In the realm of TVs, Panasonic is known for making some of the best plasma sets available. But it’s not just a plasma company. After reviewing the superb TH-50PX60U plasma in Issue 73, I was curious to see how the company’s rear-projection TVs stack up.
These days, we’re focusing on 1080p sets now that HD DVD and Blu-ray players are becoming more readily available, so Panasonic sent us the PT-61DLX76, a 61-inch model built around Texas Instruments’ popular Digital Light Processing (DLP) technology.
Boasting a resolution of 1920x1080, the 61DLX76 has an onboard digital TV tuner and a CableCARD slot, which means you can receive high-def programming over the air or via cable without having to hook up an external tuner or cable box. And for those who choose to follow this path to HD, the set provides TV Guide On Screen, a free electronic program guide (EPG). The TV offers plenty of input options, including an SD memory card slot, which is great for impromptu slide shows when you don’t feel like firing up the computer.
Like so many RPTVs today, this one has a dynamic iris that closes down on dark scenes and opens up on bright ones, which increases the difference between the darkest and brightest images. Manufacturers love this because it lets them claim excessive contrast ratios in their spec sheets (12,500:1 in this case). Sure, the higher number looks good on paper, but I find the changing brightness caused by an active iris to be very distracting, which is why I left it turned off.
The remote is a universal type capable of controlling up to three devices in addition to the TV. It’s not illuminated, but it has nice, large buttons that are easy to find by feel. As with virtually all universal TV remotes, there are no direct-access buttons to select inputs; instead, the TV/Videdeo button takes you to an onscreen list of inputs that you can choose from.
The menu system’s organization is okay, but its execution is poor. For one thing, its coarsely pixelated block letters look like a holdover from a 1970s arcade game. When you select a picture control to adjust, the main menu disappears, which is good, but the control stays in the middle of the screen, obscuring the image you’re trying to improve.
Making matters worse, the control sits on a flaming-bright yellow background.
One of the key areas I evaluate is how a TV renders dark images, especially the black parts. The best TVs have a low “black level,” which means they can produce deep, inky blacks that make the picture “pop.” On sets with a high black level, blacks look washed out, even dark gray in the worst cases, making images look uninvolving and less realistic. Many DLP rear-pros do fairly well in this area, but the 61DLX76 isn’t one of them. It came up short in the black department, which didn’t bode well for its overall picture quality.
Looking at the HQV Benchmark DVD, fine lines were clearly discernible in the detail tests, but there were lots of jagged lines or “jaggies” in test clips like the one showing a waving American flag, which indicated poor motion processing. MPEG NR (noise reduction) softened the picture a bit, so I left it off.
The set’s processor was slow to compensate for the conversion from film’s 24 frames per second to video’s 30fps with a 480i signal from DVD. Even worse, it never seemed to recognize it at 1080i from HD DVD; for example, on clips from an HD DVD test disc, diagonal edges of hockey-rink safety glass and the boundary between a black car hood and its silver trim showed lots of jaggies, and a screen door was awash in wavy, jittery lines.
Moving to regular program material, I turned to Star Trek: Insurrection on DVD. Detail in the hay bales at the beginning of the movie was sharp, but when the camera panned over the village, the picture looked a bit soft. This happens with all TVs to one degree or another—moving objects and camera pans reduce the apparent resolution of the image—but it looked worse on this set than others.
Shadow detail in the observation post was also poor, with large patches of solid dark gray obscuring much of the image. As expected, the black of space looked washed out, and the black letterbox bars did not “disappear” as they do on TVs that produce blacks that are, well, black. Color was fairly good, with natural skin tones, but the green foliage was a bit overhyped.
Watching U-571 on HD DVD, fine detail such as beads of sweat and complex submarine controls were crisply rendered, though objects in motion suffered the same fate as they did on DVD, losing more of their detail than I’ve seen on other TVs. Color was generally good, but as with DVD, shadow detail was lost in dark scenes like the nighttime ambush.