Black level is critical to achieving the elusive “suspension of disbelief” when watching movies at home. A display with a high black level tends to look washed out, especially in dark scenes, serving as a constant reminder that you are looking at a video display rather than watching the action through a window. Panasonic plasma panels have a welldeserved reputation as the kings of black, and the TH-50PX60U is no exception, besting all other flat panels in this issue in terms of that particular criterion.
Input-wise, the TH- 50PX60U is adequate, with two HDMI, two component, three S-video, and three Black Level Champ composite, but no VGA. One RF input serves the integrated NTSC/ATSC/QAM tuners; there is no CableCARD slot. Also included is an SD flash-memory slot for viewing photos—a nice touch for those who use that memory format.
The pixel resolution is 1366x768, and the contrast ratio is claimed to be up to 10,000:1. As always, this is highly exaggerated from real-world results (see “Measurements”), but the full-field and 100-percent-window peak contrast ratios we measured were both respectable (1393:1 and 2707:1, respectively), due in large part to the low black level.
This set implements Panasonic’s HDAVI integrated-control scheme, which integrates the control of compatible equipment from the TV remote (or the remote of another HDAVI device). The control signals are transmitted via HDMI, facilitating things like power on/off, onetouch playback with automatic input switching, and so on.
For an extra $500, you can get the TH-50PX600U, which is identical to the 50PX60U with the addition of CableCARD with TV Guide On Screen, an enhanced sound system, VGA input, and a split screen from two different sources; surprisingly, the 60U model has no picturein- picture function. Are these items worth $500? Only you can decide for yourself, but I wouldn't spend the extra dough.
Like most TVs these days, the remote for this one is a universal type that can control up to three devices in addition to the TV. It’s not illuminated, which isn’t really a problem, since many of the buttons are huge and easy to find in the dark. One organizational quirk is that the Mute button is far from the Volume Up/ Down rocker.
As usual, there are no direct-select input buttons; in fact, there is no button labeled Input, Source, or anything like that. Instead, the TV/Video button calls up a list of inputs, which you can select by pressing the corresponding number button. This labeling is a holdover from the old VCR days when the TV had to be tuned to channel 3. Panasonic, get with the 21st century.
Normally, I wish manufacturers would not include universal remotes with their TVs. If a user wants a universal remote, there are much better ones on the market than those that come with TVs. In this case, however, it makes more sense with the HDAVI system—as long as you stick with compatible Panasonic products, (which limits your choices). Also, this particular remote is not particularly well-designed to perform as a universal controller.
The menu system is reasonably wellorganized, though it requires a button push to enter each main item. I prefer to see each submenu immediately when a main menu item is selected. Adjusting a picture control causes the rest of the menu to disappear, but the selected parameter remains where it was rather than moving to the bottom of the screen as it should. Also, the user controls are associated with the picture modes, not the inputs, which means you must assign different modes to the inputs in order to adjust the user controls independently. For a lot of users, this is not the preferred way of doing things.
Out of the box, color decoding was incorrect, color saturation was too high, and sharpness was too high, leading to visible ringing around edges. Unlike most factory settings, the black level was pretty good, though it varied dynamically with overall brightness of the image; this seems to be disabled in the Cinema picture mode. Gamma was incorrect and is not adjustable.
Adjusting the color and tint controls did not completely correct the decoder—there was still some red push—and it changed the position of the color secondaries (yellow, magenta, cyan), indicating an error in the system. To correct for the red push, TPV video specialist David Abrams reduced the color control, which incorrectly desaturated the other primary colors.
As we turned to the HQV Benchmark DVD, the detail looked fine, but the lowangle diagonals did not, and the waving flag had clear jaggies. The set's Video NR (noise-reduction) control didn’t seem to do much, while the MPEG NR control did a bit more; in any event, the noise level wasn’t bad. The set locks onto 3:2 pulldown reliably but slowly, taking more than a second. On a 1080i 3:2 clip, it never seemed to lock on at all, though a montage of images looked pretty clean except for the low-angle diagonals in panning shots from a hockey game, which exhibited some jaggies.