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Panasonic Viera TH-PZ800U review: Panasonic Viera TH-PZ800U

Panasonic Viera TH-PZ800U

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David Katzmaier
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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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5 min read

Editors' note: The rating on this review has been lowered and its Editors' Choice award removed because of changes in the competitive marketplace.

7.9

Panasonic Viera TH-PZ800U

The Good

Reproduces deep black levels and highly accurate color; excellent uniformity compared with rear-projection models; THX mode delivers accurate settings without calibration; relatively effective antireflective screen; solid connectivity with four HDMI and one PC input; handsome styling.

The Bad

Expensive; blacks not quite as deep as the best plasmas; optional 24p mode introduces flicker; fewer picture controls than most HDTVs.

The Bottom Line

The 58-inch TH-58PZ800U carries a big price tag compared with rear-projection alternatives, but its superb picture quality heightens its appeal.

The big-screen HDTV arena is still owned by rear-projection models, but with every passing year flat-panel versions, especially plasmas, fall in price and become attractive targets for folks seeking massive home theater pictures. But prices haven't fallen far enough yet for most people, so for the foreseeable future big-screen plasmas like the Panasonic TH-58PZ800U will remain playthings of the rich. If you can afford it, however, this HDTV provides compelling reasons to go flat aside from bragging rights and the possibility of wall-mounting. Those reasons revolve around picture quality, from deep black levels and highly accurate color to the kind of uniformity and viewing-angle performance that puts rear-projection models to shame. Yes, again Pioneer's Elite plasmas delivered better performance overall than this, Panasonic's best plasma for 2008, but for all but the most ardent videophiles the extra price to go Elite won't be worth it.

Design

Editors' note, October 13, 2008: The review originally indicated that the 58-inch TH-58PZ800U shares the same "single pane of glass" design found on the 50-inch TH-50PZ800U. That is incorrect; it has a traditional bezel raised about 1/4-inch from the screen.

The massive Panasonic has an unassuming look that differentiates itself somewhat by virtue of a slightly curved lower edge that forms the bottom of a sort of lower lip. Colored charcoal grey to contrast with the rest of the glossy black panel, the lower section bears the company logo and THX moniker and hiding a set of inputs behind a flip-down door and speakers in the crease of the lip.

The stand looks identical to the sloped number found on other 2008 Panasonic plasmas, but unlike the stand included on the 50-inch model, this one doesn't swivel. Including stand, the massive TH-58PZ800U measures 56.9 inches wide by 37.4 inches tall by 16.2 inches deep and weighs 136.9 pounds; divested of stand its size shrinks to 56.9 inches wide by 35.4 inches tall by 4.3 inches deep and its weight to 128.1 pounds. That's a lot of weight to be hanging on your wall, so we recommend using a professional installer if you want to go that route.

Panasonic's remote control remains the same as last year, and we remain fans of its layout. The medium-length wand groups the distinct sets of right-size buttons in an easy-to-feel arrangement, and although we'd have liked to see some backlighting, we didn't really miss it after a few minutes of becoming familiar with the button arrangement.

A familiar yellow-on-blue menu system leads to the television's setup functions, and although the graphics lack the panache of a Sony or a Samsung menu, navigation was intuitive enough. We liked that the company renamed its previously confusing "Normal" command to "Reset," which more accurately describes what it does to your picture settings.

Features
THX Display Certification heads the list of step-up features on the TH-58PZ800U. The certification calls for minimum standards in a number of categories, such as contrast ratio and color accuracy, although THX is characteristically silent as to the exact details of those standards. The TH-58PZ800U has a special picture preset that, when engaged, causes the TV's picture to comply with the certification. We'll detail its effects in the Performance section, and we describe more about the certification itself in this blog post.

Panasonic TH-58PZ800U
Like every other picture mode, THX on the Panasonic can be adjusted using the TV's picture controls.

Like most plasmas in Panasonic's 2008 lineup, the TH-58PZ800U has a native resolution of 1,920x1,080 pixels, or 1080p, which is fast becoming a standard feature on all flat-panel HDTVs, especially ones this large.

Picture controls on the TH-58PZ800U aren't as extensive as seen on many higher-end HDTVs. While we appreciated the ability to adjust all of the five picture modes, including THX, and the fact that the Custom mode is independent per input, we couldn't adjust color temperature beyond the three presets.

Advanced picture controls on the TH-58PZ800U include a color management control that we left off in THX mode; a "C.A.T.S." mode that changes contrast on the fly and so should be left turned off; two species of noise reduction, and a black level control. In case you're wondering, the step-up TH-PZ850U series series does include adjustable color temperature and a host of other picture tweaks, although it lacks THX certification.

Panasonic TH-58PZ800U
The Advanced picture menu contains a smattering of picture controls but not nearly as many as some competing high-end HDTVs.

Panasonic also touts Game mode, which turns out to be little more than an easy way to select a particular input. A quick press of the "Game" button on the remote toggles between any of the inputs that you've labeled "Game" using the input naming menu. Pressing that button does not engage the Game picture mode (which is simply another collection of adjustable picture settings) nor does it affect video processing or lag time between controller and screen--although, to be fair, such modes on other HDTVs have little value as far as we can tell.

The TH-58PZ800U offers five aspect ratio controls for HD sources, more than most HDTVs on the market. There's also a setting, called "HD Size 2," that lets the TV display every pixel of 1080i and 1080p sources without overscan or scaling. We recommend using Size 2 unless you notice interference along the extreme edges of the screen, which can occur on some HD sources. Unfortunately, selecting the THX picture mode doesn't automatically engage Size 2; you must go into a separate menu item to do so. We'd prefer HD Size 2 to be the default for all modes, or at least available among the standard selection of aspect ratios as opposed to buried in a setup menu. A selection of five modes is also available for SD sources.

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 to 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, but it does include one nice extra that really helps ameliorate power consumption--for a price. When you first plug in and set up the TV, it asks you whether you're in a store or home environment. Choosing "home" engages the Standard picture preset by default across all of the inputs, which saves quite a bit of power over the Vivid preset. This savings is reflected in our "="" rel="follow">Juice Box measurements, where default was measured in Standard mode.

Unfortunately, Standard measures a vanishingly dim 6.8 footlamberts max light output (23.2 cd/m-squared), whereas we consider 40 the standard for a completely dark room. Brighter rooms call for even higher light output. Engaging standard produced a dull picture that we consider inadequate for a TV of this level, and anyone who cares about picture quality will likely avoid using standard, and naturally use more power. The Juice Box numbers for Calibrated more accurately reflect the true power consumption for this TV.

The Panasonic TH-58PZ800U 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."

PRODNAME
The Panasonic's back panel includes three HDMI, two component-video and one PC input, among others.

The jack pack of the TH-58PZ800U is as well-equipped as any high-end HDTV we've seen, starting with three HDMI inputs on the back panel and a fourth available out front. A VGA-style PC input is also onboard (1366x760-pixel maximum resolution), along with two component video inputs, an AV input with composite or S-Video, an RF input for antenna or cable, as well as an optical and an analog audio output. In addition to that last HDMI input, the front panel also sports a second AV input with composite and S-Video, as well as an SD card slot for displaying digital photos on the big screen.

PRODNAME
A fourth HDMI input, along with an SD card slot, is available behind a flip-down door on the front panel.

Performance
The Panasonic TH-58PZ800U produces the second-best overall picture quality among flat-panel HDTVs we've tested this year. Its black level and color accuracy tested a notch below those of the
Pioneer PRO-111FD--a 50-inch plasma that we assume matches the performance of the 60-inch PRO-151FD--and several notches above anything else we've seen in its class, including the THX-certified 60-inch LG 60PG60.

With the relatively few picture controls on the TH-58PZ800U, our user-menu calibration took very little time. The main change, after selecting THX mode, was to get the light output as close to our 40 ftl target as possible, which in this case meant maxing out the contrast (picture) control. Very large plasmas, larger than 50 inches, are often dimmer than other types of displays and this Panasonic was no exception, although after calibration we still measured an acceptable 32 ftl in THX mode. Other non-THX picture modes allowed higher light output, but it wasn't worth the trade-off in color accuracy--only THX hit the Rec. 709 HD standard closely enough (see the Geek Box). We would have liked the capability to tweak grayscale on this set, but that wasn't possible. Check out the bottom of this blog post for our complete picture settings.

Our comparison involved the LG and the Pioneer 50-incher flanking the TH-58PZ800U, along with the 50-inch TH-50PZ800U and a token LCD, the Samsung LN52A650. We checked out Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World on Blu-ray courtesy of our PlayStation 3.

Black level: The Panasonic 58-inch plasma produced the deepest shade of black in our lineup aside from the reference Pioneer, out-blacking even its 50-inch brother by a surprising margin and looking a good deal darker than the 60-inch LG or the Samsung LCD. The differences were most obvious in dark scenes, such as the black background behind the "Napoleon" titles the shadowed ocean and silhouettes of the rigging and flag poles, and as always the letterbox bars above and below the image. Details in shadows, such as the underside of the bell, the folds in the hammocks and the heads of the darkened animals below decks, came across distinctly and with a natural rise out of black, in part thanks to the accurate (2.178) gamma imparted by THX mode.

Color accuracy: We measured a slightly redder grayscale on the 58-inch Panasonic than on its 50-inch brother, which made whitish areas, such as the fog and the sails of the HMS Surprise appear a bit ruddier than on the reference Pioneer. The difference is hardly a deal-breaker, and numerous other areas seemed less-affected by the redder tinge, which was still relatively close to the standard. Skin tones, like the face of Blakeney during his amputation, still appeared natural enough and not too reddish compared to the reference Pioneer. Primary and secondary colors were superb, from the green of the rainforest and fruit to the red of some sailors' military uniforms to the cyan of ocean water under the tropical sun. Colorful scenes looked rich and vibrant thanks to the Panasonic's deep blacks and solid color decoding. We also appreciated that near-black areas stayed true and didn't discolor as we've seen on so many other displays.

Video processing: Panasonic equipped this plasma with the capability to change its refresh rate, when fed a native 24-frame signal such as 1080p/24 from a Blu-ray player, from the standard 60Hz to 48Hz, to better match the 24-frame cadence and eliminate the 2:3 pull-down required for 60Hz displays. In theory that's good idea, but in practice the 48Hz refresh rate introduced significant flicker. The flicker was noticeable in every scene but increased in brighter areas, such as the frequent fields of cloud cover or bright skies. The benefit of somewhat smoother motion, without the subtle hitching characteristic of 2:3 pull-down, just wasn't worth the flicker for us, so we left the TV in standard 60Hz mode. It's worth noting that the Pioneer plasmas can refresh at 72Hz, which also avoids 2:3 pull-down but doesn't flicker.

In terms of resolution, the TH-58PZ800U performed as expected, resolving every line of 1080-resolution signals and properly deinterlacing video-based sources, although it failed the test for film-based deinterlacing. We counted between 800 and 900 lines of motion resolution on this set, which is about what we expected on a plasma TV, although not quite a high as either the LG or the Pioneer. As usual, we couldn't tell any difference between the TVs' resolutions in our side-by-side comparisons.

Uniformity: We usually skip this section with plasmas, but it's worth noting in the case of the big TH-58PZ800U because, compared to any rear-projection HDTV, a plasma will deliver a more-consistent picture when seen from off-angle, as well as better brightness and color uniformity across the screen.

Bright lighting: Compared with the Pioneer, which has the best antireflective screen of any plasma we've tested, the Panasonic didn't do as good a job of attenuating glare. Watching dark scenes with the lights turned on and the windows open, reflected objects in the room appeared bit brighter and more distracting in the Panasonic's screen than on the Pioneer. Dark areas also washed out more quickly than on the Pioneer or the Samsung LCD. Compared with the LG, however, the Panasonic's screen both reduced reflections and preserved black levels better.

Standard-definition: With lower-quality sources, the TH-58PZ800U performed about average in THX mode. It didn't quite resolve every detail of the DVD format, according to the resolution chart on the HQV DVD, and as a result details in the bridge and grass from that disc looked a bit softer than the other displays in our test. On the other hand the Panasonic did a fine job of removing jaggies from diagonal lines and a waving American flag, although not quite as good as the Pioneer or the LG. Its 2:3 pull-down detection kicked in effectively, if not quite as quickly as some sets we've tested. Its noise reduction performed well with low-quality material, too, cleaning up the motes in skies and sunsets as well as any of the displays in our test.

PC: With our test PC connected to one of the HDMI inputs, the TH-58PZ800U performed perfectly--as expected from any 1080p flat-panel--in THX mode, resolving every detail of a 1,920x1,080-pixel source with no trace of edge enhancement or shifted pixels. Text looked sharp and natural. When we tried the VGA input, however, we were only able to get a maximum of 1,366x760-pixel resolution (as the manual says), which of course resulted in softer looking text and an overall less-impressive image.

TEST RESULT SCORE
Before color temp (20/80) 5942/6020 Average
After color temp N/A  
Before grayscale variation +/- 412 Average
After grayscale variation N/A  
Color of red (x/y) 0.638/0.334 Good
Color of green 0.292/0.613 Good
Color of blue 0.152/0.06 Good
Overscan 0.0% 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
*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.

Panasonic TH-58PZ800U Picture settings
Default Calibrated Power Save
Picture on (watts) 196.37 363.45  
Picture on (watts/sq. inch) 0.14 0.25  
Standby (watts) 0 0  
Cost per year $60.78 $112.50  
Score (considering size) Good
Score (overall) Good

How we test TVs.

7.9

Panasonic Viera TH-PZ800U

Score Breakdown

Design 9Features 8Performance 7
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