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Casting an eye down the 103PF9’s specifications, one feature that stands out almost as much as the screen size is a native resolution of 1,920 x 1,080. This makes the 103PF9 only the third full HD plasma screen we’ve ever tested (after Pioneer’s PDP-5000EX and Panasonic’s TX-65PX600). Needless to say we’re pretty excited at being able to experience full HD on a screen of this magnitude – especially as Panasonic has ensured the screen will take native 1080p sources, and can show 1080-line sources mapped perfectly pixel for pixel to the screen’s resolution, with no overscanning.
Still more good news comes from the fact that despite the 103PF9 clearly having more than half an eye on the corporate rather than domestic market, it still features most of the company’s latest video friendly features, including Panasonic’s Real Black Drive system, Motion Pattern noise reduction, and 16-bit colour processing to deliver a claimed 4,096 steps of colour gradation. The set’s contrast ratio, meanwhile, is claimed at 5000:1: way better than we’d expected from such a groundbreaking bit of kit.
Anyway, that’s quite enough preamble. We can’t wait anymore, and have just got to turn our new toy on…
No, she's not really tiny, the screen really IS that big!
Rather superbly, the screen lives up to our sky-high expectations in almost every way. That high contrast ratio claim, for instance, seems borne out by a terrific black level response. Emphatically dark scenes on the Superman Returns HD DVD, for instance, such as the one where Supes spies on Lois Lane’s home at night, look cinematic and rich, thanks partly to the 103PF9’s winning combination of deep black tones, and partly to an uncanny knack for showing even the most subtle of shadow details.
It’s also remarkable how well the 103PF9 deals with traditional plasma technology woes such as fizzing noise over horizontal motion, colour banding and dottiness over dark areas. If a screen as technically difficult to produce as this can do away with these problems, it makes their appearance on ‘normal’ plasma TVs seem all the more unforgivable.
The benefits of the Full HD resolution, meanwhile, are emphatically highlighted by the 103PF9’s combination of quality and sheer size. For instance, good quality 1080-line HD sources look stunningly sharp and fantastically full of texture to a degree you just couldn’t get if the 1080 source was having to be scaled down to a lower pixel count. The lack of scaling processing means there’s remarkably little sign of any video noise either.
Also, the unusual but expressive colour palette of the opening New York scenes on our King Kong HD DVD benefit greatly from the extra colour blend finesse made possible by full HD’s greater pixel density, painting Peter Jackson’s nostalgic vision with a level of authenticity we’ve rarely seen before.