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.
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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
Parasound AVC-2500U THX-Ultra DTS/DD Preamp/Processor
|Review - At a Glance|
NEC - PX-50XR4A 50" High-Definition Plasma Display
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