1080p plasma TVs have long been the fantasy of video enthusiasts. So naturally, many of us drooled with excitement when the first affordable 1080p plasma TV sets were announced earlier this year from Panasonic and Pioneer. Perhaps the drooling was the result of a “need”, now that a 1080p picture is available from Blu-ray and HD DVD players.
Notice that I said the first “affordable” 1080p plasma TVs. To stand politically correct, the first ever 1080p plasma display was the Pioneer Elite PRO-FHD1, introduced in 2006. However, while it delivered a remarkable picture quality and found that sweet spot in every reviewer’s heart, it was hardly meant to become a main stream product – it cost just shy of $10,000 when initially introduced. And it wasn’t even a complete TV, it was just a display.
This summer, video enthusiast desires have finally been fulfilled. First up at the plate, to offer affordable 1080p TV sets was Panasonic. Their 2007 line-up includes two 50-inch models, TH-50PZ700 and TH-50PZ750, as well as two 58-inch models, TH-58PZ700 and TH-50PZ750.
The models ending with 750 are part of Panasonic’s premium PZ750 series. In addition to the features found in the 700 series, the 750 series sets include a Studio Reference (picture) Mode, which promises to provide the exact colour reproduction as seen on the reference monitors used in film editing studios. Both 750 series sets also offer a Pro Setting Mode which allows them to be professionally calibrated to match your specific viewing environment. Finally, a third HDMI 1.3 input is present in the front as well as a black chrome finishing touch that distinguishes the 750 series.
The 50-inch TH-50PZ700 model, priced at $3999, arrived at my house inside a giant, intimidating box, but I didn’t let that scare me (past the initial moment). The TV itself was probably only one-third of the total box volume. I dismantled the box in my living room and conveniently located handles on the back of the TV allowed me and my helping hand to move the 50-incher to my basement without much struggle.
The Panasonic TH-50PZ700 offers the full 1080p (1920 by 1080 pixel) resolution. It has a claimed contrast ratio of 5000:1 and is said to be able to display 68.7 billion colours with 4096 shades of gradation. The set contains an integrated ATSC/NTSC tuner. The rear panel offers a typical number of video inputs including two HDMI version 1.3, two component, two S-video, two composite video and a single VGA (PC input). The front panel contains an additional S-video/composite video input behind a hidden door as well as an SD memory card slot for viewing pictures directly from a camera’s memory card. The set’s HDMI inputs accept the 1080p/24 frame per second (fps) signal, although the Panasonic converts it to 1080/60 fps. The TH-50PZ700 has a luxurious glossy black bezel which gives it an attractive appearance. Two built-in speakers protrude just over an inch on either side of the screen and are barely visible. Presumably anyone buying a TV of this caliber will also be picking up a real set of speakers to match this TV’s big picture.
The supplied remote has logically arranged buttons but unfortunately does not have a backlight. I found the channel buttons to be unnecessarily large – something I’ve never enjoyed with other Panasonic remotes. However, the buttons were perfectly responsive, which made the remote pleasant to use. The remote does not have direct input buttons for each video input. Instead, the video inputs are accessed by pressing the TV/Video button which brings up an on-screen list of available inputs.
To evaluate the performance of the TH-50PZ700, I connected two video sources to it; my reference Pioneer Elite BDP-HD1 Blu-ray player (with an HDMI cable) and a Starchoice HD satellite box (using a component video cable). To begin the video tests, I used the HQV Benchmark DVD and Blu-ray discs.
The HQV DVD 480i disc proved that the Panasonic did very well with both jaggies patterns and there were only minimal jagged edges visible in the waving flag test. The Panasonic also has very good static and motion adaptive noise reduction, some of the best I’ve seen in a TV set in a while. The set quickly picked up film mode, indicating that it has great 3:2 pulldown detection. Finally, its detail extraction from a 480i signal was also impressive. What does all this mean? This TV will do a great job when you feed it a 480i signal (i.e. standard DVDs or 480i television channels).
Using the HQV 1080i Blu-ray disc, the Panasonic showed that it can properly process all the lines of the 1080 signal and that it has effective HD noise reduction. The Panasonic did pass the jaggies test, although some jaggies were visible in the waving flag scene.
Before calibrating the picture with the Digital Video Essentials disc, I watched some content using the TV’s various picture presets. Not surprisingly, out of the box, the Cinema picture mode was by far the best. It produced the most natural, true-to-life colours, a great contrast and really deep black levels. The Standard picture mode was also acceptable and suitable when watching the TV under brighter lighting conditions.
Then with the picture properly calibrated, I began popping various movies into my Blu-ray player. My first selection was The Island on standard DVD. Without a doubt, the most striking performance aspect of the TH-50PZ700 was its black level. The black was the darkest I’ve seen yet from a plasma TV, rivaled only by the new Pioneer generation plasma TVs that I recently saw at a press event. The Panasonic produced blacks that seemingly matched the TV’s black front bezel. Being able to deliver such a deep level of black has a huge impact on the overall picture performance of the TV. A beneficial by-product of this exceptionally deep black, were amazing shadow details. While watching Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, I could clearly see the details in people faces and clothing in the darkest scenes, details that most other plasmas could only dream of being able to display. But the Panasonic was also able to produce a much brighter picture when required. Subtle details in bright parts of the picture were not being crushed. The result was a superior contrast ratio compared to other plasma TVs currently on the market.
Overall, standard DVDs simply looked very pleasing on the large, 50-inch screen of the Panasonic. Each DVD that I watched displayed good detail and showed very little digital noise. This is great news for everyone, considering that most content out there is still in standard definition.
But if you’re part of the growing crowd that owns a high definition disc player or a PS3, this Panasonic is bound to become your best friend for a while. And unlike after hanging out with your drinking buddy, you won’t wake up with a headache the next day after spending all night with the Panasonic.
Having the Panasonic at my house gave me the perfect reason to pick up a Blu-ray box set I’ve been hearing really good things about – BBC’s Planet Earth. Each episode of this show focuses on an individual element of our planet such as mountains, fresh water or deserts, just to mention a few. The top-notch high definition cameras used to film this show combined with some fantastic shooting techniques makes this arguably the best high definition content available today. I was a little hesitant to spend $90 on this set at first, but I have to say that it was worth every penny of it. On this Panasonic TV, episodes of Planet Earth simply took my breath away. The plant life looked amazingly natural and blooming flowers had well saturated colours. On the whole, the Panasonic had phenomenal colour reproduction. Scenes in which the camera moved horizontally panned with a nice smooth motion – not an easy feat to accomplish. I watched the same scenes on a couple of other TVs later and they looked quite jerky.
If you’ve been holding out for a 1080p plasma TV, wait no longer! The Panasonic TH-50PZ700 will enable you to experience the full glory of 1080p content from Blu-ray and HD DVD discs. And if you’re not ready to purchase a high definition disc player just yet, the Panasonic will do an incredible job with lower resolution content in the mean time. And now let me get back to watching Planet Earth before the sad day that I have to return this TV back to Panasonic.
Panasonic TH-50PZ700 Highlights
• Screen size: 50-inch
• Resolution: 1,920 x 1,080 pixels
• Contrast ratio: 5000:1
• Tuner: ATSC/NTSC
• Video inputs: 2 HDMI, 2 component, 3 S-video, 3 composite video
• PC input
• Dimensions (WxHxD): 1266 x 850 x 369 mm (49.9 x 33.5 x 14.5”)
• Weight: 56 kg (123.5 lbs)