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Panasonic Viera TH-PX600U review: Panasonic Viera TH-PX600U

The superb picture quality of the 58-inch Panasonic TH-58PX600U makes it worth the price to huge-screen shoppers who want to go flat.

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David Katzmaier
David_Katzmaier.jpg

David Katzmaier

Editorial Director -- TVs and streaming

David has reviewed TVs, streaming services, streaming devices and home entertainment gear at CNET since 2002. He is an ISF certified, NIST trained calibrator and developed CNET's TV test procedure himself. Previously David wrote reviews and features for Sound & Vision magazine and eTown.com. He is known to two people on Twitter as "The Cormac McCarthy of consumer electronics."

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9 min read

Panasonic sells more of its plasma TVs than anybody else, so it stands to reason that the company has more plasma screen sizes than its many competitors. The 58-inch size, which no other plasma maker offers, is new for the company as of last year, and the TH-58PX600U is its highest-end 58-inch set. As a member of the step-up 600U line, this television offers a few more features and different styling compared with the basic 60U line, represented in the 58-inch size by the TH-58PX60U, and in case you're wondering, no, Panasonic doesn't currently make a 58-inch "professional" model like this. The TH-58PX600U became available in June 2006 and, according to Panasonic's CES 2007 announcement, will be replaced by the TH-58PX75U this spring and the 1080p TH-58PZ700U sometime this summer. In the meantime, however, it's available for a good deal less than its original $5,300 MSRP. Sure that's still a heck of a lot more than a similarly sized rear-projection HDTV, but if you have the room, the budget, and the need to go flat, it's an excellent choice among large-screen plasmas.

8.0

Panasonic Viera TH-PX600U

The Good

Excellent black-level performance and shadow detail; accurate color decoding; laudable standard-definition picture quality; solid connectivity with one PC and two HDMI inputs; includes a CableCard slot and a TV Guide EPG; sleek styling with thin speakers.

The Bad

Inaccurate primary color of green; black level fluctuates with very dark material; user menu lacks fine tuning for color-temperature controls; no independent input memories.

The Bottom Line

The superb picture quality of the 58-inch Panasonic TH-58PX600U makes it worth the price to huge-screen shoppers who want to go flat.
Panasonic TH-58PX600U

Design
The smart-looking Panasonic TH-58PX600U is basically a 58-inch diagonal pane of glass surrounded by a black frame that's edged by silver. The silver strips of cabinet to the right and the left of the frame actually house ultrathin speakers, and the silver along the bottom conceals a pair of flip-up doors. One reveals an SD card slot and the other a set of control buttons and an A/V input. Panasonic's matching silver stand comes included in the price of the set.

The entire television including stand measures a formidable 57.3x38.9x16.6 inches (WHD) and weighs a hefty 174.2 pounds. Detached from the stand, the Panasonic TH-58PX600U's panel measures 57.3x36.2x5.7 inches and will put 136.7 pounds of stress on your wall studs. Panasonic sells compatible wall mounts, including the tilting EZLCDP-02 mount.

Panasonic's remote is a basic wand that lacks backlighting for any of the keys, although we found the button arrangement comfortable enough. It can operate three other pieces of gear. The menu system is even more rudimentary-looking than the remote, with fewer options than many HDTVs we've seen. We eventually found the controls we wanted, but it sometimes required scrolling through multiple menu pages.

Features
Panasonic bequeathed this 58-inch plasma with a native resolution of 1,366x768, which grants it the ability to resolve every detail of 720p HDTV material. With such a large screen size, a higher resolution of 1080p might make a difference at seating distances closer than eight feet or so, but the TH-58PX600U's picture certainly doesn't seem soft (see below). As with all other fixed-pixel displays, all incoming sources--whether HDTV, DVD, or standard-definition--are scaled to fit the pixels.

As member of Panasonic's step-up 600U line, this 58-inch behemoth enjoys a few extra features. In addition to the required ATSC tuner, there's a CableCard slot so the set can display scrambled digital cable programming if you get your company's card installed. To complement CableCard is the TV Guide EPG, which allows the television to browse the cable company's listings (we didn't test the CableCard or the TV Guide EPG for this review). The TH-58PX600U offers a solid selection of five aspect ratio choices for both standard- and high-definition sources. The set's side-by-side PIP function is a bit restricted (it won't work with HDMI or PC as a source) but at least you can watch two sources at once.

More importantly, picture controls on the TH-58PX600U are also fairly limited for a high-end HDTV. There are only three picture modes--Vivid, Standard, and Custom--and while you can adjust each of them, there is no true independent picture memory by input. In other words you can't tweak the picture differently for each source; you only get three total picture memories. Worse, mistakenly deleting your hard-adjusted settings is all too easy; a control labeled "Normal," when selected, returns picture settings to the default position. We learned the hard way that writing down picture settings for a Panasonic plasma TV can save a lot of hassle.

We would have liked to see a few more advanced picture controls on this set. While we liked the three color-temperature presets, we missed the ability to fine-tune color temperature manually, a feature the TH-50PH9UK, for example, offers. In addition to the standard picture controls, Panasonic throws in a couple extras. The color-management control is said to "enhance" the colors of green and blue, but we couldn't see any effect so we left it off. We're not sure what the cute "C.A.T.S." acronym stands for--the control supposedly adjusts automatically to "optimize contrast"--but it also made the picture too dark for our liking so we left it off. In the Other Adjust menu, there's a pair of noise-reduction controls and a black-level setting that we set to Light to preserve details in shadows.

Around back, the Panasonic TH-58PX600U has plenty of inputs for most users. There are a pair of HDMI inputs; two component-video inputs; two A/V inputs with composite and S-Video; one RF antenna connector; an A/V output with composite video; an optical digital-audio output; and a VGA-style PC input for computer connections (1,366x768 recommended resolution, but see below). The TH-58PX600U also includes a SD card slot on the front panel, enabling it to display digital photos but not play music files on the big screen.

Performance
The Panasonic TH-58PX600U's picture quality is among the best we've seen on any size plasma TV, and it certainly outperforms any of the larger-than-50-inch plasmas we've tested. It reproduces the deep shade of black we've come to expect from Panasonic plasma TVs, delivers accurate color, and even performs admirably with standard-definition sources. Our complaints, including some color-accuracy gripes and PC input issues, don't spoil its excellent picture.

The initial stages of evaluation involved using the picture menu to coax the best image possible from the TH-58PX600U in our darkened theater. We started by adjusting light output to about 35 FTL, which was significantly higher than the Cinema preset measured. The user menu offered no fine control over color temperature, but the Warm setting did approach relatively close to the 6,500K standard (see the Geek box at the end of this review). After a service-menu calibration, it was even closer.Click here for our complete user-menu settings or check out the Tips & Tricks section above.

After setup, we compared the picture quality of the TH-58PX600U directly to a few other large-screen flat-panel TVs we had on hand: the Vizio GV47LF HDTV 47-inch LCD model; Panasonic's own TH-50PH9UK 50-inch plasma TV, and our reference Pioneer Pro-FHD1 50-inch plasma TV. We chose to watch the HD DVD version of V for Vendetta, played over a Toshiba HD-A1's HDMI output at 1080i resolution.

As usual the first observations had to do with the Panasonic's ability to deliver the darkness. In nighttime scenes, its black level performance was excellent; the black of its letterbox bars and other dark parts of the film, such as the dim hallway Guy Fox traverses in the intro, was almost imperceptibly lighter than the 50-inch Panasonic, a bit darker than the Pioneer, and noticeably darker than the Vizio. These dark blacks lent punch and impact to numerous scenes, such as when Evie (Natalie Portman) meets V for the first time in the alleyway. They also improved saturation in all scenes.

Like some previous Panasonic panels we've tested, the TH-58PX600U floated black. In very dark test patterns, we noticed that after a few seconds the black areas of the picture would actually get darker, obscuring shadow detail. It occurred only during patterns with a very low APL (average picture level), meaning they were almost completely black with no bright areas, and as soon as the image became brighter the shade of black corrected to its original level. As a result of this issue, the TH-58PX600U did fail the black-level retention Geek box test, but we're not docking it significantly otherwise. That's mainly because we couldn't replicate the issue with normal viewing material, even in V's numerous nighttime scenes.

We kept a keen eye out for any extra noise or false contouring but the TH-58PX600U did not evince either of these two problems to any major degree. We did see almost imperceptible contouring around a cop's flashlight during V's final showdown--contouring that did not appear on the Pioneer and was noticeably worse on both the Vizio and the 50-inch Panasonic--but that was it. Dark scenes were also cleaner on the TH-58PX600U than on any of the others aside from the Pioneer.

Color on the Panasonic TH-58PX600U was quite accurate, although again not quite up to the standards of our reference Pioneer. Thanks to excellent color decoding and relatively linear grayscale, the Panasonic's rendition of Evie's skin tone was very natural and healthy-looking, without too much red or paleness. The colors weren't quite as saturated as with the Pioneer, however, so items in V's house for example, like the bright red rug, the warm-brown piano, and the paintings in the background, appeared slightly less rich and lush than on the Pioneer--but the difference was subtle. The TH-58PX600U also had a relatively yellowish color of green, which made the shrubs outside Deitrich's house and the leaves on the ubiquitous "Scarlet Carson" roses, for example, appear slightly less natural.

We conducted our testing from a seating distance of about nine feet, where it was impossible to make out individual pixels on the big 58-inch screen. Not until we moved to about six feet from the screen did we see pixels, and we doubt most folks want to sit that close to such a big screen. Looking closely between the TH-58PX600U and the Pioneer (which was placed about seven feet from our seat), we couldn't discern any difference in detail--both looked very sharp with the excellent V HD DVD. As we mentioned above there might be some benefit if the TH-58PX600U had 1080p resolution, but you'd probably have to sit closer than nine feet from the screen to see it.

Although we didn't compare the TH-58PX600U directly to any similarly sized rear-projection HDTVs, it's worth noting the general advantages and disadvantages of plasma TVs compared with RPTVs. In terms of advantages, the Panasonic delivers better uniformity, both in brightness and color across the screen, and its image remains truer regardless of your viewing angle. On the flip side, its big pane of glass will reflect more ambient light, so if you have an incurably bright room you may want to go with a microdisplay at this size. Black levels vary per display, but compared with our measurements of the Mitsubishi WD-65831 and the Samsung HL-S5687W--which both delivered the best black levels among RPTVs we tested recently--the Panasonic delivered significantly deeper blacks.

Next we checked out the Panasonic's ability to deal with standard-definition sources, and it turned in a commendable performance according to the HQV test DVD. It smoothed out jagged edges in diagonal lines well; engaged 2:3 pull-down without a hitch; and delivered all of the detail of the disc. Its noise-reduction functions, labeled "Video NR" and "MPEG NR," each took part in squelching the snowy video noise on HQV's difficult shots of skies and flowers, and combined they really cleaned up the image well.

Unlike the step-down 60U series, the 600U Panasonics offer a PC input, so we put it through its paces. Compared with most flat-panel LCD HDTVs we've tested as monitors, the TH-58PX600U didn't perform all that well. First off, neither of the two computers we tried connecting were able to send the panel a signal equivalent to its native resolution (1,366x768) unless we used a third-party solution, namely PowerStrip. With the standard video drivers we were only able to achieve 1,280x768 resolution, which looked pretty soft with text and, according to DisplayMate, was not fully resolved by the Panasonic (that's to be expected when using a non-native resolution). The point is that, depending on your video card, you may have problems getting the most out of the TH-58PX600U's PC input.

TEST RESULT SCORE
Before color temp (20/80) 6965/6762K Good
After color temp 6425/6581K Good
Before grayscale variation +/- 281K Good
After grayscale variation +/- 97K Good
Color of red (x/y) 0.662/0.328 Average
Color of green 0.265/0.644 Poor
Color of blue 0.150/0.061 Good
Overscan 2.5 % Good
Black-level retention No stable pattern Poor
2:3 pull-down, 24fps Y Good
Defeatable edge enhancement Y Good

8.0

Panasonic Viera TH-PX600U

Score Breakdown

Design 8Features 8Performance 8