Want CNET to notify you of price drops and the latest stories?
CNET logo Why You Can Trust CNET

Our expert, award-winning staff selects the products we cover and rigorously researches and tests our top picks. If you buy through our links, we may get a commission. How we test TVs

Panasonic Viera TH-PX80U review: Panasonic Viera TH-PX80U

Panasonic Viera TH-PX80U

David Katzmaier Editorial Director -- Personal Tech
David reviews TVs and leads the Personal Tech team at CNET, covering mobile, software, computing, streaming and home entertainment. We provide helpful, expert reviews, advice and videos on what gadget or service to buy and how to get the most out of it.
Expertise A 20-year CNET veteran, David has been reviewing TVs since the days of CRT, rear-projection and plasma. Prior to CNET he worked at Sound & Vision magazine and eTown.com. He is known to two people on Twitter as the Cormac McCarthy of consumer electronics. Credentials
  • Although still awaiting his Oscar for Best Picture Reviewer, David does hold certifications from the Imaging Science Foundation and the National Institutes of Standards and Technology on display calibration and evaluation.
David Katzmaier
7 min read

Editor's note: The rating on this review has been lowered because of changes in the competitive marketplace.


Panasonic Viera TH-PX80U

The Good

Relatively inexpensive; produces a deep shade of black; accurate initial color temperature; solid connectivity with three HDMI inputs; handsome, understated exterior.

The Bad

Color decoding accentuates red; inaccurate primary color of green; ineffective noise reduction.

The Bottom Line

Panasonic's TH-42PX80U 42-inch plasma sets the picture quality-to-value standard for entry-level plasma TVs.

As high-definition TVs continue to evolve with evermore-enticing technologies and doodads, the majority of buyers are still looking for the best bang for the buck. Panasonic's plasmas are usually at or near the top of the heap in that category, and the 42-inch TH-42PX80U is a great example. This set doesn't sport 1080p resolution or scads of picture controls, and while we would have wanted a bit more in the way of adjustability, we definitely didn't miss the extra pixels. This plasma gives the best black levels we've tested for the price, and while its color and noise reduction could use improvement, Panasonic's least-expensive 2008 plasma is still an all-around superb value.

There's nothing fancy about the look of Panasonic's entry-level plasma, but we liked the no-nonsense style. Like those of most HDTVs at all price points these days, the screen is bordered on all four sides by a rectangle of glossy black. A subtle accent strip below the frame bends oh-so-slightly down at either side in a sort of half-frown, and below that, there's a swath of matte black that encompasses the speakers and a flip-up door on the front (much more accessible than side-mounted jacks, especially for wall mounts) hiding a set of inputs and basic controls.

All told, the TH-42PX80U measures a relatively compact 40.2 inches wide by 28.7 inches tall by 12.9 inches deep and weighs 61.8 pounds with the included stand. Removing the stand shrinks the dimensions to 40.2 inches wide by 26.8 inches tall by 3.8 inches deep and its weight drops to 56.7 pounds.

The medium-size remote control is nicely designed with buttons big enough, and with good differentiation, to make finding your way by feel less of a hassle. That's especially important since the remote lacks any sort of illumination, although on an entry-level TV we're not surprised. Unlike many remotes, this one can't command other gear. Panasonic's standard yellow-on-blue menu system is as easy to read as ever, and we had few problems finding what we wanted.

You still can't expect 1080p resolution on a 42-inch entry-level plasma this year--you'll need to step up to any of the company's more expensive lines for that. If you do so, however, you still shouldn't expect to see any difference in detail; in other words, the 1,024x768 resolution of the TH-42PX80U is perfectly fine for this screen size, where 1080p would be a waste.

Panasonic TH-42PX80U
The main picture menu covers all the basics but doesn't offer many advanced options.

Picture controls are relatively sparse in the TH-42PX80U's menu system, although we were happy to see four adjustable picture presets along with a fifth, called Custom, that's independent per input. You can choose from among three color temperature presets although there's no way to fine-tune the color temp beyond that. Other controls include color management (On/Off; the On position was slightly better for color decoding), two species of noise reduction, and a black level control that's best left in Light to preserve shadow detail. It has five aspect ratio controls for both HD and SD sources, more than most HDTVs on the market. Check out our recommended picture settings for the Panasonic TH-42PX80U.

A new menu for 2008 deals with burn-in or, as the company calls it, "image retention." There's a pixel orbiter that moves the entire image gradually around the screen, along with an option to set the 4:3 mode to include gray bars on either side of the picture (as opposed to black, which cause image retention more easily than gray). On the off chance that the plasma retains an image, there's a scrolling bar that slides across the screen as a sort of eraser.

We would have liked to see an energy-saver mode on this TV, although it is relatively efficient for a 42-inch plasma--see the Juice box below for details. The Panasonic TH-42PX80U also lacks picture-in-picture, but it does include a thoughtful "Surf Mode" control, which can be set to restrict the TV's tuning options. You can set it to "all," "favorite," "digital only," or "analog only."

Panasonic TH-42PX80U
The back panel of the Panasonic is highlighted by a pair of HDMI inputs.

In terms of connectivity, we were happy to count a total of three HDMI inputs, two on the back panel and a third around front. Around back there are also two component-video inputs, one AV input with S-Video and composite video, one optical digital audio output, one monitor AV output with composite video, and one RF input. Panasonic doesn't include an analog PC input at this price level. The front panel includes that HDMI jack, a second AV input with S-Video and composite video, and an SD card slot that lets the TV show digital photos on the big screen.

Panasonic TH-42PX80U
A flip-up door on the front panel conceals a third HDMI input, AV jacks, and an SD card slot.

A standout among HDTVs for the entry-level crowd, the Panasonic TH-42PX80U exhibited great black-level performance, although we'd still like to see better color and more effective noise reduction.

Our standard calibration went exceedingly quickly because the Panasonic lacks many of the more advanced controls found on higher-end HDTVs (click here for our picture settings). After we had it locked in, we compared the TH-42PX80U with a couple of other sets we had on hand, including the Panasonic's own TH-46PZ85U, the Insignia NS-PDP42, and the Samsung PN50A550, along with our current reference displays, the Pioneer PDP-5080HD and the Sony KDS-55A3000. We checked out Black Snake Moan on Blu-ray at 1080i for the majority of our tests.

Black level: As we've come to expect from Panasonic plasmas, the TH-42PX80U produced a very deep shade of black. The more expensive TH-46PZ85U and ,of course, the Pioneer still went deeper, but the PX80U was a touch darker than the Samsung--we doubt the difference would be noticeable outside of a side-by-side comparison, however. The letterbox bars, the black screen shadows in the background of the fields during Rae's drink fest, and the night sky overhead all looked deep and rich.

Details in shadows, such as the side of Lazarus' face as he jams on his guitar, were once again a bit lighter than our reference Pioneer, which made near-black areas appear too bright in relation to black. A gamma control would probably help this issue, but it's not available on this set.

Color accuracy: As with the higher-end TH-46PX85U, this is the category where Panasonic needs to do the most improving. The initial color temperature wasn't bad in Warm mode, so white areas such as the overcast sky, as well as skin tones, looked relatively good after we backed down the color control. We had to do so because the Panasonic evinced significant red push, which made skin, such as Rae's face in the morning light inside Lazarus' house, appear too flushed and rosy at full saturation. However, the set's deep black levels kept colors from becoming too washed out.

As is often the case with plasma, the primary color of green was also off, which made the trees and cornfields of Lazarus' farm, for example, look a touch less natural than on the Samsung and the Sony reference, for example.

Video processing: As with most HDTVs we've tested, the TH-42PX80U was unsuccessful at correctly de-interlacing 1080i film-based material, so we recommend you set your high-definition sources to 1080p if available. If not, we recommend you stick with 1080i for this TV, because when we looked at 720p resolution patterns they appeared a bit softer than 1080i.

We mentioned the relatively ineffective noise reduction of the TH-46PZ85U, and this TH-42PX80U has the same problem. With noisy material, such as the HD noise test from the HQV disc, the set's NR did very little to clean up the motes of snow in the background, especially in dark areas. All of the TVs in our test, including the lowly Insignia, demonstrated better noise reduction. If you're sensitive to noise or sitting relatively close (7 feet or closer), this might be a concern.

Bright lighting: We were told that the TH-42PX80U has the same antireflective screen as the higher-end TH-46PZ85U, but it actually appears different in our tests. With both screens facing a wall of open windows, the 80U tended to be more effective at reducing the brightness of the reflections, although it still wasn't quite as good as the Pioneer or a matte-screened LCD. For a plasma, however, the TH-42PX80U did a very good job of attenuating glare.

Standard-definition: Details in standard-definition were relatively sharp--better than on the TH-42PZ85U--and the set resolved every line of the DVD format. The TH-42PX80U did an average job of removing jagged edges from moving diagonal lines, and, as with high-definition sources, its noise reduction wasn't as effective at cleaning up snowy-looking material, such as HQV's low-quality shots of skies and sunsets, as we'd like to see. It did quickly engage 2:3 pull-down.

PC: Don't buy the TH-42PX80U if you want to use it occasionally as a big monitor. It lacks an analog VGA input, and when we attempted to connect via HDMI, the results weren't pretty. The set didn't display the 1,024x768 signal properly, doubling the left side (so we saw our desktop icons on both sides of the screen), overscanning way too much, and introducing a line of vertical interference down the middle of the screen. Other resolutions were also too overscanned to be usable.

Before color temp (20/80) 6652/7002 Average
After color temp N/A  
Before grayscale variation +/- 379K Average
After grayscale variation N/A  
Color of red (x/y) 0.65/0.342 Average
Color of green 0.264/0.662 Poor
Color of blue 0.146/0.061 Good
Overscan 2.5% Good
Defeatable edge enhancement N Poor
480i 2:3 pull-down, 24 fps Y Good
1080i video resolution Pass Good
1080i film resolution Fail Poor

Panasonic TH-42PX80U Picture settings
Default Calibrated Power Save
Picture on (watts) 260.18 190.53 N/A
Picture on (watts/sq. inch) 0.35 0.25 N/A
Standby (watts) 0.99 0.99 N/A
Cost per year $81.14 $59.59 N/A
Score (considering size) Poor
Score (overall) Average
*Cost per year based on 2007 average U.S. residential electricity cost of 10.6 cents per kw/hr at 8 hours on/16 hours off per day.

How we test TVs.


Panasonic Viera TH-PX80U

Score Breakdown

Design 7Features 7Performance 7