Panasonic has just unveiled its latest and highest performing plasma display, the TH-65VX100. It is part of a new Premiere series of displays designed specifically for the custom installation market. The initial model is a 65” 1080p monitor (no built-in speakers). I was able to obtain an early production sample (the TH-65VX1000 plasma is scheduled for release in late December 2008) to test and review.

This new Premier plasma panel retails for $9999 and boasts the highest contrast and lowest black levels of any Panasonic HD display with a rated contrast ratio of 60,000:1. In addition, Panasonic has increased its signal processing to 18-bits for 7,160 equivalent steps of gradation. Panasonic widened the color gamut as well, to a rated spec of 120% of Rec. 709, the HDTV standard. A Panasonic spokesperson said the improvements within the panel when compared to its top consumer model the TH-PZ850U include improved glass filters for lower reflectivity and an increase of the residual discharge of the panel from 1/3 of the “idle” level of previous generation levels, to 1/6th the “idle” level with the VX100, resulting in the best black level performance in Panasonic plasma history. A Panasonic engineer said this was aided with the addition of a new magnesium oxide layer within the panel as well as thinner cell walls to increase the “aperture” making more of the surface area active (being able to emit light) for higher light output. This combintion of darker blacks and brighter whites produce a higher contrast ratio.
The TH-65VX100’s feature set reflects Panasonic target audience, high on performance and low on ordinary TV functions, with the first being the omission of a built-in HDTV or analog tuner. As mentioned above, this is a monitor. Other TV “omissions” include standard definition source inputs, namely composite and S-video. The TH-65VX1000 has four HDMI jacks (all rear), one component video, and one PC input (VGA). There is also a RS-232 jack for control for automation systems by Creston, AMX and other remote control companies. The inputs are mounted into removable boards (two HDMIs per board). Panasonic plans to offer other input boards including one with HD SDI (most suited for broadcasters and production studios), one with a DVI input and another with S-video and composite standard definition inputs.

The TH-65VX100 is finished black with a dull black brushed aluminum bezel to avoid screen or room reflections on the frame. The panel 61.181” (W) x 36.417” (H) x 3.897” (D). A table stand is an extra coast option.

The user interface allows separate settings (color, brightness, tint etc.) for each input as well as 8 locking memories to prevent unwanted adjustments of image parameters. There are also user adjustments for gamma as well as drives and cuts for white balance adjustments.

Panasonic boasts a new improved image processor not found in its consumer panels, as well as a full bypass mode for buyers that would prefer an upgraded external scaler that’s built into some top line surround sound receivers and pre/processors or a separate scaler such as the Flexible Picture Systems HQV Insight with the Silicon Optix Realta chip.

Prior to making my viewing observations, I optimized the user controls and calibrated the TH-65VX1000 very close to d6500K ideal color temperature. All measurements were made after calibration. Image brightness using a 10% window pattern at 100IRE measured 30.5ft. Lamberts, a level comparable to top rated calibrated LCDs and plasma panels previously tested. Next primary color points were measured. The results:

Red x.666 y.323
Green x.265 y.660
Blue x.154 y.068

These results are close to the Digital Cinema Initiative Standard:
DCI Stan Red x .680 y.320
DCI Stan Green x .265 y.690
DCI Stand Blue x.150 y.060.

The primary color coordinates of red and blue were close the ones I recorded from the latest 50” Pioneer Elite Kuro HDTV and measured:

Color Space 1 Red x .670 y.322
Color Space 1 Green x. 269 y.654
Color Space 1 Blue x. 146 y.059

Next, internal scaler tests were performed. Using 1080i signal, I checked deinterlacing and 3:2 film conversion. The Premier passed both tests making it the first Panasonic plasma with perfect 3:2 HD processing. Static and motion resolution came in at 1080 and 850 lines respectively, slightly shy of the 900 line plasma record, but better than any LCD tested to date. The Panasonic has full bandwidth clear showing black and white sing pixel wide vertical lines. There are the usual aspect ratio controls including 1:1 that was verified to produce an image with no overscan.

A Panasonic spokesman said this is panel has a new signal processor chip, and it did a good job with HD sources and withg the Silicon Optix HQV HD jaggies tests. However, it did a poor job on the standard definiton (480i) Silicon Optix jaggies tests and only a fair job on the SD waving flag test.

With all adjustments and tests completed, I conducted a side by side comparison with the latest generation Pioneer Kuro 50”. The results proved interesting. The Pioneer won on ultimate black level, being a smidgen darker than the Panasonic. Both displays blacks were too dark to be measured accurately using my light meter. With the lights off, and 2:35 content on screen, I could not discern where the bezel ended and the panel began producing the black bars of the letterboxed 2:35 image on either display.
I compared a number of Blu-ray discs and HD cable fare with the two displays side by side. Both panels produced excellent images. However, the Pioneer’s anti-reflective screen coating proved more effective than the one Panasonic employs, in reducing in-room reflections. The extra effectiveness came at a cost; it adds a purple-reddish tint to the image that was clearly seen with both displays side by side. Calibration was not a solution; it is the nature of the KURO panel.

The other major difference between the KURO and the Panasonic Premiere is the way they revealed dark detail. The KURO takes a higher level signal to come out of black, which caused details in dark movies (think Batman Begins and Alien Versus Predator) to be obscured. The same content on the Panasonic revealed the dark details the KURO hid.

The conclusion? The new Panasonic TH-65VX100 is overall the best flat panel tested to date, and should be considered by anyone contemplating a flat screen display in the 60”-65” screen size range.

Copyright ©2008 Gary Merson/HD Guru® All rights reserved. HD GURU is a registered trademark. The content and photos within may not be distributed electronically or copied mechanically without specific written permission.