Product Review (March 2005) - NEC
PX-50XR4A 50" High-Definition Plasma Display

NEC has recently announced their new Showcase Series™ of displays geared for high performance home entertainment. We received their latest PX-50XR4A 50" plasma to review and were eager to put it through the tests. The native resolution of this plasma is 1365x768, making it a true high definition display with a 16:9 aspect ratio. The slim (under 4") design is attractive and can easily be wall mounted or placed on a tabletop stand. NEC provided us with their heavy-duty PX-ST1U/S tabletop stand for the review and its build quality was impressive, easily supporting the 100 pound plasma. The viewing angle of the PX-50XR4A is advertised to be 160 degrees and we confirmed the image looked great at the extreme angles. The PX-50XR4A has some unique picture-in-picture (PIP) capabilities as well that allow for different PIP locations as well as size options and aspect ratios. Users can display images side-by-side or have a sub-screen within a main picture. The position of the subscreen can be moved to any of the four quadrants on the display. The display comes with a user's manual, AC power cord with ferrite cores, remote control with batteries, nylon cable clamps and an HDMI to DVI adaptor. Nylon cable clamps are provided to hold the large number of cables that will most likely interface to the side of the display.

The PX-50XR4A is said to have a 60,000 hour half-life, which refers to the approximate time for the display panel to reach half of it's original brightness. The life of the display involves many factors, one of which is how hard the display is driven over the life of the product. The unit is designed to be very quiet and does have a small fan located near the top rear of the unit. The display operated on the cool side compared to some of the earlier plasmas we've seen, yet it still consumed considerable power. We measured a peak current of over four amps using a Belkin PF60 Power Console. Most of the time the display only required 2 to 3 amps. A pair of large handles are located on the top rear corners of the unit. These handles work great especially when lifting the display out of the package and placing it on the stand.

Setup
We spent a considerable amount of time with a Samsung SIR-T165 set-top box driving the PX-50XR4A using a Belkin PureAV™ DVI cable. The SIR-T165 not only receives terrestrial high-definition broadcasts, but it also has a FireWire™ (iLink™) port that allowed us to play our high definition D-Theater tapes and send them digitally to the display without ever going to the analog domain. We also connected a Sony DVP-NS900V player using the analog component video. A set of high performance Tributaries SCV-C component video cables were used to carry the video to the display. This same DVD player was used to test the composite and s-video inputs on the PX-50XR4A.

We wanted to compare the performance of the built-in video processing electronics to an outboard DVDO iScan HD video processor, but unfortunately we couldn't get the display to map the pixels 1:1 with the scaler. Without being able to do this, we could not see the effects of bypassing the internal display processing.

There are three sets of line-level audio inputs on the plasma that can be assigned to the different video inputs defined by the user. This is a convenient feature that allows users to switch between different video sources and get the correct audio without having to use more elaborate and complicated audio components to handle the simple task of watching TV or a DVD. Obviously, some advanced users may choose to integrate a higher-end audio system, but it is not a requirement. A pair of speaker output terminals are provided and the display handles the amplification with volume control. We wanted to hear the performance of the built-in audio switching and amplifier, so we connected a pair of PSB Alpha speakers to the display.

Menus
The PX-50XR4A offers an impressive amount of flexibility for the user. Possibly much more than most users will ever need. The menu structure comprises of six basic sections (Picture, Audio, Image Adj., Set up, Function and Signal Info). The position of the menu can be defined by the user.

The Picture menu has controls for Picture Memory, Contrast, Brightness, Sharpness, Color, Tint, NR (Noise Reduction), Color Temp, White Balance, Gamma, Low Tone, Setup Level (Black Level), Color Tune, Cinema Mode and Picture Mode. Up to six Picture Memories can be saved and recalled based on the input and video signal. The user can even add a note up to 15 characters long for future reference. The White Balance settings allows the user to change individual red, green and blue gain and bias of the display. Using these controls we were able to correct the gray-scale color tracking. The Color Tune menu allows the user to adjust the primary colors (Red, Green, Blue, Yellow, Magenta and Cyan) for accurate color reproduction. This is a great feature that can correct for primary color errors.

The Audio menu has settings for Bass, Treble, Balance, Audio Input1, Audio Input2 and Audio Input3. Each of the three Audio Inputs can be independently configured to work with a specific video input. When the user selects the assigned video input, the correct audio input will automatically be selected as well. The selected audio will then be amplified and sent to the speaker terminals on the back of the unit. This is ideal for those who use wall mounted speakers or the optional PX-50SP1U/S Twin Speakers that are connected to the display.

The Image Adj. menu controls Aspect Ratio, V-Position, H-Position, V-Height, H-Width, Auto Picture, Fine Picture and Picture Adjust. The Aspect Ratio can be set for Zoom, Normal, Anamorphic, Stadium, 14:9 or 2.35:1. When the Auto Picture is set to off, the Fine Picture and Picture Adjust settings are enabled.

The Set Up menu selects Language, BNC Input, D-Sub Input, HD Select, RGB Select, DVI Set Up, Color System, Back Ground, Gray Level, S1/S2, Display OSM, OSM Adj. and All Reset. The BNC Input can be set to RGB when using all five input signals (RGB/HV) or Component when using only three of the BNC inputs (YPrPb).

Widescreen Options
The Aspect Ratio controls on this display offer some nice flexibility since there are some cases where the content being displayed does not look ideal. The Normal mode simply places the input video (4:3 image) in the center of the screen creating bars on the right and left side. The Anamorphic mode displays the image across the full screen and is the appropriate setting for anamorphic or 16:9 enhanced DVDs as well as high-definition content. The Stadium mode fills the entire screen as well, but in a non-linear fashion. This mode displays the center portion of the screen similar to the Normal mode, but instead of having the side bars, the image is stretched on the left and right side to fill the whole screen with the picture. This non-linear scanning approach keeps the center potion of the screen with the proper aspect ratio so that 4:3 content looks good on the 16:9 display, yet completely prevents screen burn.

The Zoom mode can be used for two different purposes. For example, standard 4:3 content can be displayed without geometric distortions (horizontally stretched) and at the same time not suffer from possible screen burn. The other benefit of the Zoom mode is with older DVDs that were widescreen (intended for 4:3 displays). These discs were not anamorphic or 16:9 enhanced and created problems on 16:9 display. Images would not only appear horizontally stretched, but have bar at the top and bottom as well. The Zoom mode can reduce or eliminate the top and bottom bars on these discs while preserving the proper aspect ratio.

The 2.35:1 mode offers an interesting capability for DVD movies that are anamorphic or 16:9 enhanced. Some movies are much wider than the 1.78:1 (16:9 format) screen resulting in small bars at the top and bottom of the screen. This is normally not a big issue, but is a real concern on screens that can burn like this plasma. By zooming in on the image the top and bottom bars can be eliminated at the cost of cropping some of the left and right portion of the original picture. It is a trade-off that the user must choose, but the benefits are appealing.

Connectivity
The PX-50XR4A offers a wide selection of video inputs located just behind the right side of the unit. Three NTSC Video inputs consist of a composite BNC (Video 1), a composite RCA (Video 2) and an s-video (Video 3) connector. Component inputs via three RCA connectors are provided. Also included is a set of five BNC connectors for either RGB/HV or component signals. There is a standard PC-style 15-pin RGB D-Sub connector for a set-top box or computer. More importantly, there is a DVI input that is fully HDCP compliant. The three sets of two-channel audio inputs are configurable by the user based on the video selected. The selected audio input passes through the built-in volume control just before it goes to the amplifier (2 x 9 watts) and out to the speaker terminals. The amplifier can drive speakers with a 6 or 8 ohm impedance rating.

The RS232 serial port is used to command and control the functions within the display with a standard 9600 baud rate with 8-bit data. A table in the manual clearly defines the codes needed to command the display. This is essential for custom installations where the installer may want to configure the display using a high performance controller such as a Crestron or AMX unit.

Front panel controls are located at the bottom left of the screen with the exception of the power button located on the bottom right. The Menu/Enter button sets the on-screen menu mode and displays the main menu. The Volume Up and Down buttons control the volume level and are also used to navigate along with the Left/- and Right/+ buttons. The Input Select/Exit button cycles through the inputs and is dependent on the BNC Input, RGB Select, and DVI Setup settings. The power button and indicators are located on the lower right side of the display. The LED illuminates green when power is on and red when off.

Remote
The remote included with the display is a slim ergonomic design that has all the frequently used buttons in easily accessible places. Unfortunately, there is no backlight on this remote. However, it is possible to memorize the buttons locations based on feel since there are a limited number of them in unique locations. The On and Standby power buttons are located at the top with the Off Timer, Display and Wide buttons just below them. The Display button displays the source settings on the screen. The menu control buttons are provided to navigate through the on-screen menu system. This include the Menu/Enter and Exit buttons in addition to the four-way navigation button. Volume Up and Down as well as a Mute button are provided. A pair of Zoom buttons allow the user to zoom in and out. The Side-by-Side and Picture-in-Picture buttons control the way multiple pictures are displayed on the screen. The PX-50XR4A offers good flexibility when displaying two completly different video sources at the same time on the screen. The video select buttons allow the user to select from Video1, Video2, Video3, DVD/HD1, DVD/HD2, DVD/HD3 and PC/RGB. The user must select the DVD/HD3 input when using the DVI input and the PC/RGB input when using the analog 15-pin connector. The Picture Memory button is used to cycle through the six picture memory settings defined by the user.

Calibration
Using the custom setting in the Color Temperature menu, we were able to adjust both Gain and Bias levels for each of the red, green and blue primaries. We took color measurements using a Sencore CP5000 All-Display Color Analyzer
and a GretagMacbeth Eye-One Pro Spectroradiometer combined with Milori's ColorFacts Professional software. Calibration was simple with the menu controls provided. The graph shows both the before and after color measurements. The calibrated settings resulted in excellent color tracking (see blue plot) across all IRE levels. The display produced accurate colors with good shadow detail. The black level on this display was not deep, but did look better than many of the plasmas we've seen in the past.

Using a Sencore VP403 connected to the DVI interface, we measured the full screen light output for a 100 IRE signal to be 18.6 foot-Lamberts. 52.3 foot-Lamberts were produced using a smaller 100 IRE window, which occupied the center 1/9th of the screen area. The power supply seems to limit brightness depending on the area requiring light output. Regardless, the display produced a bright, high contrast picture in our viewing room even with significant ambient light present. In fact, this is one of the attractions of plasmas displays.

Display Primaries
We measured the primary colors produced by the PX-50XR4A and found them to be close to ideal. Fortunately, this display allows calibrators or advanced users to adjust the color of the primaries. Using the Color Tune menu, each primary color (Red, Green, Blue, Yellow, Magenta and Cyan) can be moved within a small area within the CIE chart. The ability to fine tune the primary colors is a powerful feature that calibrators and ultimately the customer will benefit from. The CIE chart indicates where the ideal primaries are located (where the three small points make a dark triangle). The measured primary colors (before adjustments) are marked by the red, green and blue markers, connected together with the white triangle. Only colors inside this triangle can be produced by the display by definition. Even without changing the primary colors, the picture looked excellent with deep reds, lush greens and rich blues. Skin tones looked natural and color fidelity of the many high-definition pictures we saw were absolutely stunning on this display. The vivid colors looked similar to a good high resolution CRT display, without the problems associated with geometry, convergence and high voltage stability.

Performance
Plasmas are popular for a good reason. They are attractive looking with their slim and elegant exterior and they produce bright, high contrast images without being hindered by moderate ambient light in the room. Prior to evaluating the picture quality, we calibrated the inputs to maximize performance. As with all fixed pixels displays, video inputs are processed to be properly displayed on the screen. NTSC and other interlaced video inputs require deinterlacing and scaling, while progressive video usually only requires scaling to the native resolution of the display. How well this process works largely depends on the quality of the video processing electronics. Both 1080i and 720p high definition material looked great on this display with excellent resolution and rich colors. It was more noticeable when using the analog inputs, but we still could see some when using the DVI input.

We started with some of our favorite reference D-VHS tapes that include Over Ireland, Bikini Destinations, and War in Afghanistan from HDNet. These tapes produce amazingly good video quality without many of the compression artifacts seen on most over-the-air programs. We tested video performance using the DVI input as well as the analog high definition component inputs. We did see some noticeable false-contouring on some high definition source material, but it wasn't any different from other plasmas displays we have seen. We saw a clear advantage using the DVI input with less artifacts on the screen. Some of our D-Theater movies such as The Transporter and Master and Commander were also impressive on this screen. Like virtually all plasma and LCD units we have seen, this display has black levels that look more like dark gray. This only seems to bother us when we are watching a movie in a completely dark environment. With some ambient light in the room, the issue becomes less significant.

Composite video suffers with some visible cross-color artifacts as a result of the processing required for Y/C separation. The analog component video inputs looked much better when running 480i/p, but there was a fair amount of judder on scenes that panned rapidly. Judder is a common problem that occurs on most displays, including some of the more expensive front projectors we've seen. One remedy is to display the video at an exact multiple of the film frame rate such as 48 Hz or 72 Hz.

The PX-50XR4A has a flexible Split-screen and PIP (Picture-in-Picture) feature that allows video from virtually any two sources to be displayed on the screen simultaneously. The two inputs being displayed can have completely different scan rates and resolutions. The display will automatically synchronize the two inputs to be properly displayed on the screen. Two video inputs can either be displayed side-by-side in the Split-screen mode or one within the other in the PIP mode.

Plasmas also have an inherent issue with screen burn-in and this display is no different. One should avoid having a static picture for any length of time on the screen. This would especially be a problem if a computer is used to drive the display since much of the desktop remains unchanged over long periods of time. We noticed some screen burn even with the main menu of some DVDs we reviewed. As long as users are aware of this issue, it should not cause any long-term display problems.

Conclusion
The NEC PX-50XR4A plasma display is capable of producing a very pleasing high definition picture. It almost appeared as though you were looking out of a very clean window. The natural looking colors were most impressive and the high level of light output allowed the display to work in well lit rooms. The display produced excellent picture quality even with some noticeable false-contouring from time to time.

The display is not only attractive with its sleek contemporary look, but is also functionally competent. We liked the large number of video inputs and the built-in audio amplifier with audio input switching. We feel that this was a good choice by the product development team. The native 1365x768 resolution produces enormous detail when viewing high-definition source material. The menu system is loaded with controls for the serious videophile. Calibrating the image did not require special service codes, making it easy to optimize the picture when using our video generator and color analyzers. Table-top and wall mounting options make it compatible with virtually all types of installations. We think the NEC PX-50XR4A display has the performance and features needed for today's critical customers.

- Kevin Nakano


Review System

Preamplifier/Processor: Parasound AVC-2500U THX-Ultra DTS/DD Preamp/Processor
Amplification: Parasound HCA-2205AT THX-Ultra Five Channel Amplifier
Bass Management: Miller & Kreisel BMC Mini 5.1 Bass Management Controller
Front Speakers: Miller & Kreisel S-150THX (L+R) and S-150AC (Center) Speakers
Rear Speakers: Miller & Kreisel SS-250 Tripole® Surround Speakers
Subwoofer: Two Miller & Kreisel MX-350THX MkII THX-Ultra Push-pull Subwoofers
Room Treatments: Echo Buster panels and Bass Buster towers
Set-top Box: Samsung SIR-T165 Terrestrial HDTV Receiver with DVI
HDTV Receiver/Controller: Mitsubishi HD-5000 Receiver
D-VHS VCR: JVC HM-DH30000U D-VHS High-Definition D-Theater VCR
DVD/CD/SACD Player: Sony DVP-NS900V DVD/CD/SACD Player
Component Cables:
Tributaries SCV-C component
DVI Cable: Belkin PureAV™ DVI Cable
Power Conditioning: Belkin PF60 Power Console
Video Generator: Sencore VP403 SDTV/HDTV Video Pattern Generator
Color Analyzer #1: Sencore CP5000 ISF Certified All-Display Color Analyzer
Color Analyzer #2: Milori ColorFacts with
the GretagMacbeth Eye-One Pro


Review - At a Glance

NEC - PX-50XR4A 50" High-Definition Plasma Display

Features:

  • 50" Widescreen (16:9) High Definition Plasma Display.
  • Can be wall mounted or used with optional tabletop base.
  • 1365 x 768 pixel array for true high definition resolution.
  • 1000:1 contrast ratio delivers bright whites and deep blacks.
  • Film Mode with 3:2 pulldown compensation.
  • Three preset color temperature modes.
  • Custom programmable color temperature mode for the video enthusiast.
  • Four Zoom modes.
  • Accepts 480i, 480p, 720p and 1080i video signals.
  • Accepts VGA, SVGA, XGA, SXGA and UXGA computer monitor signals
  • Accepts W-VGA and W-XGA widescreen monitor formats.
  • Advanced Multi-Image Display supports PIP , POP or Split Screen (side-by-side).
  • Inputs for composite video, S-video, component video and RGB (D-Sub15 and 5-BNC).
  • Dedicated IR remote control that can also be connected by wire.
  • DVI/HDCP compliant digital video interface.

    Specifications:
    Screen Size:

    43.5" (H) x 24.5" (V) inches
    1106 (H) x 662 (V) mm
    Diagnol 50"

    Aspect Ratio: 16:9
    Viewing Angle : 160 degrees
    Resolution: 1365 (H) x 768 (V) pixels
    Pixel Pitch: 0.032" (H) x 0.032" (V) inches
    0.81 (H) x 0.81 (V) mm
    Color Processing: 68.7 billion colors, 4096 levels
    Signal Sync Range Horizontal: 15.5 to 110.0 kHz
    (Automatic: Step Scan)
    Vertical: 50 to 120 Hz
    (Automatic: Step Scan)
    Standard Signal Compatibility: PAL, SECAM, 3.58/4.43 NTSC
    SD/HD Signal Compatibility: 480p 480i, 525p, 525i, 540p, 625p, 625i, 720p,1035i, 1080i
    PC Signal Compatibility: VGA 640x480 @ 60,72,75,85,100, 120 Hz
    SVGA 800x600 @ 56, 60, 72,75,85,100,120 Hz
    XGA 1024x768 @ 60,70,75, 85, 100 Hz
    SXGA 1280x1024 @ 60, 75, 85, 100 Hz
    UXGA 1600x1200 @ 60, 65, 70, 75, 85 Hz
    WideVGA 848x480, 852 x 480 @ 60 Hz
    WideXGA 1360 x 765 @60 Hz, 1280 x 768 @ 60Hz
    MAC Signal Compatibility: 640x480, 832x624, 1024x768, 1152x870

    Input Terminals:

    RGB 1 (analog):

    15-pin mini D-sub (RGB/YPrPb selectable)

    RGB 2 (analog): 5 BNC (RGB/HV) (RGB/YPrPb selectable)
    RGB 3 (digital): 24-pin DVI-D HDCP (EIA/CEA-861-A) compatible
    Video 1: Composite BNC x 1 (common use with Video out, selectable)
    Video 2: Composite RCA x 1
    Video 3 : S-Video 4-Pin DIN
    Audio: 3 sets RCA stereo + external speaker jacks
    Audio Amplifier: 9 Watts x 2 Output Power
    External Control : D-sub 9-pin (RS-232C)


  • General:

    Product Dimensions: 20.0" (H) x 48.1: (W) x 3.8" (D)
    736mm (H) x 1222mm (W) x 96mm (D)
    Weight: 96.4 lbs., 43.8 kg
    Power Supply: 100V - 240V at 50/60 Hertz
    Power Consumption: 425W Typical, 7.6 Amp Maximum
    Operating Temperature: 32° - 104° F (0° - 40° C)
    Operating Humidity: 20 - 80%
    Operating Altitude: 0 - 9180 feet (0 - 2800m)
    Storage Temperature: 14° - 122° F (-10° - 50° C)
    Storage Humidity: 10 to 90% (no condensation)
    Storage Altitude: 0 - 9840 feet (0 - 3000m)
    Regulations: Regulatory FCC Classs B, UL6500, CSA60065
    Ships with: Remote and two "AAA" batteries
    HDMI to DVI adaptor cable
    Power cord
    Owner's manual
    Ferrite Cable Clamps for Power and Video
    Warranty: 3 Years Parts & Labor/1 year plasma module

    Operation Manual
    Specification Sheet

    Source: Manufacture supplied
    Model Number: PX-50XR4A
    Seriall Number: 4800235 9S
    MSRP: $8,995

    Optional Accessories

  • CMK 42"/50" Secure Ceiling Mount Kit
  • PX-ST1U/S Tabletop Stand
  • PX-50SP1U/S Twin Speakers for 50XM3A/S
  • FWMK 42"/50" Secure Wall Mount Kit
  • TWMK 42"/50" Secure Tilt Wall Mount Kit


    Company Information
    NEC Solutions (America), Inc.
    Visual Systems Division
    Service Sales Group
    1250 N. Arlington Heights Road, Ste. 400
    Itasca, IL 60143-1248
    Website: http://www.necsam.com

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