The prices of plasma TVs are falling so rapidly that the 50-inch models have moved into the realm of affordability--in other words, less then $3,000. That's bad news for manufacturers who focus primarily on rear-projection HDTVs, since just about everyone will choose a slim plasma over a bulky RPTV. The only solution is to drop the price of those RPTVs even further, a phenomenon evinced by sets such as Panasonic's PT-52LCX65, the entry-level model in the company's line of projection HDTVs. This 52-inch, LCD-based TV is one of the least-expensive microdisplays of its size, and the price tag alone makes it worth considering alongside other like-size LCD microdisplays, such as and Mitsubishi's WD-52527. In the case of the budget Panasonic PT-52LCX65, you get what you pay for. While its specs are nothing to sneeze at, providing good connectivity and all the important HDTV features, its image quality can't compete with that of other LCD projection HDTVs we've reviewed. The design of the Panasonic PT-52LCX65 is relatively basic. With a depth of only 17 inches overall, its footprint is quite small for a TV with such a large screen. A black bezel surrounds the entire screen, making the set more attractive to the eye and increasing the perceived contrast ratio of the picture (something this set needs badly). Below the bezel, the finish turns to silver for the speaker grilles and the stand. This aesthetic represents a kind of Panasonic family look, which the company's consumer plasma models, such as the TH-PX50U series, share.
The remote control was recently redesigned; we found it intuitive to use and comfortable in the hand. We were pleasantly surprised to see backlighting behind every key, which makes setup in the dark relatively easy. Finally, the universal remote can control a wide variety of other A/V components. With a native resolution of 1,280x720, the Panasonic PT-52LCX65 should be able to fully resolve 720p high-definition sources. It scales all other resolutions, including 1080i HDTV, computer, DVD, and standard television, to fit its pixels. Note that despite its native resolution, the Panasonic PT-52LCX65 can accept input signals only up to 1,024x768 resolution via its VGA/PC input.
We downgraded the Panasonic's feature rating from 7 to 6 because two of its key performance-enhancing features don't work. First, Panasonic claims to offer 2:3 pull-down in the video processing, but our tests proved otherwise (see Performance). Second, the red, green, and blue grayscale controls in the advanced menu are unavailable for the video inputs--they're reserved for the PC inputs, where they're not that useful.
The other performance features function as advertised. Selectable color temperatures include Warm, Normal, and Cool, with Normal coming closest to the broadcast-standard color temperature of 6,500K. One very nifty feature lets you adjust each of the three picture modes individually for brightness, contrast, color, and the like--and all of them can be different for each input. In effect, this allows you to customize three independent input memories per input.
The Panasonic PT-52LCX65's most notable conveniences include the built-in ATSC tuner for off-air HDTV and the Digital Cable Ready CableCard slot for cable HDTV reception. Spilt-screen PIP (picture-in-picture) lets you watch more than one source simultaneously. It will function with HDTV sources, although you can't watch an HDMI source and a PC source simultaneously. Aspect-ratio controls include four choices for standard TV, three for progressive-scan DVD (480p) and two for PC. Unfortunately, you can't change aspect ratio at all with HDTV sources.
The connection options on the rear panel are fairly generous. However, we have to question the logic of offering three component-video inputs and only one HDMI input when it would make a lot more sense to include two of each. The set also has two A/V inputs with a choice of either S-Video or composite, and one A/V output with S-Video. An RF input and the CableCard slot round out the connectivity on the back panel. The Panasonic PT-52LCX65 also has a set of front-panel A/V inputs with S-Video, a VGA connector for a PC, and an SD-card slot for displaying digital camera images. The overall performance of the Panasonic PT-52LCX65 leaves a lot to be desired. When we checked our reference opening scene from the Star Trek: Insurrection DVD, we noticed telltale lines on the overturned boats, which indicate that 2:3 pull-down processing wasn't operating correctly. This is simply inexcusable today, especially since much prime-time programming is still shot on film. Without solid 2:3 processing, film-based material will be riddled with motion artifacts if not processed properly by the set-top box--and set-top-box (cable or satellite) processing is often quite bad. When viewing Insurrection through the S-Video input, we also observed severe edge enhancement, which appeared as exaggerated edges and noise around onscreen objects.
The Panasonic's out-of-the-box grayscale is among the least accurate we've seen recently, and it tinged dark areas an unnatural blue. As we mentioned earlier, the color-temperature controls are unavailable with the video inputs, so we weren't able to improve grayscale performance via calibration.
Blacks on the Panasonic PT-52LCX65 appeared a muddy dark gray, and dark scenes lacked shadow detail; the combination was painful to see. The opening scenes of our black-level torture-test DVD Alien: The Director's Cut, with the starship Nostromo traveling through space, also revealed low-level video noise that became quite distracting. Brighter material from the Superbit version of the Vertical Limit DVD looked better, but we noticed a lot of video noise, even in brighter scenes.
The color reproduction on this set adds the final insult to injury. In general, its only redeeming quality is that the decoding and the primary color for red are both fairly good. Decoding for green is abysmal, and the actual color of green is on the yellowish side. Finally, blue was rendered as distinctly purplish in color.
In its favor, the set does deliver all the resolution of a 720p HDTV signal, but with some significant noise at the upper end of the spectrum. HD pictures from DirecTV certainly looked better than those from DVD. It was interesting to note that dark concert footage from HDNet looked cleaner and less noisy than dark passages on DVD. A play-off baseball game on ESPN HD looked pretty good, but the color of the grass was again desaturated and tinged with yellow.
|Before color temp (20/80)||11,500/7,100K||Poor|
|After color temp||N/A||N/A|
|Before grayscale variation||+/- 1,419K||Poor|
|After grayscale variation||N/A||N/A|
|DC restoration||All patterns stable||Good|
|2:3 pull-down, 24fps||Y||Good|
|Defeatable edge enhancement||Y||Poor|