The Viera TH-42PX80 is one of Panasonic's new range of entry-level plasma TVs. But the term entry-level is slightly misleading, because this TV has everything you could ever want, especially when it comes to picture quality and ease of use.
2008 may be the year of the 1080p plasma for Panasonic, but that doesn't mean it's neglecting 720p -- or HD Ready as it's generally known. The Viera TH-42PX80 is one of Panasonic's new range of entry-level plasma TVs -- you can find it online for as little as £720. But the term entry-level is slightly misleading, because this TV has everything you could ever want, especially when it comes to picture quality.
Although plasma has always been a strong performer, especially for movies, it's only recently that they've started to give LCDs a real run for their money. Plasmas from companies such as Pioneer and Panasonic, for example, have incredible black detail and a lack of on-screen noise that plagued earlier models. It sounds like plasma is going to have a good year.
Although the Pansonic Viera TH-42PX80B is technically a budget model, it really doesn't look like one. It's fair to say it's a little more plasticky than some of the premium models on the market, and the bezel that surrounds the screen is fairly chunky, but the TV is still adequately attractive, finished in the traditional piano black.
The front isn't troubled by many knobs, levers or pulleys, but we're thrilled to see there is a power switch. This means you can save the planet by actually turning the TV off when you aren't using it. Nice touch, Panny. There are some controls, and an SD card slot underneath a flap on the front of the TV. The SD card facility is especially good when you have a camera that shoots in 16:9 (as some of Panasonic's Lumix cameras can), because you get a wonderfully sharp image that fills the whole screen.
The slightly adjusted remote control that comes with the TV feels sturdy and has buttons in the logical places. The TV is also very quick to respond to remote commands, which makes us happy -- all too often remote controls are frustratingly sluggish.
Despite only being a 720p TV, the Panasonic 42PX80B can still accept inputs of 1080p and even 1080/24p. So whatever you throw at it, the TV will be happy to oblige your entertainment whims by displaying it, even if it is downscaled.
Setting up the TV is a really simple process. All you need to do is make sure it's plugged into an aerial before you turn it on. The TV then makes short work of looking for channels, both analogue and digital, and sorts them into a logical order for you. You'll also be prompted to tell the TV if you're in a house or a shop. This is clearly to reduce the settings to a level that's acceptable for the consumer -- we've often moaned about a TV's brightness being cranked up to maximum and this is a good step towards having the TV properly set up out of the box.
HDMI CEC is present too, allowing your TV remote to control your HDMI device, such as your DVD player, a feature that has the potential to be quite useful if properly used.
Although it might sound a little dramatic, we're confident Panasonic has made some impressive progress with this TV. The black levels are very good indeed, and there has been a marked reduction in the noise levels we've noticed in previous plasma TVs from the company.
Motion is smooth, and our test HD DVD Serenity, played on a Toshiba HD-EP35 at 1080/24p, looked delightfully judder free. The opening scene, with plenty of tracking shots of CGI-heavy landscapes, usually sorts the boy plasmas from the man plasmas. This screen is a hulking brute of a bloke, offering just about enough judder to remind us that we're watching a film and not a soap opera, and reducing the motion artefacts to the point where we could simply enjoy what we were watching. We also took the opportunity to watch a little more James Bond on Blu-ray. We were impressed by the sharpness of the picture and fantastic colour reproduction.
Gamers won't be disappointed either -- our test with a PS3 and the ludicrous Burnout Paradise managed to waste a pleasant amount of our working day. The graphics looked glorious and gameplay was as smooth as silk, with the TV presenting a judder-free game experience.
Freeview picture quality is striking. While MPEG-2 over DVB-T is never perfect on large-screen TVs, the PX80 does a good job of making everything look sharp and well defined. We've always preferred the way plasmas handle Freeview over LCD screens, and this one is no exception. We watched some of the student's favourite, Neighbours, and were pretty impressed by the picture quality overall. Some shows fare better than others, and some channels offer better picture quality, but the main broadcaster's channels all looked perfectly acceptable on the TV.
One of the flaws that used to affect plasma TVs quite badly was the solarisation you would sometimes get on bright objects. This is when the TV can't produce enough distinct shades of colour. This screen is much better than older ones, but we did notice some gradation steps when there was a bright object on a dark background, but it was only evident when there was a camera pan. All in all, a massive improvement.
Sound quality overall was good, but not exceptional. Watching movies yielded good results, dialogue was pretty clear, but at the cost of any low-end bass. General TV viewing was fine, as we have much lower expectations for the sound quality of EastEnders than we do with a movie.
We mentioned earlier that the Panasonic tries to set itself up in a way appropriate for its location. Although this makes some difference, we did think the default brightness setting was still a little too high for most viewing environments.
The Panasonic Viera TH-42PX80B is an excellent choice at this price -- if offers fantastic picture quality, deep blacks and a simple and intuitive experience, with no fancy gimmicks or complicated setup procedure.
Edited by Jason Jenkins
Additional editing by Nick Hide