Panasonic's flagship 42-inch plasma TV, the Viera TH-42PZ800, certainly has the on-paper credentials to impress. But, with its price tag of around £1,200 now looking slightly expensive for a 42-inch TV, it's going to have its work cut out if it's really going to tempt us away from all of its cheaper rivals.
The single most impressive thing about the 42PZ800 is the fact that it's got a full HD resolution. After all, making plasma pixels small enough to fit 1,920x1,080 of them into a 42-inch screen remains so difficult that Panasonic is still the only plasma maker that's managed to do it.
Also seriously eye-catching is the 42PZ800's claimed contrast ratio. At 1,000,000:1, it's one of the highest we've ever seen, thrashing the living daylights out of any LCD-based rivals -- or at least those that don't use LED backlighting.
Fittingly for a flagship 42-inch TV, the 42PZ800 benefits from Panasonic's full suite of image-processing technology. There's V-Real 3 Pro, for instance, with its focus on colours, contrast and noise reduction. Plus there's 100Hz processing to increase image stability, and Intelligent Frame Creation (IFC), which interpolates wholly new frames of image data to make motion look smooth and judder-free.
The 42PZ800 benefits, too, from a reasonably flexible colour-management system, and Panasonic's Digital Cinema Color processing, which extends the screen's colour gamut until it's apparently in the same ball park as that found in commercial digital cinemas.
Yet more good news concerns the 42PZ800's connectivity, which includes four HDMI inputs, a PC jack and an SD-card slot capable of playing JPEG stills and AVCHD video.
Given the screen's specifications and reams of video-processing software, not to mention Panasonic's venerable plasma reputation, it's no surprise at all that the 42PZ800's picture quality is outstanding -- especially with HD. For instance, while we're not sure we totally believe the 1,000,000:1 contrast ratio claim, the set's black-level response is terrific, in terms of both the depths of darkness reached and the amount of subtle shadow detailing portrayed.
The 42PZ800 also makes good use of its 'Full HD' pixel count and 100Hz/IFC processing to deliver (marginally) more sharpness and detail than the lower-resolution models in Panasonic's range.
Colours also benefit from the Full HD resolution, in the form of slightly smoother colour blends than you get with lower-resolution models, and the colour palette looks slightly more dynamic, thanks to the Digital Cinema Colour processing.