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.