Dwin Plasmaimage HD-250 Review: Part 1

June 20, 2006

Dwin PlasmaimageFounded in 1985 Dwin (the little display company that could) has a long history of exceptional video products. Back in the early days of the custom installation business, we regarded the Dwin (HD-500/700) CRT projectors as the holy-grail of video display devices. Bright, colorful, 100” images aren’t new, and neither are some of the companies who make them possible.

Much has changed since those days, thankfully Dwin’s commitment to superior video hasn’t. I’m just as thankful I don’t have to bolt heavy CRT projectors to ceilings anymore and display devices such as Plasma’s and LCD’s are commonplace, where they were once thought of as exotic and unproven.

While plasma displays are commonplace today and widely regarded as more than capable of displaying fantastic images, one rule of video hasn’t changed a bit. No matter what display type is in vogue at the time, certain manufacturers will always take the technology to a higher level.

I’ve never been one for style over substance or promises in lieu of results, which is probably why I’ve long admired Dwin’s product offerings. They seem to have an approach to product design and performance that sadly isn’t as commonplace as it once was. The Dwin Plasmaimage HD-250 is no exception and if you’re in the market for a high performance plasma system, I strongly encourage you to read on, but first I need to explain the “plasma system” part.

The Dwin Plasmaimage HD-250 is actually two products in one. The first half is a 50″ 1366×768 native resolution, plasma display panel and the second is Dwin’s outboard video processor/scaler.

Before I get into some of the specifics of both pieces, let’s take a look at Dwin’s official spec list for the Plasmaimage HD-250 system:

•HD-250, 50” Diagonal Screen Size with 1366 X 768 Native Resolution
•Anti-Glare Screen Coating with 160° viewing angle
•Dynamic Luminance to optimize luminance and contrast in real-time
•Motion Adaptive™ Screen Saver to prevent phosphor burn.
•HDTV/ DTV/ NTSC/ PAL compatible
•Five different Aspect Ratio Controls for DVD, HD and Computer Sources
•Custom Aspect Ratio settings for 4:3 and 2.35:1 recorded video sources
•Adaptive Film Mode processing (3:2/2/2 pull-down) for film originated sources
•Automatic Image Set-up and Scaling determines input video signal type and controls image and scaling parameters
•Complete Video Controls for all video sources, including DVI
•Home theater menus
•Enhanced Black Levels, color temperature and Gamma selection
•Video Source Memories for custom setup and automatic recall
•10 Video Inputs: 2 DVI (HDCP), 2 RGB, 2 S-Video, 2 Component, and 2 Composite
•Eight Device pre-programmed/Learning IR/RF Remote Control with back-lit key-pad
•RS-232 port and control software
•Two 12v programmable triggers

Dwin ScalerI want describe the HD-250’s external processor with a bit more detail, as it’s critical to the overall performance of the HD-250. Many of you have no doubt heard about the importance of sending a display video at its native resolution.

In essence the (native resolution or rate) moniker refers to the fact that most displays fare much better with minimal internal scaling, i.e. if your display is 1280x720p nine times out of ten your best results will be with sending the display 720p, in a nutshell, the less processing the better.

But what about standard definition television and DVD aren’t we perpetually stuck with their lower, 408i and 480×720 resolutions? This is where the advantage of an external processor/scaler really becomes apparent. The Dwin Plasmaimage HD-250 uses an external scaler that always sends the paired display its native resolution, regardless of the sources original resolution.

Dwin’s outboard processor is not a media adaptor or A/V break-out box, those box’s provide the convenience of consolidating video sources into a remote location but they do not deliver a native-rate signal to the PDP.

Due to the inherent difficulties of matching resolution, dot clock frequency, front and back porch, most break-out boxes and A/V receivers simply switch the video signal or up-convert to an existing HDTV standard (720p).

Many PDP’s have their origins as computer devices; the native resolution of most PDP’s is 768p (1366 x 768) or (1280 x 768p). When a signal comes in at 720p, it must be scaled A SECOND TIME, resulting in noticeable video artifacts.

The effect is worse when you have component-out from a digital source, such as a DVD player. In that case the signal is converted from digital to analog, up-converted once (to 720p), then converted back to digital on the PDP, then scaled a second time to 768p. After all this it’s easy to see why SD sources rarely look as good on digital displays as they do on legacy analog displays.

As a native rate device, Dwin’s outboard scaler accepts either DVI (HDMI) or component. Dwin’s video processor then scales one time, to 768p, to deliver a purely digital signal to the panel and by-pass the on-board scaler. With a DVI-out DVD player, the signal is never converted to analog.

First Impressions:

The first movie I popped in was ‘The Raider’s of the Lost Ark’ (SD-DVD) yeah nostalgic I know but that’s the kind of mood I’ve been in lately. Oh my, this thing looks good, I mean it’s not even fully warmed up and The Raider’s of the Lost Ark’s DVD menu looks better than before. Bright and punchy, well lets not stare at the menu all day.

Skipping through to the first big action scene, I suddenly realized how hard gold is to re-create on a digital display, Indy’s golden idol had gradients of color I’ve yet to see displayed this vividly. I love discovering these kind of ‘wow I didn’t know that’s how it looked’ scenes with new equipment.

The HD-250 has the strange ability to pump out insane amounts of color without appearing wrong, it pushes out color saturation like no tomorrow, I’ve seen lesser displays choke on much less color saturation. The above initial impressions were made with the monitor fresh out of the box and zero calibration, if it could look this good un-calibrated what was I store for with a little tweaking?

Standard Definition Far From Standard:

What really struck me most in the first few minutes of viewing is how good standard definition DVD looked on the HD-250. I recently read that the return rate for new plasmas approaches 8% on some brands, because the displays don’t look as good with standard definition video as they new buyers had expected.

I have to believe that if those same buyers would have experienced what I was viewing with the HD-250 that return rate would have been significantly lower.

Much of the blame for this phenomenon has to fall on the display manufacturers themselves, in the rush to digitize a NTSC signal without first taking care to optimize the quality of that signal.

By remedying the quirks of NTSC in the analog domain, you can provide much better information (and more information) to the digital scaler, reducing noise, expanding dynamic range, lower black levels, etc.

Underworld Evolutions in all its dark, creepy glory:

Brief but important tangent over, back to viewing. Next up was Underworld Evolutions, don’t you just love Netflix rentals that haven’t had time to get the messy fingerprint and scratch treatment? I had assumed (correctly) that the Underworld sequel would be a great test of black level and shadow detail and of course this title fit that bill perfectly.

You’ll have to forgive my poor note taking during Underworld, Kate Beckinsale has that effect on me, but some things I did notice during the DVD were, inky black’s and excellent shadow detail as well as excellent noise reduction.

I’m sure many of you have viewed video were night scenes have a tendency to pixelate or posterize shots with a heavy preponderance of one color, I’m very happy to report the HD-Series video processor was having no part of this nonsense, the night sky’s were silky smooth and perfectly eerie.

The Dwin HD-250 made me want to watch standard-def DVD’s more so than any other display I’ve auditioned recently. That’s not to say HDTV didn’t look great, it’s just that I didn’t feel that “Must find HD” desire overriding my inner ‘what do I really want to watch’ voice.

On-Screen Menu Controls:

I’m torn on how best to describe the user experience of the Dwin HD-250 to you, much of this comes from the 250’s menu system. Most of the Dwin’s settings and functions are on-screen and menu driven (something I’ve always thought made sense for viewing in a dark room) these menus use a drill-down architecture that gives you as much or as little information on screen as necessary.

My first inclination would be to describe the Dwin as a Videophile’s display because if you’re a setting tweaker you’ll be pleased as punch at how many variables you have control of via the HD-250’s processor. But I want to be perfectly clear in that if you’re the least bit intimidated by complex or cryptic menu systems the Dwin has you covered as well.

For those uncomfortable or just uninterested in the higher level functions of video displays fear not, the simple easy to use, on-screen menu system always shows you the most pertinent, often used functions toward the top of the menu drill-downs.

Don’t want all the muss and fuss of setting tweaking? Just handle the must-have settings in a few clicks and you’ll never have to delve down into the higher level functions, but I for one admire the fact that those options are present and available even if I never plan on using them.

My mantra here is ‘better to have them and never use them, than not having the option at all’. I suppose an easier way to describe the above would just be to say, the HD-250 offers videophile performance with consumer grade ease of use.

One area in particular that Dwin handles user settings differently than most display manufacturers is image size. Many of you are no doubt familiar with the typical 4:3, wide, stretch and anamorphic resize options on video displays, but Dwin offers an even more customizable, straightforward level of control with these settings.

Instead of image sizing that only offers a few pre-determined options, the Dwin processor allows you change height and width adjustments on the fly with as much or little customization as you see fit. I can see this as a big plus to users who have multiple video sources, that don’t always format perfectly onto typical CE grade display panels.

Remote Control:

If you’ve read many of my reviews here you’ll know I have a love hate thing going on with remote controls. I’m never surprised by remotes that leave a bit to be desired, as I rarely use them for any length of time anyway, their codes just get dumped into my Home Theater Master MX-800.

But at the same time I’m always happy to report when manufacturers have the wherewithal to include useful remotes with their gear. The Dwin HD-250 ships with a Home Theater Master URC-200, an 8 device pre-programmed/learning IR/RF remote control with back-lit key-pad.

This remote could hardly be described as a throw-away, and even if you have something better in your main room, I’m willing to bet the URC-200 would be an upgrade for a bedroom or secondary theater.

Continue Reading: Dwin Plasmaimage HD-250 Review: Part 2

Posted by Bryan Greenway | | Filed Under Plasma Reviews, Reviews