V, Inc. came to prominence a few years ago when they brought out a line of affordable plasma displays and one of the first DVI-equipped DVD players. Until now, the largest Vizio plasma was 46 inches, but with the P50 HDM they have now entered a new arena. True to their high value credo, at $2,999 it is one of the least expensive 50-inch plasmas out there. In fact, I have seen this unit as low as $2,600 at Costco with a coupon - a serious bargain on a 50-inch plasma unit.
For its bargain price, this is not a bargain-looking unit. With a glossy black frame surround and silver speakers integrated on the bottom part of the panel, this is a very nice-looking unit with a fit and finish that does not look like one of the bargain plasmas you see at retailers. Only up close does the slightly wavy finish of the surround look less expensive than that of more expensive models, but this unit will not embarrass you, no matter how nice your décor. This is a new design direction for the Vizios, and I like it. After reviewing many plasma and LCD panels with silver frames, it was actually kind of nice to watch a monitor with a black frame again.
The P50 HDM is a 16:9 1366 x 768 monitor, which means it does not have an internal tuner. Connectivity is good though, with an HDMI port that I used with a Scientific Atlanta HD DVR on the Time Warner cable system. I used the same box with a component connection, and also hooked up a Marantz DV-9500 DVD player outputting in 720p mode via HDMI. Both HDMI and component cables were Tributaries.
One interesting feature that immediately jumped out at me was the Faroudja DCDi de-interlacing chipset. As many of you know, analog television (and also a standard non-progressive scan DVD player) is in interlaced form, and to display that signal requires conversion to progressive scan. The Faroudja chipset is one of the best around at this, and is a very nice feature to find on a "value" unit.
The multifunction remote that comes with the P50 is a standard-looking, silver unit with gray plastic buttons. It is not backlit, and many of its buttons have multiple uses, depending on the selected function. For example, the VCR/DVD controls also have picture control functions such as input selection and screen mode. Although fairly straightforward after getting used to it, I did not find it to be the most intuitive setup.
Installation/Setup/Ease of Use
The menu system is easy to understand, and setting up this unit was pretty straightforward. Basic picture calibrations were done using Video Essentials. Going through the picture controls, I noticed there was no setting for color temperature, but I was able to get a nicely calibrated picture without too much trouble. I did experiment with some of the other features in the advanced menu subtree. The noise reduction seemed to do little, so I left it off. The "Fleshtone" adjustment did not seem to add much to the picture, and dynamic contrast compresses the image range. I ended up just leaving all of these in the off setting, and was perfectly happy with the picture result.
So far you know that this plasma doesn't look like a budget panel and has the connectivity of a more expensive monitor. Now comes the million dollar question - does it perform like a budget panel? In a word, no. The picture quality of this unit is actually quite good. Right out of the box, it did need some color calibration, but I was able to achieve a good balance without too much trouble. Black level is the first thing I look for, as budget panels are often poor in this area. The Vizio is quite the exception, as black level is actually very good. It is not the best I have seen - the blacks are still a very dark gray instead of a total black - but it is a far cry from a budget panel. I am not a fan of the stretch mode for analog sources, as I now prefer those that have very little stretch in the middle and high levels on the side. But, overall, the picture is vivid, fairly clean and bright, although there is some video noise that I just could not suppress by decreasing the sharpness or via the noise reduction circuit. The Faroudja de-interlacing works quite well, and when running the Faroudja test disc with the Marantz outputting a 480i signal, the P50 passed all the de-interlacing tests with flying colors.
Switching to HD feeds is where this unit really shines. The display is very crisp and detailed, and the black level is very good. 720p and 1080i signals are displayed with all the detail expected from a good HD panel, and this panel never skips a beat. Watching the baseball playoffs in HD on ESPN is almost a religious experience, as the picture is so vivid, clean, crisp and bright.
DVD outputted in 720p mode via HDMI is also excellent. Of course, it is not as good as the best HD feeds, but that is the limitation of the DVD format and not the plasma unit itself.
The end result is a plasma panel that does so much more than you expect for $2,999 that it is simply surprising how good it is. Although picture quality is about mid-pack for plasmas overall, black level is actually a little better than average and connectivity is better than a $10,000 plasma from two years ago! I would rather have this unit than several other more expensive ones that I have seen (and I am not saying which ones!), and that in itself speaks volumes. If they could just give me a better stretch mode, I would really, really like this unit. Give me a black level that is just a bit deeper, and I would love this unit. It is significant that so much can be had for $2,999. The average consumer will not feel as if they are missing anything, and the videophile won't feel like they are missing all that much, either. The P50 is a downright, genuine, bona-fide bargain, and for those that really love a great bargain, watch for those Costco coupons....
V, Inc. Vizio P50 HDM 50" Plasma Monitor
50" 16:9 1366 x 768 plasma monitor
Video Inputs: (2) Composite Video
(2) Component YpbPr
(1) Analog RGB
(2) Digital Video (HDMI) with HDCP
Faroudja DCDi de-interlacing
Built-in Stereo Speakers with 10W x 2 amplifier
Maximum contrast ratio 10,000:1
48.8" x 33.5" x 3.9"