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Panasonic TH-58PZ700A

The Panasonic Viera TH-58PZ700A claims to be Australia's first 58-inch plasma TV, and boasts a high contrast ratio and better compatibility with Pana's camcorders.

Last year, Blu-ray was the next big thing, and this year it's Full HD -- at least if you're listening to Panasonic. The company has released four new 1080p plasma panels from 42-inch to a massive 65 inches, with barely a word about content and what is now a hotly contested battle for the successor to DVD.

Upside
According to Panasonic, the Viera TH-58PZ700A is Australia's first 58-inch plasma TV, and slots in nicely between the range's 50-inch and the fortchcoming 65-inch behemoth. Features that the 58-inch has over the smaller models is a higher contrast ratio of 10,000:1 and the SD slot has AVCHD/MPEG2 compatibility for video playback.

The entire PZ700A range features a native 1080p resolution, HD tuner, and a massive 100,000 hour life. Three HDMI inputs come as standard, including a front-mounted port for connecting a compatible camera or console.

If you're used to the plasma panels of old with their dodgy gradations of colour then the Panasonic will come as a welcome surprise -- there are supposedly 4,096 gradations of colour, which means no more "banding". This brings the claimed total number of visible colours to a whopping 68.7 billion. Of course this is much higher than the number of colours you'll see through your average HD broadcast, but good to know the capability is there.

Downside
The only real downside to the new TVs is actually one of its advertised strengths: Viera Link. The HDMI standard allows for two-way communication between components such as a TV and a DVD player. This means you can press a single button and turn off all compatible components -- like the new Panasonic camcorder -- or play a DVD without switching remotes or inputs, for example. But, like most iterations from other manufacturers we've seen, this only works with Panasonic products. Maybe one day your different branded HDMI components will play nice with each other, but not currently.

Outlook
Plasma suffered for a long time at the hands of LCD, due in part to the large number of SD-only panels in the market, but with Panasonic's new range the balance looks to be firmly redressed. Barring any defects we could only find with in-depth testing (and you know we'll do plenty of that once they're available) the new PZ700A series, and in particular the 42-inch models, look to be benchmark products.

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