Face Off: The Bridge on the River DTV Panasonic CT-32HX40
As I implied earlier, the Sony wasn't a unanimous favorite. Panasonic's CT-32HX40 took top honors for Maureen and tied for first for Geoff. They both felt its performance more closely matched their personal preference in picture quality. This was based largely on the Panasonic's brightness and overall punch, coupled with its strong sense of detail. The Panasonic fared rather well with Mike, Ron, and I, too, but we all had essentially the same nitpick: It simply ran too high for our tastes in terms of color temperature. As with all of the other sets (except the Princeton), color temperature is adjustable on the Panasonic, but we could never get it to dip under 10,000 degrees K—which adds brightness and punch to whites (something Maureen really liked about this set) but can also detract from its overall accuracy in the minds of those who prefer a warmer picture and the look of the NTSC reference standard of 6,500 degrees K. Only the Sony and RCA operated consistently around this benchmark. But, as always, benchmarks mean little in the context of personal preference. Most people with color-temperature-adjustable sets are setting them higher anyway, preferring a brighter, bluer picture with strong whites—so this isn't something most viewers are going to hold against the Panasonic.
Features-wise, the Panasonic is right up there with the Sony. It also offers an automatic anamorphic widescreen mode—a major bonus. The most important connections are there with component and S-video, and the set is compatible with 1080i and 480p. Its overall sense of detail gets a solid boost from a quality internal line doubler. We would like the SVM to be defeatable, but its effect is probably one that some viewers will prefer. Even those dead-set against SVM should note that its effect is subtle overall—roughly equivalent to the Sony's SVM when set on its lowest level (before off). The Panasonic also offered a rare geomagnetic correction feature that Ron was very pleased with. The setting allows you to correct for the set's placement not just in the room but also in the grand magnetic scheme of the Earth. A proper explanation is hardly possible here, but take our word for it: It's a trick feature that removes some of the magnetically induced anomalies.
The Panasonic passed the Video Essentials tests with flying colors, offering up deep, convincing blacks that weren't as stable as the Sony's or RCA's but were still well above par. The Panasonic also employs what proved to be the best comb filter of the group, displaying the least amount of cross-color artifacts, dot crawl, and hanging dots by a good margin. The color decoder was accurate, but it did push green a bit. Like the higher color temperature, though, this effect is something that many viewers prefer, even if it isn't by-the-book accurate. It will give, say, the grass of a football field some extra punch. Resolution on the Panasonic measured out at about 420 lines for NTSC.
The CT-32HX40 looked great with DVD, and (along with the Sony) this is where it really distanced itself from the pack. This wasn't only because of its anamorphic mode. In order to level the playing field, we mainly used letterboxed versions of movies, and these two sets were still head and shoulders above the rest in terms of DVD performance. The differences between the two, again, simply came down to personal preference. The Panasonic is considerably detailed, stable (even more so with progressive input), and punchy. Maureen loved its vivid whites with the Toy Story DVD and indicated that this was probably the determining factor for her. Both she and Geoff also preferred the Panasonic's detail with Gladiator and felt that it offered the most engaging picture of the group. The rest of us also liked the Panasonic's look with just about everything we put through it, but it did run a bit too high for our tastes.
Broadcast signals were also rock-solid through the CT-32HX40. As with the Sony, it didn't distance itself from the competition as much here, but it still ended up in a photo finish for the top spot. Its high color temperature was even more of an asset for Geoff and Maureen and less of a consideration for Ron, Mike, and me, given that we all prefer a warmer, more-demure image with movies than with television. The Panasonic's punch was unmistakable, and whites and greens seemed to garner more attention from the group than they did on any of the other sets. As with most of the participants, the 1080i picture looked rather nice, even if it was Oprah (one of the pitfalls of doing a video Face Off on a weekday afternoon).
Peripherally speaking, the Panasonic was right on par. The remote is comprehensive. While the slot-machine-style onscreen menu wasn't my favorite of the group, it was at least faster than our Panasonic high-def tuner's version of it (which is a very good thing). The manual is adequate, but it lacks the detail of some of the competition. Like the Sony, the Panasonic uses a flat screen, which not only helps picture geometry but gives the set a slick look. Considering this set's performance, features (especially the anamorphic mode), and $1,899 price tag, the group agreed that Panasonic's CT-32HX40 should definitely make your list, as well.
• Offers an anamorphic widescreen mode
• Solid all-around performer
HT Labs Measures: Panasonic CT-32HX40
The top chart shows the gray scale of the Panasonic CT-32HX40 relative to its color temperature at various levels of intensity, or brightness (20 IRE is dark gray; 95 IRE is bright white). As you can see, the gray scale as set by the factory, in the most accurate menu setting, measures around 8,000 Kelvin with dark images and leans more toward 9,420 K with brighter images. Due to technical difficulties, we were unable to calibrate the display. The bottom chart shows the gray scale (or color temperature) relative to the color points of the display's red, green, and blue CRTs. The color points match those specified by SMPTE, which means the display will accurately reproduce the colors available in the system. The gray scale is more accurate with darker images and bluer with brighter images. The light output was approximately 38 foot-lamberts with a 15%-white window, which represents average picture material. The display could produce 30 ft-L with a full-white image. The display has at least 420 horizontal lines of resolution (per picture height) with NTSC sources.—MW
Panasonic Consumer Electronics
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