Maxent is one of the many no-name manufacturers trying to get a slice of what seems like the endless flat-panel TV money pie. The company's new MX-50X3, a 50-inch plasma, is a steal of a deal, considering its impressive picture quality and low price ($2,999 list). For many people, however, choosing among the many plasma televisions is a design statement as much as anything--and if you're one of those people, you'll probably want to choose another model. Everyone else will find a lot to like about this large-screen flat-panel plasma. Designwise, the Maxent MX-50X3 won't win any awards, but we wouldn't call it ugly. At a time when most plasma manufacturers are moving to black finishes, Maxent has chosen to stick with an all-silver exterior. The speakers are mounted to the left and right sides of the screen rather than below, bringing the overall width of the panel to 56.5 inches. Happily, you can remove the speakers if you want, decreasing the MX-50X3's dimensions to 49.25 by 33.25 by 6.5 inches (WHD, including stand).
The somewhat cheap-feeling remote control is not backlit or even illuminated for use in darkened environments. It is a well-laid-out and fairly intuitive design, however, with all of the most important keys within thumb reach. Beneath a sliding door at the bottom of the remote are direct-access keys for all of the inputs, a convenient touch that will make programming universal remotes easier. The internal menu system is light on graphics and explanations, but we found it straightforward enough and relatively easy to navigate. As with almost all 50-inch plasmas on the market, the Maxent MX-50X3 has a native resolution of 1,366x768--that's plenty of pixels to resolve all of the detail in 720p HDTV sources. All incoming resolutions, including HDTV, DVD, standard TV, and computers, are scaled to fit the available pixels.
Like some rival models, namely the and the Panasonic TH-50PHD8UK, the Maxent MX-50X3 skips many of the convenience features found on most HDTVs. The set lacks a built-in ATSC tuner for off-air HDTV broadcast reception, a standard TV tuner, and a CableCard slot. In other words, to watch HDTV or standard TV on the Maxent, you'll need to connect either a cable or satellite box or a set-top off-air receiver. PIP (picture-in-picture) is just about the only convenience feature of note.
There are a few picture-enhancing and setup features worth mentioning but not many. Selectable color temperatures include Warm, Natural, and Cool, with Warm being relatively close to the broadcast-standard color temperature of 6,500K. Position and size controls are handy since they give you the ability to center the picture on the screen properly and further reduce the set's overscan. We also appreciated the Maxent MX-50X3's independent input memories.
Connection options are adequate if not overly generous. Unfortunately, there is only one HDMI input--we'd like to see at least two, as found on the rival Vizio mentioned above, so that you could hook up both a scalable DVD player and an HDTV set-top box, for example, to separate digital inputs. Analog inputs abound: we counted two component-video and two A/V inputs with S-Video and composite video. There is one 15-pin VGA input for computers (as high as 1,280x1,024 resolution), a pass-through VGA output, and an RS-232 control port for programming touch-panel remotes. On the audio side, you'll find a subwoofer output and a set of stereo audio outputs as well. Missing from the list is a set of easy-access front-panel A/V inputs. For such an inexpensive 50-inch plasma, the Maxent MX-50X3 turned in an impressive performance, with depth of black being its strongest suit. DC restoration was not good, which means black level floats up and down a bit, depending on the brightness of other areas of the picture. But for the most part blacks were deep, rich, and inky. The darker scenes in the Alien: The Director's Cut DVD, for example, looked excellent with great shadow detail and a minimum of the dreaded false-contouring artifacts that so many plasma panels exhibit. We tested the panel after adjusting the User picture mode and engaging the Warm color temperature--the Cinema mode was so far off in its accuracy of black-and-white levels that we couldn't use it at all.
Other issues included a relatively inaccurate gamma, as evidenced by the fact that the panel comes out of black much too fast--in other words, while the blackest areas were still nice and dark, near-black areas such as the edges of shadows appeared brighter than they should. And while color temperature in the Warm setting was average--and was much improved after calibration--the overall grayscale is somewhat nonlinear, varying toward blue or red at different brightness levels.
The video processing also lacks 2:3 pull-down, which was clear with the motion artifact-laden opening scene of Star Trek: Insurrection on DVD running 480i from the component outputs. If you buy the Maxent, we highly recommend you mate it with a progressive-scan DVD player or use an upconverting HDMI player set to 720p.
Color decoding on the Maxent MX-50X3 was excellent, and the resulting color saturation after calibration was quite good. Skin-tone rendition was very natural. The primary color of green was skewed toward yellow, however, and consequently, grass in particular appeared somewhat limey in color. Red is fairly close, and blue is nearly spot-on.
We fired up the rich, lush-looking Seabiscuit on DVD to evaluate color, and the Maxent didn't disappoint; color saturation and skin-tone rendition were both excellent. Green grass at some of the tracks, however, was distinctly too punchy-looking, which is a direct result of the inaccurate green phosphor choice.
After a separate calibration of the HDMI HD input, the Maxent MX-50X3 looked impressive displaying shows from our DirecTV HD satellite feed. Dark material such as concerts on HDNet looked particularly commendable for a plasma, with plenty of shadow detail and deep, rich blacks. The HDMI input did deliver all of the resolution from a 720p test-pattern generator.
|Before color temp (20/80)||8,150/6,450K||Average|
|After color temp||6,525/6,650K||Good|
|Before grayscale variation||+/- 297K||Good|
|After grayscale variation||+/- 211K||Average|
|Color of red (x/y)||0.651/0.341||Average|
|Color of green||0.271/0.657||Poor|
|Color of blue||0.152/0.064||Good|
|DC restoration||No stable patterns||Poor|
|2:3 pull-down, 24fps||No||Poor|
|Defeatable edge enhancement||No||Poor|