Vizio P50HD review: Vizio P50HD

Like all 50-inch plasmas, the Vizio P50HDTV has a native resolution of 1,366x768, which provides plenty of pixels to display every detail of 720p HDTV sources. All sources, including computers, HDTV, and standard-def, are scaled to fit the available pixels.

The Vizio's feature package is definitely its weakest point, but you can't expect the moon and the stars at this price. As we mentioned at the outset, it lacks Digital Cable Ready capability. The omission of the CableCard slot means you'll need to use an external box to watch digital cable. However, this might not be a big deal when you consider CableCard lacks several features found on digital cable boxes, such as dual-tuner DVR capability and video-on-demand.

While we weren't surprised by the CableCard-free feature set, the lack of selectable color-temperature presets was a shocker. A more accurate preset would be a boon given the P50HDTV's relatively blue out-of-the-box color temperature (see Performance). Vizio included several global picture modes to choose from, with different picture presets for different viewing environments. In the advanced menu section, we found Dynamic Contrast and Fleshtone features--both of these should be turned off for the best picture performance. The only real convenience feature worth mentioning is PIP (picture-in-picture), for keeping tabs on more than one program at a time.

Happily the company didn't skimp in the most important area of features: connectivity. This is one of the few HDTVs we've reviewed with two HDMI inputs, which are becoming increasingly desirable given the proliferation of HDMI-equipped DVD players and set-top boxes and the dearth of HDMI-switching receivers. The set provides two component-video inputs, two S-Video inputs, two composite-video inputs, one VGA analog RGB input for PC hookup (1,024x768 at 60Hz is the recommended resolution), a set of analog audio outputs, and a headphone jack. It is a bit odd that the headphone jack sits on the back panel rather than on the front, where it would be much easier to access.

The Vizio P50HDTV handles most of the key picture-performance areas very well. The black-level performance of this panel is quite good, achieving a convincingly inky black in the darkest scenes--something that few plasmas can claim.

However, we noticed a couple of problems. First, the Vizio P50HDTV doesn't pass blacker-than-black signals, which are key to achieving the best contrast ratio. The other, larger issue is the visibility of false-contouring artifacts, which are most prominent in dark scenes, although they're also visible in some bright material. Chapters 2 and 3 of the Alien: Director's Cut DVD revealed the contouring artifacts, which appeared as shimmering masses of indistinct color near black. We also saw this issue in a relatively bright scene at the opening of the Vertical Limit Superbit DVD, which contains a long pan of a cliff side with a few of these indistinct areas.

Since the P50HDTV offers no selectable color-temperature settings, you are stuck with the relatively blue grayscale as it comes from the factory (see the geek box). After calibrating the panel, which provided only three global gain controls instead of the usual five or six, we discovered that the gamma tracking isn't as good as we expect in a plasma. A strong indication of this is the unevenness of the grayscale from top to bottom, which affects color accuracy; for example, it tinges gray areas with some green and red. On the other hand, the Vizio's color decoding is quite accurate. Consequently, color saturation and skin-tone rendition looked excellent after calibration.

We were pleased to find that the panel passes all the resolution from 720p HDTV sources. Oddly enough, this is something most displays can't do, even though their native resolution is either exactly 1,280x720 or an even higher 1,366x768, as in the case of the Vizio.

HD material from our DirecTV HD satellite feed looked quite impressive. Color saturation and detail were both excellent. Dark scenes showed some false-contouring artifacts, but the overall picture quality was very good.

Before color temp (20/80)7,550/8,600KPoor
After color temp (20/80)6,400/6,900KAverage
Before grayscale variation+/- 1,883KPoor
After grayscale variation+/- 225KAverage
Overscan2.5 percentGood
Color decoder error: red-10 percentAverage
Color decoder error: green-5 percentGood
DC restorationAll patterns stableGood
2:3 pull-down, 24fpsYesGood
Defeatable edge enhancementYesGood