The big picture

Panasonic's 103-inch Viera makes couch potatoes drool.

Sorry lads. Size apparently does matter. At least when it comes to televisions. High-definition programming is best enjoyed on as big a screen as possible. And you can't get any bigger than Panasonic's newly released 103-inch plasma display, the Viera TH-103PF9UK. Equivalent in size to four 50-inch panels, this 265-kilogram behemoth must be made-to-order and professionally installed, but its specs are enough to make any serious couch potato drool. Consider its 1,920-by-1,080 pixel resolution, 5,000:1 contrast ratio and 4,096 equivalent steps of gradation–meaning it can reproduce 4,096 shades of any particular colour.

All that techie speak doesn't do the Viera justice, though. Nor do photos. It simply has to be seen to be believed. The screen is as big as a billboard: 89.3 inches wide and 50.2 inches high, it boasts a viewing area of 4,483 square inches. Put another way, you'd need 272 $100 bills to wallpaper the display. Yet that would still leave you $53,000 short of the necessary cash to buy the hardware, never mind the fees for installation and other accoutrements you'd want to add, such as a high-definition DVD player, quality sound system and multimedia computer. Put them all together and it's like having your own movie theatre, but the picture quality is better than any projection system. The colours vividly pop, and the darks and blacks look deep, addressing a long-held concern about big-screen units. There's even a definite feeling of depth, making the picture seem almost three-dimensional. In short, it's mesmerizing.

Of course, such ostentation requires plenty of cash and plenty of space. The general rule of thumb for widescreen displays is that viewers should sit roughly three times the screen width away for maximum enjoyment. That means you need 22 feet of empty space between you and your Viera. Sit closer and you might just get a touch of vertigo. Sure, you could buy a smaller plasma or LCD TV and just sit closer to it, but you'd definitely miss the “wow” factor.

Panasonic expects 5,000 people, including a few hundred in Canada, will buy into that wow. Want one now? Too bad. You'll have to wait three to six months, says Barry Murray, director of the Audio Visual & Display Group at Panasonic Canada Inc. But it's worth it. Murray says plasma displays have an effectual lifespan of 60,000 hours, nearly twice that of traditional CRT monitors. That's about seven years, or roughly the same amount of time the average Canadian spends watching television before turning 60. You may as well make that time as blissful as possible, especially if you can afford it.