Monitor or HDTV? Pick Your Perfect Plasma

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At a Glance

Maxent's MX-50X3 50-inch plasma monitor offers an appealing combination of good image quality and a reasonable price.
Maxent's MX-50X3 50-inch plasma monitor offers an appealing combination of good image quality and a reasonable price.
For many folks, a big plasma HDTV is more mouthwatering than a fresh funnel cake; but the prices are much harder to swallow. It's tempting to try to save money where you can, perhaps by buying a tunerless high-definition monitor instead of an actual HDTV. We tested Samsung's $4000 HP-S5053, an HDTV, and compared it with the $2500 Maxent MX-50X3 and Vizio P50 HDM HD monitors. All three are 50-inch plasmas, but what those plasma screens can do, and what you need in order to get a good picture, varies with the model.

With its gleaming black cabinet, brushed-metal accent, and blue-lit power button, the Samsung HP-S5053 cuts a figure worthy of its $4000 asking price. A tour through the set's features reveals many HDTV checklist items: an NTSC tuner for analog TV programming, an ATSC tuner for digital TV content, two HDMI inputs, and both RCA and digital audio outputs.

In PC World's jury testing, the Samsung HDTV pleased viewers by displaying natural-looking skin tones and saturated colors on both standard-definition and high-definition TV content, as well as on DVD content. The unit's brightness and contrast remained strong even in our bright-lights test and in our challenging DVD tests. Many TVs have trouble displaying the contrast in a dimly lit scene on our The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King DVD test, but the HP-S5053 set ably handled such challenging tasks as capturing the highlights on a black velvet cloak.

Image quality, however, doesn't have to cost you several grand: The $2500 Maxent MX-50X3 HD plasma monitor's test scores nearly equaled the Samsung's marks on both standard- and high-def TV content. We particularly liked its strong colors on both types of TV shows. This plasma monitor gave its weakest performance on DVD playback, losing details in the shadowy Lord of the Rings scene and balking at the mix of vivid colors and natural skin tones in the movie Seabiscuit.

Tuner Required

An HD monitor has neither an NTSC nor an ATSC tuner. That means you'll need to add an HD-ready tuner in order to use the Maxent or the Vizio as a television. If you don't care for your set-top tuner provider's remote control, though, you might want to look into a universal remote. For example, the Maxent's is full of buttons that teasingly call out unavailable functions, including Channel Up and Channel Down. But if you already have a setup that works with the MX-50X3, the TV picture could be as appealing as the monetary savings.

The other HD monitor we evaluated, the 50-inch, $2500 Vizio P50 HDM, fared poorly with our test jury. The display's picture appeared dark and lacking in detail on all TV and DVD content tests. Despite what the inclusion of two HDMI inputs implies, the unit's quality seemed a better fit for showing PowerPoint slides in a conference-room presentation than for watching TV and DVDs in the living room. On the plus side, Vizio's clear commitment to easy setup--thorough documentation, great on-screen menus, and clearly labeled inputs--is one of the P50 HDM's best selling points.

An HDTV--or an HD monitor--is only part of the recipe for high-def. Before you buy, make sure you know which ingredients you'll need.

You'll pay more for (and get more from) a full-featured HDTV like the Samsung set. Its price of $4000 lowered its score compared with the two monitors here, but it isn't out of line with the cost of comparable HDTVs. That said, you may be satisfied with the price/performance balance of an HD monitor like the Maxent. Its value is hard to beat.

Vizio P50 HDM

Easy setup (and so-so TV picture quality) make this HD monitor an acceptable choice for budget-aware businesses.

Price when reviewed: $2500 (street)

Current prices (if available)

Samsung HP-S5053

A good picture, plenty of connections, and appealing extras come together in this HDTV plasma--but it will cost you.

Price when reviewed: $4000 (list)

Current prices (if available)

Maxent MX-50X3

With nice image quality and a low price, this HD monitor is a good buy for people who already have a decent HD tuner.

Price when reviewed: $2500 (street)

Current prices (if available)

This story, "Monitor or HDTV? Pick Your Perfect Plasma" was originally published by PCWorld.

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At a Glance
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