If you want to turn your TV viewing into a real experience, you need to think big. Especially if you're into watching films. And when it comes to 'mainstream' TVs, at least, big means the 50-52in size level.
We've rounded up a selection of these big boys from four of the UK's biggest AV brands, and featuring both LCD and plasma models, to see who's at the top of their big-screen game.
Price: £1,000 More info: LG Electronics Size: 1228.8(w) x 784.5(h) x 78.9(d)mm Weight: 36.2kg Resolution: 1920x1080 Native aspect ratio: 16:9 Claimed max contrast ratio: 2,000,000:1 Claimed max brightness: 1500cd/m2 Connections: Four HDMI inputs (all v1.3), component video input, two Scarts (one RGB), composite video input, PC input, stereo audio inputs, tuner input, CAM slot, S-Video input, headphone jack, USB slot, RF input, optical digital audio output, RS 232
In typical LG style, the 50PS7000 looks on paper to be remarkably good value. Just £1,000 isn't a lot to spend on even a very basic 50in plasma TV - but the 50PS7000 isn't just a basic plasma TV. It looks high-end, for a start, with a very glossy finish, some elegant lines, and even a little touch of blue imbued into the screen's bottom edge.
It's also impeccably connected, with highlights of four HDMIs, a D-Sub PC jack, a USB jack, and Bluetooth for wireless streaming of pictures and sound from compatible phones, or listening to the TV's sound on Bluetooth headphones. The USB, by the way, can play DivX HD films as well as JPEG photo and MP3 audio files.
The 50PS7000 also appeals greatly with its operating system, which combines some really pretty onscreen menus with unexpected levels of set-up flexibility. In fact, thanks to tricks like a colour management system, gamma adjustment, and dynamic colour and contrast boosters, the 50PS7000 has been endorsed by independent professional calibration outfit, the Imaging Science Foundation (ISF).
In some ways the 50PS7000's pictures are excellent. The full HD set leaves HD sources looking mesmerisingly detailed and crisp, for instance. It also proves pretty adept at handling motion, with onboard 600Hz processing helping reduce the judder problem that's so common with plasma TVs. Then there are the set's colours, which rank as some of the richest and brightest we've seen on a plasma TV. LCD doesn't have a monopoly on brightness, it would seem.
The 50PS7000 falls short of perfection, though. First, while its black levels look decent versus rival LCD TVs, dark scenes do look a touch greyer than they do on numerous other plasma screens.
Dark scenes also reveal image retention, where shadows of really bright image elements are left behind momentarily after they should have disappeared. And finally, standard definition pictures suffer the occasional offish colour tone, while also looking a little noisy.
With some decent audio to accompany the sometimes winning pictures, though, it's the 50PS7000's good points that just about carry the day.
Sharp HD pictures, decent price, wide viewing angle, good motion handling Minus points
Some strange colour tones during standard def viewing, black levels not up to plasma's usual standards, image retention
Price: £750 More info: Panasonic Size: (on stand): 1218(w) x 814 (h) x 401(d)mm Weight: 36kg Resolution: 1366x768 Native aspect ratio: 16:9 Claimed max contrast ratio: 2,000,000:1 Claimed max brightness: N/A Connections: Three HDMI inputs (all v1.3), component video input, two Scarts (both RGB), composite video input, PC input, stereo audio inputs, tuner input, CAM slot, S-Video input, headphone jack, SD card slot
Damn! No sooner have we said what good value LG's £1,000 50PS7000 is than Panasonic has hit us with the P50X10: another 50in plasma, which costs, unbelievably, just £750. Could this be one of the biggest bargains ever?
The P50X10 sports a rather dour image, it has to be said. It's just a rather plasticky black rectangle, really. It also 'only' has three HDMIs rather than the four found on some of its rivals today.
Among the other connections, the only interesting thing is an SD card slot capable of playing JPEG stills; there's none of the MP3 or DivX capability found with the LG's USB port, though.
Other key specifications of the P50X10 are a mixed bag. On the downside, surprisingly for such a large TV the P50X10 only has a non-full HD1366x768 resolution. But on the upside it claims a vast contrast ratio of 2,000,000:1.
This latter figure points to a scintillating black level response, and that's exactly what we get. Dark scenes look richer and 'blacker' than they do on any of our other screens today, and there's more detail visible in dark areas. In short, the P50X10's black level abilities help give its pictures the most cinematic look in this group test.
Its HD pictures also look sharp considering it's not a full HD TV, especially as its plasma technology sidesteps the motion blur common with rival LCD technology. HD pictures also enjoy excellent colour toning, aside from some minutely 'off' greens, wrapping up a ridiculously good HD performance for such a cheap screen.
It's worth adding in this 'positive' section, too, that as with all plasma TVs, the P50X10 can be watched from a much wider angle than almost any LCD TV without the picture deteriorating.
The P50X10 doesn't do so well with standard definition images, suffering more rogue colour tones and leaving them looking slightly soft. There's a little judder to contend with, too, despite the set carrying 100Hz processing. But with its speakers producing a soundstage that just about does the scale and quality of its HD pictures justice, it remains a ridiculously good value option for HD fans.
Superb HD picture performer, excellent black level response, ridiculously good value, wide viewing angle Minus points
Some rogue colours, especially with standard def; a little judder; it's not full HD