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.