I haven't seen this review before
Vizio P50HDM Plasma Monitor
PETER PUTMAN, CTS
You won't find this 50-inch plasma monitor in big box stores or at the mall; only at wholesale price clubs and on the V Inc. Web site. Does it deliver the goods?
One of the risks of buying a no name brand of anything is the uncertain quality of the product. There are numerous companies peddling plasma monitors and TVs under names you've never heard, and they basically make deals with manufacturers to clear out stock from warehouses. Whoever has the best price gets the business.
Vizio is a relatively young company with its roots in Princeton Graphics that has been selling plasma monitors, rear-projection TVs, and set-top boxes for a few years. While not a manufacturer per se, they do have considerable input into the design, build, and operation of their products, unlike other re-branders and OEM partners. Their channel strategy has been to sell direct through the Internet, or through wholesale clubs like Costco.
With that in mind, I decided to take a closer look at one of their plasma TVs and selected the P50HDM because of its low $2,499 MSRP ($$$ online). That's a real good deal, even if it's only a monitor (no built-in TV tuners).
Figure 1. Vizio's P50HDM plasma monitor
OUT OF THE BOX
The P50HDM is ready to plug-and-play, attached to its stand. The speakers are built-in, not accessories you need to screw onto the sides and wire up. An attractive black bezel surrounds the screen, with the speakers finished in a silver color.
Because this product is strictly a video monitor, Vizio goes to great lengths to make sure the buyer understands that the monitor cannot pick up TV programs on its own. An enormous fold-up poster is attached to the protective plastic cover and shows you exactly how to hook up the monitor, then goes on to suggest accessory cables, wall and tilt mounts, and even an accessory terrestrial DTV tuner made by Humax (HFA-100).
Vizio also offers four VIP installation plans, ranging from a basic plan (hook the TV up to your existing home theater and program your remote) to advanced (install wall mounts and even put up an antenna, run coax, and set you up to watch off-air DTV). There are also a few extended warranty options.
That's a lot of customer care, but it's not all that surprising when you consider the liberal product return policies of wholesale clubs (generally, up to 6 months for any reason with a full refund). So it's in Vizio's best interest to make sure these monitors stay sold!
For a monitor, the P50HDM has a ton of input connections. There are two AV inputs, each sporting composite and S-video jacks, and two component YPbPr inputs using RCA jacks. For PC users, there's a 15-pin VGA input jack, and the digital crowd will be happy with two HDMI ports. Each input also has stereo audio connections, either RCA or Mini.
At first glance, a stereo audio connection for an HDMI input is redundant - HDMI is a true multimedia interface and carries wideband digital audio. I can only assume this connection was intended for that accessory Humax tuner, I product I tested some time ago that did not implement the audio interface in HDMI, only video. (Don't worry; the HDMI interface on the P50HDM does play back audio from compatible signal sources.)
Figure 2. The remote control
The supplied remote control is a bit busy for my taste. It has nearly 50 buttons on it and you can easily hit the wrong one by mistake. Fortunately, the power button is very small and safely away from the numeric keypad. The channel and volume switches are rocker types, while the menu navigation uses four-way directional arrows.
You'll have somewhat direct access to channels. Three buttons below the directional keypad will get you into different groups of inputs (AV, Analog HD, Digital HD), while a fourth button marked NTSC TV doesn't have any function at all, as there is no on-board analog tuner. The remote can also control other AV devices, including VCRs, DVD players, and set-top boxes.
MENUS AND OPTIONS
There's a lot going on behind the façade of this TV. In addition to conventional aspect ratio settings (Normal, Wide, Zoom), there are also several picture-in-picture functions. You can set up a small PIP window, a larger window, position it at different corners, or view two video windows at once (PoP). The P50HDM is unusual in that both of the HDMI inputs can be configured into PiP or PoP configurations even with each other.
The on-screen displays are quite easy to use, but only provide rudimentary control. In addition to basic image parameters, you'll also have a three-step contrast enhancement (which does make a difference) and three levels of flesh tone enhancement. I wouldn't use the latter control if you can calibrate the set's white balance correctly, and I'll get to that shortly. Vizio also provides multi-step analog and digital noise filters, which I found to be somewhat effective in analog mode only.
There are five preset picture modes Vivid, Movie, Sport, Game, and User. These provide preset combinations of brightness, contrast gamma, and color temperature. While you can adjust some of those in User mode, you cannot access the controls needed to set white balance.
You'll need to get the service code from Vizio, and also have a color analyzer on hand to make sure you do things correctly. Vizio only provides red, green, and blue drive adjustments in the service menu along with picture gamma, so a careful brightness and contrast calibration is needed beforehand to get a clean grayscale.
On the audio side, you'll have full command over tone adjustments, simulated surround sound on/off, and closed caption settings. (The latter function is an interesting inclusion considering there is no built-in TV tuner.) The menu is toped off with a clever screen cleaner function that wipes away any residual static images. That could be handy if you went out and left the P50HDM and your set-top box parked on MSNBC or CNN all day long!
ON THE TEST BENCH
I used a variety of SD and HD signal sources to ring out' the P50HDM, including cable and terrestrial set-top boxes from LG, Motorola, and Accurian, along with 480i/p signals from a Panasonic RP56 DVD player. RGB signals came from my desktop PC, and further analog and digital 720p and 1080i test patters were fed from AccuPel HDG2000 and Sencore VP403 test pattern generators.
After calibration for best grayscale image, I measured small area brightness at 287.6 nits (84 ft-L) and full white brightness at 92.58 nits (27 ft-L). Average contrast with a 16-block checkerboard pattern was clocked at 497:1 and peak contrast at 598:1 in Standard picture mode. Oddly enough, contrast numbers improved in Movie mode to 572:1 average and 668:1 peak. Black levels were very low in Movie mode; on average, I measured .24 nits.
Figure 3. Grayscale tracking results, before and after calibration.
Figure 4. The P50HDM's color gamut compared to the REC709 HDTV color gamut.
White balance out of the box is not close to the D6500 standard, and the factory grayscale wanders quite a bit in temperature. However, after re-calibrating brightness, contrast, and RGB drive, I was able to get a more satisfactory result, as seen in Figure 3. Although the color temperature value at 20 IRE was quite warm, the P50HDM gets back into the ballpark rather quickly from 30 IRE on up. Figure 4 shows the actual color gamut compared to the REC709 HDTV color space.
In terms of bandwidth, this monitor can pass 720p and 1080i content to at least 18.5 MHz not great, but on a pair with most consumer HDTV sets. The RGB input does a little better, getting to well over 20 MHz with a luminance multiburst test pattern. This input will accept a wide range of PC signals (sorry, no HDTV formats) including 1360x768 and 1280x768 widescreen modes.
The P50HDM is bucking to show super-bright images, so you'll need to tame it to get good grayscales. Getting the high end of the grayscale to stop blooming meant cranking the brightness and contrast settings way back to 40 or less, but don't worry you'll still have plenty of light from the screen.
After performing my calibrations, the gamma curve I plotted was nowhere near what the factory setting claimed. However, the monitor came out of black nicely, preserving shadow detail as much as a plasma display can, with little false contouring evident save for some really low-luminance noise.
The P50HDM incorporates Genesis' DCDi processor, so it does an excellent job decoding composite video, cleaning up scan line artifacts, and picking up 3:2 sequences as verified with the Video Essentials and Realta HQV test DVDs. 480i scaling to 768p is about average, but is clean because the 480-line interlaced processing is so good.
I viewed 720p/60 clips from Super Bowl XL and 1080i content from Discovery HD and INHD, finding colors to be well saturated with lots of image detail. The 1080i deinterlacing could be better; there were some scan line and motion artifacts seen. 720p content had the edge for overall live image quality. If you are going to watch mostly progressive-scan DVDs and HD programming, turn the monitor's sharpness control down to 2 or less. You just don't need it.
Outboard video scalers will also help through the P50HDM's RGB or HDMI inputs just remember to set the brightness, contrast, and sharpness back on your scaler so the resulting grayscales have headroom and pictures don't exhibit excessive ringing. Also, make sure you correctly match the acceptable input resolutions. Otherwise, you'll get a blank screen and the P50HDM will quickly go into hibernation.
The P50HDM doesn't scrimp on audio power, either. The internal speakers are plenty loud enough for use in large rooms. You'll be setting volume levels within the first 30% of the setting for normal listening much higher than that, and you'll be shouting to hear each other over the din.
If you already have a set-top box capable of showing HD signals and/or a progressive-scan DVD player, the P50HDM is attractively priced and well worth a look. For $2500, it does deliver the goods, as long as you can get into the service menu to set up image parameters correctly and calibrate white balance. It looks best with progressive-scan video, but can handle analog NTSC and baseband video if need be, thanks to its DCDi circuit.
For those of you concerned about energy consumption, I have begun logging power consumption data for all displays I test, using the Watts Up? Pro meter.
I turned the P50HDM on to the INHD cable network in Movie mode, and let it run for 6 hours. During that time, average power consumption was 411 watts and I logged a total of 2088.6 kWh of energy usage. Figuring electric rates at $0.08/hour, your cost to run this TV for 180 hours (6 hours per day X 30 days) would be $5.01.
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