Panasonic sells more of its plasma TVs than anybody else, so it stands to reason that the company has more plasma screen sizes than its many competitors. The 58-inch size, which no other plasma maker offers, is new for the company as of last year, and the TH-58PX600U is its highest-end 58-inch set. As a member of the step-up 600U line, this television offers a few more features and different styling compared with the basic 60U line, represented in the 58-inch size by the TH-58PX60U, and in case you're wondering, no, Panasonic doesn't currently make a 58-inch "professional" model like this. The TH-58PX600U became available in June 2006 and, according to Panasonic's CES 2007 announcement, will be replaced by the TH-58PX75U this spring and the 1080p TH-58PZ700U sometime this summer. In the meantime, however, it's available for a good deal less than its original $5,300 MSRP. Sure that's still a heck of a lot more than a similarly sized rear-projection HDTV, but if you have the room, the budget, and the need to go flat, it's an excellent choice among large-screen plasmas.
The smart-looking Panasonic TH-58PX600U is basically a 58-inch diagonal pane of glass surrounded by a black frame that's edged by silver. The silver strips of cabinet to the right and the left of the frame actually house ultrathin speakers, and the silver along the bottom conceals a pair of flip-up doors. One reveals an SD card slot and the other a set of control buttons and an A/V input. Panasonic's matching silver stand comes included in the price of the set.
The entire television including stand measures a formidable 57.3x38.9x16.6 inches (WHD) and weighs a hefty 174.2 pounds. Detached from the stand, the Panasonic TH-58PX600U's panel measures 57.3x36.2x5.7 inches and will put 136.7 pounds of stress on your wall studs. Panasonic sells compatible wall mounts, including the tilting EZLCDP-02 mount.
Panasonic's remote is a basic wand that lacks backlighting for any of the keys, although we found the button arrangement comfortable enough. It can operate three other pieces of gear. The menu system is even more rudimentary-looking than the remote, with fewer options than many HDTVs we've seen. We eventually found the controls we wanted, but it sometimes required scrolling through multiple menu pages.
Panasonic bequeathed this 58-inch plasma with a native resolution of 1,366x768, which grants it the ability to resolve every detail of 720p HDTV material. With such a large screen size, a higher resolution of 1080p might make a difference at seating distances closer than eight feet or so, but the TH-58PX600U's picture certainly doesn't seem soft (see below). As with all other fixed-pixel displays, all incoming sources--whether HDTV, DVD, or standard-definition--are scaled to fit the pixels.
As member of Panasonic's step-up 600U line, this 58-inch behemoth enjoys a few extra features. In addition to the required ATSC tuner, there's a CableCard slot so the set can display scrambled digital cable programming if you get your company's card installed. To complement CableCard is the TV Guide EPG, which allows the television to browse the cable company's listings (we didn't test the CableCard or the TV Guide EPG for this review). The TH-58PX600U offers a solid selection of five aspect ratio choices for both standard- and high-definition sources. The set's side-by-side PIP function is a bit restricted (it won't work with HDMI or PC as a source) but at least you can watch two sources at once.
More importantly, picture controls on the TH-58PX600U are also fairly limited for a high-end HDTV. There are only three picture modes--Vivid, Standard, and Custom--and while you can adjust each of them, there is no true independent picture memory by input. In other words you can't tweak the picture differently for each source; you only get three total picture memories. Worse, mistakenly deleting your hard-adjusted settings is all too easy; a control labeled "Normal," when selected, returns picture settings to the default position. We learned the hard way that writing down picture settings for a Panasonic plasma TV can save a lot of hassle.
We would have liked to see a few more advanced picture controls on this set. While we liked the three color-temperature presets, we missed the ability to fine-tune color temperature manually, a feature the TH-50PH9UK, for example, offers. In addition to the standard picture controls, Panasonic throws in a couple extras. The color-management control is said to "enhance" the colors of green and blue, but we couldn't see any effect so we left it off. We're not sure what the cute "C.A.T.S." acronym stands for--the control supposedly adjusts automatically to "optimize contrast"--but it also made the picture too dark for our liking so we left it off. In the Other Adjust menu, there's a pair of noise-reduction controls and a black-level setting that we set to Light to preserve details in shadows.
Around back, the Panasonic TH-58PX600U has plenty of inputs for most users. There are a pair of HDMI inputs; two component-video inputs; two A/V inputs with composite and S-Video; one RF antenna connector; an A/V output with composite video; an optical digital-audio output; and a VGA-style PC input for computer connections (1,366x768 recommended resolution, but see below). The TH-58PX600U also includes a SD card slot on the front panel, enabling it to display digital photos but not play music files on the big screen.
The Panasonic TH-58PX600U's picture quality is among the best we've seen on any size plasma TV, and it certainly outperforms any of the larger-than-50-inch plasmas we've tested. It reproduces the deep shade of black we've come to expect from Panasonic plasma TVs, delivers accurate color, and even performs admirably with standard-definition sources. Our complaints, including some color-accuracy gripes and PC input issues, don't spoil its excellent picture.