CNET previews the complete 2008 lineup of Panasonic's plasma HDTVs.
David KatzmaierEditorial Director -- Personal Tech
David reviews TVs and leads the Personal Tech team at CNET, covering mobile, software, computing, streaming and home entertainment. We provide helpful, expert reviews, advice and videos on what gadget or service to buy and how to get the most out of it.
ExpertiseA 20-year CNET veteran, David has been reviewing TVs since the days of CRT, rear-projection and plasma. Prior to CNET he worked at Sound & Vision magazine and eTown.com. He is known to two people on Twitter as the Cormac McCarthy of consumer electronics.Credentials
Although still awaiting his Oscar for Best Picture Reviewer, David does hold certifications from the Imaging Science Foundation and the National Institutes of Standards and Technology on display calibration and evaluation.
(Updated 08-28-2008) Panasonic's plasma HDTV lineup for 2008 includes five total series, each with multiple screen sizes but identical features within the series. In case you're wondering, we have reviewed four models so far, the TH-46PZ85U, TH-42PX80U, TH-50PZ800U and TH-50PZ850U. Most models detailed below are available now, although the larger 58- and 65-inch models in the 800U and 850U series (the other series max out at 50 inches) will ship in September.
If our positive review of the 42-inch version is any indication, the PX80U series provides excellent bang for the buck. These two entry-level models are the only ones without 1080p resolution. Since we consider the benefits of that extra resolution nearly impossible to discern at this size, and since these models cost $400 (for the 42-incher) and $800 (for the 50-incher) less than their 1080p counterparts, we expect the TH-PX80U series to be extremely strong sellers, much like the company's bestselling TH-PX75U series from last year.
New for this year, Panasonic has added an improved antireflective screen, which is the same on all of its 2008 models. Gone is the anti-glare screen we liked so much on the '07 TH-PX77U and TH-PZ77U models; Panasonic claimed that focus groups preferred the antireflective screens over the antiglare versions, which were said to suffer in color fidelity due to their diffusing screens. According to our review, the new screen is very good at reducing reflections, although it can't compete with the anti-glare screens from 2007. The company also says that its latest panels are good for 100,000 hours before fading to half-brightness--that's up from 60,000 hours for last year's models. It was also eager to show off its panels' resistance to shock, dubbing the screens "Wiimote-proof" and bouncing a steel ball repeatedly against a demo panel.
An SD card slot is now standard now throughout the line along with three HDMI inputs and a Game mode said to minimize lag time between the controller and the on-screen action. These PX80U models boast a 15,000:1 contrast ratio as opposed to the 07s' 10,000:1 spec, and they do deliver excellent black level performance.
The least-expensive 1080p series of Panasonic plasmas is also the first to include a 46-inch screen size. Meant to compete directly with like-sized LCDs, it fits neatly between the 42- and 50-inch versions. The company also ups the contrast ratio ante, but that's about it for step-up extras compared to the baseline TH-PX80U series.
The step-up line of 1080p resolution plasmas costs about $200 extra in each screen size. For that scratch the biggest improvement comes in a 30,000:1 contrast ratio spec, and since that matches the more-expensive 800U and 850U models, we expect this 85U series to deliver Panasonic's best black levels for the buck. Our review of the 46-inch model found that indeed those black levels approached those of Pioneer's Kuro panels like the PDP-5080HD. The other big addition is a VGA-style PC input, and in this series the speakers are hidden along the bottom of the panel.
This three-size series adds THX Display certification, which in our review of the 50-inch version meant exceedingly accurate color and an all-around superb image. Beyond THX, the 800U models also add one more HDMI input and the company also touts the 24p capability of these models, which supposedly allows them to display 1080p/24 sources without 2:3 pulldown, resulting in a smoother picture according to the company. According to our tests, however, this mode caused the image to flicker too much to be watchable.
Although it's the most expensive series of Panasonic plasmas announced so far in 2008, the TH-PZ850U lacks the THX Display certification of its step-down 800U brothers. Instead it adds Digital Cinema Color, which increases the color gamut to 120% of the HDTV color space. The company claims that the wider gamut makes the colors appear closer to digital cinema, but in our review of the 50-inch model we found that they weren't accurate by HD standards. Another big step-up comes in the form of an Ethernet jack on the back panel, allowing the 850U series to offer limited IPTV interactive services. In our tests we were able to use YouTube, the Picassa photo-sharing service, Bloomberg, and The Weather Channel on the TV itself.