The TH-42PX50U includes a QAM tuner for cable, a built-in ATSC tuner for receiving off-air HDTV broadcasts, and an NTSC tuner for regular antenna reception. The ubiquitous Digital Cable Ready CableCard feature is included as well, although you won't get the TV Guide EPG found on the TH-42PX500U (not a big loss, in our opinion, since TV Guide is fraught with problems).
The connectivity suite on the rear panel is adequate, though not overly generous. The set lacks front or side-panel A/V inputs for convenient camcorder or video game hookup. One HDMI input, two component-video inputs, and a single RF antenna/cable input handle high-def sources. For standard-def there are two A/V inputs with S-Video or composite video, and a set of A/V monitor outputs with composite video only. Many competing plasmas, such as Pioneer's PDP-4350HD, offer a second HDMI input, and as we mentioned there's no PC-style VGA port.
Overall we were impressed with the Panasonic TH-42PX50U's image quality. Its strongest suit, as we've come to expect from all Panasonic plasmas over the last few years, was the ability to produce a deeper level of black than other brands of plasma. The opening scenes from our black-level torture-test DVD Alien revealed those deep, inky blacks; they looked quite clean, with only a hint of low-level noise and artifacts. We saw some minor false-contouring artifacts in very dim scenes, but they were not nearly as bad as on most other plasmas. Good black levels are extremely important for home-theater viewing in dim light because they lead to better color saturation and a picture with more impact.
In terms of color accuracy, the grayscale in the Warm setting came fairly close to the NTSC color-temperature standard. Unfortunately, Panasonic has yet again changed its access to the service menu of its plasmas; as a result, we were unable to correct the grayscale through calibration. Color decoding, while not perfect, was better than on most of the plasma panels we have tested, with the exception of Panasonic's own industrial models, which are dead-on accurate; however, you should set the color-management feature to Off, as it negatively affects the color decoding. The set's video processing is clean and incorporates the all-important 2:3 pull-down processing for film-based video from standard-definition cable, satellite, and antenna sources.
After setting up the plasma with user-menu controls, we watched a variety of scenes from the Superbit version of the Vertical Limit DVD and came away highly impressed with the image's color saturation and detail. The crispness and snap (the perceived contrast ratio) of the TH-42PX50U was far superior to that of thewe had on hand, which has the same resolution but inferior black levels and video processing.
HDTV from our DirecTV HD satellite feed looked equally superb. Again, there was plenty of detail, and the picture did not appear soft, the way it does on some EDTV panels. Dark material in HD also looked clean, with plenty of shadow detail and a minimum of low-level noise and artifacts. With the notable exception of the industrial TH-42PHD7UY, the TH-42PX50U offers the best home-theater image of any 42-inch plasma in its class.
|Before color temp (20/80)||6,350/6,225K||Good|
|After color temp||N/A||N/A|
|Before grayscale variation||± 261K||Good|
|After grayscale variation||N/A||N/A|
|Color decoder error: red||+10%||Average|
|Color decoder error: green||0%||Good|
|DC restoration||No patterns stable||Poor|
|2:3 pull-down, 24fps||Y||Good|
|Defeatable edge enhancement||Y||Good|