Color rendition was usually the forte of the Panasonic due mainly to a factory grayscale calibration that erred only slightly (toward excess green). The Samsung's noticeable bluish bias even in WARM 1 (WARM 2 had worse errors) was obvious in black-and-white scenes, while its color decoder's red push tended to accentuate flesh tones unless the color control was reduced from optimum to compensate. The Toshiba, as mentioned before, imparted a slight reddish tint to black-andwhite pictures, which could be seen in the grays of color pictures, as well. None of these sets (in their WARM setting) had severe grayscale errors in black-and-white pictures, but even small color tints to black and white have a significant effect on the final color picture. The Hand of Fatima, an incredible mountain climbing adventure on VOOM's Rush channel, provided an example. All three sets showed the rock in the mountain as a slightly different color, with the Panasonic looking closest to the gray of actual rock. An ISF calibration would correct all three and level the playing field here.
While none of these sets excelled at DC restoration (the ability to hold a constant level of black as the picture changes from dark to bright), the Toshiba did it best and was the only set capable of fading impressively to nearly coal black when the scene demanded, while never crushing blacks on brighter scenes. The Samsung wasn't too far behind (and could be improved via the service menu), but the Panasonic had a real problem with this. If its brightness control was adjusted to perfection with real program material, so that blacks within brighter scenes weren't crushed (i.e. so dark that all detail within them is lost), the set looked washed out on darker scenes and could fade to a fullscreen "black" not much darker than that of an LCD set—disgraceful for a CRT television. This is CRT technology's one big claim to fame over the flat panels and the main attribute that should make it rule in dark environments!
Accuracy of primary colors (primarily green) is another CRT advantage over flat-panel designs, and these sets were no exception. Gone were the dreadful lime greens so common to many newer designs; soccer fields on VOOM's Worldsport channel actually resembled the true color of grass (unlike any of the flat-panel sets I've tested), especially when viewed on the Samsung and Toshiba. Reds were also reddest on the Samsung followed by the Panasonic. The Toshiba's reds were a bit on the orange side, which occasionally stood out in actual viewing.
Other differences in HD picture quality were subtle compared to those above and most of these observations carried over to all other sources.
The DVD performance of these three sets, especially the Toshiba, was quite good with either an interlaced or progressive source. While CRT sets struggle showing HD detail due to picture tube limitations, they have no such problem with the lower resolution of DVDs and seldom take a backseat to any comparably sized flat panels. The Toshiba, which looked a touch soft on HD compared to the others, was right up there with DVDs.
Dark movies like Master and Commander (especially with room lights out) were stunning on the Toshiba, less so on the Samsung, and somewhat washed out on the Panasonic, if brightness controls were all set perfectly using medium-tobrighter scenes. Of course, you could get stunning dark scenes and blacks even on the Panasonic if you were willing to accept excessive contrast and slightly crushed blacks on brighter scenes. Just turn the brightness control lower. And, if you don't make the effort to properly adjust the brightness control on each of these sets, none of this will matter anyway.
DVI and HDMI connections for HD, often magical for fully digital displays like DLP, are typically no improvement over component connections with CRT-based sets—either direct-view or rear projection. But DVD players with such outputs (like my Pioneer Elite DV59AVi or the inexpensive V, Inc. Bravo 2) typically show better detail with a significant reduction of artifacts of various sorts.
With DVDs, each of the sets looked better using its DVI (or HDMI) input. With the Samsung, SVM was no longer operational and movies just looked cleaner, less etched, and more artifactfree. The other two sets showed a similar, if less pronounced improvement. While both the Pioneer Elite and V, Inc. players are capable of scaling to 720p/1080i, 480p was the preferred scan-rate for all three TVs. Thankfully, full control over picture adjustment is provided by all of these sets for DVI/HDMI sources.
With standard cable, competition was ever so close. The Samsung, perhaps due to its SVM, usually looked the sharpest, and the Panasonic, with effective, switchable video noise reduction, looked cleaner than the other two on a handful of stations that were plagued by noise. But on most stations and in most respects (aside from the differences we've already discussed) there was no big winner or loser.