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Panasonic TH-50&65VX100 Premiere


Despite display technology advancing quickly over the last few years the plasma is still the display type that most consumers make comparisons with for image quality. This is due to plasma being a progression from the old stable horse, the CRT. Some would argue that the plasma has reached its full potential and is at the end of its design life with other technologies catching and surpassing it in some areas. I suspect not quite yet.

Panasonics professional display team have built a home theatre range of plasma monitors, The TH-50VX100 and TH-65VX100, which are the cream of Panasonics plasma technology designed for the home theatre, bristling with features the standard models only dream of having. So let’s get straight to the key features and what they mean.

60,000:1 Contrast Ratio (40,000:1 for the 50in model)

Many people in the know aren’t totally happy with the way contrast ratios are listed by manufactures as this ratio is quite often clamped on zero, which is not what the display can actually do in regards to the relationship between deepest producible black and brightest white. However ratios can still give you an indicator of relative performance from model to model.

For a simple comparison you have the current top consumer level Panasonic plasma, the TH-65PZ850 rated at 30000:1 and the relative difference is double that for the VX100 at 60000:1, this is a pretty healthy performance difference.

Plasmas have always done well with blacks relative to other technologies like LCD, however they have always struggled to get peak whites high enough to claim high ratios. Until now that is, this unit can hit white levels only seen in LCD panels thus the ratio really starts to mean something with the VX100. It is important to note that the blacks and whites are strong and detailed and not crushed like many displays.

You will understand why in a later feature description.

A wider colour range than HDTV standard by 120%

This is described as a listed feature by Panasonic but for me and other calibrators, it is and isn’t. I’ll try and explain why.

Good saturation creates colourful images. This description actually resides in the top four of perceptual image performance. The measured gamut is outside the standard for HD except for blue, which is slightly inside the HD gamut. This mostly confirms to the wider colour gamut range claim. This means that colours are over saturated relative to the HD standard as per Rec709. However colour being a little over saturated overall is not as bad as being under saturated.


Many displays have primaries that sit inside the HD standard or a mix of inside and outside the HD standard, this can create balance problems for those systems.

What does over saturated colour mean for the VX100?

The issue is in a professional sense where one might be using this display to reference colour for broadcast or video production. This panel has the potential for doing this as its other features place it in a class of its own.

The SMPTE colour bar pattern is a precisely created reference for the chosen standard and is the typical pattern found on calibration DVDs used for setting the colour decoder. When using filters and viewing the perceived colour balance with the SMPTE colour bars, where the user sets the colour so the blue in white looks correct, the actual luminance and colour levels are usually wrong because the gamut for the SMPTE bars is the reference standard and the display is something else.

The effect for someone who is referencing a colour but unaware of this issue is that they could de-saturate the colour believing it is a bit high where in actual fact the colour is being stretched to the wider gamut. Not only that but the typical reference CIE chart that is expressed in a 2 dimensional form is actually referencing a 3 dimensional colour space and it is not just colour that falls out at the extremes that is affected, all colours within the 3 dimensional gamut can be stretched to a different location.

The compromise is to detune the colour decoder so the luminance of the primary and secondary colours is balanced to the measured white by actual error. For the home enthusiast who is using digital video essentials and filters you won’t be able to perceive this clearly, as it requires measurement equipment to measure and adjust to correct levels, however the person purchasing this type of panel would probably have a pro calibrate the VX100 anyway.

I might point out that using a calibration DVD like DVE is still the first step towards a basic calibration for the home. It still gets you closer to an accurate image for a typical display and will be accurate if the display primaries conform to the chosen standard.

From the calibrators view point the actual con for this panel is not having a CMS to manage the primary locations in “xy” and “Y” directions so as to position the primaries to the Rec709 HD standard. At the very least a native-HD standards toggle option would be a good step. Some form of control may be able to be added with a firmware update if the circuitry allows for it of course.

Although I am having a gripe about this aspect it really only affects someone who would be referencing colour with it, such is the overall quality of the VX100.

Despite the wide gamut and some careful adjustments of the colour decoder, the resulting colour error to reference is in single and low digits, perceptually very low.

As a side note, the primary locations are not far off (a little under saturated) Digital Cinema standards, which is a wider gamut than HD so has potential use for displaying DCI images. I suspect that the Panasonic engineers had this in mind when setting the primary locations. If I calibrated the white point the secondary points would nearly drop onto the reference locations on the CIE chart.

Although I have reservations about it not having the CMS control over the primary colours that a pro calibrator would like, the resulting image looks terrific relative to colourfulness and in the end that is what counts for the consumer. A pro using this panel for broadcast may need an external scaler to address the over saturation, there just so happens to be a feature for this listed later.

The industry-leading 7160 graduation & 18bit process (6144 graduation steps for 50in model)

The 7160 graduation steps is a major feature as a number of panels can have issues with posterization or banding over images especially large gradual changes. The 18bit processing smoothes out the images like seen in scenes of the sky, slow ramping images and shades of grey in shadow detail.

In fact when I was setting the brightness control I had to recheck my black point (brightness) setting over and over as I wasn’t used to seeing so much detail down low as I kept thinking I had brightness up too high. This is one of the first panels I have calibrated where I could see the black point on all 3 options for setting black point from my video generator. Usually I am forced to use a low average picture level pattern because the black point is lost in the murk when there is too much high level information.

The 18bit processor and fine graduations feature actually saves the wider gamut of this panel from banding when stretching graduations of colour out to the wider gamut.

Perceptually the 3D effect of a 2D image is lost when colour balance is off and graduations are large. When they are fine combined with a calibrated HD video image the depth of field perception just becomes more believable. It’s actually an odd thing that when the image becomes closer to real life, you forget you are watching an artificial image, this is what it is all about of course, to be sucked into the movie and forget your surroundings.

24 Adjustment menus including 6-gamma preset and 16 memories

The ability to calibrate a display can be a balancing act, having the correct controls directly relates to the achievable result, even then most display technologies can only be calibrated for one visual situation.

In this panel design there are menus listed as ISF Night, Day, Monitor, plus the standard modes for Panasonic. ISF stands for Imaging Science Foundation” and the modes have been built into the design with collaboration with ISF.

To be clear, and this can cause confusion, even though these are preset labelled ISF modes a user can select, they are not calibrated at the factory. The same applies for other panels with these presets and others like THX. Their purpose is to provide modes that can be calibrated then be chosen for a range of viewing conditions.

Except for the aforementioned CMS, the VX100 has the necessary controls needed to create a set of calibrated settings for many viewing conditions. These can be stored in 16 memories and recalled and applied to the inputs separately as the inputs themselves have individual memory locations.

The presets (ISF off), Normal, Dynamic, Cinema and Monitor or (ISF on), Normal, ISF Mode Day, ISF Mode Night and Monitor where each can have a saved memory applied. A second layer of preset is available for each of these for white balance, Normal, Cool, Studio and Warm. Where Warm is designed to be D65, Studio 3200k and then normal and cool have a progressively hotter colour temp than D65. Monitor appears to be a preset for critical viewing in light controlled conditions with quite low contrast levels.

Of course these are the presets where a calibrator can start from and use the advanced controls to set the calibration levels to the precise standards and then save them to memory.

The user who has the propensity to tweak can spend hours in here having fun. The pro calibrator has plenty of options for multiple setups.

Internal Scaler Bypass Function

For those with an external video Scaler or processor there is an option to turn off the panel scaling which bypasses any internal scaling process. Stand-alone processors can be more powerful than inbuilt systems, although there is nothing wrong with the VX100’s processing. Most would be very happy with the inbuilt capability.

With an external processor you could adjust the gamut to Rec709, however one has to be careful not to get too carried away with anything that takes the original source and push pulls it in processing. It is very easy to lose more than you gain. The ability to turn off the internal scaler is part of the flexible design, the user can choose how they want to use it.

Function Slot board

The Function Slot board is an optional input set for the 3 slots available in the back panel.

The user or installer can choose what type of input board they require for the home theatre based on what equipment they have and connection types. This isn’t normally seen in home theatre equipment, more of a cross over of professional level to home theatre.

The optional modules include SDI, DVI, HDMI and Component video inputs. You could fit all HDMI or a mix of Component video connections and HDMI or a bit of everything. SDI is found in more professional set ups like broadcasting and video production.

A very interesting design feature that makes for flexible installs for the consumer and installer. An Installers dream!

This covers the main listed features, some you have never seen before on a Panasonic consumer model and some you probably won’t see on any other panel on the market.

When calibrating panels like these, brands have a feel that is a bit like the way they can have a look, this panel reacts like Panasonic plasmas and you can feel the heritage from the general consumer models. The obvious question though that many would ask. Does it stack up to the Pioneer KURO?

In many ways, despite Pioneers possible influence over this panel, it is still a Panasonic through and through. But for comparisons sake there is some aspects we can compare.

Firstly the implementation of the ISF modes in the VX100 is far better because the user still has options or control later if they desire. The way the Pioneer works is to lock you the user out after the calibrator sets the day night modes. A number of calibrators never set the day night mode because of this, so you only have one true calibrated mode.

With the VX100 the user can choose to set ISF modes on or off, then choose to have locked settings or not. A calibrator can set up a series of saved memories for the user to select from and implement as they wish.

Blacks on Pioneers have always been their strength, however they can crush a little detail in the murk even though we like the blackness they emit, or not emit. Panasonics have always been a little lighter in the blackness you might perceive when viewing in side-by-side comparison. The VX100 has the edge because of the18bit engine, there is just more detail in the near black area. A lot of panels crush the lower regions trying hard to create blackness in the lower 5~10%, but they just lose that detail in the murk.

Some may still prefer the Pioneer look, some will prefer the VX100, and personally the VX100 gets my nod because of the extra detail you can see, a result of the 18it engine and the fact viewing conditions play a part in the viewing perception. Black always relative to the ambient light levels and nearest comparison. Combine this with the ISF modes for varying ambient light conditions (that are implemented better in the VX100) and you have a no brainer in comparison.

Contrast from the VX100 is very strong, the ISF day mode calibrated to 212cd/m^2 or 62fl, which is just as good as typical calibrated LCD panel contrast level. Plasmas quite often run out of puff about 40fl. For comparison a calibrated Pioneer 608 I did could only manage 113cd/m^2 or 33fl.

The VX100 is capable of just about double the contrast level of the Pioneer 608, this is quite impressive especially for a 65in unit.

In the ISF Day mode there is a gamma S curve option for punching mid levels high, is does make nonsense of a decent calibration, but there are times you might need punch to overcome excessive ambient light despite any colour error.

Image retention springs to mind at this point, and yes running panels this high in contrast could create conditions that might permit retention to be an issue.

Panasonic has provided anti retention functions into the panel design, called screensaver that can be set up in various ways to limit retention from occurring.

One nice feature is side panel brightness, the black bars from 4:3 images on the panel can be illuminated to lower the retention risk. Although I did find it tricky to get this working as it is linked to the aspect selection which has an option for advanced aspects that I had to activate to get the sidebars to illuminate.

In the Pos/size menu is one of the most important aspect options, 1:1 pixel mode!

One sure way to waste resolution is not to have an option to set 1:1 pixel mapping.

The VX100 has no speakers, although there are sound controls built in which have relatively low wattage drivers, the speakers are an optional extra. In all respect you would have a separate AV system with the VX100 making them redundant anyway. It got me though, I fumbled with the sound controls for a while until I realised there were no speakers.

Summary

the VX100 model is designed for the home theatre and is built around flexibility that allows for a variety of home theatre setups. The customer or installer can fit an array of different combinations of optional input sets to suit the video delivery. The ISF modes and advanced menu controls can be set up to allow for a variety of lighting conditions, along with the 18bit processing, excellent black control, powerful contrast and overall picture quality which leaves others in its wake and the Plasma has a new flag ship courtesy of Panasonic for their next generation of plasmas models.

Now some calibration reports, some panels are a mess before calibration, the VX100 is a diamond in the rough and it shows the effort Panasonic have gone to in delivering a high quality product.

I have chosen to display the default Dynamic/Warm vs. the calibrated ISF Mode Day from the 16 choices of options. This is the same mode effectively before then after calibration.

The left column is the default Dynamic Warm the calibrated ISF Mode Night is right column. The main target is Rec709 D65.


 
 
|Pre Calibration|

|Post Calibration|

 
 

Panasonic VX100 Specifications