A few years ago when plasma first started making its mark on the American consumer, it was the charming, catchy Philips Flat TV campaign that introduced many to the idea of a television a few inches thick that hangs on a wall.
Although the ads were ever so slightly absurd (hanging a television on the ceiling, etc.), people got the idea that a whole new revolution in television displays was coming. Many equated Philips as the first to bring out plasmas (which is not true). In fact, for a period of time, Philips was not very committed to plasma displays, with minimal offerings available. That has changed, and for the better, with a renewed commitment to not only plasmas, but also LCDs and LCoS displays.
The subject of this review is none other than Philips' top of the line display, the 50FD9955 50-inch plasma. This is a 1365x768 panel which uses NEC glass.
Added to the plasma was the latest Philips E-Box or Flat TV receiver, the FTR9965. This is essentially an outboard box for all the connections, and it incorporates the new Pixel Plus processing algorithm to improve the quality of analog feeds. It connects to the plasma via one cable into the VGA port.
Let me start by saying that the tabletop stand for the plasma is the most artistic, attractive design I have ever seen on any plasma or LCD. With the handsome silver frame of the Philips, this is easily the best looking plasma, in my opinion. Even the new E-Box has an attractive brushed aluminum finish on the front. The Philips combo is just plain pretty, and deserves some high marks for that. I wish I could say the same about the remotes, which are nothing special, and in fact are not very well laid out, with too many similar buttons.
Installation/Setup/Ease of Use
The plasma was hooked up using the aforementioned cable between the E-Box and monitor. A DVD player was hooked up through the E-Box and also directly to component inputs of the plasma using Tributaries component cables. There is a DVI port with HDCP, but for the purposes of this test this was not used. A Pioneer HD cablE-Box (Time Warner Cable) was used to provide analog and HD feeds, and although the Pioneer had a DVI output it was not active. The rest of the system included a Simaudio processor/amplifier combo and the Dali Piano speaker system. Interconnections were provided with AudioQuest Pythons, and power connections were hooked up to a Monster HTS 5100. Video Essentials was used to calibrate the basic picture controls.
Those familiar with the Philips DVD recorders will recognize the tree-based menu system, but in this iteration it is much easier to understand and use. The pictographic symbols on the DVD players are replaced by plain old English words (yes!), and most of the setup can actually be accomplished without reading too much of the manual. The E-Box also has an automatic channel programmer--another nice television-like touch.
The plasma was fired up initially using a DVD source--a Sony DVD player, as well as a Philips DVDR80 DVD recorder. The picture was quite good: clean, crisp, and sharp. The color saturation was excellent, with no tilt toward blue to make the display appear brighter. There was no need for this, as with the claimed 1000:1 contrast ratio and the sheer brightness of this display, even a brightly lit room did not dim the excellent picture quality. This is in contrast to the last Philips 50-inch panel I saw (admittedly, in a Tweeters store). It appeared somewhat dim and soft. Even the black level is quite good, falling a bit short as all plasmas do in analog mode, but with DVDs it was more than acceptable. The black level was not quite as good as the Fujitsu I have at home as my reference plasma, but it came close enough that I could probably live happily with the Philips for DVD viewing.
With HD feeds, the picture was very crisp and sharp. With the 1365x768 array (true high definition), this plasma provided an excellent, detailed picture. The black levels with HD broadcasts were quite good, and few artifacts were seen.
The analog performance of this unit is mainly tested via the FTR9965 receiver. It functions as a scaler, TV tuner, control center, and has electronic processing algorithms to enhance analog performance (Pixel Plus). I compared this with the surprisingly good output for analog TV from the Pioneer cablE-Box. This Pioneer has the ability to output analog and digital feeds via its component video outputs, which were then fed into the E-Box pass-through. The Pixel Plus processing was tested via the S-Video output of the E-Box from the cablE-Box.
The analog performance of the combo was good, but not quite as good as the best that I have seen. With Pixel Plus activated, the sharpness and detail increased significantly, and with some programming it was much more enjoyable to watch with Pixel Plus activated. There were certain occasions that I felt the picture was just a bit too sharp or hard, but for the most part the Pixel Plus algorithm really seems to make a nice difference with analog TV. The Pioneer box's output was also very good with a slightly smoother, softer picture helped by the virtues of the component output. I found myself preferring the Philips E-Box at times, and the Pioneer box at times, but on most occasions the Philips became my default choice.
The E-Box adds several other important features, such as a built in TV tuner, picture-in-picture, closed captioning, a 15-watt, two-channel amp, and automatic aspect ratio control. These features are rarely found on a plasma, as they are mostly monitors, and make this system much easier to use and more like a regular television. By placing all this in an outboard box that costs $999, Philips' strategy of adding extra features and connections has also been done with some user-friendliness.
It is easy to see that this combination is an excellent choice at $11,000 retail. As we all know, street price can be quite a bit less, and the combination of handsome good looks, intelligent design, very good performance, and an inclusion of a DVI port with HDCP make for an excellent overall package. The E-Box with its built in TV tuner and Pixel Plus processing only add to the overall appeal. This Philips package is one that I now personally recommend to friends looking for a flat screen set.
Philips 50FD9955 Plasma Monitor
Dimensions: 48.9"H x 30.2"W x 4.3"D
Contrast Ratio: 1000:1
Brightness: 550 nits
Wall mount kit included
Inputs: DVI with HDCP, (1 set) HD component,
(1 set) SD component, S-Video,
(2) composite, RGB
Philips FTR9965 Flat TV Receiver
Dimensions: 17.2"H x 4.2"W x 13.0"D
2 Tuner PIP
Pixel Plus, Digital Natural Motion,
Digital CrystalClear processing
Automatic aspect ratio control
3D Comb Filter
Progressive Scan Output
Front Inputs: S-Video, composite, audio L/R,
Rear Inputs: (2) S-Video, (3) composite, (2) component (including one RGBHV), VGA, antenna
Rear Outputs: VGA to monitor