Panasonic, the leader in plasma TV sales in the United States, won its popularity through a combination of solid performance and aggressive pricing. The 42-inch Panasonic TH-42PX60U ($2,500 list), the most popular size of model in the company's least expensive 2006 line of consumer plasma TVs, seems destined to do the same this year. Compared to the 2005 TH-PX50U series, Panasonic lowered the list price of its 42-incher by $300, made it slightly more compact, gave it the ability to adjust aspect ratio with HD sources, and dropped the CableCard slot in favor of a second HDMI input--all changes we heartily applaud. In terms of picture quality, not much has changed: the TH-42PX60U does a lot of things well, although it's not quite the equal of its 42-inch industrial cousin, the TH-42PHD8UK. It still produces images that are demonstrably superior to that of most 42-inch plasmas--both name-brand and otherwise--and it does so at a relatively affordable price. It seems that the two-tone look has taken over popular plasma design. The Panasonic TH-42PX60U has a black frame surrounding the screen, while the rest of its cabinet, as well as the tabletop stand, is finished in silver. Left and right stereo speakers are located below the screen, keeping the width of the set to a minimum, and the grilles are slickly disguised so that you'll barely notice them. Overall, the TH-42PX60U's exterior doesn't stand out compared to that of other plasmas we've seen--a few CNET staffers that saw the set thought it was too bland, while others didn't mind the understated look, but most agreed that there was too much silver below the screen.
We appreciated that Panasonic shaved 1.5 inches from the overall width of the television compared to last year's model. The TH-42PX60U measures 40.2 by 30.3 by 12.7 inches (WHD) atop its stand, and the panel itself is 3.8 inches deep.
The remote is logically laid out and easy to use, with huge numerical keys compared to those of previous Panasonic remote designs. Unfortunately, it is not backlit at all for use in a darkened room, but it will control DVD players and cable boxes. The internal menu system, or GUI (graphical user interface), is a new design that more closely resembles the industrial model's design. We found it logical and intuitive to navigate. As with almost all high-resolution--as opposed to EDTV--plasmas available these days, the Panasonic TH-42PX60U has a native resolution of 1,024x768 pixels. While that's not enough to display every pixel of HDTV sources, no plasma of this size can make that claim. The set can accept and display HDTV, DVD, and standard TV sources, but it doesn't have a dedicated PC input--although adventurous users can probably get it to display computer sources via HDMI.
We wouldn't call the TH-42PX60U a feature-rich set by any means, but it has a few worth mentioning. As for conveniences, it lacks picture-in-picture, although it offers an SD card slot for displaying digital photos. It includes an ATSC tuner but does away with the CableCard slot found on last year's models--no big loss if you're fine using a cable box.
The TH-42PX60U can change aspect ratios with HD sources, a welcome improvement over last year's models, offering a total of five choices with HD and four with SD resolutions, including a zoom that you can adjust for vertical size and position. Unfortunately, unlike many wide-screen sets, the TH-42PX60U cheats with its 4:3 mode when fed HD resolutions. Instead of scaling incoming HD sources properly, the 4:3 mode simply puts up bright, gray bars--unlike with SD sources, you can't select black or darker gray--over the stretched image, obscuring either side of the screen.
There are three picture modes: Vivid, Standard, and Cinema, each with different preset picture values. In order to optimize the picture for multiple sources, you need to choose a different mode, which means you are limited to three separate setups on this model--not quite true independent input memories. Warm, Normal, and Cool color-temperature presets give you a choice of the overall hue of the picture, with Warm being the closest to the standard. A feature called Black Level that's on the second page of the menu gives you the choice of Light or Dark. We recommend Light, because Dark just cuts black off at about 10 IRE, making dark details disappear. The color-management feature doesn't appear to affect the color decoder, which is fine with us since the set's color decoding is commendably accurate (see Performance).
Connectivity on this set is generous, given its price. The two HDMI inputs are welcome in a world where most HDTVs still provide only one. There are also two component-video inputs, two S-Video inputs, two composite-video inputs, an RF input that will accept over-the-air analog and digital signals as well as QAM cable HDTV signals, and an A/V output with composite video only. Front-panel connections include the SD card slot as well as S-Video and composite-video inputs. There's no RS-232 port for control programming, but we don't expect one in a set in this price range. Once again, we were impressed by the picture quality of Panasonic's plasma, especially at this price. Overall color accuracy on the Panasonic TH-42PX60U is good. The color decoding is excellent, with no red push whatsoever. Red and blue are fairly accurate relative to other plasmas on the market, but green was too bluish. We also noticed slight color shifts at different levels of gray. In the overall scheme of things, it isn't that big of a deal, and grayscale variation is still decent before and quite good after calibration. See the Geek box for details.
Blacks and dark areas of the picture, as we have come to expect from Panasonic plasmas over the years, are deep and rich. However, the set floats black, which means blacks pump or fluctuate slightly, becoming darker or lighter depending on how much bright content is in a given scene. It does have the all-important 2:3 pull-down circuitry for the elimination of motion artifacts with film-based material, which is still important with prime-time TV, whether from cable, satellite, or antenna sources.
One of our torture tests includes dark scenes in the Alien: The Director's Cut DVD, and while dark areas were nice and deep, we saw some false-contouring artifacts, which appeared as subtle lines and pools of color as opposed to smooth gradations in darker areas. We saw this effect both at the very beginning of the movie with the space ship traveling through space, and again in chapter 10 when the crew is are on its way to the alien ship. Though the artifacts are not nearly as pronounced and objectionable as on many plasma models, the professional TH-42HD8UK series seems better in this regard.
Brighter material on DVD, such as scenes from the Superbit transfer of Vertical Limit, looked quite snappy, indicating an excellent contrast ratio, thanks to the deep blacks that the set is capable of producing. Color was rich and saturated, and skin-tone rendition was extremely natural due to a highly accurate grayscale.
HD material from CNET's Dish Network HD satellite feed also had excellent color saturation and detail. There was a little low-level noise that resembled faint snow or moving motes in some dark passages from a Harry Potter movie on HBO HD, but these artifacts weren't as pronounced in HD as they were on DVD and, again, were less obvious than on many plasmas. Otherwise, color, skin tones, and detail were all quite good with HD material.
|Before color temp (20/80)||6,050/5,750K||Average|
|After color temp (20/80)||6,550/6,475K||Good|
|Before grayscale variation 20 to 100 IRE||+/- 597K||Average|
|After grayscale variation 20 to 100 IRE||+/- 58K||Good|
|Color of red (x/y)||0.662/0.328||Average|
|Color of green||0.252/0.669||Poor|
|Color of blue||0.147/0.060||Good|
|Black-level retention||Gray pattern stable||Average|
|2:3 pull-down, 24fps||Yes||Good|
|Defeatable edge enhancement||Yes||Good|