Panasonic TH-58PZ750U Plasma HDTV

Big, bodacious, and beautiful.

LCD displays have taken over much of the flat-panel market because they’re bright, they’re flat, and they have become increasingly affordable.

But insiders know that plasmas are a compelling option for the fussy viewer. In fact, plasma technology has a balance of strengths that LCDs have only just begun to approach. Panasonic invested early in plasma technology, and while the company also manufactures an extensive range of LCD sets, its support of plasma technology remains strong, with perhaps the widest selection of plasma televisions on the market. The 58-inch 1080p TH-58PZ750U ($5,000) reviewed here is the second to the largest entry in the company’s current line.

Features and Setup
As with all the plasma displays we know of, the Panasonic’s glass screen is a very efficient reflector of room light. The screen is treated with an anti-reflective compound, but I found it only marginally effective.

The Panasonic will accept sources at up to 1080p/60. It will not, however, properly display a 1080p/24 image. You can also view both photos and home movies on the display via an SD card slot behind a second door under the screen.

Onscreen menus provide the standard picture controls, plus a bushel of the specialized adjustments that show up on most modern televisions, seasoned with each manufacturer’s unique flavorings. The spices here include three varieties of noise reduction and a so-called “Pro setting” menu. The most useful features in the latter are three panel brightness levels, four different gamma settings, and white-balance adjustments for tweaking the color temperature—with appropriate test gear, of course.

There are four preset picture modes. I recommend Custom. Don’t be tempted by the professional- sounding Studio Ref option. Its color temperature is too red in the Warm color-temperature setting and too blue in Normal. Studio Ref also locks out all of the user Pro setting adjustments (the Pro settings are available only in the Custom mode), including the white-balance controls.

I found little use for a number of the controls, including C.A.T.S. (which darkens the entire image and clips the darkest grays), Contour Emphasis, Color Management, and AGC. The noise-reduction controls were relatively ineffective on my standard noise-reduction tests.

There’s also a Split-Screen feature, which can position two images side by side. But you can’t use HDMI sources in this Split mode, nor can the set’s single, onboard ATSC/NTSC tuner provide two separate channels for side-by-side display.

Burn-in—often temporary but sometimes permanent—is a concern in plasma displays, and Panasonic warns about it in the owner’s manual. While it’s no cause for paranoia, or for forgoing the very real benefits of a plasma set, you should at least be aware of it and exercise reasonable preventive measures.

The remote control can operate, to a limited degree, three additional components apart from the display itself. Apart from the lack of backlighting, and the fact that it does not offer direct selection of inputs, I had no complaints about it.

A feature called EZ Sync allows you to control all Panasonic components equipped with “HDAVI Control” and connected via HDMI. The control options include simultaneous turn-on and automatic input selection. For more details on EZ Sync, see the “Hook Me Up” column in Home Theater’s February 2008 issue.

While the onscreen menus are straightforward, there is one feature that’s an invitation to trouble. Several of the menus, including the Picture and Pro settings, have a selection called Normal. Normally (no pun intended), it’s set to No. Change it to Set, however, and it immediately resets all of the controls in that menu to their factory defaults.

In other words, Normal is a reset control under an innocent-sounding name. And it’s located at the very top of the menus, far too prominent for a control that can wipe out your carefully chosen settings. Moral: Write down your preferred menu settings so that when someone else in the house changes Normal to Set (and they will), you won’t have to start over and adjust the set all over again.

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