PICTURE QUALITY After adjusting the Vizio's picture, I checked out the movie Dazed and Confused on HD DVD. In a scene on a baseball diamond where high-school frosh Wiley Wiggins (Mitch Kramer) attempts to concentrate on pitching while a gang of seniors harasses him, the ball field's green turf looked very natural. I found the red and blue hues of the players' uniforms a bit pale compared with how they look on other sets I've tested, but the skin tones of the players themselves showed a range of subtle hues. Dark images also looked very realistic. During a nighttime party scene in a tree-strewn field, for example, shadows were satisfyingly deep, while dark objects such as the black shirt worn by the stoner-thug Clint (Nicky Katt) showed a good range of shadow detail.
High-def picture detail on the Vizio was also quite good. When I watched a courtroom interrogation scene from the 720p-format ABC show Boston Legal, the picture had a crisp overall appearance, and I could easily make out fine pinstripes on the lawyers' gray suits as well as the intricate patterns on their ties. The set also did a nice job handling 1080i-format HDTV broadcasts, which looked equally crisp on its 1,366 x 768-pixel screen.
Another area where the Vizio stood out was in its upconversion of standard 480i movies - something that can be attributed in part to its Faroudja DCDi processing. The DVDs I watched looked uniformly crisp and sharp, and the picture quality held up even in scenes with fast motion. Not all was perfect with the picture, however: A fair amount of false contouring - coarse-looking gradations or "bands" that can usually be seen on flat backgrounds - appeared in medium-dark shots like one of a dim school hallway in Dazed and Confused. The black-and-white movies I watched also suffered visibly from this effect. And though the set's noise-reduction features didn't exactly soften the picture when applied, they did add a slight bit of "ringing" that showed up as a faint visual echo in shots with quick motion.
BOTTOM LINE It wasn't all that long ago that I found myself amazed at the prospect of 42-inch plasma TVs dipping below $2,000. But now that the Vizio P50HDTV 50-inch plasma HDTV has hit the streets, I'm going to have to adjust to the idea of 50-inch models selling for that! The Vizio definitely lacks the visual wow-factor of the 50-inch 1080p-rez Pioneer plasma I recently reviewed (which is priced at $8,000), but I have to say I'm impressed at what the company can deliver picture quality-wise in a set this inexpensive. It may not be the last word in plasma TV performance, but the P50HDTV is one heck of a deal.
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