Until very recently we resolutely believed that liquid crystal had won thewar, but we were very pleasantly proved wrong with the release of two TVs: the and this, the Panasonic TH-50PX70A. Both are based on the latest generation of plasma design -- number nine for those counting -- and feature HD resolutions and some of the latest HDMI features. But which is better?
As far as good looking plasmas go, the shortlist is quite short -- after all, it's what's onscreen that matters most -- but the TH-50PX70A is certainly up there. It's not as boxy as some, and the scalloped bottom bezel is quite attractive.
The only minus to the Panasonic's design is the boomerang-tastic stand -- it's not as stable as some, and if we had the choice, we'd wall-mount this TV.
The bundled remote control may not be the most comfortable to hold -- with its strange central column -- but it's certainly big and friendly. We would have liked to have seen the menu controls and channel buttons closer together, instead of at opposite ends of the remote. The remote will also control a Panasonic DVD or VCR.
Some TVs can't handle 1080p sources -- they end up displaying a bunch of zigzagging lines shooting across the screen. The Panasonic TH-50PX70A features a 1080p processor, and though it can't produce a true HD image, it will downscale a 1080p signal so you can watch it on your TV.
Unlike the Samsung PS-50Q91HD -- which claims a bombastic 15,000:1 contrast ratio -- the Panasonic boasts a more sensible, though still "peak", rating of 10,000:1. This still ensures black levels are high -- and light years ahead of what LCD can produce.
The Panasonic comes with two HDMI inputs, and should be more than enough for most users at present. However, its rival comes with an extra, side-mounted port, which enhances its user-friendliness and future-proof-ability.
As we've seen with most TVs released in the past year the Panasonic also comes with a PC, or VGA, input. Not only will this let you connect your laptop to your TV for big-screen surfing, but also VGA-equipped DVD players such as the.
Like many other TVs just hitting the market, the Panasonic uses the bi-directional capabilities of HDMI to control all your components with the touch of a single button -- in this case its called Viera link.
If you're a tweaker, you may be disappointed at the limited number of picture options. There are three main modes: the ultra-vivid Dynamic, which is also known as "shop floor" mode because it makes it more impressive in the shop; Cinema, which is a de-saturated and low contrast mode; and Normal, which is the setting we'd opt for.
This "simple" approach extends to the menu -- it's easy to use, but it also doesn't reward tinkering. If you want more control over your picture beyond Colour and Contrast, this may not be the TV for you.
Unlike its main rival, there is no Game or PC mode -- but the MPEG noise reduction can be quite effective at removing blockiness from broadcasts or DVDs.
Say what you will about the lead actor, but the stylised visuals of Mission Impossible III on Blu-ray make for a good tester. The Panasonic managed to capture both the frenzied movement and the moody, pensive moments of this movie with skill.
In Cinema mode, however, the images can become a little too ... er ... emo, but switching to Normal mode digs out more detail and saturation. Black levels were fine -- though the Samsung was marginally better there, and was better at extracting detail too.
It may not be as impressive as the Samsung in HD -- but pictures still look very good, with a decent smattering of detail. Only on HD games, such as the PS3 MotorStorm, was there a little smearing on movement.
But this was the only time we saw the picture show signs of strain. Even when viewing King Kong on DVD, the picture was relatively free of grain, and movement was very well handled. The picture was also fairly natural during the Brontosaurus Stampede sequence, though bested by its rival.
Switch to the onboard tuner and high definition pictures show plenty of detail -- even the notoriously "low-def" images of Channel 7's HD loop are free of blocking and artefacts. The analog tuner is also fairly good.
When it comes to audio, many people who buy a AU$4000 TV will most likely already have a sound system. The onboard sound in this Viera is fine for a TV, however, and while missing in treble response, it certainly makes dialogue intelligible enough.
In the end, it's a close call between this and the Samsung, but the truth is, if you choose either of these TVs, you will be more than happy. If you want features and outright performance then choose the Samsung, but if you want a TV that just "works" then the Panasonic is the answer.