Panasonic TH-50PZ700U 50-inch 1080p Plasma HDTV Page 2

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The Short Form
Price $3,500 / panasonic.com / 888-843-9788
Snapshot
Panasonic's 50-inch, 1080p plasma delivers great performance at an affordable price.
Plus
•Crisp high-definition picture •Natural color balance •Powerful contrast and strong shadow detail •Affordable compared with the competition
Minus
•Occasional banding artifacts visible
Key Features
•1,920 x 1,080-pixel screen •Built-in HDTV tuner •Front-panel SD/SDHC card slot •HDAVI Control for HDMI-linked Panasonic components •Inputs: 2 HDMI, 2 component-video, 3 composite- and S-video; VGA; RF antenna/cable; 6 analog stereo audio; minijack stereo audio; SD Card •50 x 33.5 x 14.5 in; 123.5 lbs (w/stand)
Test Bench
With the Panasonic set to Custom picture and Warm color-temperature presets, its grayscale displayed a pronounced red bias, tracking approximately ±800 K of the 6,500-K standard from 30 to 100 IRE. Adjustments to the set's service menu evened its grayscale tracking out to around ±100 K from 30 to 100 IRE - excellent performance. The set's red color point was slightly oversaturated compared with the SMPTE HD spec, while green showed a more pronounced oversaturation. Color-decoder tests also revealed a fairly severe -20% green error on the HDMI inputs. Overscan measured 0% in HD Size 2 mode with high-def signals and 4% in Size 1 mode. The set displayed 1080i test patterns very cleanly and with full resolution via HDMI, but the same patterns showed noise in high-frequency bursts via component-video. A 720p pattern looked relatively soft on both the HDMI and component-video inputs. Screen uniformity was excellent when viewed both head-on and from off-center seats. Full Lab Results
SETUP The Panasonic provides four picture presets, all of which can be modified, with your changes stored in memory. Furthermore, you can create a Custom picture preset for each of the set's video inputs. Of its three color-temperature modes, Warm delivered the most natural-looking color range. Other adjustments that I selected during setup included Light Black Level (the other option, Dark, stripped too much shadow detail from dim parts of the picture), HD Size 1, which reduced picture overscan to 0%, and 3:2 pulldown On. I also switched on the Mosquito Noise Reduction mode for most standard and high-def programming that I watched on the TV. Unlike the set's coarser Block Noise Reduction mode, this one eliminated picture noise without over-smoothing the picture.

PICTURE QUALITY The new Blu-ray Disc of The Queen has some really spectacular images - many of which served to highlight the Panasonic's strong performance. For example, in a scene where the Queen (Helen Mirren), the Queen Mother, and Princes Philip and Charles picnic beside a river on their Scottish Highlands estate, the texture of the royals' tweedy jackets and woolly sweaters came through crisply, as did the fronds of evergreen branches in the background. All four characters' skin tones looked completely natural, and the Panasonic also proved capable of bringing out subtle differences, such as Charles's more ruddy and tanned complexion next to the pale, bloodless faces of the other family members.

Measurements determined that this Panasonic has a tendency to oversaturate greens. In a scene where the Queen encounters a stag after her car gets stuck in a mountain stream, however, I could see a stunningly wide range of subtle green hues, and none looked artificial or overly pumped up. The Panasonic also displayed consistently solid black levels, and its contrast looked solid and punchy throughout the movie. Another Blu-ray Disc, The Great Raid, demonstrated the TV's impressive ability to flesh out shadow detail. Watching a barracks scene in which the ailing Major Gibson (Joseph Fiennes) chats with his fellow POWs, I could see plenty of background objects in the soldiers' dark surroundings.

One other, more objectionable thing that I noticed when watching The Great Raid was a slight banding artifact during several panoramic shots of the camp. Instead of a smooth ramp of blue-to-white tones, the sky was divided into a coarser ramp of colored steps. Although I didn't see this effect often, it did show up in some other clips, such as a dark scene from The Sopranos where Tony and the doomed, coked-up Christopher speed along the highway in an SUV. On standard DVDs, the Panasonic's high-def upconversion was generally clean and crisp, though it fell short of the performance of some other TVs I've tested. The 720p-format high-def programs I viewed also appeared slightly soft, but not overly so.

BOTTOM LINE At $3,500 or less, the Panasonic TH-50PZ700U 50-inch 1080p plasma HDTV is an intriguing display at an affordable price. From its sturdy, attractive design to its simple yet effective picture adjustments, it's one class act. And though the TV's performance falls a bit short compared with that of Pioneer's acclaimed model, it's good enough overall to earn my enthusiastic recommendation. Go out and get yourself a Panasonic 1080p plasma. With the money you save, you can buy yourself both a top-shelf HD DVD player and a Blu-ray Disc player.

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