Panasonic VX100 (TH-50VX100) Plasma TV Review

With Enthusiasts looking for the next generation of reference screen, this professional monitor may fit the bill for some��

by Phil Hinton
SRP: £3,800.00

Introduction

We have already reviewed the 65inch VX100 from Panasonic back in December and were mightily impressed with its performance. However, that screen also came with a monster price tag where, only those enthusiasts with the deepest pockets could even consider adding it to their systems. Indeed, the new range of VX screens from Panasonic are aimed squarely at the custom installation markets, where a screen such as the 65inch would be spec’d alongside a top end video processor and reference sound system. But, what about this 50inch model? Well this is where we feel the VX100 range can appeal to more AVForums members, as the price tag and performance levels are within reach for a greater number of videophiles. It’s still an expensive proposition at £3800 and of course its main rival in the shape of the Pioneer Kuros are still available and cost less money. So just what kind of performance can the TH-50VX100 offer and how does it compare to what many – including me – still think is the reference point for a consumer TV?

Set up

The first thing that struck me on delivery of this display is the printed text on the TV packaging declaring, “HD Custom Home Theater Plasma Display”. There is no doubt after reading that where Panasonic see this screen being used. Indeed, on opening and unpacking this screen, it screams high-end and high quality right from the off. The bezel is a sublime matt coloured metal finish with straight edged joins instead of the usual 45 degree standard. Now, some might not like this dull look to the TV’s frame, but when you see as many displays as we do here at AVForums reviews, it’s refreshing to get away from the gloss black finish now and again.

It is also clear that the VX100 has been designed as a professional reference monitor, with removable video input boards, lifting handles on the top rear panel and a build quality that puts every other TV I have reviewed to shame. This is a solid and heavy beast which certainly looks the part. Saying all that there is one thing that lets the side down and that is the remote control. For such a premium product, the chunky plastic feel of the remote is a big disappointment. Like the Kuros, it would have been a nice touch for such a product to have had a machined metal finish to match the display it controls.

Of course the TH-50VX100 is also a display monitor and not a consumer TV, so there are no in-built, analogue, digital or HD tuners available within. End users will have to feed the panel with an out board tuner such as a Sky+HD box or other type of set top box. And with a product of this pedigree the use of a high quality video processor or Blu-ray player is a must to get the absolute best from it.

Moving around the back, and we have the unique Panasonic approach of using input boards to customise the display for whatever environment and source chain the end user might wish to employ. On the sample we have for review, it features an out of the box configuration of 4 HDMI inputs, 1 Component, 1 VGA and an Rs232 control port. However, you can configure these inputs using other boards that can be supplied with options such as HD-SDI and BNC components to name just two. This makes the VX100 a versatile product for any type of Home cinema installation or professional studio set up.

Once set up with a Sky+HD box and Denon DVD2500BT Blu-ray player as sources, it was time to have a look through the menu system. As you would expect for a professional product there is nothing fancy or flowery about the layout of the menus. They are functional and straight forward, which makes them easy to navigate and understand. The main page is split into four groups; Picture, Setup, Position/Size, Sound, and Options. As I was using a Yamaha RX-V1900 to drive our reference speakers (XTZ 99.38/99.25/99.26 and SW12DSP) the sound options were greyed out. There are connections on the rear panel for adding small TV speakers or monitors if required, but as this TV is designed for a full AV set up, that’s how we used it here.

Looking through the picture menus to start with, you have Normal, Dynamic, Cinema and Monitor options under picture mode. If you get this screen ISF calibrated then these options change slightly, with Dynamic and Cinema replaced with ISF day and ISF night modes. One disappointment with the ISF mode (menu and password hidden) is that it doesn’t give us any further useful controls over gamma or colour management. Indeed, colour management remains as an on/off selection on this screen like the consumer models, with no 3D management at all! So basically the ISF mode is just a further memory setting to add to the 16 memory selections available for each input. This seems like a missed opportunity if I’m honest, if Panasonic had given us full gamma control and a 3D Colour Management System (RGBYCM – hue, brightness & saturation) for gamut correction within the hidden menu, it would have made calibration control far more accurate for this premium screen.

Moving through the rest of the picture menu we have the usual main controls and white balance (colour temperature) presets for ‘Warm, Normal and Cool’. (For setting a manual colour temperature you can use one of these presets as your starting point, usually Warm). Next up is the advanced setting button which takes us to a new menu page which has the manual controls for colour temperature, picture processing, black extension, input level (slight gamma adjustment), Gamma and automatic gain control.

Depending on how you have configured the VX100 for input signals will affect what you can use in this menu area. If you set the input as an external scaler, it will grey out the vast majority of the picture set up options within the display so these can be controlled by the out board processor you have selected to use. During this review, I tried both options to see how the VX100 would handle differing approaches.

The remaining menus allow positioning of the image, power management, OSD settings, signal and screensaver modes along with sound and options buttons which are greyed out. The options button will give you access to further controls such as function buttons (test patterns), studio mode and aspect control. The ISF memory is also accessed through this options button. To gain access you have to hold select down on the remote for 3 seconds to access these controls. The ISF mode needs a password.

So with everything set up and menus explored, it was time to get out the measuring gear to see just how close this premium screen was to industry standards for image reproduction of film and broadcast material.

Test Results

Calibration: Before and After

As you would expect from a professional monitor the out of the box performance did not have any of the usual over pushing of blue in the image to look vivid or dynamic for a showroom. Indeed, even in dynamic mode, the image was not as garish and overblown than on a consumer TV, but it’s also not a preset I would ever recommend. Switching to ‘Cinema’ mode and colour temperature ‘Warm’ was interesting and like the consumer models from Panasonic, it looked more natural but had too much red for my liking. This was later confirmed with our first measurements of the VX100 in these modes.

Just a quick note here about our calibrations from now on. We have changed over to the CalMAN professional software as this offers us a far better suite of measurements and testing for review purposes. Plus the interface and results are displayed in a more sensitive and accurate manner, so even though graphs like greyscale might show up as being not entirely flat, the actual results are usually very accurate in terms of DeltaE errors. Plus this new software also allows us to show the luminance values which are especially useful when looking at the primary and secondary colour points of a display. This new suite of test results are hopefully easier for readers to follow and provide a step up over our old software.

As you can see the greyscale mix out of the box was wide, but not as bad as some consumer models. The results here back up what I had seen on initial viewing, but the tracking of all three colours was uniformly straight and would suggest that they could be easily calibrated back to 100% each. The other interesting aspect of the measurements is the colour gamut and the fact it is wide of the Rec.709 standard. This is not normally an issue, but the VX100 does not offer an adjustable 3D colour management system (RGBCYM-Hue, Brightness, Saturation).

Normally this would mean that we would have to accept the gamut issues, however, as this is a professional panel I tested the colour decoder (Colour control in the main menu). Normally we would leave this alone as adjustment can cause errors in the decoder if it doesn’t work in a linear manner. So out of the box, the image looked slightly red especially with skin tones and strong primaries due to the colour points luminance points also proving to be very bright with DeltaE errors well over and in to double figures. However, using a panel such as this in a system requires that it is properly calibrated in the source chain, to not do this to industry standards would, in my opinion be criminal. So what were we able to do?

As you can see the greyscale mix was easy to bring into line and offered an overall DeltaE error of 1.3. This was fantastic as anything under 4 is usually not visible in the image. (Note: the 20ire and below points are a result of the iOne Pro probe not being able to read the lower end as accurately as the rest of the scale. To get anything that comes close to getting the lower points measured any more accurate, will require equipment costing tens of thousands. The iOne Pro is probably one of the only probes to offer an all-round performance under £2k. We were happy that there was no error below 20ire, as any real push is easily seen at these levels in the blacks).

Although tracking accurately it did take a few sweeps back and forth to obtain our results, but as always it’s never a case of just doing each point once! Looking back at the Gamut, the corrected greyscale brought back magenta to where it should be compared to out of the box, but of course we have no CMS to correct the wide gamut. However, although wide, each point fell almost bang on where they should be, just slightly wider than the rec.709 triangle.

As I mentioned I was interested to see if we could try and improve the luminance results for the colour points as they were to bright. So with some experimentation and checking at various stim points, I used the colour decoder control to dial down without adding in any linearity issues or errors. In the end, I managed some good results, which brought the intensity of the points down to more acceptable levels, even if we couldn’t dial in a perfect gamut. The result was sublime and I was hard pushed to notice any difference between the calibration results here and our LX5090 Reference Kuro fully calibrated (When side by side).

Even though the points are wide, the reduction in luminance values and the fact that the Panasonic has good control on its colour performance, there was no sign of obvious oversaturation in any of the wide and varied material the display was fed. So I eventually managed to obtain an image I was very happy with and which was not that far away from being perfect. However, I have to ask Panasonic again to include a 3D CMS in future. When budget panels from the likes of LG can manage to offer this, you would imagine that Panasonic with their size and expertise could do the same for both the consumer and Professional ranges.

So moving on, just how well does the Panasonic TH-50VX100 perform and what would we find by running it side by side with the Kuro?

Picture quality

The first thing that hits you about the image quality is a lack of PWM noise (often seen on plasma screens as a ‘tizzing’ in bright white areas). This lack of noise is sublime and allows the fine details of the image to come to the fore. And its fine detail that this Panasonic produces with a nice sharpness and with excellent gradations in both colour performance and out of black shadow detail. I was knocked back by the quality and detail and it is by far this displays biggest selling point. There is a lot of talk about depth of field and three dimensional images on the forums and the Panasonic probably gives the best demonstration of these qualities when the image fed in calls for it. (Obviously you cannot add in what is not there!). There is a natural look to both film and broadcast material; where the fine detail reproduction and lack of noise produce some of the best images I have seen so far from a Plasma display.

However, this stunningly good image quality and good contrast does have a few draw backs with the biggest of these being the black levels. The VX100 does not produce as deep a black as our reference Kuro screen. This is most obvious with scope footage. Where the Pioneer has deep and silky black bars that blend with the black bezel of the TV, the VX100 is just lacking that final drop in to out right black. I would never describe the blacks as dark grey, but there is a distinct lack of black level when side by side with the Kuro. However, although the final black performance is lacking, I did find that the VX100 handled gradations out of black in a far more convincing and fluid manner. Where the Kuro goes from 0ire to 10ire using its processing power (we are all aware that it is the electronics behind the Kuro that produces it’s contrast performance), the Panasonic does this in a smoother manner, adding in detail in the lower reaches that the Kuro doesn’t produce as convincingly. Of course, the Kuro has a deeper black level and I still think this is what most people will ultimately desire in a display panel.

So, after running the VX100 on its own and with the Kuro by it’s side, I was left with quite a confused outlook. You see, there will never be a perfect display as each technology offers pros and cons. It is up to the end user to decide what is important to them for playback and what they can do without.

There is no doubt in my mind, after calibrating the VX100 within a inch of its life that it is a fantastic display and will find a home in many high-end systems. It does things better than the Kuro in terms of image noise and fine detail reproduction. That is not to say that the Pioneer looks soft in anyway, it is just that the Panasonic manages that little bit more image wise thanks to its clean PWM noise level with finer gradations of colour and shadow detail. On the other hand, the VX100 is not as good handling ultimate black levels against the Kuro and it will suffer if room lighting is not well designed. Unlike the Pioneer, the VX100 does not have any kind of filter to reject ambient light so if stray light does hit the screen, it ultimately washes the image out. So you have your plus points for both displays and it will ultimately depend on what matters the most to you at this level of screen. And lets be honest when you have two displays which each perform well above average, when compared to peers in the plasma and the rest of the display world, what we are seeing here is the splitting of hairs.

Ultimately the choice is going to be difficult if you are in the market for a quality reference image, but there just may be more playing against the VX100 than the Pioneer kuro at this moment in time. Given the slightly lacking black performance and price level of this Panasonic when compared to the strong points of the Pioneer, for the time being, the VX100 will have a slightly harder fight on its hands.

Verdict

9
AVForumsSCORE
OUT OF
10

The Good

  • Nice clean image performance with lack of PWM noise
  • Dynamic range amongst best on the market at this price point
  • Full greyscale calibration controls
  • Excellent design
  • Colour and shadow detail gradation
  • Excellent calibrated perforamnce
  • Good build quality
  • Excellent flexibility
  • Tranferable input boards, including HD-SDI options
  • Independant scaler options

The Bad

  • Oversaturated colour gamut out of the box which can be slightly tamed with calibration
  • No 3D CMS controls
  • Black levels slightly behind the best
  • Expensive

Panasonic VX100 (TH-50VX100) Plasma TV Review

With Pioneer ultimately pulling out of the market, there are many, including me, who feared that the quality end of the display market would suffer. However if the VX100 has done anything to me after spending time with it, it is that my confidence is now higher that quality will still be around in the near future. The Kuro remains our reference point for the time being, mainly because of its brilliant black level performance and price level. It is a reference screen bargain. However that doesn’t mean that this VX100 is a poor second choice. It does a lot of things slightly better within the image where it stands out as a quality option. It will become a hard decision for those looking for quality as the pros and cons are interesting and certainly worthy of debate.

The TH-50VX100 is a quality monitor that offers excellent image detail with a distinct lack of the issues that can affect every plasma screen. The lack of PWM noise combined with excellent colour and shadow detail gradation bring images to life as a quality display should. It is built like a tank and offers the kind of versatility and flexibility that the custom installation market will lap up in their droves. This level of display demands the best quality of sources as well as full professional calibration. It won’t be for everyone and is certainly an expensive proposition, but the quality is certainly there to be seen for those who want to experience it. I can’t help but recommend that if you are looking at this end of the market, make sure you get a demonstration of this screen. Highly recommended.

Highly Recommended

Scores

Smart Features

.
.
8

Ease Of Use

.
.
8

Build Quality

.
9

Value for Money

.
.
.
7

Verdict

.
9

Picture Quality

.
9

Greyscale Accuracy

.
9

Colour Accuracy

.
9

Contrast/Dynamic Range/Black Level

.
9

Screen Uniformity

.
9
9
AVForumsSCORE
OUT OF
10

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