Flat-panel HDTVs grow less expensive all the time, and Maxent is one of the big names in no-name panels. One of the company's 2005 50-inch plasmas, the MX-50X3, performed relatively well in our tests, and we expected similar results from the 2006 50-inch plasma monitor reviewed here, model MX-5020HPM. Unfortunately, the new model had more than its share of picture-quality issues, making it a less attractive budget plasma than the stiff competition posed by models such as the Vizio P50HDTV, which sells for around the same price. Like many budget flat-panel makers this year, Maxent went with two-tone black-and-silver for the MX-5020HPM. The 50-inch screen is bordered by a medium-width matte-black frame on all sides, perched atop a silver swath of speakers at the bottom and supported by a wide, silver stand. Not much adorns the simple-looking plasma aside from the smallish Maxent logo and a discreet row of basic function controls on the lower right. The MX-5020HPM measures 49.5 by 35 by 10.3 inches and weighs 110 pounds including the stand. Divested of its 5-pound stand, the panel measures 49.5 by 33.6 by 4.4 inches and will require a wall-mount bracket (sold separately).
Maxent employs the same remote design found on Vizio HDTVs, although the version included with the MX-5020HPM is black instead of silver and lacks the illuminated keys found on some Vizio clickers. The remote is cursed by too many similarly sized buttons and blessed by the ability to directly access numerous functions; we really appreciated the dedicated keys for each input. In addition to the inactive Guide and Swap keys, a few unusual keys are present: 3D comb engages the comb filter to clean up artifacts in composite video sources, while the Q.Acc. calls up just the brightness and contrast controls. The remote can operate up to three other devices.
The full menu system is very basic looking and straightforward, more like a computer monitor's menu than a television's. That said it was still a pain to navigate because, as we've seen on some TV menus such as Philips's, the central OK button annoyingly takes you back a menu level as opposed to confirming a selection. Slightly less annoyingly, you have to wait a second or two for the menu to draw each time before you can make any selections. There isn't much to the Maxent MX-5020HD besides its picture. The panel sports the standard 50-inch plasma native resolution of 1,366x768 pixels, swhich hould allow it to resolve every detail of 720p sources. All sources, whether HDTV, DVD, computer, or standard TV, are scaled to fit the pixels.
Whereas most 50-inch plasmas on the market, notably the Vizio P50HDTV we mentioned above, offer an ATSC tuner to grab over-the-air TV stations, the Maxent MX-5020HPM has no tuner at all. That technically makes it a monitor, and to watch TV--high-def or otherwise--you'll have to connect it to a TV source, such as a cable or satellite box. Since most cable and all satellite subscribers get their TV programming via boxes, the lack of a tuner isn't a big deal for those folks, but some prefer to have the option to watch over-the-air TV, too. Maxent does include a picture-in-picture function however, allowing you to watch sources from two inputs at the same time.
The selection of picture controls in the menu is light, to say the least. You get three picture modes, called Vivid, Cinema, and Standard, that cannot be adjusted. When you tweak the contrast or brightness, for example, you have to be in the fourth User mode, which fortunately allows different settings for each input. Unfortunately the Maxent lacks color temperature presets, which is a real shame since its color temperature is quite inaccurate (see Performance). You do get a black-level-extension control (best left off to preserve as much shadow detail as possible) and a noise-reduction setting. Provisions for adjusting the position and size of the image are available only with RGB and component-video sources. Aspect-ratio controls include two selections for high-def and standard-def wide-screen sources, and a third Panorama mode for 4:3 standard-def sources.
A good number of menu options address the possibility of burn-in, a.k.a. image retention. There's an image shift that periodically moves the entire picture a few pixels; a Full White mode that puts up a white screen; and a Multi-Color mode that does the same thing with full-screen colors. Frugal TV watchers will appreciate the power-save option, which limits maximum light output.
Connectivity is the MX-5020HDM's strong suit. The panel incorporates a pair of HDMI inputs (one with stereo audio for use with DVI-to-HDMI adapters); two component-video inputs with stereo audio; two A/V inputs with composite and S-video; and a VGA-style PC input with a recommended resolution of 1,366x768 and a matching set of stereo audio inputs. There's also an RS-232 port for custom installation control and service. Nothing major is missing, although some users might wish for a set of easy-access front- or side-panel inputs. The Maxent MX-5020HPM's picture quality left a lot to be desired. Its ability to produce a deep shade of black was spoiled by lack of shadow detail, forcing a compromise that was less-than satisfying. Its color temperature was bluer than that of most HDTVs, especially with HDMI sources, and significant red push impaired saturation.
As we noted above, we were disappointed about the Maxent MX-5020HPM's lack of control over color temperature, which meant we were stuck with the panel's out-of-the-box color temp. Unfortunately, it was incredibly blue with HDMI sources, averaging about 17,000K (the standard is 6,500K). That's why we decided to do all of our evaluations in component-video, which had a much more tolerable, albeit still very blue, color temperature (see the Geek box below). Check out the Tips & Tricks section above or just click here to see our full user-menu settings.
While we don't expect that many users in this price range will want to spring for a professional calibration, it definitely makes a big difference. We were able to achieve an excellent grayscale when we calibrated the set using its service menu. After we exited the service menu, the black level of the set behaved much better, but when we turned it off and then on again, the same shadow-detail issues that we noted below appeared again.