In a first among high-definition 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-definition output. By high-definition we mean HDMI, of which the TH-VX100U has four; 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.
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 Web site.
An excellent performer in its own right, the Premiere series nonetheless fell a bit short of Pioneer's 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.
During the calibration process, we tweaked the myriad settings to come as close as possible to our baseline light output and color and we were pleased by the results. We were initially attracted to the Monitor mode, but its lack of adjustments and dim picture sent us back to using Cinema for our main calibration. We didn't expect to hit our nominal light output target of 40 footlamberts on the 65-inch plasma and, sure enough, we did not in Cinema mode. Instead, we maxed out at a still-respectable 36 afterward (although, for the record, the 65-inch set can hit a plenty-bright 60ftl in its brightest setting). In terms of color temperature, we were able to improve on the default Warm setting quite a bit, and we achieved a very linear grayscale afterward--although not as linear as we saw on the Pioneer PRO-111FD. For our complete picture settings, check out the bottom of this blog post.
As we mentioned, Pioneer's Elite Kuro models are the principal competition for this high-end Panasonic, so we set the PRO-111FD right next to the TH-VX100U for our standard comparison, which also includes the 63-inch Samsung PN63A760 and the Sony KDL-55XBR8. For our main image quality tests, we checked out Body of Lies on Blu-ray played back by a Sony PlayStation 3.
Black level: In terms of delivering the deepest black possible, the Kuro was still better than the Panasonic, and in our comparison the difference was easily visible. But with the exception of the Kuro, the TH-VX100U produced the deepest black in the room, easily beating the Samsung display, for example, and surpassing the Sony, albeit not as handily. We didn't have any of the 2008 Panasonic consumer models on hand to pit against the VX100U, but we'd bet the Premiere gets as dark, if not darker than those, and its overall depth of black is superb.
In its marketing material for the Premiere series, Panasonic touts the series' shadow detail as surpassing that of the Pioneer and other high-end models. In our tests, however, we had a difficult time separating the Kuro from the Premiere in this regard. After proper adjustment, both delivered superb detail in shadowy areas, such as the torture scene at the beginning of Chapter 2 where differences in the detail in DiCaprio's half-shaded face, the hair of the detainee, and the towel around his mouth were vanishingly slight to our eyes. Any differences we could discern could be more attributable to the Pioneer's superior depth of black than to any superiority on the Panasonic's part to resolve detail in shadows.
Note that the above observations were made on a 65-inch TH-65VX100U, which has a contrast ratio of 65,000:1 as opposed to the 40,000:1 contrast ratio specification of the 50-inch TH-50VX100U. As a result, the 50-inch version may produce slightly lighter blacks--then again, it may not. If there is a visible difference between the black-level performance of the two panels, we expect it to be slight.
Color accuracy: Here's where the Panasonic definitely takes a back seat to the Kuro. Both displays conform relatively closely to the D65 grayscale standard, but the Kuro is a bit closer. The biggest divergence, however, comes in the two displays' primary and secondary color representation. Panasonic chose a relatively wide color gamut, as opposed to the narrower Rec. 709 high-definition color standard, and the again the difference was obvious in comparison.
Greens on the Panasonic, such as the bottle of DiCaprio's beer, the stems of the cut flowers in the market, and the desert plants in Chapter 3, appeared too intense and neon-looking compared with the rest of the displays, which all deliver more-accurate primary colors. The difference also showed in skin tones, like the lighter DiCaprio and the darker turncoat insurgent, which took on a slightly greenish cast in comparison. The blue sky above the Iraqi desert also appeared slightly more greenish on the Panasonic. We turned down the TH-VX100U's color control somewhat to compensate, although as a result colors appeared a bit less-saturated then we'd like.
However, saturation was still very good, and colors popped as we'd expect from a high-end plasma with deep black levels.
Video processing: The Premiere delivered every line of a 1080i and 1080p resolution pattern as well as between 800 and 900 lines of motion resolution--par for the 1080p plasma course. Also, unlike all other Panasonic plasmas we've reviewed, it successfully deinterlaced 1080i content.
We asked a Panasonic engineer about the display's 100Hz refresh rate, and he said that it actually refreshes at 96Hz, not 100Hz. That might explain how well it handled 1080p/24 material. We switched 1080p/24 mode on with our PS3 and noted that the subtle, characteristic jerky stutter of 3:2 pull-down was gone, replaced by the slightly smoother cadence of film. Pans like the slow movement at the beginning of Chapter 2 over DiCaprio's prone form showed the difference best. In short, the Premiere handled 1080p/24 sources as well as the Pioneer or any of the 120Hz LCDs we've tested.
Bright lighting: In a bright room with the windows open opposite the TH-VX100U's screen, the display didn't do a very good job of attenuating glare. The antireflective screen of the Pioneer and the Samsung were both more-effective and, of course, the relatively matte-screen Sony LCD performed best of all in this scenario.
Standard-definition: The TH-VX100U doesn't have any standard-definition inputs, so we didn't perform standard-definition testing.
PC: With HDMI sources, the TH-VX100U performed perfectly, resolving every detail of a 1,920x1,080-pixel signal with no overscan or edge enhancement. With analog sources via VGA, it accepted 1,920x1,080-pixel resolution source, but didn't display it correctly. The best resolution we could get to display properly was 1,366x768 pixels, which (as expected on a 1080p monitor) appeared relatively soft and (not expected) didn't completely fill the screen without a lot of adjustment. We recommend going in via HDMI with computer sources.
|Before color temp (20/80)||5983/5950||Average|
|After color temp||6436/6488||Good|
|Before grayscale variation||544||Average|
|After grayscale variation||91||Good|
|Color of red (x/y)||0.669/0.322||Poor|
|Color of green||0.261/0.663||Poor|
|Color of blue||0.154/0.068||Good|
|Defeatable edge enhancement||Y||Good|
|480i 2:3 pull-down, 24 fps||Pass||Good|
|1080i video resolution||Pass||Good|
|1080i film resolution||Pass||Good|
|Panasonic TH-65VX100U (65-inch version)||Picture settings|
|Picture on (watts)||575.56||415.17||504.36|
|Picture on (watts/sq. in)||0.32||0.23||0.28|
|Cost per year||$124.46||$89.78||$109.07|
|Score (considering size)||Good|