A standout among HDTVs for the entry-level crowd, the Panasonic TH-42PX80U exhibited great black-level performance, although we'd still like to see better color and more effective noise reduction.
Our standard calibration went exceedingly quickly because the Panasonic lacks many of the more advanced controls found on higher-end HDTVs (click here for our picture settings). After we had it locked in, we compared the TH-42PX80U with a couple of other sets we had on hand, including the Panasonic's own TH-46PZ85U, the Insignia NS-PDP42, and the Samsung PN50A550, along with our current reference displays, the Pioneer PDP-5080HD and the Sony KDS-55A3000. We checked out Black Snake Moan on Blu-ray at 1080i for the majority of our tests.
Black level: As we've come to expect from Panasonic plasmas, the TH-42PX80U produced a very deep shade of black. The more expensive TH-46PZ85U and ,of course, the Pioneer still went deeper, but the PX80U was a touch darker than the Samsung--we doubt the difference would be noticeable outside of a side-by-side comparison, however. The letterbox bars, the black screen shadows in the background of the fields during Rae's drink fest, and the night sky overhead all looked deep and rich.
Details in shadows, such as the side of Lazarus' face as he jams on his guitar, were once again a bit lighter than our reference Pioneer, which made near-black areas appear too bright in relation to black. A gamma control would probably help this issue, but it's not available on this set.
Color accuracy: As with the higher-end TH-46PX85U, this is the category where Panasonic needs to do the most improving. The initial color temperature wasn't bad in Warm mode, so white areas such as the overcast sky, as well as skin tones, looked relatively good after we backed down the color control. We had to do so because the Panasonic evinced significant red push, which made skin, such as Rae's face in the morning light inside Lazarus' house, appear too flushed and rosy at full saturation. However, the set's deep black levels kept colors from becoming too washed out.
As is often the case with plasma, the primary color of green was also off, which made the trees and cornfields of Lazarus' farm, for example, look a touch less natural than on the Samsung and the Sony reference, for example.
Video processing: As with most HDTVs we've tested, the TH-42PX80U was unsuccessful at correctly de-interlacing 1080i film-based material, so we recommend you set your high-definition sources to 1080p if available. If not, we recommend you stick with 1080i for this TV, because when we looked at 720p resolution patterns they appeared a bit softer than 1080i.
We mentioned the relatively ineffective noise reduction of the TH-46PZ85U, and this TH-42PX80U has the same problem. With noisy material, such as the HD noise test from the HQV disc, the set's NR did very little to clean up the motes of snow in the background, especially in dark areas. All of the TVs in our test, including the lowly Insignia, demonstrated better noise reduction. If you're sensitive to noise or sitting relatively close (7 feet or closer), this might be a concern.
Bright lighting: We were told that the TH-42PX80U has the same antireflective screen as the higher-end TH-46PZ85U, but it actually appears different in our tests. With both screens facing a wall of open windows, the 80U tended to be more effective at reducing the brightness of the reflections, although it still wasn't quite as good as the Pioneer or a matte-screened LCD. For a plasma, however, the TH-42PX80U did a very good job of attenuating glare.
Standard-definition: Details in standard-definition were relatively sharp--better than on the TH-42PZ85U--and the set resolved every line of the DVD format. The TH-42PX80U did an average job of removing jagged edges from moving diagonal lines, and, as with high-definition sources, its noise reduction wasn't as effective at cleaning up snowy-looking material, such as HQV's low-quality shots of skies and sunsets, as we'd like to see. It did quickly engage 2:3 pull-down.
PC: Don't buy the TH-42PX80U if you want to use it occasionally as a big monitor. It lacks an analog VGA input, and when we attempted to connect via HDMI, the results weren't pretty. The set didn't display the 1,024x768 signal properly, doubling the left side (so we saw our desktop icons on both sides of the screen), overscanning way too much, and introducing a line of vertical interference down the middle of the screen. Other resolutions were also too overscanned to be usable.
|Before color temp (20/80)||6652/7002||Average|
|After color temp||N/A|
|Before grayscale variation||+/- 379K||Average|
|After grayscale variation||N/A|
|Color of red (x/y)||0.65/0.342||Average|
|Color of green||0.264/0.662||Poor|
|Color of blue||0.146/0.061||Good|
|Defeatable edge enhancement||N||Poor|
|480i 2:3 pull-down, 24 fps||Y||Good|
|1080i video resolution||Pass||Good|
|1080i film resolution||Fail||Poor|
|Panasonic TH-42PX80U||Picture settings|
|Picture on (watts)||260.18||190.53||N/A|
|Picture on (watts/sq. inch)||0.35||0.25||N/A|
|Cost per year||$81.14||$59.59||N/A|
|Score (considering size)||Poor|