50PHD6UY conveyed great detail, excellent color saturation, and very few visible artifacts. Dark scenes from the Alien DVD were also impressive. That disc is an absolute torture test for black-level performance and often reveals serious flaws in plasma and other fixed-pixel displays--not so for the TH-50PHD6UY, which handled the depths of space and the shadowy ship without missing a beat.
HDTV naturally looked even more impressive, with awesome detail and color saturation. We watched several of our favorite HD channels, such as Discovery HD, and were floored by the TH-50PHD6UY's picture quality.
|Before color temp (20/80)||9,450/8,550K||Poor|
|After color temp (20/80)||6,375/6,700K||Good|
|Before grayscale variation 20 to 100 IRE||+/- 2,586K||Poor|
|After grayscale variation 20 to 100 IRE||+/- 119K||Good|
|Color decoder error: red||0%||Good|
|Color decoder error: green||-5%||Good|
|DC restoration||All patterns stable||Good|
|2:3 pull-down, 24fps||Y||Good|