Panasonic TH-50PH9UK Review



out of 10
The good: Relatively inexpensive; excellent black-level performance; accurate color decoding; solid video processing with 2:3 pull-down; independent memory per input; versatile PIP function; extensive picture adjustments; customizable inputs.

The bad: Inaccurate primary colors; does not include a stand, a tuner, or speakers; limited to only four total inputs and doesn't include a digital input out of the box; cannot change aspect ratios with HDTV sources.

The bottom line: Although its features can't compete against typical consumer plasmas, the "professional" Panasonic TH-50PH9UK's excellent picture quality and price make it the best value at this size, bar none.

(pictured above) around $150, and Panasonic's latest line of professional plasma panels, the TH-PH9UK series, continues to turn everyday TV shoppers' heads for some very compelling reasons. While designed primarily for professional use, the picture quality of these TVs is better than that of most consumer models, and their prices are extremely competitive. The trade-off? Panasonic's pro plasmas come with just a couple of inputs, no speakers, and no stand, although you can purchase them separately. The HDMI input--a necessity in today's world--will cost you at least an extra $110, the standthe speakers, if you choose to add them, about $250. (The full list of accessories can be found here.) If the customization and extra accessories sounds like a chore, then the professional models probably aren't right for you.

If you can handle their limitations, however, the pro models still represent a fantastic value. The 50-inch TH-50PH9UK reviewed here follows in the footsteps of last year's TH-50PHD8UK with essentially the same feature set, although it does offer at least one significant improvement in picture performance. And while the Panasonic TH-50PH9UK didn't perform quite as well as the Pioneer PDP-5070HD, which earned our 2006 Editors' Choice award among the 50-inch plasmas we've tested, it costs significantly less and still produces a superb picture.

Design of Panasonic TH-50PH9UK

As you might expect from a product aimed toward the professional market, the Panasonic TH-50PH9UK is quite simple with no industrial design flare whatsoever. It is finished in a very dark gray, and other than the Panasonic name below the center of the screen and the power light all the way to the left, there is nothing else to distinguish it. The all-screen look results in relatively tiny overall dimensions for a 50-inch plasma: 47.6 by 28.5 by 3.7 inches WHD for the panel itself, with a weight of 81.6 pounds.

As we mentioned, stereo speakers are an optional accessory. You must also opt for either the table-top stand or the wall-mount kit to support the panel.

The remote is intelligently designed and as a result, very easy to use. We especially appreciated the separate keys for each input slot. Unfortunately, the clicker is not backlit at all and cannot control other devices. Internally, the menu system hasn't changed on the industrial models for many years and remains extremely simple and easy to navigate.

Features of Panasonic TH-50PH9UK

With a native resolution of 1,366x768, the Panasonic TH-50PH9UK matches the pixel count of just about every other 50-inch plasma on the market. It has enough pixels to display every detail of 720p sources; and all sources, from standard TV to DVD, to HDTV, to computers, are scaled to fit the native resolution.

As you may have surmised, the TH-50PH9UK doesn't offer much in the way of a feature package. Interestingly, it does have a PIP feature, which allows you to watch any two sources simultaneously, but that's about all she wrote for conveniences. There's no tuner, ATSC or otherwise, so to watch standard or high-def TV, you'll need to connect an external source, such as a cable or satellite box. Likewise, the lack of speakers means you'll need to connect your A/V sources to an external audio system or buy Panasonic's optional speakers to hear anything.

We were annoyed that the TH-50PH9UK still can't switch aspect ratios with HD sources, which is an issue if you're watching high-def on a channel that's sized improperly--like a lot of TNT channels--and your cable or satellite box can't change aspects. There are four aspect-ratio choices available for high-def sources.

The Panasonic TH-50PH9UK does have several picture enhancing features worth mentioning. First off, 2:3 pull-down is available in the video processing but must be engaged for all inputs individually in the setup menu, as the default setting is Off. Selectable color temperatures are on tap and include Warm (the closest to the broadcast standard of 6,500K), Normal, and Cool. Panasonic also gives you three Picture mode choices: Dynamic, Standard, and Cinema. The TH-50PH9UK has independent memory per input; this means you can use any mode you wish at any input and still be able to make changes to the picture controls (with the consumer models such as the TH-50PX60U, you must assign a picture mode to an input in order to set it up independently of other inputs). Finally, in the advanced menu, there are fine-tuneable grayscale controls and selectable gamma settings.

Connection options are definitely limited compared to other HDTVs on the market. The panel comes with one component-video input that is also configurable to RGBHV (for computers or other RGB gear); an S-Video input; a composite video input; a 15-pin VGA input for computers (1,366x768 maximum resolution) that can also serve as a second component-video input with the addition of an inexpensive adapter; and an RS-232 control port. It's also worth noting that the component- and composite-video ports don't use standard RCA-style connectors. You'll have to buy inexpensive adapters, available at any RadioShack, to turn the BNC-style jacks into RCA jacks that will fit most A/V gear.

The good news is that the TH-50PH9UK has hot-swappable inputs housed on removable boards. The set comes with two boards preinstalled--the component-video input on one and the composite and S-Video inputs on another (the VGA input is fixed). There is also an empty bay for adding a board your choice. We strongly recommend purchasing the optional HDMI board mentioned above for this slot. You can also remove existing slots and change them to suit your system's needs. Also, note that although there are only four total slots, you can connect more gear by utilizing an HDMI- or component-video switching device, such as some A/V receivers.

Performance of Panasonic TH-50PH9UK

In terms of reference-quality picture performance, the Panasonic industrial models, which have been among our favorites for several years, have recently been eclipsed by the latest generation of Pioneer panels. (See our review of the Pioneer PDP-5070HD for details.) That is because Pioneer has finally made its black-level performance competitive with the best Panasonic models, if not quite equal to them, while delivering more accurate primary colors, which means overall color accuracy is better on the Pioneers. With that said, you will pay a premium for the Pioneer over the Panasonic. Therefore, the TH-50PH9UK does represent the absolute best value-to-performance ratio in its size and category.

We began our evaluation of the Panasonic TH-50PH9UK by calibrating it for a darkened room using the Toshiba HD-A1 HD-DVD player as the primary source. Even before calibration, the TH-50PH9UK exhibited really good out-of-the-box performance compared to that of most other 50-inch plasma panels (see the geek box, below). If you check out the box, you'll notice that the Kelvin numbers are a little closer prior to grayscale calibration; however, the post calibration is actually more accurate and produces the better picture. The reason for this is that you can be very close to 6,500K and be significantly plus or minus green in the grayscale. In the calibration process, we fixed the plus-green problem, and the Kelvin numbers got a little bit worse. To see all of the final picture settings we used, click the Tips & Tricks tab at the top of the page.

As we have come to expect from the Panasonic industrial models, the color decoding was extremely acurate with no red push whatsoever. This resulted in excellent color saturation. Gamma and grayscale tracking were pretty decent, which resulted in solid overall color reproduction and exceptionally natural-looking skin tones. The Panasonic's weakness comes in the area of primary color accuracy. Red is reasonably close to the ATSC standard, but green is way off and heavily pushed toward yellow, making grass and trees, for example, look unrealistic.

Black-level performance remains among the Panasonic's main strengths. In fact, it could be argued that the TH-50PH9UK is better at black than any other panel on the market. Opening scenes from the HD-DVD version of Unforgiven were rendered perfectly with every bit of shadow detail visible, as well as blacks that were truly inky in nature. Thanks to the excellent blacks, the brighter scenes in the movie also had a real snap or pop to them, indicating an excellent contrast ratio, largely due to black level performance. Chapter four of Training Day, also on HD-DVD, was razor sharp, with even the most subtle details clearly visible.

Panasonic also made one big improvement with the 9UK series: it fixed the floating black problem of the previous 8UK generation, earning a passing grade in the black-level retention test in the geek box. The darkness of black areas is now constant and doesn't change depending on how bright or dark the picture content is, which helps improve details in shadows.

Geek box
Before color temp (20/80) 6,400/6,500K Good
After color temp 6,500/6,800K Average
Before grayscale variation +/- 97K Good
After grayscale variation +/- 278K Average
Color of red (x/y) 0.660/0.330 Average
Color of green 0.261/0.663 Poor
Color of blue 0.147/0.061 Good
Overscan 2.5 percent Good
Black-level retention All patterns stable Good
2:3 pull-down, 24fps Yes Good
Defeatable edge enhancement Yes Good

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