The good news is that the TH-50PH9UK has hot-swappable inputs housed on removable boards. The set comes with two boards preinstalled--the component-video input on one and the composite and S-Video inputs on another (the VGA input is fixed). There is also an empty bay for adding a board your choice. We strongly recommend purchasing the optional HDMI board mentioned above for this slot. You can also remove existing slots and change them to suit your system's needs. Also, note that although there are only four total slots, you can connect more gear by utilizing an HDMI- or component-video switching device, such as some A/V receivers. In terms of reference-quality picture performance, the Panasonic industrial models, which have been among our favorites for several years, have recently been eclipsed by the latest generation of Pioneer panels. (See our review of the Pioneer PDP-5070HD for details.) That is because Pioneer has finally made its black-level performance competitive with the best Panasonic models, if not quite equal to them, while delivering more accurate primary colors, which means overall color accuracy is better on the Pioneers. With that said, you will pay a premium for the Pioneer over the Panasonic. Therefore, the TH-50PH9UK does represent the absolute best value-to-performance ratio in its size and category.
We began our evaluation of the Panasonic TH-50PH9UK by calibrating it for a darkened room using the Toshiba HD-A1 HD-DVD player as the primary source. Even before calibration, the TH-50PH9UK exhibited really good out-of-the-box performance compared to that of most other 50-inch plasma panels (see the geek box, below). If you check out the box, you'll notice that the Kelvin numbers are a little closer prior to grayscale calibration; however, the post calibration is actually more accurate and produces the better picture. The reason for this is that you can be very close to 6,500K and be significantly plus or minus green in the grayscale. In the calibration process, we fixed the plus-green problem, and the Kelvin numbers got a little bit worse. To see all of the final picture settings we used, click the Tips & Tricks tab at the top of the page.
As we have come to expect from the Panasonic industrial models, the color decoding was extremely acurate with no red push whatsoever. This resulted in excellent color saturation. Gamma and grayscale tracking were pretty decent, which resulted in solid overall color reproduction and exceptionally natural-looking skin tones. The Panasonic's weakness comes in the area of primary color accuracy. Red is reasonably close to the ATSC standard, but green is way off and heavily pushed toward yellow, making grass and trees, for example, look unrealistic.
Black-level performance remains among the Panasonic's main strengths. In fact, it could be argued that the TH-50PH9UK is better at black than any other panel on the market. Opening scenes from the HD-DVD version of Unforgiven were rendered perfectly with every bit of shadow detail visible, as well as blacks that were truly inky in nature. Thanks to the excellent blacks, the brighter scenes in the movie also had a real snap or pop to them, indicating an excellent contrast ratio, largely due to black level performance. Chapter four of Training Day, also on HD-DVD, was razor sharp, with even the most subtle details clearly visible.
Panasonic also made one big improvement with the 9UK series: it fixed the floating black problem of the previous 8UK generation, earning a passing grade in the black-level retention test in the geek box. The darkness of black areas is now constant and doesn't change depending on how bright or dark the picture content is, which helps improve details in shadows.
|Before color temp (20/80)||6,400/6,500K||Good|
|After color temp||6,500/6,800K||Average|
|Before grayscale variation||+/- 97K||Good|
|After grayscale variation||+/- 278K||Average|
|Color of red (x/y)||0.660/0.330||Average|
|Color of green||0.261/0.663||Poor|
|Color of blue||0.147/0.061||Good|
|Black-level retention||All patterns stable||Good|
|2:3 pull-down, 24fps||Yes||Good|
|Defeatable edge enhancement||Yes||Good|
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