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Big doesn't have to mean ugly, as the Panasonic Viera TH50PX600 proves. If you're looking for a large-screen television, and have the room for an enormous 50-inch display, then you'll almost certainly want to consider this stunning set.
If there was a showcase of the best plasma screens, this TV would almost certainly be there, and leading the pack to boot. The blacks are black and the contrast is excellent. Even the picture from the built-in Freeview receiver is reasonable -- although a screen this size can't help but show the flaws in the Freeview signal.
The £2,300 price tag on this set might put some people off, and it doesn't support the 1080p format, but if you decide to shell out for it, you'll be assured amazing picture quality. Plus it will look really cool in your front room. If you can't quite afford this 50-inch set, consider Panasonic's 42-inch version, the 42PX600, which offers the same amazing performance, for under £1,500, or maybe even think about getting a projector.
Our review sample came with the pedestal stand (model TH50PX600PED). You can also get it with a wall bracket (TH50PX600W, around the same price), or a full AV cabinet (the TH50PX600CAB, which is around £400 more, and is the version pictured above). If you're going for the pedestal option, you'll need something sturdy to put the TV on -- it weighs a hefty 43kg.
If you are paying well over £2,000 for a TV, you want to be sure it's going to look the part in your front room. Rest assured, this is a stunning television. It's finished in both matte black and silver. The attached speakers are well concealed too, only visible at very close range.
The front panel includes a cover that hides some basic input sockets for connecting a camcorder or other equipment. There are both composite video and S-Video inputs, as well as stereo audio in. An SD card slot is provided, allowing you to use the television as an oversized digital photo frame. There are also simple controls for adjusting the channel and volume, as well as cycling through the various inputs.
At the rear, the set has a decent range of connections, including two HDMI sockets, component video in, RGB PC input and three Scart inputs -- two of which are RGB-enabled for the best quality video signals from standard DVD players and Sky or cable set-top boxes.
Selecting the correct input source can be annoying, as the remote's TV/AV button doesn't cycle through every input -- it only toggles between the built-in Freeview receiver and AV in. To pick the input you must switch to AV in and then use the four coloured buttons towards the middle of the remote. This is a little clumsy, but not a deal-breaker.
One of the Panasonic TH50PX600's interesting features is its ability to record to and playback from an SD card. The TV can record the programme you are watching to an SD card, and there are various quality options that enable you to squeeze the most out of your card.
Expect to fit 1 hour 20 minutes of video on a 1GB card at full quality and 21 hours 20 minutes at the worst quality setting. While the quality isn't sufficient for playback on the TV, it's handy for the smaller screens in Panasonic's D-Snap range of multifunctional devices. Unfortunately, we weren't able to get the MPEG-4 video playing on a PC. Additionally, as we pointed out earlier, the television will also show photos stored on the memory card.
The TH50PX600 supports inputs up to 1080i. The resolution of the display is 1,366x768 pixels, so 720p material looks great and 1080i footage is scaled to fit. The TV will not display the cutting-edge 1080p format. A Freeview receiver is built in, as is an analogue TV tuner, although we really can't recommend using the latter, as the picture doesn't translate well to a 50-inch display.
The menu system is simple to navigate. Usual controls for picture are available, including brightness, colour, contrast, sharpness and P-NR, which is Panasonic's noise reduction system. The sound menu is similar, offering control over bass, treble and balance. It also allows you to turn the SRS TruSurround XT virtual surround-sound system on and off.
There is very little that can be said against the picture quality of this set. To see what it could do, we watched a few HD DVD movies on Toshiba's HD-E1 player. Firstly we put blacks to the test with the sci-fi film Serenity. We were stunned by how great the black levels in the space scenes were -- the picture was crisp and colourful and the set showed us details we could never have hoped to see before. Our Happy Gilmore disc also proved that the set can display beautiful rich colours as well -- we don't think grass has never looked so green.
We did experience the odd picture problem. The edges of the Universal logo at the start of The Bourne Identity HD DVD looked a little noisy, for example, and we also spotted a small amount of grain when close up, but this would never bother you unless you sat within a half a metre of the screen.
The quality of video from Denon's DVD-1930 upscaling DVD player was very good indeed, although we could see the odd picture artefact when watching Ronin.
Standard-definition television from Freeview -- via the built-in receiver -- is decent. It's not on a par with hi-def material, but it does a very good job with what is essentially a low-quality source. Our experience with a lunchtime showing of Neighbours was that the picture was watchable, but quite soft.
Sound from the set is excellent. The speakers may look small, but they have hidden depths providing excellent quality sound, with booming bass when the soundtrack required it.
Edited by Jason Jenkins
Additional editing by Nick Hide