Okay, I have tried to do as comprehensive of a review I could on my new NEC 50XR5. I've tried to hit all of the topics that interested me, or those that have been posed as an interest by others. However, please let me know if I've left out anything that someone would like a review on.
Overview - As a quick overview, here is a list of my equipment for a reference point to what I am reviewing;
-Harman Kardon AVR 235
-HR10-250 hooked up via HDMI (DirecTV HDTIVO for those that don't know the model number)
-VERY CHEAP Toshiba SD-3890 DVD player hooked up direct with component cables. (I tried all the upconverting ones with my old TV and found the NEC scaler to be superior so I stuck with the old 480i). Plus that was an EDTV and any difference may not have been able to be seen (that's another debate). Maybe someone else can do a test of upconverting players with this panel, but I'm gonna put my money on the NEC scaler for now.
-Gamecube hooked up through my AVR via component cables
Asthetics- I am going to start with the aesthetics of the panel, because this is the first thing that caught my eye when removing this thing from the box. I must say that this is one sexy looking panel, even the wife was impressed. It has a mostly a matte black finish, however it is set off nicely with a subtle silver trim around the entire outside and very nice chrome/silver across the bottom. In my opinion, the best looking commercial plasma out there right now - I'm very pleased with the look in my living room. P.S. - anyone with the space for a 50" and is considering getting a 42"...DON'T, the extra real estate is well worth it!
Calibration - Before I go into my review of different sources, the only calibrations I have done so far are to adjust the contrast and brightness on the HDTIVO using the HDNET test pattern and on the DVD using the AVIA calibration disk. The colors were right on out of the box according to those tests.
Standard Definition - Well, I'm starting the review with the SD pic quality, but this is by far the weakest link of this panel. I am coming from a 42VR5 for which the SD pic quality was very good. That was a 42" EDTV, so I was expecting the SD picture on the 50" HDTV to be much less desirable. So, I powered up the panel and put on FX (usually pretty decent quality for SD) and was pleasantly surprised - just as good as my VR5. "Let me turn to one of my local DirecTV channels I thought to myself" (as these are usually the most compressed channels DTV sends), but wow this looked decent as well - and this time it may have edged my VR5. NEC definitely uses a good scaler in these new panels, as I must say SD on this TV is VERY good for a 50" HD plasma. Of course, I have no reference point to other 50" panels, but I can tell you when I was searching in March for my 42VR5, the only panel I had found with a better scaler was the Fujitsu (and that was a marginal difference at best). Definitely have to give kudos to the panel on this one! I'm gonna put it on par if not better than the Fujitsu here. Stretch modes: This is another one of the advantages I give NEC over any other panel. Stadium stretch on 4:3 material is great. I don't know how they do it, but you really do forget your watching stretched material when using Stadium. Zoom mode on a letterboxed 4:3 channel fills the screen perfectly as well. Lastly, the ability to stretch HD (720p and 1080i) is priceless. There are many shows that I record on HD channels that are broadcast in SD because the picture quality on them is better then the SD channels. Being able to stretch these is priceless to me, I don't think I could have a panel which I couldn't do that on.
Gaming - I'll have to admit I don't have much to add in this area. I don't have XBOX or PS2, just a measly Gamecube that was given to my son for xmas last year. I have it hooked up with component cables through my Harman Kardon AVR. I popped in Frogger and MarioKart. Not to my surprise, it did very well with the 480i signal here as well. I'm sure feeding this panel 720p or higher games would look exceptional, but again I don't have these systems.
DVD - Again, all that I have is a measly $50 Toshiba player. I've found the best results were feeding the TV a 480i signal. Again, the NEC has a great scaler so I am not surprised it was better then the Toshiba's. Color reproduction and details were exceptional. When viewing animated movies like Incredibles or Madagascar on this panel I was amazed. These movies looked GREAT on my VR5, but that was no surprise at it was the native resolution of the TV, but I think they look just as good if not better on the XR5 (a little more 3 dimensional maybe). Un-animated (probably not even a real word, but what the heck) movies look great as well. Popped in War of the Worlds and Collateral and was impressed by the details in most scenes of Collateral. This is a very dark movie, but the NEC handled it very well, no macroblocking or any other noticeable noise. War of the Worlds looked great too. Scenes like the robots coming out of the ground were awesome and it handled the dark scenes very well in this movie as well. Unfortunately that is all the time I had to review for the DVD's but will try to test some others out when I get more time. Most of my viewing is HD, so I'll move onto that;
HD - Well, unlike the SD not being the weakest part of the panel as the first part of my review, I definitely saved the best for last here. I am just taken back by how well this panel displays details in images on HD material. The only channel I have from DirecTV in HD is HBO (their HD offering is not worth $10.95 in my opinion), so most of my analysis is done from OTA material. There is just something about this panel (and other NEC's for that matter) that seem to just give it an edge in my opinion. When I am watching shows on friends Panasonic's and even Pioneer's sometimes I find myself saying "wow...that is just an awesome picture from a television". However, many times when watching shows on my NEC I find myself so involved in the show and simply lifelike colors/skin tones that I forget I'm even watching a television. I guess with the Panny I can always just see that I am looking at glass with an image behind it, whereas here I just feel like I'm looking at the people. Hard to explain, hopefully that made some sense.
Image Retention - I've not noticed anything significant in this area to be worried about. If something is on the screen for a few minutes and you change to a black screen you see a faint outline of it....but as soon as you change the channel and come back it is gone. I remember my VR5 was like this for the first couple of weeks and now I never get any retention. I think this is been exaggerated as well....I don't think it is really an issue if it goes away with the next screen. Now, if previous models had problems where you could see it over top of new images, then that would be a problem, and I can confirm this has never happened to me.
Overall Pic Quality (Black Level, and Color) - I think most who've seen an NEC can agree that there is nothing left to be desired when it comes to colors and color reproduction. I think that NEC's produce the most lifelike colors and skin tones compared to the Panasonic and Pioneer. Some say Pioneer isn't really lifelike and some say Panny can be a bit too soft, but I really feel that NEC strikes the perfect balance. If possible, I think this panel does even better than the previous models with the color reproduction. When talking to one of the NEC customer service reps a while back I think I recall him saying that they have done some enhancement to the color filter on the glass, and I think it shows, not only with the colors, but with the black level as well. I have tried to evaluate the black levels on this panel as much as possible over the past day, as I know this is a topic that many would like to hear about (a bit overrated in my opinion) but nonetheless very relevant. The absolute black level is definitely improved (at least over my VR5, as I've never seen an XR4). I would definitely put it in the same league as the Panasonic and new Pioneer. I really think you would need to put them side by side to see an absolute black level difference in the panels (but my gut is the Panny would still barely edge it out). However, where I see the advantage, and I see this as a huge advantage, is in the shadow details. To me the Panasonic may have the ability to show an absolute black level that is closer to true black, but you lose many of the details in the picture. To me, I'd rather have a panel with a black level that is 98% as black as the Panasonic, while showing 10% more of the details. I watch a lot of OTA HD, which may be one of the reasons I didn't hinge my whole plasma purchase on an absolute black level, as most of the primetime shows don't have that many dark scenes. However, even with shows like "Lost" (which I had previously recorded) where almost entire episodes are shot in the dark, I did not feel that there were any inadequacies.
Overall I am going to put this panel at the top of the list for those I've seen in person. I think the picture quality/scaling is up to par (if not better) with the Fujitsu and I think the aesthetics are second to none (NEC did a great job here). Two HDMI's, PIP, direct input settings, stretch modes and various other features make this an exceptional panel. They say it is designed for ISF calibration too, but after watching this thing for a day now I can't see it getting much better .....WELL DONE NEC!
Issues - I have to say that I don't have many issues yet. One thing that did annoy me was the fact you need to have an ISF calibration done in order to activate the night and day picture settings. That was really lame on NEC's part in my opinion. They trust the consumer a lot by allowing the myriad of picture setting changes available on the this tv, and then they take that away. Hopefully someone will figure it out in the future.
Disclaimer - Please remember this is only one man's opinion. Please don't base your decision on my eyes, trust your own...I know this is something that is hard to do with the NEC's because there so hard to find in person, but maybe after more people have had a chance to review these new panels, they can confirm what I see. Also, I was basing all of my comparisons off of viewing I have done in peoples homes and in A/V shops, I was not able to do side by side comparisons.
Pictures - will post some when I get a chance to borrow a friend's camera. Chris at Clevelandplasma offered to host them for meso hopefully I can get them to him soon.