One reason analysts continue to predict the demise of rear-projection HDTVs is because larger flat-panels, such as the 58-inch Panasonic TH-58PZ700U, continue to fall in price. This massive plasma still costs a mint however, at least compared to similarly sized RPTVs and even budget big-screen plasmas such as the Vizio VMP60HDTV. On the other hand, the Panasonic HDTV will outperform many rear-projection sets and nearly all jumbo plasmas we've tested, offering excellent all-around picture quality. For big-screen lovers with the means to go flat, the Panasonic TH-58PZ700U should be near the top of the list.
For such a large television, we found the styling of the TH-58PZ700U admirably understated. Its huge, 58-inch-diagonal pane of glass is surrounded on all sides by a relatively thick frame of glossy black. From either side of that frame peek the speakers, which consist of extremely thin, black, vertical strips. The top of the cabinet is angled back, as is a larger section along the bottom where you'll find a door concealing controls and also an AV input, while a smaller hatch opens to reveal a slot for SD memory cards. The TH-58PZ700U measures 57.3 inches by 38.2 inches by 16.5 inches and weighs 165 pounds with the included stand; sans stand, it measures 57.3 inches by 36.2 inches by 5.7 inches and weighs 141 pounds.
We really liked Panasonic's remote. Its layout is basically the same as that of last year's model, but the somewhat larger buttons feel much better. Its keys--of which there are just the right number--are arranged quite logically, and although there's no backlighting, we appreciated the ease with which we were able to locate buttons by feel. The remote can control as many as three other devices. Panasonic's internal menu system is intuitive enough, although we disliked the ease with which you can inadvertently erase your picture settings.
The Panasonic TH-58PZ700U improves upon last year's excellent TH-58PX600U primarily in the arena of pixel count. This set has 1080p native resolution, which translates to 1,920x1,080 pixels, the highest number available today in an HDTV. The set can resolve every detail of the highest-resolution 1080i and 1080p HD sources, and all other resolutions, whether from 720p HDTV, DVD, or standard-definition television, are scaled to fit the pixels. The 58-inch screen size makes the benefits of 1080p more apparent than they'd be on smaller HDTVs (see Performance for details).
Picture-affecting features aren't as plentiful on the TH-58PZ700U as on other high-end HDTVs we've tested recently. The menu does offer three adjustable picture modes that apply to every input, along with a fourth Custom mode that's independent per input. Panasonic includes three color-temperature presets, of which Warm was most accurate. Here's where we usually complain about the lack of fine-tuning controls for color temperature, but in the TH-58PZ700U's case we didn't miss them, since Warm was so close to the standard.
We left most of the other controls off. There's something called C.A.T.S. (the manual doesn't indicate what the abbreviation means) that dimmed the picture far too much for our tastes. The Color Management control made blues and greens more intense and less accurate, so we left it off. There are also three noise-reduction controls, a black-level control (best left set on Light to preserve shadow detail) and a setting that engages
In addition to the five aspect-ratio modes for HD sources, there are four for standard-def. Although the Panasonic lacks a specific mode designed to perfectly match incoming 1080-resolution signals to the 1080p panel with no overscan (a setting known as "dot-by-dot" on some HDTVs), you can achieve the same effect by selecting the Full mode, then choosing Size 2 from the HD size selection on the Other adjustment section of the Picture menu. We'd prefer that the option be easier to change--you'll want to switch to Size 1 if you notice interference or lines at the extreme edge of the image when in Size 2 mode--but at least it's there.
Convenience junkies will be bummed by the lack of picture-in-picture. Like many HDTV makers this year, Panasonic offers a version of control-over-HDMI, branded EZ-Synch, that allows other similarly equipped devices to be controlled via the HDMI connection using an onscreen interface and the TV's remote. We were disappointed, however, by the lack of menu item choices to deal with "image retention" or burn-in should it occur--features that can be found on many plasmas, including Panasonic's own professional models. While the menu lacks burn-in-related items, this and all other 2007 Panasonic plasmas have an always-on "pixel wobbling" feature that imperceptibly shifts the image one pixel at a time to avoid burn-in. The 4:3 aspect-ratio modes also include a screen saver, although it's useless when the TV is set to a wide-screen (16:9) mode and you depend on an external source, such as a cable box, to change aspect ratios.
Somewhat surprisingly for an HDTV in this price range, the TH-58PZ700U's connectivity suite includes not three HDMI inputs--as found on many high-end HDTVs this year--but just two. There's also a VGA-style PC input (1,280x1,024 maximum resolution), a pair of component-video inputs, two AV inputs with composite- and S-Video, an RF-style antenna input, and an optical digital output for the ATSC tuner. A panel on the front flips up to reveal controls and another AV input with composite- and S-Video, while a second panel hides slot for SD, SDHC, and miniSD (adapter required) cards, allowing you to display JPEG digital photos on the big screen.
The TH-58PZ700U delivered excellent picture quality in just about every regard. We liked its deep blacks and extremely accurate color temperature, and while its standard-def picture and its color of green could, as with many plasmas, stand improving, those issues don't interfere with our full recommendation.
Before our evaluations, we set the Panasonic TH-58PZ700U up for optimal performance in our completely dark theater. We were pleased to note that simply setting the picture mode to Standard and the color temperature to Warm caused the Panasonic to come as close as any TV we've tested to the D6500 standard (an average of x/y 0.313/0.327 if you're keeping track). We did adjust the brightness control to bring up shadow detail a bit, but that's about it. Normally we complain about not having the ability to adjust color temperature in the user menu, but if our review sample is a good indicator (and there's no guarantee that it is--many manufacturers tweak their TVs before sending them to reviewers), then the TH-58PZ700U's Warm-mode grayscale doesn't need much adjustment at all. For our full user-menu settings, click here or check out the Tips & Tricks section above.
For our formal evaluation, we set the Panasonic up next to a few other HDTVs we had onhand including the Samsung HL-T5687S, a 56-inch rear-projection HDTV; the Pioneer PRO-FHD1 and the Pioneer PDP-5080HD, both 50-inch plasmas; and the Sharp LC-52D64U and Toshiba 52LX177, both 52-inch LCDs. We slipped the The Departed HD DVD into our Toshiba HD-XA2, set to 1080i resolution, then compared the sets directly.