In the six or so months since we first posted our preview of the Panasonic TH-42PZ700A, the price has dropped enormously. It was originally available for AU$4399 but is now ticketed at the affordable price of AU$2999. It's even cheaper if you shop online.
Considering that Pioneer has been in talks with Panasonic about sharing their plasma panels, Panasonic could become the panel to get. But what of this 42-inch; what does it have that we could want? As it turns out: plenty.
Considering many TVs now look the same, there's not much to add about the appearance of the Panasonic. It's got a fairly plain (ugly) pyramid stand, piano-black bezel, and a matte finish on the screen to reduce reflections. The subtlest thing about the plasma's design is the elegant adornments on each side -- they're either speakers or used to grate very fine cheese. Wait, they're speakers.
While the TV is fairly understated, and par for the course as far as design is concerned, we were less than impressed with the remote. Despite its large buttons it's hard to use -- the 4-way cursor is actually nowhere near the channel or volume buttons -- which means a lot of juggling.
What's this? A 1080p panel in the convenient yet compact proportions of a 42-inch? Heavens to Murgatroid! We see this as the beginning of a trend which will see all new TVs 42 inches and above coming in at a default 1920 by 1080 resolution. And while pixel count isn't always an indication of picture quality, it's a positive start.
As with the other models in the PZ700A range, this 42-inch features an HD tuner, a claimed 100,000 hour life, an SD card reader for JPEG viewing, and three HDMI inputs -- including a front-mounted port for connecting a compatible camera or console.
Panasonic claims there are 4,096 gradations of colour in this panel, which doesn't sound like enough, and as we found it wasn't quite.
There's no denying that this is a very competent TV when it comes to displaying whatever you throw at it. Whether you're watching a bit of TV, or the latest Blu-ray, the Panasonic rewards with excellent levels of detail and great contrast -- and all of this is built upon solid amounts of black. It's not quite up there with the Kuro, but it's also half the price.
Particularly impressive was the almost-filmic presentation of Batman Begins on DVD. Blacks were deep, detail was high, and you could almost mistake the image it produced for a more expensive home theatre projector.
TV viewing was also good, with a Channel Ten midday HD documentary on the African jungle looking especially exquisite. Greens were lush and verdant, and the various nasty inhabitants rendered with a toothy edge.
PC performance was good -- we used both an HDMI and an RGB connection -- and the screen exhibited none of the mosquito noise you'd see on the costlier Pioneers. If you must use a plasma for surfing the Web, this would be the obvious choice.
There were some minor drawbacks to the TV's otherwise amazing performance, and which stop it from being the benchmark screen we'd hoped for. While the Panasonic will also pull in analog broadcasts if you live in an area without digital reception, they were a poor shade in comparison. However, the picture processing capabilities of the TV make some sense of what could have otherwise been a noisy mess in lesser hands.
Depending on how sensitive it is to DLP rainbow effects, the 42PZ700A could be either amazing or very mildly disconcerting. Leading, contrasting edges had the distinct tendency to rainbow, and depending on the source material this occurred often (as with the Black Hawk Down Blu-ray) or was barely noticeable (as with most other content).
Audio performance was about as good as can be expected from a television. Dialogue was fine, but the lack of dynamic range left explosions and action scenes in general feeling a little lifeless.
The most disappointing flaw, though, was something we only noticed after spending some time with the set. The climactic scene in King Kong is a real test for most plasmas, as the fine colour gradations in the clouds tend to vex them. Unfortunately, the Panasonic fared worse than most, as instead of smooth transitions between colours the TV broke up into fizzing noise. To add further flaws to a movie as fake as the otherwise touching King Kong only adds insult to injury.
Despite some very minor problems, this is still an excellent television for the money. Detail, contrast and colour are amazing, and little touches such as the glare-proof panel make this an intriguing proposition. It may not appeal to the strictest videophiles but for anyone looking for a cracker of a bargain, this could well be it.