Pros Built-in QAM tuner, Brilliant picture quality, more inputs than competitors, Speakers underneath save width of cabinet
Cons No Picture-in-picture, loose optical audio output, people without Home Theaters will wish speakers were on the side
Summary I spent roughly the last year researching big-screen TVs, spending time on CNET, AVSforum, and assorted review sites. For the longest time, I thought I would end up with Sony's new 50XBR1 with their SXRD technology. The price on the XBR is about $3499 from reputable dealers, and the list price on the TH-50PX60U is about the same. I'm a gamer, and have been terrified of plasmas for the threat of burn-in, but the more and more I read, the more it seemed like great strides had been made in reducing plasma burn-in. A friend of mine has a Panasonic plasma from a couple of generations ago, and he is an absolute Halo addict. He says he was careful not to play for the first 200 hours of TV watching (apparently, the plasma screen is far more susceptible to burn-in during this time) and now he plays his Xbox freely with no problems. The fact that I can safely game on this plasma and that it has an expected half-life (that is, the time in which it takes the overall brightness capability of the plasma screen to reduce by half) of 60,000 hours (watching 5 hours of TV a day, every day, for the next 32 years) convinced me that I should at least consider it, given that the Sony 50XBR1 is a rear-projection set, and I would be replacing the bulb at $200 a pop roughly every 2-3 years (which would be around $3000 in bulb replacement over the same 32 years span).
I went down to my local Circuit City, which offered the most competitive price on the TH-50PX60U, at $3324.99, and also offered 36 month, 0% financing. When I saw the TH-50PX60U and the 50XBR1 side by side, I would say that the HD-picture quality of the Sony was actually marginally better than that of the TH-50PX60U, but I repeat, only MARGINALLY. And when I had the CC salesman show me a non-HD feed, not only was the TH-50PX60U's picture better, but (and I would recommend you consider this when you purchase a wide-screen television) the options for stretching the picture to fill the screen caused less distortion of the image. The XBR did have Picture-in-picture, which is something I was surprised to find lacking in the Panasonic, but it basically came down to that being a luxury I could do without, when weighed against the cost of replacing a lamp.
The design of the TH-50PX60U is very intelligent, as Panasonic hides the speakers underneath the screen, rather than on the sides, making for an overall width that is less than that of many similalrly sized sets. Given that most people who choose to spend $3000+on a TV likely have home-theaters, the relative loss in dynamic stereo sound is really a negligible consideration. That said, the sound quality is actually quite good, given the size and placement of the speakers. If you don't have a home theater set-up, you may want to consider a set with speakers mounted on the sides, but given the relatively low cost of a home theater-in-a-box of moderate quality, I expect it's a non-issue for the vast majority of consumers.
Set-up of the television is easy, and the matching pedastal adds to the sleek look of the set, rather than dominating the set-up (I didn't wall-mount it, though that is possible). The other major positive of this set is its vast array of inputs. Compared to the other 50-inch plasmas that I saw at Circuit City (LG, Zenith, Hitachi, and Samsung) the TH-50PX60U had far more inputs (2 HDMI, 2 component, 3 S-Video/Composite). There is also, though this is becoming much more common, a digital audio output, meaning that the digital channels the built-in tuner does find will be output to your home theater in digital sound, including 5.1 sound for the High-Def programs which broadcast in that format. The interface on the menu screen is a little tricky at first, but once you get used to the computer-like format, it becomes convenient and easy to add a channel to your favorites list, label a video input, or input the channel name to be displayed when you tune to a new channel (presets for ABC, CBS, ESPN and other common channels are included).
The extended warranty that I purchased also includes one incidence of burn-in repair, which may be something to ask for as there are still concerns about burn-in with the plasma TVs, though great strides have been made. I would definitly ask if your extended warranty will cover this, as the manufacturers' will not.
Lastly, the contrast ratio is excellent, and the Standard Definition channels really do look excellent, considering their size. One small concern that I have is that the digital audio output socket seems loose on my set. Currently, it is working and I have digital sound transmitted to my receiver, but I am keeping an eye on it. I haven't yet gone through the 200 hour break-in period, so I can't really comment on gaming yet, but I will update as necessary. Overall, an excellent choice for those in the market for a big-screen TV.Updated
I've now gotten through the break-in period, and have tried out the gaming aspects on this set. First of all, there have been no issues with after-image or burn-in, whatsoever. I think as long as you're sensible as far as keeping brightness levels fairly low, you should be fine. I played about 4 solid hours of Madden last Saturday with no discernible after-image effect. Admittedly, a first-person shooter, with health meters or maps in a fixed on-screen position would be a better test. I have played a 3rd person shooter on this set, with a fixed health meter for an hour and a half, and again, there was no issue of after-image. Obviously, if you pause the game, switch the set off, but I think it you're reasonable, you can safely game on this set to your heart's content. Incidentally, as I was researching TVs and considering DLPs, I continually read about a lag issue with gaming, where you would click a button and there would be a noticable delay before the corresponding action took place on-screen. I read all sorts of theories, one of which was that it was a result of the conversion from 480 to 720 or 1080, which one could worry might affect a plasma, as well, as all images are converted to display at the plasmas 768 resolution. Again, I have seen no hint of this. The kick meter on Madden works perfectly, with no delay whatsoever, which I think would be a very good indicator.
Lastly, any gamers who are in the market for a big-screen TV, I cannot recommend this model enough. The image quality is amazing, and with the Xbox360 out already and the PS3 on its way in November, I can only imagine it will get better. I don't have the 360 yet, but I am using the Monster HD cables with my Xbox and the image is excellent. I'm excited to try the HDMI inputs, which I haven't been able to, yet. Apparently, the higher-priced PS3 model will offer HDMI outputs, and there are rumors that one is in the works for the 360. My apologies for the extraneous information in this comment, but I thought fellow gamers might be particularly interested.
"The best 50-inch 720p plasma on the market, and maybe the best 50-inch HDTV out there"on by applky
Pros Terrific picture quality out-of-the-box including accurate colors and deep blacks; ample connectivity with 2 HDMI inputs; wide viewing angle; very bright; great for gaming; 1080i looks as good as 720p
Cons No CableCard slot; no VGA input; grey bars on 4:3 video sources; an extra side component input would have been nice; somewhat expensive as far as 50-inch displays go
Let me be clear: This TV is excellent. As long as you don't need 1080p, this is THE display to get if you want a 50-inch television. There are enough features on this TV to warrant spending the extra money over a DLP or rpLCD. With this display's excellent picture quality, ample inputs, and amazing performance, there's no reason not to buy this TV outside of monetary concerns.
So everyone says that Sony's XBR LCoS displays have superior picture quality (PQ) to plasmas -- including this one -- and that is true. However, the difference in picture quality is so miniscule that it doesn't warrant spending extra money for XBR LCoS unless you find another feature of LCoS more compelling than plasma.
I could go on and on about picture quality and the deep blacks and the geeky numbers (see CNET's geek box for that) but here it is in a nutshell: The PQ out of the box is amazing. I have my brightness at 50% for burn-in prevention (more on that later) and have not adjusted any settings or used calibration DVDs. The PQ is just stunning.
A word about 720p vs. 1080i: I have an Xbox 360 that will switch between 720p and 1080i on the fly, and I can't tell the difference between the two. As an optimist, I'm taking this to mean that the TH-50PX60U's displaying of 1080i signals is above average. I use 720p, however, for burn-in prevention (it uses all the pixels on the display).
Also of note is the black bezel around the display. This bezel makes colors pop and gives your eyes something to grab onto when you're sitting closer than you should. While this isn't due to better video components, it nonetheless increases PQ (or at least viewing pleasure).
Lastly, standard definition TV looks very good. There's no way that you can get SDTV to look amazing on a large HD display, but the TH-50PX60U does an excellent job of presenting it with minimal artifacts or jagged edges.
The only minor annoyance I've found with this TV's displaying of video sources is how it deals with standard 4:3 "full screen" video. Instead of black bars on the sides, it uses grey bars, which are supposed to be better for preventing burn-in but are nonetheless distracting.
PLASMA TECHNOLOGY AND BURN-IN
If you are hesitant about buying a plasma (as I was), you probably were concerned about the higher price and the possibility of burn-in -- or some combination thereof. I can't tell you that this display won't burn-in. It's a plasma display with phosphors, so burn-in is a distinct possibility. However, you can help to "break in" your plasma display for the first 200-500 hours of use to keep it from burning in if you (1) keep the brightness below 50% for the first 250 hours of use; (2) refrain from watching video sources with static images, such as video game HUDs or TV sports scoreboards; and (3) try to watch all widescreen progressive video sources (480p and 720p). A great resource for burn-in prevention is AVSforum.com and CNET's features on plasma technology.
A last word about plasma technology: I opted for plasma as opposed to DLP/rpLCD for several reasons. The TV I'm using is in the corner of a room and often has sunlight shining in behind it. Plasma displays are supposed to deal well in brightly lit environments (the TH-50PX60U certainly has!) and they also have a very wide viewing angle (good for being in the corner of a room). These comforts along with the thin form factor and terrific picture quality were reasons enough to pay the extra money for plasma as opposed to cheaper 50-inch DLP/rpLCD displays.
The TH-50PX60U's jack pack is ample, with 2 component and 2 HDMI inputs on the back alongside 2 S-video/composite inputs. On the front is one more S-video/composite input, hidden underneath a panel alongside the channel, volume, and input selecting controls. Switching between the various inputs is easy and fast. It should be noted that 2 HDMI inputs at this price is becoming increasingly common, but still makes you feel like you really got your money's worth.
Both the HDMI inputs and component inputs display HD sources at 720p and 1080i without any artifacts or distortion I've been able to see. As I've said, I can't tell the difference between 720p and 1080i, for whatever that's worth. I've also tried 480p over the component inputs, and it looks fine (but obviously why bother with 480p when 720p provides twice as much detail?).
It's too bad there's no VGA input for computers, but with enough cabling you can go easily from VGA -> DVI -> HDMI.
Additionally, there's a digital audio output for over-the-air HDTV and a red/white audio input dedicated to the one of the HDMI jacks. I use neither of these because I have a home theater system, which brings me to...
MY SETUP & VIDEO GAME PERFORMANCE
I watch TV using a Dish Network ViP622 HD sattelite receiver connected to the TH-50PX60U with an HDMI cable at 720p. I also play video games on an Xbox 360 over component inputs at 720p. Both look gorgeous with an almost imperceptible difference in quality (it's the kind of thing that you can detect if you spend hours looking for it, but otherwise won't be able to see). I also have a GameCube running on the composite inputs that looks pretty good for standard-def TV.
As mentioned previously, I use a home theater system for sound, but I hooked up the Gamecube's red/white audio inputs to the TH-50PX60U, and the built-in speakers sound terrific. Other reader reviews have mentioned this, but people without home theater systems won't like that the speakers are on the bottom, but it's more aesthetically favorable, and I'm assuming most people who will buy this TV will have some kind of home theater setup.
People who want a CableCard slot built-in will find that feature is missing on the TH-50PX60U, and might want to wait for the TH-50PX600U, a forthcoming Panasonic display that adds a CableCard slot and a VGA (computer) input, among other things, for $300-$500 more.
A few words about gaming: Gamers don't have to worry about ghosting or screen artifacts or anything like that; neither are present when displaying HD sources (like the Xbox 360) or SD sources (like the GameCube). However, gamers should refrain from playing for too many hours during the first 250-500 hours of use because of burn-in considerations. The static images in many games (menus, HUDs, scoreboards, ammo counters, etc) can cause image retention. Overall, this is a terrific display for gaming.
In fact, it's a terrific display for just about anything, as long as you don't need 1080p technology. And who really does? Supposedly the human eye is barely able to tell the difference between 1080p and 720p, and even if there were a discernable difference I couldn't rationalize spending the extra $1000 or so I'd need to before it becomes a reasonably-priced baseline feature.
This brings me to the issue of money: By now, you know why I spent the extra $500-$700 to go plasma as opposed to DLP/rpLCD. (Another reason is no costly bulb replacement on plasmas.) Bottom line: rear projection TVs are right for some people, but the environment of my room and my video game habit led me to plasmas, and I am so happy I bought this one.
Pros Maxium of 29 Billion Colors Displayable
Cons None at this time
Summary Complete Satisfaction from the minute I turned the TV on. Before I made a purchase of this magnitude I researched for about 2 months and this Plasma stood on the top of the heap.
Last years models where good but I truely feel that Panasonic did a great job of listening to the consumer and added another HDMI connection along with a memory card slot for the digital camera owners.
As for the Hi-Def picture I am amazed every time I turn this set on, the picture does truely make you feel like you are actually there. The speakers work just fine for a stand along TV but I wouldn't buy it if those are the only speakers you will be using. I'm currently running a Denon receiver with a combination of Klipsch & Difinitive speakers which I consider to be a must with this size of a tv to get the full theater feel.
I also wanted to mention that Panasonic did a wonderful job of trimming down a lot of the excess plastic that surrounded the actual picture screen which gives this unit a much cleaner looking frame and in the process shaving a couple of pounds off the weight.
All in all no complaints just pure enjoyment, if you're in the market for a plasma of this size you won't be disappointed.
Pros Crystal clear picture w/deep blacks. Good value.
Cons No split screen PIP, but otherwise perfect
Summary I literally shopped for 2 years for a flat panel HDTV and finally bit the bullet on Friday after negotiating a steal at Best Buy. This TV kicks every other's butt in terms of clarity, contrast, color, vibrancy and brightness (especially it's immediate price competitors, the LG 50" and Phillips 50"). And why do the Samsungs all look like there's Vaseline smeared on the screen?
The only picture that compares is the Pioneer, but at $2k more, it's no contest. I'm thrilled with everything about this TV.
Pros Good sound! Good looks! Great price! Less weight than last years model.
Cons None at this time
Summary Definately recommend! Cannot go wrong with this purchase if you are stuck on deciding between other models and brands.Been looking and comparing, fanatically, for three months. I've had this TV for one week. Picture is flawless when watching HD programming-no pixelation in fast movement (of course w/HDMI connection b/w cable box and tv).Programs broadcast in "Digital Format" (not HD) looks good also (some slight pixelation). Standard broadcast tv signal, of course,not too good. Newer movies on DVD played through a non-up conversion DVD player look pretty good, but older movies on DVD look grainy and probably will due to the quality in which they were recorded, even with a progessive scan up-conversion player (which will be my next purchase). Contemplating purchasing the 42" version. Can't wait for the 65" version.Updated
Seven months later....still satisfied w/my purchase! The price has dropped @$1000 less than when I purchased it in April '06. If you are still contemplating purchasing a plasma HD tv, this model is still the best 720p picture you can get for your dollar. No "burn in" at all. I do not play video games on the tv! Hopefully, next years model will achieve the 1080p resolution, but for alot cheaper than other 50inch plasma models than are selling at this time w/ the 1080p resolution..i.e. Pioneer.