Maxent MX-5020HPM 50" Plasma Monitor Review
Dick De Jong, October 12, 2006
If you are in the market for a new HDTV, then products like the Maxent MX-5020HPM 50" Plasma Monitor serve as great points of reference – touchstones for what to expect at a certain price today. With a street sticker hovering around $2000, this recently released 50" plasma is not one of the new 1080p breed. Instead, it hits the current sweet spot resolution of 1366 x 768. (Even though the market is moving fast, you probably will have to pay a premium for 1080p TVs until sometime in 2007.)
Before we go comparing apples and pomegranates, the MX-5020HPM is a monitor and not a true TV. It does not have a TV tuner inside, neither NTSC (analog), nor ATSC (digital). If you want to watch television, you need to feed it a signal from a cable or satellite set top box (or a HTPC, [Home Theater PC], or a standalone tuner box). While you are at it, make sure whatever you choose is capable of supplying this monitor with HD content. Let's face facts, why buy a 50" plasma if all that you are watching is SD material?
Even though TVs with ATSC tuners are becoming commonplace, you still tend to pay a slight bit more than for a comparably sized monitor. Since I only test the TV tuners for the sake of the review and never use them in my day to day watching, I actually prefer monitors for reasons I will discuss later. The one advantage that I see for a TV over a monitor is when your cable or satellite fritzes out in the middle of a must-see TV program. If it's being broadcast over the air, an integrated TV tuner could be a party saver.
Out of the Box
As you can imagine with a 50" plasma, extracting this 115 pound (with stand) baby out of the box and onto a table is a two person job. If you are planning on mounting it on a wall, I would suggest siring a couple of muscular teenagers who can lift while you control the cables and connect to the mount.
|Maxent MX-5020HPM 50" Plasma Monitor
The unit measures 49 1/2" x 33 5/8" x 4 3/8" without the detachable stand. The speakers, which are encased in the grille below the monitor, cannot be removed. Maxent hasn't strayed from the industry standard black bezel, (though this one is not razor thin), and silver accents. As you can imagine, a TV over four feet wide makes a statement in all but the most cavernous halls, which probably is one of the reasons that you are considering it. Hopefully, you are also thinking about where you will place it and how it will complement the rest of the room. (For some design suggestions, see our new column, HD Design.)
The Control Panel buttons are jutting down on the bottom right side of the monitor. Little icons describing the controls adorn that corner along with the green/orange power/standby light. Except for an unassuming "Maxent" in the middle, the rest of the black bezel is thankfully unsullied.
Located on the back of the monitor are the usual suspects of audio video connections. And, once again, they are pointed down huddling in the shadows close to the chassis. (I was heartened to see that a number of the newer models showing at CEDIA had ceded to the notion of orienting those pesky connectors in a much easier to see and reach side-facing position.)
Since the HDMI connection is becoming more prevalent in everything from DVD players to set top boxes, a TV with multiple HDMI connections should be de rigueur. (Granted, there are other solutions on the market like the soon-to-be-reviewed Gefen's 2x1 HDMI Switcher and Pioneer's VSX-82TXS receiver, which can switch between three HDMI inputs.) This Maxent monitor offers two HDMI (with HDCP) inputs and the traditional assortment of computer (15 pin D-sub), component, and composite inputs.
Also, the MX-5020HPM has one set of RCA stereo audio inputs, (labeled DVI In), to accompany the HDMI connectors, which is essential if your source machine only has DVI output like the OPPO DVD player used in our setup. Even though we use a DVI to HDMI cable, the audio is not conveyed through a DVI connector. So to transmit audio from the player to the TV, I hook together the stereo Outs on the DVD player to the Ins on the TV.
Though, as the Maxent manual charitably admits, their 5 watt speakers are "general purpose, you may consider switching them OFF during hi-fidelity playback of movies or other content." I hardily agree. You really should route your audio through a separate sound system. When I turned on the HBO HD broadcast of the Phantom of the Opera, I couldn't run fast enough to switch the audio to a set of external speakers. The monitor even has stereo RCA Audio Outputs to route any audio coming into the set out to an external amplifier.
As usual, to calibrate the monitor, I attached the DVI Out on the Oppo OPDV971H DVD player to the HDMI input on the Maxent and used the Digital Video Essentials DVD test patterns to adjust black level, white level, and color bias.
The On Screen Display (OSD) Menu is rather spare in Picture Controls and does not offer more than the very basics of Contrast, Brightness, Color and Tint, which with many TVs is all you really need because out of the box, they only require minor tweaks. The problem is with the Maxent review unit I have; I could never calibrate the monitor to my eye's satisfaction with the four controls provided. The results were always too red, especially noticeable with skin tones. Now if you are watching Chariots of Fire with ruddy-faced Englishmen, you may not know the difference. But that red bias may make you queasy when some of the paler contestants on America's Top Model are exhibiting that sickly orange tinge reminiscent of a bad spray-on tan.
I became dizzy trying to adjust the monitor to an acceptable and consistent skin tone. I tried the Datacolor Spyder TV Pro system and still everyone is either rosy faced or carroty cheeked. I lusted after at least one more control, perhaps Color Temperature. Alas, the only other adjustments were stashed away in the Service Menu. And with no instructions in the manual on how to use the Service Menu, I didn't feel comfortable in fiddling around in there.
But before I returned this monitor, I wanted to give it a second chance so I contacted Maxent technical support and received a call back from Kevin Tin, Maxent's Service Manager. (One of the perks of reviewing is that you go to the top guy.) Kevin was kind enough to walk me through connecting my computer to the monitor through the RS-232 connection. I could then read the current red, blue and green bias and gain settings and make the necessary adjustments. A word of warning is critical at this point: The Service Menu is not a toy. Unless you know what you are doing, stay away – stay way away. Maxent's Service Menu is no different. It contains enough trap doors that you don't want to go exploring without knowledgeable guidance.
After I lowered the Red Bias and Red Gain a few notches, I was able to rescue the TV characters skin from the brink of high blood pressure or scorching sunburns. Though the tones were now comfortably acceptable, I can't say that they were consistent from channel to channel or sometimes even from shot to shot on the same program. But to quote Ralph Waldo Emerson, "A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds, adored by little statesmen and philosophers and divines." Also, I'm not so confident that the erratic coloration was not due more to the production quality of the shows or the differences in transmission of the cable channels.
After calibrating Bias and Gain in the Service Menu, I again ran through the Digital Video Essentials DVD test patterns. The adjustments were fairly close to the Defaults. I dropped Contrast to 77 and raised Brightness to 53. I tend towards less saturated colors, so I moved Color to 47. And Tint is in the –7 area. To minimize fringing, I set Sharpness to 20.
The Black Level Extension feature was not helpful. It is supposed to "enhance luminance and color transition." Even at the Low setting, it darkened the test pattern bars to oblivion so I left it Off. Also, I turned Off the Noise Reduction feature.
The OSD has a few quirks. For example, you don't hit the OK button to accept a selection. (It's the right arrow key.) But when you pick a control like Contrast, the slider does minimize down to the bottom of the screen so you can see changes as you make them, which is a good thing.
As usual, depending on the Input source, the Picture Controls on the OSD menu vary. For example, if you are connecting a PC through the RGB input, the Picture Controls expand to include V Position and V Size, H Position and H Size and Clock Phase.
Since this is a plasma and many people are still concerned about image burn-in, the monitor does offer an Image Shift function that you can set to 10, 20 or 30 seconds. In addition, the Setup Menu provides a Full White and Multicolor option for eliminating electrically charged residual images.
Also, when you are watching an HDMI source, you can turn on Picture in Picture (PIP) and display a second source (AV or Component) in a small window that can be placed in any one of the four corners.
One of the choices in the Format submenu is Panorama, which expands the edges of a native 4:3 image to fit the 16:9 format; but it is disabled with HDMI sources.
And if you like to be master of your domain, you can access the Function Setup menu in the Service Menu and disengage the control buttons on the front of the monitor. (Yes, the manual actually tells you how to open the Service Menu.) Then, the power is in the hands that hold the remote.
About the non-backlit remote control, when I first started playing with it, I kept getting the message, "Feature Not Available" as I punched random buttons. I soon realized the obvious, since the MX-5020HPM is a monitor, the TV-centric buttons like Swap, SAP or Guide were useless. This is a multi-component-capable unit though and many of the buttons could be handy when controlling a DVD player or cable box.
One of the reasons that I like monitors is their scaled down functionality. Basically, it is presenting an image. You don't have to worry about programming TV tuners. Just feed it a signal, turn it on and you're ready to rumble. If only this Maxent could be so accommodating, I could give it a better rating.
I love plasmas for the deep blacks, and I will admit that when I finally wrestled the red into submission, I could finally appreciate the fully saturated color palette. We have the full Dish lineup of HD channels including the VOOM boutiques. Surfing through this smorgasbord challenges a TV with a high def gauntlet of content. The MX-5020HPM performed adequately – occasionally admirably - but I was never overwhelmed by the image. Of course, with monitors over 50", it becomes more and more difficult to hide any flaws in the display.
I also hooked up my laptop through the VGA connection. The manual suggests that the computer's resolution be set to 1280 x 1024, 32 bit. The monitor had no problem locking on to that signal. As you can imagine, the image is gigantic. Though I found it a little soft for reading numbers and letters, which would make Internet browsing undesirable. Sharpness is not available as a control in this mode.
The Maxent MX-5020HPM is a value priced monitor that will not be confused for an overachiever. Once properly calibrated (not an easy task), the 50" display should be able to satisfy a football fanatic fiesta. A true videophile will be better served by looking elsewhere.
First, realize, that ratings are relative to when the review was written. The obvious example is Value, what you could purchase for $2000 two years ago or even two months ago would seem like a bad value for that price now.
Second, I have yet to give a 5 Star rating, which I am reserving for truly outstanding accomplishment.
Performance – 3
Even after the arduous task of calibrating this monitor, I never felt consistently satisfied with its performance.
Features – 3.5
A monitor doesn't necessarily need a lot of features. I give credit for the two HDMI inputs and the audio outs. But the Picture Adjustment controls are lacking.
Ease of Use – 3.0
Once again, monitors are naturally easy to use, but the process to achieve proper calibration is not for the novice.
Value – 3.5
The price is right for the size. If you feel comfortable noodling in a Service Menu, then you might add another half point.