The Panasonic's picture quality was a bit less impressive, despite superb black-level performance, than that of the best plasmas we've tested recently. Our main hang-up revolved around its ineffective noise reduction and less-accurate color.
The Cinema picture preset came quite close to our standard calibration, although we would have appreciated the capability to adjust the set's color temperature beyond the still-too-cool Warm preset, as well as the capability to tweak gamma. We adjusted the remainder of the controls to our liking--see the Tip for details--and then set up our comparison between the Panasonic, the Samsung PN50A550P, and our reference sets, including the Pioneer PDP-5080HD plasma. We checked out Juno on Blu-ray for the majority of our image quality tests.
Black level: The TH-46PZ85U exhibited the deepest shade of black we've seen from any Panasonic plasma, deeper than any display we've reviewed except for the Pioneer and the OLED-based Sony XEL-1. Those deep blacks lent punch and dimension to both dark and brighter scenes; the black background behind the freaky girl Goth librarian, for example, was a couple of shades darker than the Samsung and the other displays in our test, aside from the Pioneer. The black-level difference between the Panasonic and the Pioneer was slight, and we could only confirm it by side-by-side comparison.
Details in shadows, however, such as the dark hair of the ultrasound technician in the dim hospital room, appeared a bit too bright and thus less realistic on the Panasonic than they did on the other two plasmas.
Color accuracy: Compared with the Samsung and the Pioneer, the TH-46PZ85U fell a step behind in this category. Its color temperature measured a tab bluer than the standard, which introduced a hint of paleness into skin tones and other delicate areas. We also noticed red push, which over-accentuated reds in the color decoding and again imbalanced delicate colors--the only way to reduce its effects was to dial back the color control somewhat to de-saturate the image. During the scene between Juno and Bleeker on his front lawn, for example, the effect of these color issues was somewhat less-realistic skin tones in close-ups of their faces, as well as a bit less impact in the colorful furniture compared with the rest of the displays. The Panasonic's superb black levels helped keep the colors punchy, however. We also noticed the effects of the TH-46PZ85U's inaccurate green primary in, for example, the slightly paler, less-lush green of Bleeker's grass.
Video processing: As we'd expect from a 1080p plasma, the TH-46PZ85U successfully resolved every detail of 1080i and 1080p sources according to test patterns, and while it didn't correctly de-interlace 1080i film-based sources, we don't consider that a deal-breaker. As usual, it was nearly impossible to appreciate any difference in detail between the 1080p Panasonic and the 720p Pioneer--both looked equally sharp with 1080 resolution sources.
The biggest issue with the Panasonic compared with the other displays was its relatively ineffective noise reduction. Juno isn't the cleanest Blu-ray Disc, and we saw significantly more roiling motes of snowy video noise and film grain in numerous scenes, such in the ultrasound room in the background and on Juno's pregnant belly, than we did on the other displays (all of their NR controls were engaged for this test). We confirmed these observations with the noise tests from the HQV Blu-ray disc and other relatively noisy/grainy discs, such as the Full Metal Jacket Blu-ray. Of course, the motes become less visible from further seating distances--we didn't object to the belly noise from further than about 10 feet, for example--but it can be an issue with certain material and closer seating distances, especially to people sensitive to video noise.
Bright lighting: We compared all of the displays in a brightly lit room, with overhead fluorescent lights and the screens facing the windows on a bright afternoon, and the Panasonic's antireflective screen held its own. It didn't attenuate reflections to the same extent as the Pioneer but it was pretty close, and clearly better than the Samsung. Of course, matte screens of the rear-projection and LCD reference displays were best of all, but for a plasma, the TH-46PZ85U's antireflective screen was very good.
We did ask the company why it was no longer offering the excellent antiglare screen found on the 2007 TH-PX77U and TH-PZ77U models, and a spokesman told us that customers didn't like those screens as much. That's a shame in our opinion, because those screens worked great for rooms with a lot of ambient light--significantly better than any antireflective screen in our experience, including the Pioneer.
Standard-definition: The TH-46PZ85U earned a below-average score in our standard-definition tests. Details were relatively soft, and the full resolution of the DVD format, according to test patterns, was not displayed. The Panasonic 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 the other two plasmas--especially the Samsung. It did quickly engage 2:3 pull-down.
PC: Via HDMI, the Panasonic performed perfectly, resolving every detail of a 1,920x1,080 source according to DisplayMate. Unfortunately, the set's maximum resolution via VGA is much lower, just 1,360x768, and since that resolution doesn't match the panel's pixels exactly, we saw the usual softness around edges and funky-looking text.
|Before color temp (20/80)||6737/6742||Good|
|After color temp||N/A|
|Before grayscale variation||+/- 333K||Average|
|After grayscale variation||N/A|
|Color of red (x/y)||0.657/0.333||Average|
|Color of green||0.26/0.664||Poor|
|Color of blue||0.149/0.061||Good|
|Defeatable edge enhancement||Y||Good|
|480i 2:3 pull-down, 24 fps||Pass||Good|
|1080i video resolution||Pass||Good|
|1080i film resolution||Fail||Poor|
|Panasonic TH-46PZ85U||Picture settings|
|Picture on (watts)||454.51||329.05||N/A|
|Picture on (watts/sq. inch)||0.5||0.36||N/A|
|Cost per year||$138.58||$100.48||N/A|
|Score (considering size)||Poor|
How we test: TVs