For as long as I've been testing HDTVs, there are some major concerns I have always had besides the picture: a useful and well-intentioned remote, an easily navigable menu and how well the picture looks if I put it in different rooms in my home. And while I have some issues with the Panasonic TH-42PX77U's remote, I found that on the other important factors listed above, the HDTV performed exceptionally well.
When the TH-42PX77U was shipped to me in a 322-pound box, I was skeptical of its design. If the company was sending me a 322-pound box, surely this thing must weigh more than any other HDTV I've tested before, right? Well, after taking the first box layer off and removing the second, I found a sleek HDTV that weighed no more than any other HDTV on the market of comparable size.
The TH-42PX77U sports a nice black, glossy finish with speakers on either side of the screen. And although this makes the width of the device a bit larger than I would have liked, it was refreshing to see no sign of ugly speakers jutting out from the sides due to Panasonic's decision to cover the speakers in a strip of plastic instead of the common caged speaker look.
The TH-42PX77U features two HDMI and two Component inputs along with a host of other, far-less used inputs in this day and age. I'm not quite sure why Panasonic decided to include just two HDMI ports, but within a matter of seconds, both were filled up and I was forced to use component connectors.
The main issue with the design of the HDTV wasn't with the device at all -- it was with its remote. While the buttons on the remote are well-placed and large enough for me to press buttons without looking, the volume controls are on the right and the channel controls sit to the left. Why in the world would Panasonic decide to do this? It took me about two or three days to sub-consciously figure out that the channel buttons were on the left, but it still frustrated me beyond belief. Sure, I know there's no rule against swapping the volume and channel controls, but the industry standard has always been the opposite. I just hope the company fixes it in the next version.
The Panasonic TH-42PX77U is a 1024x768 720p plasma, which is my first concern with the device. I know that most plasma HDTVs of equal size feature the same resolution today, but for a 42-inch HDTV at that resolution, you're losing out on some of the finer details of a 720p display. That said, the HDTV still performed extremely well and offered one of the sharpest pictures I have ever seen on a comparably spec'd device.
As I mentioned above, menu control is one of the most important aspects of owning an HDTV and in this regard, Panasonic has you covered. My favorite feature was the inclusion of independent input memories, which allows you to customize your picture for every input and device you have connected. In other words, maybe you're watching a DVD through the composite input on the back and playing video games through the Component 1 slot. For each input, you can decide exactly how the picture should look and the internal memory of the HDTV will remember that each time you choose the input.
Panasonic also included a "color management" control that the company promised would enhance green and blue colors on the display -- no such luck. The HDTV also includes temperature control, which should become the norm in all HDTVs sold on the market. But with only a few choices, getting the temperature to the right level was impossible. That said, like most HDTVs, the "warm" setting created the best quality picture.
The TH-42PX77U also supports a full lineup of aspect ratios that were a pleasant inclusion when I was switching between SD and HD pictures.
If you don't have an HD cable box, the HDTV features an ATSC tuner so you can grab over-the-air broadcasts. That said, it doesn't support picture-in-picture and doesn't have a CableCard. Of course, this doesn't matter if you go to your cable company and pick up an HD cable box.
The best feature on the entire HDTV is Panasonic's inclusion of a side door that gives you additional inputs and an SD card slot so you can take pictures with your digital camera and insert the SD card to view all of your favorite pictures of the day right on the screen. Not only was this convenient for showing the family pictures of my pooch, it works quite well and the pictures look outstanding on the large display.
For an HDTV with a 1024x768 resolution, the TH-42PX77U performed well above my expectations. When I connected the HDTV to my HD cable box, I was immediately surprised with how well it recreated the picture with outstanding black levels and accurate coloring. To put the HDTV to the test, I watched Planet Earth to see how well it could draw the more complex images from the series. Believe it or not, it created one of the best pictures I have seen on an equally-equipped display. Simply put, HD programming looks outstanding on the TH-42PX77U
My only reservation with picture quality is with SD content. When I turned SD channels on, the display didn't perform as well as I expected. Thinking that it could be an issue with my cable box, I decided to hook up my DVD player via composite inputs and watch an episode of "24". And while the picture looked better than it would on an SD set, the quality was a little below what I would have liked it to be. And although we're moving towards an HD world and this will become a decreasingly stressing issue, there is still quite a bit of SD programming available. All in all though, it's not so bad that I wouldn't recommend buying the HDTV on this alone. Afterall, it's an HDTV.
The Panasonic TH-42PX77U is a fine HDTV that offers a good number of features for an affordable price (you can probably pick one up for around $1500). That said, there were some issues with the remote that I would have liked Panasonic to correct and SD programming doesn't look as nice as it should. But for all of the issues with this HDTV, they are outweighed by the superb picture quality and all-around design that makes the TH-42PX77U my choice for the best 42-inch, 1024x768 plasma on the market.
Check back each Friday on The Digital Home as Don performs a hands-on evaluation of some of the hottest home products around. Next week: Samsung HDTV