HDTV

Panasonic TH-50PZ77U 50" 1080p Plasma HDTV

ARTICLE INDEX

 

On the Bench

For the most part I am very happy with this set, but when it came to calibration, Panasonic left out some things.  There are a couple of models above the PZ77U (the PZ750U in particular) which have very good calibration options.  The PZ77U series basically has all the electronics internally to properly calibrate it, but the options have been removed from the user menus.  I think that Panasonic has removed the calibrations options so that users who want that functionality will purchase the upper models which are still cheaper than the equivalent Pioneer models.

A quick search on Google will give you a way into the service menu which opens up the service menu to fix the calibration. However, when I asked Panasonic if they would be comfortable with me documenting the process, they expressed concern.  I can respect that, as the values you have to change are in HEX, and the interface is not terrible intuitive.  On top of that, changing the wrong value could render your display useless.

So what is a person to do? Well below are some graphs of each of the default display modes, and they are all wrong for one reason or another.  Vivid has the most unusual Gamma curve I have ever seen.  If you have a lot of light in the room, it should work well at getting most of the image above the glare on the screen.  The color temperature on the other hand is very cool.  Basically, the set looks terrible in Vivid mode.  The Standard mode improves the color temperature somewhat, but the gamma is still messed up.  I had high hopes for Cinema, at least the word implied it was going to do something right, and the color temperature was indeed closer to the ideal.

Now I have to mention the PZ77U didn’t have such perfect color temperature out of the box.  Normal was too cool (blue) and Warm was too warm (red).  When I was in the service menu adjusting the grayscale tracking, I figured I might as well fix the color temperature at the same time, so the resulting color temperature you are seeing in the Cinema setting is a result of that.

Gray Scale tracking out of the box wasn’t actually that bad.  I had to play with the red a little and just slightly tweak the blue, but overall it was livable even if I didn’t adjust it.

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Images: Vivid gamma curve, color temperature, and RGB.

Image: Default Cinema Setting.  Notice while the grayscale is good, the gamma is still a mess.

Post calibration and a couple of tweaks in the service menu, you can see the potential of this set is very good.  It has a Gamma of 2.1, good gray scale tracking, and color temperature right where it should be.

Image: Post Calibration Measurements

I measured the contrast ratio (CR) as well. Panasonic claims 10,000:1 and we are honestly not expecting to achieve that nor should you be. Using the factory default settings, I was getting between 720:1 -> 816:1, and post calibration and tweaks in the service menu, I got 871:1. This was measuring Full On/Off CR using ColorFacts with a full field white pattern (there are other methods that will give different/higer results). My BenQ W10000 projector measured 2800:1 using the same gear (it is also spec’d at 10,000:1). I even dropped the brightness all the way down, cranked the contrast to the max, and set color temperature to “Cool”. I still couldn’t hit 1000:1. So there you have it. Don't worry about it though. All the manufacturers push the limits on specified contrast ratios, and the pictures look fine in general.

Conclusions

In my living room, I really like this display, and I would be more than happy with it for years to come.  HD programming looks spectacular, SD is acceptable, pixel-perfect images with my HTPC, good black levels and bright enough to use on Sunday afternoon when the sun is shining in the window.  The gray-scale, color temperature, and gamma are excellent.  But if you are stuck with the existing user menus, I am not sure you will be quite as happy.  Panasonic built a great set and slightly crippled it on purpose such that they could charge more for their upper models.  I can’t say I blame them, as the competition costs more money, and anyone running a sale organization will tell you not to leave money on the table.

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I am not even sure the average user would know that the calibration was out.  As long as you get the brightness and contrast under control (which helps the gamma substantially), the set performs very well.  This can done with the THX settings menu on any THX DVD, so the Panasonic can be an acceptable looking display for the average consumer.

I recommend the PZ77U and I have recommended it to a few people I know, but I wouldn’t call it a product of the year or exceptional value for the money.  It could use another HDMI port (maybe on the side), better user based calibration options, and a stand the swivels.  At the street price of around $1,900, I don’t think anyone will be unhappy, and it is well worth the additional dollars over say a 50” 720p Vizio.