The 50-inch plasma screen size surpassed the 42-inch size in sales earlier this year, according to at least one study (PDF), and despite the falling prices of big-screen LCDs, plasma is still a better bargain in the 50-inch range. We've always loved the value proposition of Panasonic's professional plasmas, represented for 2007 by the 50-inch TH-50PH10UK reviewed here along with others in the 10UK series, but for the first time they actually cost more than the company's similarly sized, and better-featured, "consumer" models. With these Panasonic professional models you'll have to purchase a stand or wall-mount separately, usually you'll want an HDMI input as well, and finally you may require speakers--although many users prefer to ditch speakers in favor of an external audio system. Including stand and input board, the TH-50PH10UK costs a good bit more than comparable Panasonic consumer models, including the TH-50PX75U and the TH-50PX77U, the latter of which offers basically identical picture quality and a great antiglare screen. The professional model still produces a very good picture, however, so if you value the ability to swap out inputs and adjust color temperature and gamma to your heart's content, along with the no-nonsense gunmetal gray styling of a panel that's almost all screen, then the TH-50PH10UK still has plenty of appeal.
The TH-50PH10UK is designed exactly the same as previous years' professional models, and has basically the same feature set, so forgive us if these sections start to sound familiar. As you might expect from a product aimed toward the professional market, the Panasonic TH-50PH10UK is quite simple with no industrial design flare whatsoever. It is finished in a very dark gray, and other than the Panasonic name below the center of the screen and the power light all the way to the left, there is nothing else to distinguish it. The all-screen look results in relatively tiny overall dimensions for a 50-inch plasma: 47.6 by 28.5 by 3.7 inches WHD for the panel itself, with a weight of 81.6 pounds.
Panasonic's matching stereo speakers are an optional accessory, and without them you'll get no sound whatsoever out of the TH-50PH10UK. You must also opt for either the table-top stand (pictured) or a wall-mount kit to support the panel. A full list of accessories can be found on Panasonic's Web site.
The remote is intelligently designed and as a result, very easy to use. We especially appreciated the separate keys for each input slot. Unfortunately, the clicker is not backlit at all and cannot control other devices. Internally, the menu system hasn't changed on the industrial models for many years and remains extremely simple and easy to navigate.
With a native resolution of 1,366x768, the Panasonic TH-50PH10UK matches the pixel count of most other 50-inch plasmas on the market, but doesn't offer as many pixels as the 1080p models like the TH-50PF9UK. This set has enough pixels to display every detail of 720p sources; and all sources, from standard TV to DVD, to HDTV, to computers, are scaled to fit the native resolution.
As you may have surmised, the TH-50PH10UK doesn't offer much in the way of a feature package. Interestingly, it does have a
We were annoyed that the TH-50PH10UK still can't switch aspect ratios with HD sources, which is an issue if you're watching high-def on a channel that's sized improperly--like a lot of TNT channels--and your cable or satellite box can't change aspects. There are four aspect-ratio choices available for standard-def sources.
The Panasonic TH-50PH10UK does have several picture-enhancing features worth mentioning. Selectable color temperatures are on tap and include Warm (the closest to the standard of 6,500K), Normal, and Cool. Panasonic also gives you three Picture mode choices: Dynamic, Standard, and Cinema. The TH-50PH10UK has independent memory per input; this means you can use any mode you wish at any input and still be able to make changes to the picture controls. Finally, in the advanced menu, there are fine-tuneable grayscale controls and selectable gamma settings. Unlike last year's TH-50PH9UK model, which omitted controls for green gain and cut, the 10UK offers all six gain and cut controls for grayscale, which helps improve its grayscale accuracy after adjustment.
With numerous modes devoted to power saving, we expected the TH-50PH10UK to be a bit more efficient than it was. The standby power save mode barely saved any energy compared to the normal standby mode, and the same can be said for the picture-on power saver mode, which limits peak light output to sip a bit less power. As usual we saved the most power, and about $35 per year in energy costs, by simply calibrating the display. See the Juice Box below for details.
Connection options are quite limited compared to other HDTVs on the market. The panel comes with one component-video input that is also configurable to RGBHV (for computers or other RGB gear); an S-Video input; a composite video input; a 15-pin VGA input for computers (1,366x768 maximum resolution) that can also serve as a second component-video input with the addition of an inexpensive adapter; and an RS-232 control port. The component- and composite-video ports don't use standard RCA-style connectors. You'll have to buy inexpensive adapters, available at any Radio Shack, to allow the BNC-style jacks to accept RCA-style the connections common to most AV gear.
The good news is that the TH-50PH10UK has hot-swappable inputs housed on removable boards. The set comes with two boards preinstalled--the component-video input on one and the composite and S-Video inputs on another (the VGA input is fixed). There is also an empty bay for adding a board of your choice. We strongly recommend purchasing the optional HDMI board mentioned above, model TY-FB8HM, for this slot. You can also remove existing slots and change them to suit your system's needs. Of course, although there are only four total slots, you can always connect more gear by utilizing an HDMI- or component-video switching device, such as some AV receivers or standalone HDMI switchers.
As we expected, the Panasonic TH-50PH10UK delivered excellent picture quality, exhibiting deep black levels, a clean picture, and improved color accuracy compared to last year's model, thanks to the extra color temperature adjustments. We complained about its standard-def picture quality, its primary color of green, and a bit of false contouring, but otherwise our gripes were minimal.
Before evaluating the picture quality of the TH-50PH10UK, we calibrated it for optimal performance in our completely dark theater. We first adjusted its light output to around 40 ftl, and were pleased to find that the Cinema preset was almost exactly at that level to begin with. We also took advantage of the full grayscale controls to get its color temperature very close to the NTSC standard of D6500--which the Warm preset decidedly was not. Compared to the TH-50PH9UK from last year, the picture looked much less green after grayscale calibration, an improvement that's a direct result of having those extra controls in the picture menu. The 10UK still evinced less-than-ideal grayscale linearity after calibration, becoming slightly bluer in the middle-bright areas and varying a good deal from one brightness level to the next, but after user-menu calibration, its grayscale was still much more accurate than that of most plasmas we've tested (including the Pioneer PDP-5080HD). You can see our complete picture settings by clicking here or on the Tips & Tricks link above.
Because we couldn't get our hands on an HDMI input board by press time, we reviewed the TH-50PH10UK using a DVI input board instead. The only picture-quality difference between the two is that the DVI input doesn't allow the adjustment of color or tint. We found the color and tint quite accurate to begin with, so we didn't miss those controls.
For our formal evaluation, we set the TH-50PH10UK up side by side with a few other competing displays we had on-hand, including last year's Panasonic TH-50PH9UK, Pioneer's PRO-FHD1 and PDP-5080HD, as well as the Vizio GV52LF, which comes closest to the Panasonic TH-50PH10UK in price among like-sized LCDs. We chose to watch the great-looking V for Vendetta on HD DVD played from the Toshiba HD-XA2 at 1080i resolution.
Black-level performance on the TH-50PH9UK was as solid as we've seen from any plasma, with the notable exception of the superb Pioneer PDP-5080HD. Dark scenes looked punchy and realistic, from the dark of the letterbox bars to the shadows around Evie's hair to the inky jet of V's all-black costume, although they didn't look any darker than on last year's 9UK. We appreciated the detail in shadows as well; the folds of his cloak were visible down to the threads, and gradations from darkness up into shadow looked quite natural.
Again the Pioneer 5080 evinced a shade more detail in dark areas and the impact of its deeper black was readily apparent in our dark room. They both appeared relatively clean in shadows, although we did see more false contouring in the Panasonics than the other sets. For example, when V faces Creedy in the sewer showdown, a bulb behind his head and the flashlights of the goons evinced visible rings on the Panasonic as their light faded into shadow. The Panasonic also failed to maintain a constant level of black according to test patterns; black areas became lighter when the rest of the screen lightened. We didn't notice the effects when watching V, but the set did fail our black-level retention test.
Color is the main area where the 10UK outperforms last year's 9UK and, frankly, the Pioneer 5080HD itself (which does not allow user-menu grayscale adjustment). During Evie's run-in with the Bishop, for example, her pale skin tone looked most-natural on the 10UK, without any noticeable tinge toward green (the 9UK) or slight red (the 5080HD). It still wasn't quite as accurate as that of the FHD1, but the 10UK's superior saturation compared to that set made colors pop nicely. Of course, saturation looked even richer on the 5080HD, again owing to its deeper black levels. Compared to the more expensive Vizio LCD, the Panasonic looked much better overall, specifically in terms of black-level performance and color accuracy.
As usual with Panasonic plasmas, however, the primary color of green was not accurate. We could see the difference in the grassy field that Evie imagines in her captivity, which looked much more natural on all of the other sets aside from the 9UK. We suspect the inaccurate green will be difficult to spot in program material outside of a direct comparison, but it's worth mentioning anyway that the 10UK has one of the least-accurate primary colors of green we've measured in a while.
Although it has a native resolution of "only" 1,366x768, the TH-50PH10UK looked plenty sharp even next to the 1080p Vizio and PRO-FHD1. In fact, we found it impossible to see the extra detail until we moved to about 5 feet from the screen--and we don't recommend anybody sit that close to a 50-inch plasma. We also kept a close eye out for artifacts caused by scaling the 1080i signal to fit the plasma's native pixels, and didn't spot any while watching V or other program material. The Panasonic did fail to properly de-interlace 1080i film-based sources, but again we didn't notice the effects while watching that film. During our go-to real-world 1080i de-interlace test, however, the scene at the end of Chapter 6 in Ghost Rider when the camera sweeps up over the highway, the telltale grille of the RV showed moving lines and artifacts that were more apparent than on the PRO-FHD1, which does de-interlace 1080i film-based material properly. In case you're keeping track, the TH-50PH10UK cannot accept 1080p sources via HDMI or DVI, but can take them via component-video.
The Panasonic's glass screen reflected a good deal of ambient light, so with the lights on in the room, its picture washed out quite a bit--more so than either the matte-screened Vizio or the 5080HD, which has a relatively effective antireflective screen.
With standard-def sources, tested using the HQV DVD via component-video, the Panasonic TH-50PH10UK delivered a lackluster performance. We saw flicker on the color bar resolution patters, although the display did resolve every line of the DVD format and the details in the stone bridge and grass were relatively sharp. The set failed to remove jagged edges from moving diagonal lines, and as a result we saw unnatural jaggies along the folds of the waving American flag. The Panasonic does include an on/off noise-reduction function, and when engaged it did clean up a fair bit of the moving motes of noise in the disc's low-quality shots of skies and sunsets, although NR on the Pioneer sets worked better. Finally, the set failed the 2:3 pull-down detection test from HQV, leaving moire in the grandstands behind the race car, and again showing jagged edges and other interlace artifacts in the upturned boats from the initial pan in Star Trek Insurrection.
As you might expect from a display designed as a monitor, the TH-50PH10UK performed very well with computer signals. Via both analog VGA and digital DVI, the panel perfectly resolved every detail of the maximum 1,366x768 resolution, there was no overscan, and text looked perfectly crisp. When testing DVI, we did detect minor strobing in the light-gray vertical scroll bar alongside our DisplayMate software window, but couldn't reproduce it elsewhere and don't consider it a major issue.
|Before color temp (20/80)
|After color temp
|Before grayscale variation
|After grayscale variation
|Color of red (x/y)
|Color of green
|Color of blue
|No stable pattern
|Defeatable edge enhancement
|480i 2:3 pull-down, 24 fps
|1080i video resolution
|1080i film resolution
|Picture on (watts)
|Picture on (watts/sq. inch)
|Cost per year
|Score (considering size)