It's hard to say what our first impressions of the Panasonic TH-42PZ800A were: the south end of a north-bound robot? Darth Vader with a moustache? The Panasonic is certainly a futuristic looking telly. And its gloss-black finish and subtle bottom bezel help it stand out from all the other rectangular "window frames" out there.
Unlike Pioneer's glass-less (and more expensive) Kuro the Panasonic still uses a glass outer layer. The only disadvantage to this is that high-contrast images — credits for example — can "double up" when viewed off-axis. Also, the TV lacks the anti-reflective coating of the previous 700A generation which means you'll need a darker room to watch this one in.
If you want access to the controls on the TV itself they're located along and under the silver bezel. To the left sits the hard power button and in the middle of the bezel there is a fold-up flap. Inside are a minimum of controls including volume and channel buttons, but no menu controls. Beside it sit the SD card input and a further HDMI input, as well as an AV input.
At the rear you'll find the "lock-in" power plug, and a series of rear-facing video and audio inputs. A separate bracket is available for wall-mounting purposes.
The remote is the same we've seen with the Panasonic TH-42PX8A and it's quite friendly. It has dedicated Play controls at the bottom which makes it interoperable with other Panasonic equipment or HDMI-CEC compatible gear.
The Panasonic TH-42PZ800A is Panasonic's flagship and this means it boasts the most features of the range. You get:
- 1920x1080 resolution,
- Intelligent Frame Creation 100Hz mode,
- 30,000:1 native contrast,
- Integrated HD tuner with seven-day EPG, and
- Sub-Pixel Controller for reducing jagged edges.
In addition you also get three HDMI ports, which is about average now, with the (dis)advantage that one is front mounted. Good because you can plug and unplug a PS3 easily, bad because it would look ugly if you need the third slot on a permanent basis. In addition you get two component inputs, two S-Video ports, and an overkill of four AV inputs.
In comparison to some of its LCD competitors though, it's not exactly cutting edge. The Philips 42PFL9703D boasts an Ethernet connection and a USB port, while the forthcoming Samsung LA46A750 sports those in addition to on-board yoga exercises and stock updates! But what really matters is the picture right? ...
... Which is a good thing because the Panasonic TH-42PZ800A has picture quality in spades.
The most striking thing about a TV at this price is the amount of black in the image. While it's not the pure black of the experimental Pioneer we saw at CES it's very impressive nonetheless.
Even on an SD recording of David Attenborough's The Life of Mammals black levels are deep and give a 3D quality to the image. Unlike LCD, there's no need to "suspend your disbelief" due to backlight clouding or off-axis fading — the blacks are solid from one side to the other. In addition, detail levels are strong with fur, hair, and skin rendered realistically.
The Panasonic also excelled in our Silicon Optix HQV tests. The TV displayed excellent noise-cancelling capabilities — even with noise reduction off — with no mosquito noise at all. The jaggies test also came out with full marks.
The TV tuner was also good, with HD broadcasts having plenty of zip and believability. Only when watching the Great Outdoors in "HD" on 7 HD did we see some jagged edges get through the TV's processor.
DVD replay was also excellent — even King Kong's opening "opinions are those of the authors..." screen looked deep and black, while it had looked frayed at the edges on the Sharp LC-46D83X LCD before it. Play the movie proper, and the Panasonic was able to track the planes in the opening shots of Kong's Last Stand better than any LCD we've seen. Plasma simply handles motion better than LCD because there's no lag, and it may always be the case.
However, the same scene did show one small flaw: though the screen is big on detail, sometimes this can be at the expense of smooth colour gradients. Contrasting scenes looked a little over-sharpened in Normal — though this effect was lessened in Cinema mode. One thing we couldn't get rid of was the slight fizzing effect that occurred when the Panasonic tried to reproduce clouds.
Well, we'll take that back. We could get rid of this gradation problem by activating 100Hz, but then we created even issues. The "fizzing" disappeared but then areas of sky got a "striping" effect on DVDs and Blu-rays alike. In general, the Intelligent Frame Creation mode created some unnatural movement but no obvious haloing in most content, but we still preferred to leave it off.
Sound quality was generally good: speech was coherent and explosions had a good deal of force behind them. We've heard better TV speakers though, as there was no real stereo separation and it was lacking the treble response of the Philips 9000 series.
PC output was also good, although we encountered initial problems with the screen over-scanning the desktop. However, unlike the budget 8A we were able to turn Overscan off which meant we could see the Vista screen in full. Colours were accurate and text sharp.
Despite putting in an exemplary performance there are a couple of things that stop it from receiving full marks. Like the 8A and many Panasonic screens before it, the TV lacks a "user" colour mode, which means that you may have to stick with one of the presets as the TV has an uncanny knack to "forget" individual adjustments.
Though the retail price may be AU$2,899 we've seen it retail for about AU$500 less than this. The lead-up to the Olympics and the Christmas rush should mean this model hovers around the AU$2k mark by the end of the year. This price would make the TH-42PZ800A a magnificent bargain.