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Panasonic TH-103PF9 review

A television the size of an elephant

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Our Verdict

A magnificent home cinema experience for those with extremely deep pockets

For

  • Picture

    Screen size

    Full HD resolution with 1:1 mapping option

Against

  • Receiving and accommodating one demands extreme commitment

You lot probably think we have a pretty easy life, don't you? Sitting around watching high-definition programmes on big, state-of-the-art TVs all day, 'testing' DVDs and games, and occasionally having to type in a word or two... What could be simpler?

Well, well have you know that sometimes our relentless pursuit of the home cinema dream is anything but straightforward. And to prove the point, we thought wed show you what we had to go through in order to spend some quality time with Panasonics new record-breaking plasma TV: the 103in - yes, I did say 103in - TH-103PF9.

First of all, I should point out that so in demand is the demo unit of the TH-103PF9 that even we couldn't persuade Panasonic to let us live with the screen for more than a single day. It was to be delivered at 10am, and whisked away again at 4pm. So all the difficulties I'm about to describe of getting the screen installed were done for a mere six hours or so. Remember that the next time you wish you had our job!

Trucking hell

The whole installation saga began with the discovery, following a site visit, that the 103PF9 was simply too big to fit into our head offices at Future Publishing. Too many stairs and tiny doorways.

So the search for a premises that was able to accommodate the screen began - and ended - at my door. A door which had to be measured for width and height, with further measurements of the turning space outside the door, and my test rooms ceiling-to-floor height, being required before Panasonic would even think of bringing the screen over.

If you're wondering why the ceiling-to-floor measurement was needed, its because Panasonics installers, PSKO, had to know if they could fit their crane in... I kid you not. More on this later...

After finally satisfying all Panasonic's site requirements with, in some cases, only millimetres to spare, delivery was arranged, and at 10am on the appointed date two guys from Panasonic's installation company arrived ahead of the delivery lorry - and proceeded to go all pale and quiet once they saw the size of the doorway the TV was to fit through.

A couple of cups of tea seemed to improve the mood - only for it to be dashed again by the arrival of the lorry. This, as with everything to do with the 103PF9, turned out to be huge.

And, since my drive is made of gravel, nobody was willing to risk trying to trundle the TV down on its pallets spindly shopping trolley-wheels for fear wed end up with £50,000 (plus VAT!!) worth of AV gear stuck outside for the elements to have their way with.

An hour or so later, however, and following some inch-by-inch heroics from the truck driver, the lorry was manipulated to at least somewhere near the entrance to my test room. At which point the real hard work began. This despite the fact that there were five of us around to help out...

Weight watchers

To give you a sense of the true enormity of the 103PF9, the screen on it alone weighs in at a gigantic 220kg, which rises to around 350kg in all its packaging glory. Then on top of that there's the floor mount, which adds a further 130kg to the overall bulk. That's heading for 500kg in all - an amount which even five men will struggle to shift. Trust me, I know...

With the vast stand manoeuvred into position in my room, and the screen accessible from its gigantic box, all that remained was to get the screen on the stand. Cue that crane I mentioned earlier.

Small enough to fit into most rooms, this crane attaches to a screw-on hook on the panel's top, and makes it possible to not only lift the screen, but leave it hanging there in mid-air like the worlds most expensive flag while it's put into position over the mounting slots on the stand.

Finally, the screen is lowered into slots on the stand, and the TV is actually ready to watch. And strangely, it's only at this point that you really take in just how enormous it is. Just saying it's 103in doesn't do it justice. Perhaps it might help you get a better feel for its vastness if we say that the screen acreage could fit in four 50in plasma TVs, and still have an inch or two spare.

What this boils down to in practical terms is a viewing experience truly akin to going to the cinema. And I'm not just talking in terms of sheer image scale, since the 103PF9 Panasonic needed the door measurements before coming... also delivers picture impact that wouldn't look amiss down your local Odeon.

High-def heaven

A screen of this magnitude is clearly going to be at its best when it is used with high-definition sources. So I fed it as many different pieces of HD kit as I could lay my hands on, which included a Blu-ray player, the Xbox 360's new HD DVD player, and Sky's HD receiver. And with all of them the results were spectacular.

Essentially, what makes the screen such a success is the fact that Panasonic has managed to carry all of the talents that make its plasmas so good over to this record-breaking screen. I found a natural and deep black level along-side motion-handling that was free of blur, judder or fizzing noise with no trace of the colour striping that is sometimes suffered with plasma. These colours are, for the most part, superbly subtle and natural in tone. It also offered outstanding levels of sharpness and detail.

This latter point especially holds true if you use the sets 1:1 option, which maps 1920 x 1080 sources directly onto the screen's 1920 x 1080 pixels without the scaling artefacts that over scanning can visibly introduce.

Be warned, however, that every HD source I tried on it except the Xbox 360 and its HD DVD drive displayed a seriously distracting glowing line along the top of the picture unless I turned over scanning back on. So some kind of adjustable mask would be in order here.

Lets not forget, here, that I am enjoying all these picture talents on a 103in screen without having to black out my room as I would do to enjoy the same size images with a projector. It's this key factor, plus the combination of brightness and contrast which is so hard, if not impossible, to achieve with a projector, that will make Panasonic's 103PF9 worth its asking price to any seriously determined cinephile out there.

Mind you, the picture can't be described as totally perfect. Oranges and greens dominate the colour palette slightly from time to time, and SD sources, and even one or two of an average HD variety, can look noisy as the sheer size of the screen mercilessly reveals any weaknesses in a source.

This latter situation is, of course, exacerbated if you sit too close to the screen - so to be honest, unless you're in a position to sit a bare minimum of 4m from it, you'll probably be better off saving yourself a few tens of thousands of pounds by going for Panny's 65in 65PX600 instead.

But it's not fair to blame the 103PF9 for the weaknesses of its sources. And anyway, this almost inevitable situation does little to alter the fact that if you have a big enough room, a spare £58,750 burning a hole in your pockets, are inclined towards projection-size images without the compromises, and don't mind going through grief squeezing the screen into your home, the 103PF9 is arguably the single most astounding home cinema solution I have ever seen.

In fact, so genuinely awe-inspiring is the experience of watching the 103PF9 that even given the huge headaches involved in getting the screen installed, if the people at Panasonic offered me the chance to have it again even for just another couple of hours, I'd bite their hands off.