Panasonic is a major HDTV player, but its big-screen cards have mostly been of the flat-panel variety as opposed to rear-projection. The PT-DLX76 series, which includes a 56-inch model as well as the 61-inch PT-61DLX76 ($3,299 MSRP) reviewed here, changes all that. It's the company's first foray into the lucrative 1080p microdisplay category--you know, the kind of HDTV you'd buy if you want a huge screen with the highest-available resolution but can't afford Panasonic's 65-inch 1080p plasma. The Panasonic PT-61DLX76 has everything you'd expect from a top-of-the-line HDTV, including 1080p-capable HDMI inputs and myriad picture controls. The bad news? It lacks the kind of deep blacks we've become accustomed to from DLP HDTVs, and its color accuracy falls short of what we expected. While the PT-61DLX76 tries to make good with a comprehensive feature set and an aggressive price, it has a hard time against the stiff 1080p competition. Panasonic's PT-61DLX76 has an unassuming two-tone look that lacks the flash of some big-screen HDTVs. We appreciated that it wastes little room on housing the large screen--there's just 1.75 inches of cabinet between the edge of the screen and the top and sides of the set. An inch-thick matte-black frame edges the screen itself, thickening to 2 inches along the bottom. Below the frame is a wide, relatively short (3.5-inch) expanse of silver that contains the speakers, and below that, an inch-tall strip of glossy black, part of which swings open to reveal controls and an extra set of inputs. The standard front-panel controls allow you to operate the menu system and other essential functions if you misplace the remote. The front inputs include composite and S-Video with stereo audio, and an SD card slot is also available for displaying digital photos.
The whole set measures 56.3 by 39.3 by 18.9 inches (WHD) and weighs 81.6 pounds--a bit larger, by comparison, than the Samsung HL-S6187W. To get it up to eye level, you'll have to mount it on some sort of stand, such as the company's TY-61LC65C.
Panasonic's remote and menu system are below average compared to other 1080p big-screens on the market. The silver clicker lacks backlighting--par for the course these days, even on expensive sets--and its similarly sized and shaped keys are crowded and difficult to locate by feel. Many keys are placed in inconvenient locations; Mute, for example, is nowhere near the volume control. The multilayered menu system makes the myriad controls more difficult to locate than they should be. Inexperienced users will have to spend some time with the cryptic manual to get a handle on the set's capabilities. Like many top-of-the-line rear-projection HDTVs, the Panasonic PT-61DLX76's chief feature is its high native resolution of 1080p: 1,920x1,080 pixels. That should be enough to display every detail of the highest-resolution HDTV sources, namely 1080i and 1080p, although with lower-resolution sources, the image will not look any sharper. All sources, including HDTV, DVD, and standard-def, are converted to fit the available pixels.
The Panasonic PT-61DLX76 has the same 1080p DLP chip found in sets from Samsung, Mitsubishi, and Toshiba, for example, which uses wobulation, a technology that effectively doubles the horizontal resolution. The DLP chip itself only has 960x1,080 physical pixels, as opposed to 1080p LCoS displays that have all 1,920x1,080 discrete pixels (more info on DLP and wobulation).
Otherwise, the PT-61DLX76 has a full-fledged feature set. It includes both an ATSC tuner and a CableCard slot, so it can receive over-the-air high-def and cable without an external box or a receiver. To make up for the loss of the cable company's EPG, Panasonic included TV Guide onscreen, which grabs program information from your local cable feed. While we've experienced issues with TV Guide in the past, later iterations such as the one found on Panasonic's DMR-EH75V have performed well, although we found it limited and somewhat awkward compared to our cable company's EPG. We didn't test CableCard or TV Guide on the PT-61DLX76.
Conveniences include a split-screen version of picture in-picture, allowing you to watch two sources at once. The traditional inset arrangement, with a smaller picture overlaying a full-screen picture, is unavailable on the PT-61DLX76, but you can watch one small and one large image side by side. It's also worth noting that you can't split the screen with PC or HDMI sources. You can choose from four aspect ratios for both standard-def and high-def sources with the exception of 1080p sources, which cause the set to lock into wide-screen mode.
The Panasonic PT-61DLX76 can save different settings in each of its three adjustable picture presets--Standard, Vivid, and Cinema (the most accurate of the three)--but it lacks true independent input memories and the same input types share the same settings. If you change the brightness control on Cinema for HDMI 1, for example, the same change applies to HDMI 2. Component-video 1 and 2 behave in the same way, as do the three other A/V inputs. Also, if you do take the time to carefully adjust the set, you'll probably want to write your numbers down somewhere, since it's way too easy to accidentally reset the modes to their factory defaults.
Aside from the standard picture controls such as brightness, contrast, and the three color-temperature presets, the PT-61DLX76 offers scads of other picture-affecting options. Color Management supposedly enhances green and blue, but it just made yellow greener on the non-HDMI inputs so we left it turned off. Two noise-reduction modes are available, which did a mediocre job of cleaning up low-quality sources (see Performance for more). There's an option to turn off the 3D-Y/C filter, but we recommend that you leave it on. You can choose either an HD or an SD color matrix with 480p sources; use SD for progressive-scan DVD and HD for standard-def 480p digital television, such as Fox Wide-screen. The black-level control should be set to light for most sources to maintain shadow detail, although analog TV and composite video sources should be set to dark--if you can remember. There's also a control labeled 3D I/P that engages 2:3 pull-down detection when left on.
Want more? Dynamic iris engages an iris that increases contrast, but we preferred to leave it off for critical viewing, since it changed the picture on the fly. You get three choices for gamma; we chose Normal for a dark environment since it gave the most CRT-like, gradual rise out of black. We left the black extension control set to zero; settings higher than 7 crushed detail in shadows after we'd set brightness properly. Finally, a trio of RGB controls allowed us to improve the default color temperature slightly, although they were nowhere near as effective as a service menu level calibration.