If you're looking for a large-screen display but can't decide between rival LCD and plasma technologies, then this review will help. Panasonic reserves all screen sizes above 32 inches for plasma and the difference in performance explains why.
Compared to similarly sized LCD models we've seen, the TH42PX600 is capable of far superior picture quality. Detail may not be quite as crisp, but this screen's superb contrast, cohesive movement and natural colour balance creates a more realistic picture than most LCDs can dream of.
It may be slightly more expensive than typical models, unless you shop around, but the uncompromised specification, stylish design and peerless performance means it's a price you won't mind paying in the long run.
Whether placed on the wall, a pedestal stand or as part of an accompanying full-size AV rack (options that are all available from Panasonic), this screen looks stunning. If you have the space then the seamlessly integrated AV rack, which allows you to store three tiers of associated equipment below, makes the most impressive style statement -- although it will cost you about £200 more.
The usual understated Viera hallmarks have been etched into the design including a matte-black frame, an invisible speaker system and excellent build quality throughout. The front panel doesn't appear as clean as previous models, however, with several visible joins at the base and sides.
A large panel on the front conceals several easy-access AV inputs and a limited collection of primary controls. A smaller panel next to it covers an SD memory card slot that can be used for various networking capabilities. This means you can view JPEG photos from a digital camera and even copy films onto the card in MPEG-4 format and play them back on a compatible portable player.
Rear-panel connectivity is as inclusive as a screen of this size should be. There are two HDMI digital inputs to accommodate high-definition sources, such as an HDTV receiver and a next-generation DVD player. The screen also supports HDAVi-Control, which allows it to communicate with related Panasonic products such as a DVD recorder or AV receiver. This means you can simultaneously control your entire system using the same remote and reduce the number of cables you'll need.
Analogue users are given an equally complete choice, with component inputs and three Scart terminals, of which two have been RGB-enabled to carry high-quality signals. There is also an RGB PC terminal that allows the screen to be used as a large-scale monitor, but unfortunately there's no dedicated PC audio input -- or a digital audio output, for that matter.
The spaciously arranged remote allows you to easily explore the menu system. The colour-coded keys offer shortcuts for several functions, including selecting the correct AV input.
As pioneers in plasma development, the underlying technology used by Panasonic, which is all developed in-house, is far more sophisticated than most models.
The company's V-Real picture system is an umbrella term for too many technologies to explain, but it includes a variety of processing systems all designed to optimise practically every picture element imaginable. The V-Real system also processes high-definition formats in their original condition while integrated Digital Remastering upconverts standard-definition signals to near-hi-def quality.
The screen's WXGA resolution will display both commonly used 720p and 1080i high-definition signals. This is generally fine for high-definition requirements such as watching Sky's HDTV broadcasts or playing upscaled DVD films. If you want to play the latest 1080p format used by next generation Blu-ray or HD DVD players and games consoles, however, you'll need an XGA resolution screen -- and they're considerably more expensive.
Integrated Freeview is almost a standard specification now and the screen also has support for a CI card slot, which allows you to subscribe to extra digital services from TopUp TV. If you're unlucky enough to fall outside a digital reception area there's also an integrated analogue tuner -- although performance isn't as impressive.
Compared to the on-paper specification, the practical menu system appears simple, using only three main sub-menus -- picture, sound and setup -- with a relatively basic assortment of options. There are some standard preset picture and sound modes with a few adjustments for noise reduction and colour management, but nothing out of the ordinary. As the important technology is at work behind the scenes, there's little need for fine-tuning and operation is incredibly easy as a result.
The screen's absolutely sensational performance reaffirms Panasonic's status as maker of the finest 42-inch plasma that less than two grand will buy. We expect Pioneer's latest generation panels to compete for the title of class leader, but they will be more expensive.
High-definition images look amazing, with unrivalled black levels enhancing detail and contrast. The almost infinite colour spectrum portrays vivid yet realistic tones with superb gradation. Movement glides across the screen without the slightest stutter, even during slow camera pans. The picture in general is alarmingly clean and stable.
Standard-definition images and digital broadcasts are equally impressive in their own right. There is slightly less detail, of course, but the image's dense definition with natural colours and movement mean you won't be disappointed, whatever input you use.
We can't even complain about the sound, as the new Advanced Smart Sound Speaker system manages to deliver surprising authority and expression from the slim units. Low-frequency sounds using integrated passive woofers are particularly impressive and carry enough weight to satisfy explosive film scores.
Edited by Mary Lojkine
Additional editing by Nick Hide