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Panasonic PT-DLX76 review: Panasonic PT-DLX76

Panasonic PT-DLX76

David Katzmaier
David Katzmaier Editorial Director -- TVs and streaming
David runs CNET's home entertainment division, where he leads a team that covers TVs, streaming services, streaming devices and home audio. If he doesn't know something about the gear you use to keep yourself entertained at home, it's not worth knowing.
Expertise A 20-year CNET veteran, David has been reviewing TVs since the days of CRT, rear-projection and plasma. Prior to CNET he worked at Sound & Vision magazine and eTown.com. He is known to two people on Twitter as the Cormac McCarthy of consumer electronics. Credentials Although still awaiting his Oscar for Best Picture Reviewer, David does hold certifications from the Imaging Science Foundation and the National Institutes of Standards and Technology on display calibration and evaluation.
10 min read
Panasonic is a major HDTV player, but its big-screen cards have mostly been of the flat-panel variety as opposed to rear-projection. The PT-DLX76 series, which includes a 56-inch model as well as the 61-inch PT-61DLX76 ($3,299 MSRP) reviewed here, changes all that. It's the company's first foray into the lucrative 1080p microdisplay category--you know, the kind of HDTV you'd buy if you want a huge screen with the highest-available resolution but can't afford Panasonic's 65-inch 1080p plasma. The Panasonic PT-61DLX76 has everything you'd expect from a top-of-the-line HDTV, including 1080p-capable HDMI inputs and myriad picture controls. The bad news? It lacks the kind of deep blacks we've become accustomed to from DLP HDTVs, and its color accuracy falls short of what we expected. While the PT-61DLX76 tries to make good with a comprehensive feature set and an aggressive price, it has a hard time against the stiff 1080p competition. Panasonic's PT-61DLX76 has an unassuming two-tone look that lacks the flash of some big-screen HDTVs. We appreciated that it wastes little room on housing the large screen--there's just 1.75 inches of cabinet between the edge of the screen and the top and sides of the set. An inch-thick matte-black frame edges the screen itself, thickening to 2 inches along the bottom. Below the frame is a wide, relatively short (3.5-inch) expanse of silver that contains the speakers, and below that, an inch-tall strip of glossy black, part of which swings open to reveal controls and an extra set of inputs. The standard front-panel controls allow you to operate the menu system and other essential functions if you misplace the remote. The front inputs include composite and S-Video with stereo audio, and an SD card slot is also available for displaying digital photos.

The whole set measures 56.3 by 39.3 by 18.9 inches (WHD) and weighs 81.6 pounds--a bit larger, by comparison, than the Samsung HL-S6187W. To get it up to eye level, you'll have to mount it on some sort of stand, such as the company's TY-61LC65C.


Panasonic PT-DLX76

The Good

Relatively inexpensive for a 1080p HDTV; sharp picture with 1080 resolution sources; ample connectivity with dual 1080p-compatible HDMI inputs and a PC input; excellent feature set including numerous picture controls and CableCard.

The Bad

Somewhat lighter black levels than comparable HDTVs; inaccurate color decoding; rainbows visible in some scenes to some viewers.

The Bottom Line

The Panasonic PT-61DLX76 didn't deliver the best picture quality we've seen among 1080p DLPs, but a solid features-to-price ratio helps increase its appeal.

Panasonic's remote and menu system are below average compared to other 1080p big-screens on the market. The silver clicker lacks backlighting--par for the course these days, even on expensive sets--and its similarly sized and shaped keys are crowded and difficult to locate by feel. Many keys are placed in inconvenient locations; Mute, for example, is nowhere near the volume control. The multilayered menu system makes the myriad controls more difficult to locate than they should be. Inexperienced users will have to spend some time with the cryptic manual to get a handle on the set's capabilities. Like many top-of-the-line rear-projection HDTVs, the Panasonic PT-61DLX76's chief feature is its high native resolution of 1080p: 1,920x1,080 pixels. That should be enough to display every detail of the highest-resolution HDTV sources, namely 1080i and 1080p, although with lower-resolution sources, the image will not look any sharper. All sources, including HDTV, DVD, and standard-def, are converted to fit the available pixels.

The Panasonic PT-61DLX76 has the same 1080p DLP chip found in sets from Samsung, Mitsubishi, and Toshiba, for example, which uses wobulation, a technology that effectively doubles the horizontal resolution. The DLP chip itself only has 960x1,080 physical pixels, as opposed to 1080p LCoS displays that have all 1,920x1,080 discrete pixels (more info on DLP and wobulation).

Otherwise, the PT-61DLX76 has a full-fledged feature set. It includes both an ATSC tuner and a CableCard slot, so it can receive over-the-air high-def and cable without an external box or a receiver. To make up for the loss of the cable company's EPG, Panasonic included TV Guide onscreen, which grabs program information from your local cable feed. While we've experienced issues with TV Guide in the past, later iterations such as the one found on Panasonic's DMR-EH75V have performed well, although we found it limited and somewhat awkward compared to our cable company's EPG. We didn't test CableCard or TV Guide on the PT-61DLX76.

Conveniences include a split-screen version of picture in-picture, allowing you to watch two sources at once. The traditional inset arrangement, with a smaller picture overlaying a full-screen picture, is unavailable on the PT-61DLX76, but you can watch one small and one large image side by side. It's also worth noting that you can't split the screen with PC or HDMI sources. You can choose from four aspect ratios for both standard-def and high-def sources with the exception of 1080p sources, which cause the set to lock into wide-screen mode.

The Panasonic PT-61DLX76 can save different settings in each of its three adjustable picture presets--Standard, Vivid, and Cinema (the most accurate of the three)--but it lacks true independent input memories and the same input types share the same settings. If you change the brightness control on Cinema for HDMI 1, for example, the same change applies to HDMI 2. Component-video 1 and 2 behave in the same way, as do the three other A/V inputs. Also, if you do take the time to carefully adjust the set, you'll probably want to write your numbers down somewhere, since it's way too easy to accidentally reset the modes to their factory defaults.

Aside from the standard picture controls such as brightness, contrast, and the three color-temperature presets, the PT-61DLX76 offers scads of other picture-affecting options. Color Management supposedly enhances green and blue, but it just made yellow greener on the non-HDMI inputs so we left it turned off. Two noise-reduction modes are available, which did a mediocre job of cleaning up low-quality sources (see Performance for more). There's an option to turn off the 3D-Y/C filter, but we recommend that you leave it on. You can choose either an HD or an SD color matrix with 480p sources; use SD for progressive-scan DVD and HD for standard-def 480p digital television, such as Fox Wide-screen. The black-level control should be set to light for most sources to maintain shadow detail, although analog TV and composite video sources should be set to dark--if you can remember. There's also a control labeled 3D I/P that engages 2:3 pull-down detection when left on.

Want more? Dynamic iris engages an iris that increases contrast, but we preferred to leave it off for critical viewing, since it changed the picture on the fly. You get three choices for gamma; we chose Normal for a dark environment since it gave the most CRT-like, gradual rise out of black. We left the black extension control set to zero; settings higher than 7 crushed detail in shadows after we'd set brightness properly. Finally, a trio of RGB controls allowed us to improve the default color temperature slightly, although they were nowhere near as effective as a service menu level calibration.

The back panel of the Panasonic PT-61DLX76 incorporates all of the connectivity we expect from a high-end HDTV, starting with a pair of HDMI inputs that can handle 1080p sources (the more-common 1080p frame rate of 1080p/60fps is supported, but the HDMI inputs couldn't handle less-common 1080p/24 sources). There are also two component-video inputs; two A/V inputs with composite and S-Video; an analog audio output; an optical digital audio output, so the ATSC tuner can pass surround soundtracks; and a single RF input for antenna or cable. We'd prefer to see two, so you could connect both an antenna and cable, but it's not a huge issue. There's a VGA-style PC input as well, but unfortunately, it accepts only resolutions as high as 1,280x768--many other 1080p TVs can handle the full PC resolution of 1,920x1,080. While the Panasonic PT-61DLX76 does a good job resolving all of the detail of high-resolution sources, its lighter blacks and less accurate color--at least compared to other 1080p displays we've tested--make its overall performance just average for the category.

Our first step was to see how the PT-61DLX76 handled difficult dark scenes, so we adjusted it for home-theater viewing in a darkened room. As usual, that entailed reducing light output to a comfortable level--38 footlamberts in this case--and trying to coax as deep of a black out of the set as possible without obscuring shadow detail. To that end, we were tempted to employ the Dynamic iris, which controls light output on the fly depending on how dark the program is, but its improvement black level wasn't worth the instability it introduced. For example, in the scene from the Unforgiven HD-DVD where the Schofield Kid propositions Bill Munny (Clint Eastwood) to go on a killing, the shots alternate between the Kid in the dark and Munny outlined against the sky seen through a door. As the scene changed from relatively bright to dark, we saw the shadows to the side of the door abruptly and unnaturally darken during the second after the camera switched back and forth.

With the iris turned off, however, the Panasonic had a difficult time mustering as deep of a level of black as some 1080p DLPs we've seen recently, including the Samsung HL-S5687W. The black parts in the dark whorehouse lobby during the scene in which Little Bill investigates an assault seemed relatively bright, for example, and making them darker obscured details in the shadows, no matter which controls we tried. If we had to choose between iris on and iris off, however, we'd leave it off and suffer through the lighter black areas.

We also noticed the rainbow effect inherent to DLP technology. The lamps on the walls of the lobby, the bright glow of the stove, and Little Bill's shiny buttons all created trails of color that appeared when the scene shifted and our eyes adjusted. The Panasonic's rainbows weren't any more or less-prevalent than those of the many DLPs we've seen, and as usual, they occurred most often with bright material against dark backgrounds.

During setup, we also noticed that the Panasonic had a tendency to exaggerate red colors, which unfortunately meant that we had to reduce the color control quite a bit to maintain accurate skin tones. The sunlit face of the whorehouse matron as she confronts the two cowboys who bring back the horses, for example, appeared too flush when we increased the color control above -8. Turning down color unfortunately meant that other areas of the picture, such as the blue sky and the green of the trees in the background, appeared somewhat muted. The Panasonic also appeared redder in darker scenes; we couldn't significantly improve its color temperature using the main menu controls (see the Geek box) and were unable to perform a service-level calibration by the time of this writing.

In its favor, the Panasonic PT-61DLX76 delivered excellent detail throughout the HD-DVD, from the grass on the prairie to the patterns on the wallpaper, to the strands of Munny's gray hair. This was borne out in HD resolution tests where PT-61DLX86 more than held its own, resolving every line from a 1080i multiburst pattern sent via HDMI from our Sencore VP403 signal generator. It's the first DLP-based 1080p HDTV we've seen that can pass this test; the Sony KDS-R60XBR1 is the only other rear-projection set we've seen that was able pass. Other resolutions via HDMI were also rock-solid; many 1080p sets don't scale 720p as well as the Panasonic does, for example. Of course, we still recommend you use a 1080-resolution source with this set whenever possible. In that vein, we also recommend sticking with HDMI as opposed to component-video; via the latter input type, the Panasonic couldn't quite match the sharpness of HDMI.

Looking closely at the vertical lines, we saw movement we've noticed on other DLPs with wobulation, but it was impossible to detect from further than a couple feet back from the screen. As usual with 1080p sets, we also couldn't see any gaps between the pixels; flat fields were perfectly smooth from even very close distances. They were also quite uniform across the screen, with none of the discoloration we've seen on some three-chip rear-projection designs; hot-spotting was average for a DLP, with the edges a bit darker but not overly so compared to the center; geometry was excellent, and although the entire image was shifted slightly to the right, it wasn't noticeable on program material.

When fed standard-def images, the Panasonic PT-61DLX76 performed somewhat below average compared to other HDTVs we've tested recently. While it did an acceptable job of smoothing jagged diagonal lines, it wasn't quite capable of resolving every line of resolution from standard-def sources via its analog inputs, which led to slightly softer images than we expected. Also, it engaged 2:3 pull-down detection quite slowly, which can lead to moving lines and other artifacts being visible onscreen, although it won't be noticeable in most situations. The set offers two noise reduction circuits, labeled Video NR and MPEG NR. The former had very little effect on the noisy test images from the HQV disc. The latter reduced a little of the swimming, snowy noise that's especially visible in skies and other flat fields, but also made details such as the grain in a dried-out stump appear slightly softer.

Before color temp (20/80) 5,519/6,402K Poor
After color temp* 6,053/6,612K Average
Before grayscale variation +/- 251K Good
After grayscale variation* +/- 330K Poor
Color of red (x/y) 0.637/0.341 Good
Color of green 0.299/0.672 Poor
Color of blue 0.146/0.061 Good
Overscan 3 percent Good
Black-level retention All patterns stable Good
2:3 pull-down, 24fps Yes Good
Defeatable edge enhancement Yes Good
*Grayscale calibration was performed with user-menu controls only


Panasonic PT-DLX76

Score Breakdown

Design 7Features 8Performance 5
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