Configuration, Using the Set, and Remote
There are four separate set-up screens, three of which I will cover. The forth (sound) will not be covered and not only because the review unit didn't have speakers. Frankly, it irks me when I hear of someone spending thousands on a display and then cheaping out on the speakers. Of course I work for Audioholics so I may be a little biased but I think sound is every bit as important as the video.
Overall, the menu system was well laid out and intuitive. I especially appreciated the "normalize" button on each screen. Say you screwed everything up (or more likely, one of your loving children or drunken friends did). All you have to do is hit the "Normalize" button and it restores all the defaults. One quip, I'd like to see the position of the menus adjustable. During calibration, the menus would occasionally cover the test pattern I was viewing. If I could have changed the position of the menu on the screen, it would have helped. As it was, it was anchored in the upper right of the screen.
Author's Note: There are plenty of other little adjustments/menus that can be accessed in order to tweak the performance of the display. Since this display is designed for an industrial setting, many of these are business specific. One nice thing is that the manual is absolutely wonderful. As intuitive as the menus are (and they are... for the most part), the manual explains everything wonderfully. There is a nice diagram with the different menus at the front of the manual. Next to each of the menus, there are page numbers indicating where you can find information about that particular menu/functionality. On those pages, there are clear and concise directions and explanations. Now that is what I call helpful!
Position / Size
This menu adjusted the position and size of the image on the screen. I had no issues with the default settings. If you did, you could stretch/compress the horizontal and vertical dimensions or reposition the image on the screen. With these settings you can really dial in the display, especially when using it to complement a HTPC or other computer output.
The Setup menu lets you select the input and define other functionalities. The TH-50PHD8UK has only one component, one s-video, and one composite input which means that you probably will have to do your video switching from an external source (switcher or receiver). I decided to let my Denon AVR-3805 handle the switching duties and connected it via component video. There were no DVI or HDMI inputs for this display which means that, except for a cable or satellite receiver, the best resolution you can pass to the unit is 480p from most DVD players (unless you have something like the Helios HVD2085 DVD player).
Authors Note: The empty slot 1 (diagram above) can be filled with an optional HDMI or DVI board for around an additional $155 or $145 respectively (both should include HDCP.) Not a bad investment in order to get the maximum performance out of the display.
- Input Label - Select from a list
- Power Save - On/Off
- Standby Save - On/Off
- Power Management - On/Off
- Auto Power Off - On/Off
- OSD Language - Select from a list
- Screensaver - The most notable option in here is the "side bar adjust" which changes the color of the sidebars when viewing in "normal" mode (see Aspect). The default is "bright," which is a light grey. There is also "mid" and "dark" which are just shades of grey. I prefer black so I selected "off."
- Multi Display Setup - if you want to use more than one of these panels in unison (used for commercial environments).
- Set Up Timer - Auto turns on / off display (for commercial use)
The Picture menu houses all your standard picture adjustments. There are three different "Picture" menus (default settings) that are selectable. Out of the box, it was set to Dynamic which was a bit too bright but probably works well under fluorescent lighting. Cinema mode seemed far too dark. Standard seemed to be the best out of the box. Calibration confirmed this to be true.
Other than your normal Picture, Brightness, Color, Tint, and Sharpness, the menu included an Advanced Settings area you could enable. Under this submenu, you could control your red and blue levels, the black extension, and gamma among others. Generally I left this alone as well.
- Normal - Displays 4:3 material in its standard size with bars on the sides (default bar color is grey)
- Zoom - magnifies the center section of the picture which may cut off some of the top and bottom
- Full - Stretches the picture horizontally to fit the screen (everyone looks fat with 4:3 material) 舑 Note: with widescreen material, use this mode. If you opt for Normal (the "logical" choice when wishing to view something in its native resolution), the image will be compressed horizontally (everyone looks thin). I couldn't find an explanation for this in the manual
- Just - Similar to Full but stretches the sides more than the center (people in the center of the screen look normal but on the sides look extra wide "creates a peep hole" effect during pans)
I used the aspect ratio controls quite a bit depending on the material. With 4:3 material I used Full for the most part unless I was watching something fairly static (like poker) - then I used Just. I shied away from Normal for 4:3 content as it could lead to short-term burn-in effects.
If you are going to use Normal mode or watch endless hours of news channels or are an avid video gamer, you may be concerned about burn-in. The screensaver is a nice feature to reduce burn-in. You can actually configure the screensaver to engage during certain times of day (though the unit has to be on, it won't turn itself on - a feature for future iterations of this unit which would benefit commercial users).
The two options are negative image (if a static image is shown during business hours, a negative would ensure that all the pixels are used equally) and white bar. The white bar will travel the screen from left to right.
As much as I like to bash remotes (and I do, really) this one wasn't so bad. Now, other than turning the unit on and off, changing the aspect ratio, and adjusting the settings, I didn't have much use for it. The buttons are fairly well laid out and it isn't too light. The directional keys at the top work well and are very near the settings keys (which is a good thing). Personally, I'm pleased to see Panasonic split the on and off functions into two separate buttons. This makes it incredibly easy to program macros into even entry-level universal remote controls.
The remote is as ergonomic as a 7" piece of 1 x 2 and it wasn't backlit (though it looked like it could be). I found the lack of backlighting confusing as the buttons seemed to be made of the white, translucent plastic common on backlit remotes. My few complaints were that the aspect key and PiP keys at the bottom of the remote kept getting mixed up. My only other quip was that I sometimes had problems getting my unit to respond to the remote. Usually, this happened when turning on or off the unit. I'm not sure if it was the position of the sensor on the unit (bottom left) or an inherent issue with the IR transmitter/receiver system. I could see the light flicker indicating that a command had been received but then nothing would happen.