Leading up to Christmas 2005, pedestal stands for Panasonic's 42- and 50-inch professional plasmas, including the TH-42PHD8UK ($3,000 list) reviewed here, were back-ordered at almost all reputable retailers. That might be a testament to our positive reviews of the older 42-inch TH-42PHD7UY or the glowing review we gave the 50-inch TH-50PHD8UK around that time, but we're more inclined to believe it shows how popular flat-panel plasmas are in general--and no-frills picture-first models in particular. After subjecting the Panasonic TH-42PHD8UK to our tests, it's no wonder. This plasma's excellent black-level performance, clean video processing, and customizable inputs make it a great choice for anyone who isn't scared off by none-too-fancy menus and no-extras-included packaging. By no extras, we mean that this professional-series plasma doesn't include speakers, a stand, or very many inputs. If you want to add an HDMI input and a stand, for example, it will cost around $300 extra. If you're not comfortable with the idea of paying for and installing your own input boards or speakers, you may want to check out Panasonic's more expensive and more consumer-friendly TH-42PX50U, which also scored well in our tests. While certainly not as fancy as some of Sony's early "floating glass" plasmas or as beautiful as Hitachi's 42HDT52, the Panasonic TH-42PHD8UK exudes simple class. Once we pulled off the blue Energy Star sticker, its understated matte-black plastic bezel was adorned by only a small Panasonic logo centered on the bottom and an unobtrusive green/red LED power indicator in the bottom-left corner. Below the indicator on the bottom edge of the display are the input, menu, volume up/down, and enter buttons. The TH-42PHD8UK measures about 40 by 24 by 3.5 inches (WHD) and weighs 69 pounds without the stand or the speakers.
Although this plasma is suitable for wall-mounting, our review sample came with the rounded pedestal base, model TY-ST08K (pictured), which perfectly complements its simple style. If that's not your style, you can opt for the H-style base, model TY-ST07K; both bases cost about $175, and unfortunately, neither lets you tilt or swivel the panel. You can also choose to add a pair of TY-SP42P8WK speakers for around $250 online.
The included remote isn't backlit, but it does include individual input-selection buttons, as well as separate on and off codes. Both of these additions ease the task of programming automated control systems, such as whole-house entertainment packages or macro functions in universal remote controls. The Panasonic TH-42PHD8UK has a native resolution of 1,024x768. Technically, that's not enough to fully resolve 720p HDTV, but it's as high a native resolution as you'll see on most non-EDTV 42-inch plasmas. The Panasonic can handle just about any source, and all incoming signals, including standard TV, DVD, HDTV, and computers, are scaled to fit the available pixels.
As a professional model, this plasma doesn't come with any built-in tuner, so if you want to use it to watch TV, you'll have to hook up an external tuner, such as a cable or satellite box. The same is true of audio--since the monitor doesn't include built-in speakers, you'll have to add Panasonic's matching speakers or use a separate stereo or surround-sound system.
Convenience features include a rather versatile picture-in-picture mode, which can display any two inputs simultaneously. The inputs can be shown inset, like most PIP, or side by side equally, as well as in a picture-outside-picture configuration. Unfortunately, aspect-ratio control isn't available when viewing high-definition sources. When using other sources, options include Full, which stretches the picture evenly to fill the screen; Just, which stretches the sides of the picture to fill the screen; Normal, which properly displays a 4:3 picture; and Zoom, which crops the top and bottom of the picture to fill the screen.
Independent input memories make it easier to calibrate the Panasonic TH-42PHD8UK for various sources. Color-temperature controls include Normal, Cool, and Warm; Warm proved to be the closest to the 6,500K standard. There's also a user-menu color temperature fine-tuning control, which allowed us to calibrate the grayscale to even closer to the standard (see Performance). Other notable extras include adjustable gamma, horizontal, and vertical positioning and size, as well as numerous screensaver and power-saving options.
Connectivity is what you make of it with the TH-42PHD8UK, but the total of four possible inputs is significantly fewer than most competing consumer plasmas. To compensate, most users with lots of video sources will need to utilize some sort of external switching device, such as the dedicated A/V switch of an A/V receiver. The Panasonic TH-42PHD8UK comes standard with one nonremovable PC VGA input, one removable S-Video or composite input (only one can be used at a time), and one removable BNC-style component input that can also accept an RGBHV source. If you want to use the component or composite input with a standard DVD player or other source--that is, one with RCA outputs--you'll need inexpensive BNC-to-RCA adapters.
Except for the fixed VGA input, all of the inputs are built into removable boards that fit into three slots on the back of the monitor, so you can add or remove inputs at will. The Panasonic TH-42PHD8UK comes with two of the three removable slots filled and one empty. So, since the panel doesn't come with one, you'll have to add a board if you want a digital video input. Thankfully, Panasonic sells both DVI and HDMI boards, models TY-42TM6D and TY-FB7HM respectively, for about $125 apiece. The Panasonic TH-42PHD8UK is among the best-performing plasmas we've seen. Deep, convincing blacks, tons of detail in dark portions of the picture, and an extremely accurate color temperature contribute to a highly satisfying picture.
One of our favorite torture tests from The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers is chapter four, "The Breach of Deeping Wall." The Uruk Hai's assault of Helm's Deep comes to a head when one rather large Uruk Hai warrior runs, torch in hand, to detonate a bomb. Illuminated only by torchlight in the dark tunnel, every ghoulish feature of his face is visible, as well as the dark brickwork on the sides of the tunnel. Plasmas with less impressive black-level performance often obscure the warrior's face and can obliterate all detail from the brick walls.
With the Panasonic TH-42PHD8UK in Cinema mode, its gamma set to 2.5, and the color temperature set to Normal, this Panasonic's color temperature was very accurate right out of the box. Darker material measured very close to the 6,500K standard, while brighter material showed a slight blue cast. After calibration, the color temperature got even better, measuring within 100K of the standard throughout the grayscale.
Color decoding was just as impressive; the panel showed no noticeable red or green error. On the other hand, the actual primary colors could have come closer to the HDTV standard. Blues were very close to the mark, whereas red was a tad too orange and green was significantly off.
As with most plasmas, this Panasonic also evinced some false contouring. In the beginning of the same scene from The Two Towers, as the camera pans across the troops standing on the wall, the mist that hangs in the sky broke down into stepped bands of dark gray. Thankfully, there wasn't much other noise. In dark areas of the picture, there were the usual colored specks inherent to all current plasmas, but from a viewing distance of about six feet, they weren't noticeable.
HD sources looked great on the Panasonic TH-42PHD8UK. Watching NBA basketball on ABC-HD, the players' uniforms were vibrant and rich in color. And despite the panel's not-quite-HD pixel count, we could still easily see minute details, such as the thin lines of stitching in the uniforms and the fine texture in the fuzzy headbands worn by some of the players.
|Before color temp (30/80)||6,526/7,176K||Average|
|After color temp||6,538/6,491K||Good|
|Before grayscale variation||+/- 443K||Good|
|After grayscale variation||+/- 96K||Good|
|Color of red (x/y)||0.664/0.326||Average|
|Color of green||0.257/0.664||Poor|
|Color of blue||0.147/0.062||Good|
|DC restoration||No stable pattern||Poor|
|2:3 pull-down, 24fps||Yes||Good|
|Defeatable edge enhancement||Yes||Good|