Panasonic Viera TH-PZ700U
For such a large television, we found the styling of the TH-58PZ700U admirably understated. Its huge, 58-inch-diagonal pane of glass is surrounded on all sides by a relatively thick frame of glossy black. From either side of that frame peek the speakers, which consist of extremely thin, black, vertical strips. The top of the cabinet is angled back, as is a larger section along the bottom where you'll find a door concealing controls and also an AV input, while a smaller hatch opens to reveal a slot for SD memory cards. The TH-58PZ700U measures 57.3 inches by 38.2 inches by 16.5 inches and weighs 165 pounds with the included stand; sans stand, it measures 57.3 inches by 36.2 inches by 5.7 inches and weighs 141 pounds.
We really liked Panasonic's remote. Its layout is basically the same as that of last year's model, but the somewhat larger buttons feel much better. Its keys--of which there are just the right number--are arranged quite logically, and although there's no backlighting, we appreciated the ease with which we were able to locate buttons by feel. The remote can control as many as three other devices. Panasonic's internal menu system is intuitive enough, although we disliked the ease with which you can inadvertently erase your picture settings.
The Panasonic TH-58PZ700U improves upon last year's excellent TH-58PX600U primarily in the arena of pixel count. This set has 1080p native resolution, which translates to 1,920x1,080 pixels, the highest number available today in an HDTV. The set can resolve every detail of the highest-resolution 1080i and 1080p HD sources, and all other resolutions, whether from 720p HDTV, DVD, or standard-definition television, are scaled to fit the pixels. The 58-inch screen size makes the benefits of 1080p more apparent than they'd be on smaller HDTVs (see Performance for details).
Picture-affecting features aren't as plentiful on the TH-58PZ700U as on other high-end HDTVs we've tested recently. The menu does offer three adjustable picture modes that apply to every input, along with a fourth Custom mode that's independent per input. Panasonic includes three color-temperature presets, of which Warm was most accurate. Here's where we usually complain about the lack of fine-tuning controls for color temperature, but in the TH-58PZ700U's case we didn't miss them, since Warm was so close to the standard.
We left most of the other controls off. There's something called C.A.T.S. (the manual doesn't indicate what the abbreviation means) that dimmed the picture far too much for our tastes. The Color Management control made blues and greens more intense and less accurate, so we left it off. There are also three noise-reduction controls, a black-level control (best left set on Light to preserve shadow detail) and a setting that engages
In addition to the five aspect-ratio modes for HD sources, there are four for standard-def. Although the Panasonic lacks a specific mode designed to perfectly match incoming 1080-resolution signals to the 1080p panel with no overscan (a setting known as "dot-by-dot" on some HDTVs), you can achieve the same effect by selecting the Full mode, then choosing Size 2 from the HD size selection on the Other adjustment section of the Picture menu. We'd prefer that the option be easier to change--you'll want to switch to Size 1 if you notice interference or lines at the extreme edge of the image when in Size 2 mode--but at least it's there.
Convenience junkies will be bummed by the lack of picture-in-picture. Like many HDTV makers this year, Panasonic offers a version of control-over-HDMI, branded EZ-Synch, that allows other similarly equipped devices to be controlled via the HDMI connection using an onscreen interface and the TV's remote. We were disappointed, however, by the lack of menu item choices to deal with "image retention" or burn-in should it occur--features that can be found on many plasmas, including Panasonic's own professional models. While the menu lacks burn-in-related items, this and all other 2007 Panasonic plasmas have an always-on "pixel wobbling" feature that imperceptibly shifts the image one pixel at a time to avoid burn-in. The 4:3 aspect-ratio modes also include a screen saver, although it's useless when the TV is set to a wide-screen (16:9) mode and you depend on an external source, such as a cable box, to change aspect ratios.
Somewhat surprisingly for an HDTV in this price range, the TH-58PZ700U's connectivity suite includes not three HDMI inputs--as found on many high-end HDTVs this year--but just two. There's also a VGA-style PC input (1,280x1,024 maximum resolution), a pair of component-video inputs, two AV inputs with composite- and S-Video, an RF-style antenna input, and an optical digital output for the ATSC tuner. A panel on the front flips up to reveal controls and another AV input with composite- and S-Video, while a second panel hides slot for SD, SDHC, and miniSD (adapter required) cards, allowing you to display JPEG digital photos on the big screen.
The TH-58PZ700U delivered excellent picture quality in just about every regard. We liked its deep blacks and extremely accurate color temperature, and while its standard-def picture and its color of green could, as with many plasmas, stand improving, those issues don't interfere with our full recommendation.
Before our evaluations, we set the Panasonic TH-58PZ700U up for optimal performance in our completely dark theater. We were pleased to note that simply setting the picture mode to Standard and the color temperature to Warm caused the Panasonic to come as close as any TV we've tested to the D6500 standard (an average of x/y 0.313/0.327 if you're keeping track). We did adjust the brightness control to bring up shadow detail a bit, but that's about it. Normally we complain about not having the ability to adjust color temperature in the user menu, but if our review sample is a good indicator (and there's no guarantee that it is--many manufacturers tweak their TVs before sending them to reviewers), then the TH-58PZ700U's Warm-mode grayscale doesn't need much adjustment at all. For our full user-menu settings, click here or check out the Tips & Tricks section above.
For our formal evaluation, we set the Panasonic up next to a few other HDTVs we had onhand including the Samsung HL-T5687S, a 56-inch rear-projection HDTV; the Pioneer PRO-FHD1 and the Pioneer PDP-5080HD, both 50-inch plasmas; and the Sharp LC-52D64U and Toshiba 52LX177, both 52-inch LCDs. We slipped the The Departed HD DVD into our Toshiba HD-XA2, set to 1080i resolution, then compared the sets directly.
As always, one of our first comparisons regarded black-level performance, and the Panasonic held its own nicely, displaying as deeper shade of black than nearly any set in the room, with the exception of the Sharp and the Pioneer PDP-5080HD. The letterbox bars and shadows during the scene when Jack Nicholson's gang waits in the dark warehouse, for example, appeared inky and realistic, and we didn't detect any low-level noise (dithering) from our seating position 8 feet away. We did notice, however, that the details near black, such as Leonardo DiCaprio's leather jacket and Nicholson's black hat, appeared a bit too bright compared to some of the other displays' pictures, betraying the Panasonic's somewhat too-steep rise out of black. We'd like to see an adjustable gamma control on the set to address this issue, but it's not available.
Colors on the Panasonic looked very good and were helped tremendously by the set's accurate grayscale. During Matt Damon's dinner with Vera Farmiga, for example, their skin tones looked natural and well-saturated, even in dim lighting of the restaurant, which caused some other displays in the room such as the Sharp and the Toshiba to become too reddish. We did detect the yellowish tinge in the grass and shrubs later, when Damon investigates a crime scene, but the difference wasn't egregious compared to the more-accurate Samsung and Pioneer PRO-FHD1.
Detail on the TH-58PZ700U was everything we'd expect from a 1080p HDTV. The set resolved every line of a 1080i and 1080p test patterns, although it couldn't take 1080p/24 sources (our Samsung BD-P1200 did not allow us to select the 1080p/24 option). Like most HDTVs we've tested, it couldn't properly deinterlace 1080i film-based material, although it was, as usual, difficult to spot this issue.
As we mentioned at the top of this review, the 58-inch screen shows off the benefits of 1080p better than smaller screens, although the extra resolution was by no means a game changer. Unfortunately we didn't have a non-1080p set of similar size to directly compare, but when looking at test patterns we could differentiate between the one-pixel-wide lines from as far back as about 7 feet. When sitting farther back than that, the lines blended together, so we bet even the keenest-eyed viewers would have difficult time detecting the extra detail afforded by the higher-resolution screen. From 8 feet, comparing between the Panasonic and the smaller 1,366x768 Pioneer, we couldn't see the difference--even on the fine computer-animated plants in the demo material from Digital Video Essentials on HD DVD.
With such a large plasma, it makes sense to discuss the comparison to the alternative, a big-screen rear-projection HDTV such as the Samsung HL-T5687S. One big advantage of the plasma was its ability to maintain brightness and image uniformity when see from either side or above and below (plasma also beats LCD in this regard). Speaking of uniformity, the plasma also produced an even image on every part of the screen, while the Samsung (and, to a lesser extent, other RPTVs) has a hot spot in the middle that's noticeably brighter on the sides and corners. LCDs have their own uniformity issues too, from which plasmas don't typically suffer.
It's also worth mentioning that, when seen from severely off-angle, some images, such as white text on a black background, show a dimmer ghost-image repeated behind the main image, and in some cases more than one. This issue, caused by the multilayered plasma glass, is unique to Panasonic plasmas in our experience--it was absent from the Pioneer--and doesn't come up unless you're sitting far off-angle and viewing the right material. Another quirk of the TH-58PZ700U is the very faint vertical lines we saw on white and other light backgrounds that appeared to be part of the screen itself. They were completely invisible from further than 4 feet back.
The TH-58PZ700U has a screen designed to reduce glare from room lighting, but it wasn't as effective as that of the Pioneer or Panasonic's own TH-PZ77U series. Watching dark scenes in a brightly lit room, we could clearly see ourselves reflected in on the screen, and blacks appeared quite a bit lighter, washing out the image somewhat. Of course the Samsung RPTV and both LCDs attenuated more glare than any of the plasmas in the room.
The big Panasonic's standard-def video quality was a bit disappointing. It resolved every vertical line of resolution from the DVD, although horizontal resolution was not fully resolved, which softened some of the test scenes such as the fine brickwork in the stone bridge. The Panasonic was mediocre at removing jagged edges from moving diagonal lines, and we saw some evidence of jaggies in the waving American flag. Despite the presence of three different on/off controls for noise reduction, none of them were effective at cleaning up the noisy shots of skies, clouds, and sunset beaches. The set engaged 2:3 pull-down processing quickly and effectively, however.
With PC sources going in via HDMI, from the DVI output of our test computer, the Panasonic performed very well. It resolved every detail of the 1,920x1,080 resolution source and text looked great. Our only complaint had to do with the faint vertical lines, which were most noticeable from close-up (4 feet and closer) on white backgrounds (like a blank Word document). Sitting further back rendered the lines invisible. We also tried connecting via the set's VGA input and, as the manual states, the set maxed out at 1,280x1,024 resolution, which looked understandably soft on the high-res plasma. As usual, the digital connection provided better results.
|Before color temp (20/80)||6,399/6,582K||Good|
|After color temp||N/A|
|Before grayscale variation||+/- 60K||Good|
|After grayscale variation||N/A|
|Color of red (x/y)||0.658/0.339||Poor|
|Color of green||0.265/0.655||Poor|
|Color of blue||0.151/0.066||Good|
|Black-level retention||No stable pattern||Poor|
|Defeatable edge enhancement||Yes||Good|
|480i 2:3 pull-down, 24 fps||Yes||Good|
|1080i video resolution||Pass||Good|
|1080i film resolution||Fail||Poor|
|Panasonic TH-58PZ700U||Picture settings|
|Picture on (watts)||609.53||384.01||N/A|
|Picture on (watts/sq. inch)||0.42||0.27||N/A|
|Cost per year||$185.28||$116.80||N/A|
|Score (considering size)||Poor|