Well after owning the Panasonic TH-50PHD7UY for 3 months, I gave it to my uncle because it just did not meet my long term needs. Actually, "gave" is a loose term since it essentially paid off a loan from my uncle from years ago -- but I digress.
So if you are looking for a direct comparison between these two units, there is no one better since I actually had the Panasonic in house for three months and 250 hours.
I will post new pictures of the XR4 and perhaps a more in depth review but right now, I am just tired and want to sit back and enjoy the XR4.
The skinny is this: EVALUATE HONESTLY WHAT THE INTENDED PURPOSE OF THE PLASMA DISPLAY. I cannot emphasize this enough. Weighing though the buzz between the Panasonic and NEC can be difficult, but in the end I strongly believe it comes down to the above statement. Based on my experience, I can tell you that the current Panasonic and the NEC models are very different beasts.
Here are my evaluation based on personal experience:
For watching 90% movies and having well-controlled lighting (artificial and natural lighting)
--> Panasonic TH-50PHD7UY
The Panasonic is an excellent set in this regards -- CRT-like blacks, nice contrast ratio, and easy on the eyes light output (a subjective term for sure as I did not have any equipment to measure this). Movies very much remind me of the best CRT projectors. It is no wonder why my uncle took the unit because he has been a high end CRT front projector proponent for the past decade and just loved the 7uy.
For 90% everyday TV viewings (HD sports specifically), placing the unit in direct sunlight, and entertaining friends
--> NEC 50XR4
The NEC reminded me of my previous Pioneer 503CMX. Brilliant rich colors and alluring light output. Add to that exceptional contrast, deeper black levels, and shadow detail. Everyday viewing was a pleasure since the location is on wall with a giant front window 15 ft. away letting direct sunlight onto the unit. Even with all 6" PAR halogens (total 450 watts --> bright, bright, bright! unlike the soft BR-type) recessed lighting turned on, the NEC "pierced" through that like it was nothing.
Subjective I know, but in the end I purchased the NEC 50XR4 for my long term needs. I no longer needed to pull down the drapes or dimmed the lights as I did with the Panasonic. Mind you the 7uy gave some of the most realistic colors and window into the world look from HD, but this is offset by it's controlled lighting. If controlled lighting is required, then I would just purchase a digital front project instead. With the NEC, the colors are much deeper (but not to say to a point of it being unrealistic) and there was no denying the light output. My true test is walking across the street and seeing HD material through the main window. With the Panasonic it was a good picture -- cool and collected. With the NEC it was a in your face look at me plastered on the wall look. It literally gave that impression -- not only with me but with my neighbors, passerbys, and dog walkers. This is what I consider plasma pictures --specifically plasma with HD content- to be. And yes, both sets were calibrated using DVE and Avia.
Some side notes.
-PACKAGING. Excellent triple box packaging with the 7uy including very solid molded styroform padding. SOLID. XR4's is a single OEM box and did not give me an impression strength or safety. Although I received the NEC in good condition I cringed seeing it not being double box.
-BUILD QUALITY. Excellent build quality for the Panasonic. From sheet-metal rear housing to bezel to inputs to the waterproof product label on there rear. The NEC's sheet-metal was OK on the rear -- lower metal guage and flexy. The NEC's front green LED is distractingly big but the direct controls underneath the bezel is nicer than Panasonic's front buttons. Panny's bezel is think and elegant while NEC's is a little bigger and chiseled. Both can learn from Mitsubishi's brushed aluminum bezel. Overall, the 7uy was a more solid feeling product -- uncannily like German precision.
-FEATURES AND DESIGN. Both have a plethora of AV features but the NEC seems more flexible and intuitive. Changing the video options was a pleasure with the XR4 including it's excellent aspect ratio feature. This included the ability to change HD content whereas the Panny will lock into the original ratio in HD. The XR4 certainly beats the 7uy hands down. The input location is more desirable with the Panny but the NEC is not bad if the plasma is never viewed on the right side profile -- I did not have to purchase new longer cables. Panny's input terminal boards are unbeatable vs. NEC's single DVI/HDCP. I had apprehension about a silver bezel with the XR4 but I can tell you this -- it looks fantastic contrasting with my Haze colored walls, wood floors, and cherry cabinetry and speakers. The Panny's is classy but I was getting tired of a black/dark gray frame look. If you have rich colored wood furniture, the XR4 silver bezel has a very nice contrast against it.
-NOISES. The 7uy had absolutely ZERO fan noise and inaudiblbe buzz from 1ft onwards. The XR4 has inaudible buzz from 1ft onward as well. However, the fan is audible in a silent room, even from 12 ft away. It reminds me of a Philips DirecTivo not high pitched but humming. With speakers running, the fans were inaudible.
-GLARE AND IMAGE RETENTION. The 7uy's "anti-glare" glass is absolutely horrendous. Reflections everywhere! Not so with the XR4 -- yes there were reflections but no where close to the Panny's. I am curious to what if anything, Panasonic did with their anti glare glass. No discernible phosphor image retention so far from the XR4 (20hrs). For the most part, I am filling everything in onto the screen for the first 100hrs. The Panny has absolutely ZERO phosphor retention -- I never had a worry.
-COMPETITORS. I seriously looked at Pioneers, Sonys, and even the Sharp 45" LCD once my uncle took the Panny. The Pioneer was ho-hum for me and am still left with sour tase with (dis)continued support for the 503CMX. The XBR is gorgeous in design but the new XS series is better -- same NEC glass I hear. However, their side speakers just did not cut it in the aesthetics dept for me. The previous floating glass design was top notch and the XS only shows a very small portion of it alongside silver colored speakers that can't even follow a straight line. The Sharp 45 is an excellent first model year unit. However, it is just that -a first model year and looses 20% screen estate to the 50" plasmas. I am not going back to anything less than 50" if spending $5K +.
-MOUNTING OPTIONS. I question NEC's decision to use small M4 x 14mm screws to attach a wall mount. Yes it does have eight of them and I am sure NEC's engineers calculated the stress weigh levels but the Panasonic's four M8x30mm is much more robust. The plastic handles on the NEC are much heftier vs. the Panny's -- both of them are removable.
I am sure I missed something and will post later. Right now I just want to enjoy the set. I took a chance (a second chance at that ) on the NEC and am extremely satisfied with the performance. The 7uy is great in it's own right but only in controlled lighting. I wanted that WOW factor back and got it in spades with the XR4.
All the above are subjective views and opinions according to my taste. Some of you will relate, a lot might not. But if it helps one member...