After calibrating the grayscale, I settled in to watch a variety of video, from pristine HDTV programs, to DVD movies, to highly compressed DirecTV images from satellite (ugggh, when will the Food Network finally be in HDTV?). After a while I began to realize something—I’d started to forget I was watching a plasma display!
Usually plasmas have a personality that no other display has—including green trails following images in motion, high-ish absolute black levels, false-contouring, and a variety of other digital artifacts. And while no plasma is completely free from such anomalies, the P50XHA30WS’s were not nearly as apparent as they are with most other panels. Only minimal scaling/motion artifacts were occasionally noticeable, and most importantly, the Fujitsu offered the best black-level performance I’d seen from a plasma.
The best way to judge how good a display is is to feed it the best sources. I was quite happy with how the Fujitsu looked with standard-def satellite (for what that’s worth), but this unit really shined with HDTV and DVD images. I was fortunate to see a nice variety of HD programs that showed a ton of detail in both bright and dark scenes; there was even an A’s/Angels baseball night game that made me feel as if I were in the stands. DVD movies also had much more depth as a result of better detail in the blacks. My wife bought The Matrix Reloaded while we had the plasma and though I’m totally lost on the plot, the resolution in this great transfer made it fun to watch, even with dark imagery that would trip up other plasmas.
The contrast ratio of this unit—spec’d at 3000:1!—is not only representative of how high its light output is, but of how good (read dark) its black level is. In addition to terrific absolute blacks, the Fujitsu delivers shadow detail in the darkest areas of the image with clarity and without the false-contouring artifacts that earlier plasmas showed. In fact, if I had to single out a specification that a plasma display must have to make me even consider purchasing it, it would not be its pixel count—it would be a high contrast ratio. And the Fujitsu has that in spades!
The video processing that Fujitsu developed and integrated into its current plasma line is dubbed AVM, which stands for Advanced Video Movement. AVM, according to Fujitsu training director David Fink, is the process that separates the “old” Fujitsu and the “new” Fujitsu displays with regard to picture quality. AVM is a complete process that includes deinterlacing, scaling, colorspace processing, and A/D conversion for analog signals. It’s flexible enough to divert its computing power to other areas when appropriate, meaning, for example, that if a signal being input is already at the unit’s native rate, the processing that would have been used for scaling to a different resolution can now be used for other things. In a nutshell, it’s a very efficient processor, and that ultimately results in exceptional image quality from HD signals and standard-def video.
In the process of watching a variety of signals I was surprised by the lack of apparent difference between the DVI signal from my Samsung SIR-TS160 STB (set-top box) and its component-video counterpart. Yes, I know that most will say that HDTV via DVI should blow away the component version, but I actually thought the component image looked just a hair better. I admit that this is some serious hair-splitting, but there seemed to be just a hint of noise in the dark areas with the DVI signal, while there was none with component. Ultimately I’d be happy with either, but it’s still interesting.
It may be possible to find a 50" plasma for a little less money than the P50XHA30WS, but if there was ever a case where I’d recommend opening the ol’ wallet just a bit wider, this would be it. Plasma displays aren’t all the same, regardless of how they might look on a spec sheet. The benefits of this set’s high contrast ratio (for a plasma) combined with its AVM processing are not done justice in the specifications. This is something you’ll just have to see first-hand to fully appreciate. If you’re looking for a hot 50" plasma display, look no further than the Fujitsu P50XHA30WS.