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Plasma, LCD, or Keep Waiting? Advice Wanted.

Discussion in 'Displays' started by Doug_L, Nov 20, 2003.

  1. Doug_L

    Doug_L Well-Known Member

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    Guys,

    It's been a while since I've been truly current with displays - I've been off on an audio tangent for a few years now.

    That said, I'm really starting to itch for a new display. I've held off for a while because my current 32" CRT is pretty good with digital cable and awesome with DVD's (Loewe with 3:2 pulldown correction and vertical squeeze). I haven't been bothered by a lack of HD capability as unitl recently there wasn't too much programming. As we're reaching a critical mass of HD programming, though, I'm thinking it's getting to be time to jump in.

    Having said all of that I'm trying to re-educate myself to the current trends and decide what's worth buying today (if anything), and the relative strengths of the two most likely technologies I'd purchase, rear-projection LCD and plasma.

    Assume I'm looking for a 42" 16:9 display that I will sit approximately 8" - 9" from in a room with good lighting control. There will never be direct sunlight on the screen, and any glare will be created by artificial lights, and thus will be controllable. Regardless of the depth of the unit, it will not be attached to the wall, but used as a table-top. Viewing habits will be 50% digtital cable, 15% HD cable, 30% DVD, 5% video gaming/laserdisc/S-VHS. Sound is a non-issue, as is the remote (though direct access to inputs is a plus).

    Cost is an issue, though not insurmountable. $7k for a plasma is ok if the picture is significantly better than a $3,500 LCD.

    Please indicate the weaknesses, real and percieved of each technology and/or brand, ie: things to look for when auditioning the different units. It's important to remember that a significant portion of the viewing will be digital cable of an NTSC signal with 480i resolution at the maximum - how each TV deals with this will be an important component.

    Connectivity is, sadly, a concern. My audio gear does not do wide-band compontent video switching, so for the time being 2 sets of component input ins is a necessity, one for HD and the other for DVD.

    Sorry for the length and lack of focus with this post. Hopefully I've covered everything.

    So, what's your reccomendation?

    Thanks in advance.
     
  2. Dave Milne

    Dave Milne Well-Known Member

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  3. Dom P.

    Dom P. Well-Known Member

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    I would also suggest DLP.. By no means an expert in this area, but from what I've seen DLP is a winner, much better than Plasma, and a little better than LCD.
     
  4. Doug_L

    Doug_L Well-Known Member

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    Thanks to all who have responded so far. Please keep 'em coming.

    Dean Martin and Dom P.: I had in fact ruled out DLP. I'm one of the people who can see the rainbow effect, and to be frank the sets that I saw on display recently in a major retailer's store didn't seem to produce a good picture at all (though it was with a 480p DVD signal). I'm open to your suggestions, though. Is DLP considered to be better than plasma and/or LCD in terms of contrast, color, artifacts, jaggies, etc? I might look again if you're both that much in favor.

    Dave Milne: I'd essentially ruled out any front projection because this is my primary display, not a dedicated home theater: I don't think I want to watch Seinfeld or The O.C. on a super large 70" screen. This may be a misconception on my part though about large screen size. Since I rent my apartment a ceiling mount is most likely out of the question, and from what I know a coffee table mount is not really stable enough for CRT, and will require re-calibration often. If I'm wrong, please let me know, and give me some ideas of $$ range for acceptable performing CRTs.

    Thanks again.
     
  5. Doug_L

    Doug_L Well-Known Member

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  6. Rich H

    Rich H Well-Known Member

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    Doug_L,

    I'm the local plasma junky, so you can imagine what I'm going to recomend [​IMG] Others no doubt will advise you on other technologies. (And I like them all too).

    Your viewing conditions are pretty much perfect for a 42" plasma, either hd or ED model. (I own a Panasonic 42" ED or "Extended Definition" model).

    I have been lucky to do extensive comparisons of most plasmas available, with most of the DLPs and LCD rear projectors (under controlled conditions, which means having access to picture controls, in a dedicated set-up - no split feeds - and control of the surrounding lighting so I can match it to "home theater" viewing conditions).

    My findings are that the "best" picture quality came from the best plasmas. I consider the best plasmas to be those that can do satisfyingly deep black levels, such as the Panasonic brand (which reach virtual CRT levels of black), and Fujitsu, NEC.

    Why do I prefer the plasma image?

    LCD RPTV: Very sharp with the right program material - I actually like them. But the black levels, even on the newest Sony Grand wega models, are still not there. They have a misty blue glow that washes out contrast in scenes with dark objects or dark scenes. It's especially unsatisfying as I lower the lights to watch movies. The lack of deep black levels makes it look like images projected on a gray/blue backdrop.

    Also, the color tends toward blue (inherently with LCD), and while they can be vibrant I also get a sort of "neon sign" feeling from the light quality.

    Then of course there is the uneven illumination and shifts of the image quality depending on your seating position - a problem with all RPTVs (although not as bad with the LCDs, especially Sony).

    Finally, although LCD rear projectors ape the movie look to the degree that the image looks projected, I don't find they are good at looking either totally natural, or much like film either. Films on LCD RPTVs have something of a cool, sharp, blown-up video vibe that, even though it can be vibrant, does not really properly recreate the rich look of film.

    dlp:

    I kind of like DLP too, for what it does well: a really sharp, punchy, vibrant image with Hi-Def and with really good DVD transfers. However, being a RPTV they have the same viewing angle issues and uneven illumination as the LCD/CRT RPTVs. (I'm really sensitive to that "rear projected" look, and feel aware of the uneven illumination and shiftiness of the image even from sitting directly on-axis). I also find the DLPs exhibit a somewhat cartoon-like color pallete, that I've never been able to calibrate out (I see this mild complaint from DLP owners in other forums too). It looks the most "neon-sign-like" of any display, and I never really find the image totally natural.
    There are the infamous "clay-faces" look that can occur with DLPs too (a paint-by-numbers effect of color but no detail in skin tone).

    Then there are the black levels - better than LCD RPTV, but for me still not good enough (and they have a blue/green glow as well that I find impossible to ignore). I've compared DLP directly to CRT RPTVs from Hitachi/Sony/Toshiba/Pioneer etc. The brightness and punchiness of the DLPs look fairly dimensional on their own, but compared to a good CRT RPTV that can do real black levels, the DLPs have a flatter look. The CRT colors look more refined, subtle, detailed and more natural.
    Then, for some people, (not me) there is the seeing rainbows issue you've mentioned. And, of course, ntsc or regular cable/sat channels looks on the whole a-w-f-u-l on DLPs.

    PLASMA: I'm going to take the Panasonic plasma I own as an example, because I need those good black levels that brand provides.
    The plasma image is gorgeously sharp, rich, deep, dimensional and most of all natural compared to the DLP/LCD RPTVs. I can watch any type of movie, with dark scenes or whatever, and the image stays gorgeous, with great contrast.
    I don't miss my CRT even for a second. I find the color more natural - there is a believable through-the-window effect on even just half-decent DVD transfers, not to mention good ones or Hi-Def. The perfectly even illumination from any angle makes for a better viewing experience in my opinion. After seeing RPTVs of any type, there is something more calming, beautiful and satisfying watching a display that looks the same no matter were you place yourself, or move your head. It takes away that underlying "I've got to be seated just right" feeling that I get with RPTVs. And being an emmisive technology, rather than rear projected, I find the plasma can recreate the density, vibrancy and feeling of natural objects, vs the RPTVs that have a "projected" look. (The projected look might be what you want though, if aping the film look is your goal). Films on my plasma can exhibit recognizably film-like qualities. Yet because it's an emmissive image the look is even richer and more vibrant than film can achieve. I've never seen my favourite movies look so rich and alive. (Of course, yeah, I can wish for a bigger movie image, like the projector folks achieve).

    Hi-Def looks the most natural on plasma, I find, but also looks great on LCD/DLP.

    Finally, on some plasmas such as the Panasonic, NTSC looks terrific. Instead of taking a hit on the look of regular cable (as with DLP/LCD rptvs), on the whole my NTSC channels look significantly better and more involving on the plasma - even my wife agrees on that one.

    So, in sum, I see a lot of issues being adressed by DLP and LCD owners that I simply don't have to be bothered with. Every type of content looks fanatastic on the plasma from every angle, and there's nothing that leaves me disatisfied or makes me regret the purchase. The only thing that would make me upgrade is to a larger size HD model (maybe 50" some day when I can afford one). But even Hi-Def looks incredible on this ED plasma.

    How's that for a buyer's testimonial? [​IMG]

    You could get the Panasonic or similar plasma for under $3,000 on-line from reputable dealers. You could go 50" for just over $6,000 too. (At 8-9 feet you would be fine watching a 50" for DVD or Hi-Def, but NTSC images would look a bit softer...they'd be better at 10-12 feet on a 50" plasma).

    Best of luck. I'm sure you'll enjoy whatever you get (and I'm sure LCD/DLP owners will chime in on their views).

    Cheers,
     
  7. Dave Milne

    Dave Milne Well-Known Member

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  8. Rich H

    Rich H Well-Known Member

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    "Rich H has made some really good points worth looking over a second time..."

    Thanks Dean.

    "but I have heard a lot of experts say the black levels are better on DLP than plasma with LCd having the worst black levels."

    Black level from worst to best: LCD --> DLP and lots of plasmas --> CRT and the best plasmas.

    The Panasonic plasma black levels have been measured at close to .2 nits, which is CRT territory. No DLP display of which I'm aware can match that. That said, many plasmas do have black levels more in line with DLP, and some even have black levels almost as "bad" as LCD. Ya just gotta know which to choose if black level is a concern.

    "Also the reason the colors of a DLP look so 'cartoony' is because they are jacked up alot more. Many people end up turning the color down to 25-35 and the color looks like every other TV."

    In my experience: I've tried to do a decent calibration of the DLPs several times and the first thing I do is dial the color all the way down and start bringing it back up to normalcy. However, no amount of fiddling with color levels/contrast or tint could totally rid the sets of a somewhat fake look. This has been commented on by quite a few people who have owned (and some returned) DLPs.
    I don't mean to totally diss DLPs, because I'm actually quite impressed by how much great image you get for the money.

    Good point about plasmas and altitude! However, some plasmas are now being manufactured with higher altitude in mind.

    Plasma life-span (half-brightness) is currently estimated by the major manufacturers as matching or exceeding CRT life-span (last year was 20,000 - 30,000 hours to half brightness. This year some are estimated 40,000 to 60,000 hours).

    Take care,
     
  9. Doug_L

    Doug_L Well-Known Member

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    Dean: I have run in to BB and looked at their displays briefly the other night and was really bummed to hear that they "can't" run NTSC on any of their floor models the way it's setup - they only show an HD feed from a hardrive or a DVD signal. As I'm pretty concerned about NTSC material (up to 50% of my viewing) I find this to be a tough way to shop!

    Rich H: great response!

    So now that I'm thinking plasma I've got a bunch of follow-up questions. Other than Panasonic, how do the other manufacturers' black levels compare? Pioneer? Fujitsu?

    HD vs. ED: There seems to be a big price gap on this (more than I expected). You clearly feel that the HD model wasn't worth the extra $$. Care to share your reasoning with me? What exactly is the ED capable of resolution-wise, and does it do anything in native resolution? How important to you is the ability to do native resolution?

    Finally, what don't you like about (your) plasma? There's gotta be some issues that you've omitted, and I'd love to hear about them from somebody who's lived with one of these displays for a while.
     
  10. Rich H

    Rich H Well-Known Member

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    "how do the other manufacturers' black levels compare? Pioneer? Fujitsu?"

    Panasonic manufactures their own glass (an important part of the image quality). Panasonic achieves their leading deep black levels largely because of their glass design (and some electronics). No one surpasses Pansonic in producing the deepest black levels. However, several other manufacturers use the Panasonic glass in some of their displays, such a Fujitsu who use the Panasonic glass in their much lauded 50" panel, and their new 42" ED plasma.
    Therefore they have the same depth of black level.
    Bang and Olufesen also use the Panasonic displays as their base. (I think Toshiba also did a plasma with Panasonic glass too).

    The next best black levels tend to come from NEC-based designs (quite a few manufacturers use NEC models as their base). NEC is hard to find displayed in consumer outlets.

    Pioneer is definitely, visibly behind Panasonic/NEC in depth of black levels (and the Pioneer blacks tend to have a slight green tinge). Some people find the Pioneer black levels perfectly acceptable - and they do look pretty good on most material. I like watching movies in a dark environment and find the Pioneer blacks not quite deep enough for my tastes.

    Hitachi - good sharpness and color, pretty decent black levels too. Likewise with the Toshiba models.

    Sony has lagged behind for quite a while in their plasmas, and are just starting to catch up. Their plasmas are bright and sharp, but still struggle producing decent blacks (although they are good enough for some people too).

    Here is a good review by Peter Putman of several plasmas, with measurements. He leaves you with a good idea of the technical strengths of each display:

    Review of 6 Plasmas

    Also, to get an idea of how I view these things, here is a "report" I wrote comparing the Pioneer plasmas to the Panasonic (I've written quite a few covering other plasmas as well):

    Review of New Pioneer 43” PRO-910HD and the 50” PRO-1110HD

    "You clearly feel that the HD model wasn't worth the extra $$. Care to share your reasoning with me? "

    That is true for MY situation. I bought the display foremost for DVD watching, next for watching NTSC (especially my wife) and last for Hi-defintion (I do own a Hi-Def box with a fair amount of HD programming available to me).

    Compared to the Hi-Def models, the 42" ED Panny plasma has the smoothest, most artifact-free, least processed looking image with DVDs and NTSC. Most people over at the AVSplasma forum agree. It is surmised that the ED native resolution, being an almost exact match for DVD resolution, is a great match - plus the Panasonic has a particularly good scaler to begin with. On the Hi-Def model the DVD image is also stunning. But it's a little more "scaled" looking - softer around the edges, a tad more picture noise for DVDs. However, the Hi-Def model obviously has a denser pixel structure, which is very nice and makes the image look quite smooth and film-like. I prefered the slightly better sharpness and solidness of the DVD image on the ED model. Also, NTSC looks fantastic on the ED model - it's about the least digitally-processed looking I've seen on any wide-screen of any technology. That makes both me and the wife happy. The Hi-Def model is a bit softer with NTSC.

    For Hi-Def, which I don't watch a lot (i'm not a big TV guy anyway), the ED model looks mouthwatering. It definitely gives you a huge portion of the Hi-Def thrills, with so little subjective resolution lost that many people cannot tell it apart from the true Hi-Def plasma from around 8 feet on. I'm one of those who DOES see the difference between the HD and ED models playing Hi-Def. I'd subjectively rate the HD model as looking about 15 to 20 percent sharper and denser with real Hi-Def images.
    So, given that the ED model looks superb with Hi-Def, and does DVD and NTSC better to my eyes, it was a no-brainer for me. Most people concur with these observations, but some find the strengths of the HD models fits their need best, especially if Hi-Def programming is their emphasis.

    "Finally, what don't you like about (your) plasma? There's gotta be some issues that you've omitted, and I'd love to hear about them from somebody who's lived with one of these displays for a while. "

    You know, this set is such an all around great performer, and so smokes my previous 27" Panny Tau tube set that it seems silly to complain. Given the alternatives, there is literally nothing that I dislike about it. It's the most satisfying electronics purchase I've ever made. But that
    of course doesn't mean it's perfect.

    I wouldn't mind a bigger image (say, 50"). Also, it would be nice to have the denser pixel structure of the HD models.
    I find the pixel structure starts to become noticeable at under 8 ft, still acceptable at 7 feet, and worse closer than that. Still, I don't watch from that close (about 8 feet) and the pixel structure looks pretty much fine from there.

    That's it. There is so little this display does wrong...which is why I'm so completely satisfied. I don't hanker for deeper black levels like the DLP/LCD crowd or owners of some other plasma brands. It is rare I encounter a DVD image on any other consumer displays that strike me as smooth, clear and realistic as on this plasma.

    Quite a few people who have gone plasma have noticed how amazingly natural the image can look - even NTSC on my plasma can give the "through-the-window" feeling that I never get on any CRT tube sets (which tend to have something of a fake, electronic-sign glow to my eyes).

    Finally, I will never, ever miss that high-pitched squeal (raster scan frequency) emmitted by CRT tube sets. Some people like me are sensitive to it and hear that damned high-pitched ringing as soon as we enter a room with a CRT TV. It's so calming having a TV on without that overlaying irritation.

    Cheers,
     
  11. Dom P.

    Dom P. Well-Known Member

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    wow... that's a lot of info!! [​IMG]
     
  12. John S

    John S Well-Known Member

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    Wow Rich!! Thanks a lot for that informative post!!!!
     
  13. Rich H

    Rich H Well-Known Member

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    I'd add that black levels aren't the whole ball game in separating plasma picture performance. There is also color rendition (accuracy, detail and number of colors - some plasmas have higher bit processing for a better gray scale and higher number of colors reproduction).

    There is also sharpness of image. There is also how smooth a plasma looks. Some display more noise and artifacts, such as pixelation, lack of smooth motion (not motion lag, but stuttered motion), and color noise. Color noise is often things like a swimmy, unstable or splotchy effect most easily seen within large areas of one color. The color just doesn't look solid. I find this problem is most easily high-lighted when a plasma tries to reproduce intense orange/red/brownish hues. (The opening sunrise-drenched landscape shots of 2001 Space odyssey is a perfect example
    of the types of shots that will evidence color noise with some plasmas).

    There is also how well the plasma performs with a range of source quality. Most will look great with pristine DVD transfers and Hi-Def. But throw in a DVD movie that has some grain itself - film or digital - or is not A grade and it can look extra messy on an average plasma. It's as if the plasma's scaler goes a little berserk trying to deal with the artifacts in some DVD transfers, say film grain in an old flick. It's like it doubles up the noise making the transfer look worse than ever. A display should always ring out the best in a transfer, not the worst (that doesn't mean hiding problems, it means reproducing with zest the good qualities of the transfer, without adding more picture problems on top of the situation).

    This of course applies to how well a plasma will do NTSC too. A so-so scaler combined with poor black level performance will make already sub-par signals look even more grainy, soft and lacking in contrast.

    Anyway...you get the picture. It's whatever set of strengths and compromises your eye likes. I find black levels have a huge effect on picture quality, but others are more attracted to extra sharpness, more vivid colors and the like.
     
  14. Bruce Rebels

    Bruce Rebels Member

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    Plasmas look great, however, who wants to get a monitor that you have to replace after a few years?
    If you can walk into a store and either pay cash or write a check for it then go ahead and get it. But if your'e like most people...you charge it, by the time it's paid off, youv'e already went out & purchased a new monitor!
    DLPs in my opinion are the way to go.
    Picture is superb and the price is excellent.
     
  15. Rich H

    Rich H Well-Known Member

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    "Plasmas look great, however, who wants to get a monitor that you have to replace after a few years?"

    Certainly not me! But...what has that statement to do with plasmas?

    I have to assume you've fallen victim to the mis-information circulating about plasma life span.

    In the last couple years plasma life span (time to half brightness) reached 25,000 to 35,000 hours (estimates via testing by the major manufacturers). That is a heck of a lot of viewing time - essentially matching the life-span of a typical CRT tube set.

    Estimates for some of the latest generation of plasmas, now in the stores, goes as high as 40,000 to 60,000 hours.

    If you don't want to buy plasma, at least make your choice based on something other than misinformation.

    (Not that anyone should be blamed for getting it wrong. Even salesman often seem clueless about basic issues concerning plasma).

    Cheers,
     
  16. DaveGTP

    DaveGTP Well-Known Member

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    I'm with Rich on plasmas, and I will have the enhanced-def Panny 42" when I get the cash (of course I can barely afford gas right now). The goal was before Return of the King EE came out on DVD. I couldn't care less about Hi-Def (until most videogames and HD-DVD actually exists and is affordable), as I don't watch TV. 480p is what I want. I don't mind forward-looking, but it's only about 20% of the decision.

    I want the image for DVDs, videogames, etc. When I have 4 people playing Mario Kart: DD, I want everyone to be able to cluster around the TV and not have their image washed out (thus [​IMG] to RPTVs, which are so popular around here). I HATE image washout, and needing to sit right in the right place.

    I also want to be able to have the lights on to read strategy guides, manuals, eat, do Calculus with the TV on, etc (thus [​IMG] again to RPTV and [​IMG] to FP setups). To me, the TV should work around me, not the other way around.

    The fiancee really wants a movie theater room someday, she's a film buff, and I am cool with that, it would be awesome. FP is good for dedicated HT, and I would do it in a heartbeat for that.

    But I want a TV to have for everyday use - I don't want to try and play 16-bit Final Fantasy IV/VI(or 8-bit Dragon Warrior IV!!), or even PS2 games, on a giant screen with the lights out. Besides, being too far away from the screen screws up my reaction times for playing actiony games (a few miliseconds can make a difference, I know the speed of light dictates I shouldn't be able to tell between 5ft and 10ft, but sometimes it really seems like it).

    Thus, I fall into Rich's camp, plasma fits the bill. They last as long as CRTs, the enhanced-def 42" costs only a little more than a 40" or 36" HD CRT that weighs a gazillion pounds. And contrary to myth, manufacturer #s suggest an equivalent lifespan to CRTs.


    I did like how LCD Projection and DLP projection don't wash out as badly , and the image quality was nice, but light levels are still an issue, as is wash out. My local Circuit City has a 50" Panny, 50" Pioneer, and another 50" HD plasmas set up with couches, surround sound. And they are hooked up to a dedicated progressive scan DVD player, with component output. If you are unsure of how the technology looks, see if your CC has a similiar set up, and go check it out. They were running FOTR every time I went by for a long time (now it's Scooby-Doo), and does it look great. And I'm sure they're still in Torch mode, uncalibrated and all, and they still look good.



    People here say Plasma isn't as good, and it is too expensive, but it depends on what you are looking for. Plasma is practical for ALL light levels and angles, and provides good picture quality at all of those angles and levels. As usual, it comes down to what you're going to use it for. Projection-based TVs are OK for some, but I use my TV in a variety of light conditions and angles. For a dedicated HT room, go FP. For an everyday use TV, go plasma (unless you have a living room big enough to play the sweet-spot game with RPTVs). LCD and DLP are good contenders, but they cost almost as much as plasma! (Especially
     
  17. Jesse King

    Jesse King New Member

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    Rich H -

    What model do you have? Your reports and comments have me looking at the Panasonic 42" ed version, vs a DLP.

    I see panasonic has a TH-42PA20U/P , is this the next generation? Any comments?

    Thanks.

    Jesse
     
  18. DaveGTP

    DaveGTP Well-Known Member

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    Jesse, I do believe that is the current generation of consumer plasmas (answering for Rich here). You can also find the same TV under the commericial model name TH-42PWD6UY....like here :

    http://www.plasmaextreme.us/42pwd6uy.htm

    It's a lot cheaper but there are a few differences. It has a different, secured type of component inputs (BNC?) than the consumer model (costs like $10 for adapters at Radioshack), doesn't have speakers, and has a couple more settings to tweak than the consumer models, and I think it also accepts 720p, which the consumer model doesn't. Also, I think that I recall the warranty is different - if you have to have it fixed, you have to take it to a licensed Panny dealer yourself (I think Sears, etc fit the bill) - the consumer one has a pick-up from your house warranty.

    Worth considering as well.
     
  19. Jesse King

    Jesse King New Member

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    Exactly what I was looking for Doug. Thanks.

    Jesse
     
  20. Jesse King

    Jesse King New Member

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    Interesting -

    I see the different options for connections on the commercial version. Do I need to add the ones I wish to have. Does it not come with any?

    Thanks...
     

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