Panasonic is a company known for its plasma televisions, but in the past few years Panasonic has produced some top-notch LCDs. And we think the 800 series is perhaps the best of the lot. While it may not achieve the lofty heights of its brethren, this television is a diamond in the rough.
Unlike its competitor, LG, which has a different design for its plasma and LCD ranges, Panasonic is sticking with its "apex" design for both ranges. Of course, this can make things confusing and on first glance it's hard to tell what this TV actually is. The black gloss bezel is the same as the silver trim at the bottom.
Unlike other TVs in the range, the SD card slot is located at the back underneath a little door. If the TV is wall mounted, it would make it difficult to access this port.
The remote control is the same as every other Panasonic remote we've seen in the last few years. It's big and fairly user-friendly, but getting a little stale. We also found that some of the buttons were a little "squeaky" — not a problem we've encountered with Panasonic remotes before.
The 800A is a full-HD screen with a native resolution of 1920x1080 pixels. To support this it has several features designed to maximise HD viewing, including an HD tuner, three HDMI ports and what Panasonic calls a "Sub-Pixel Controller" for reduced jagged edges.
The panel itself is a premium In-Plane Switching (IPS) Alpha Panel, which has a claimed 178-degree Viewing Angle. Black levels aren't as high as some of the other panel types, but still respectable at a dynamic 10,000:1 contrast ratio.
According to the online specs the television has a 100Hz mode, but nowhere on the TV itself or in the menu is this mentioned. When testing, the on-screen movement is fluid, but we don't think this TV has motion compensation.
Like many full-HD TVs, the Panasonic sets its sights on 1080p content but somehow neglects that most people are still watching standard-definition content. This revelation came out during our synthetic tests using the two HQV test disks. We found there was a wide disparity between, for example, the set's performance on jaggies tests between HD and SD was miles apart. The 800A aced the HD test — jaggies were nowhere to be seen — but in SD the performance was woeful. While anti-aliasing is only part of the picture, so to speak, it forms an important part of any television's picture processing suite.
Regular high-definition content, via Ten's afternoon documentaries, looked fantastic, and Blu-ray looked similarly fine, though lacking some very fine detail. Standard definition also looked good, although it wasn't able to make the most of the King Kong DVD without a little adjustment to the sharpness levels — the default picture modes are a little soft.
For an LCD, the black levels were rather good, and the new Batman Begins Blu-ray looked realistically gloomy, yet still brimmed with detail.
That's one problem with this TV, and Panasonics in general — they lack a User mode and fine calibration controls. Inevitably, you'll need to choose one of the presets, with Normal and Cinema looking best, though we found they still needed some adjusting.
Despite missing 100Hz as advertised, we think that the set is better without it, and it still has 24p Blu-ray support. But we weren't prepared for how smoothly the Panasonic tracks motion, even on DVD. And there were none of the artefacts you'd normally associate with 100Hz modes either.
We were very impressed by the Panasonic's off-axis performance — it was uniformly excellent. In fact, it performed almost as well as a CRT or Pioneer Kuro in this regard, so if you're looking for a TV you can view comfortably from anywhere in the room this is the one to get.
No blurring, no "triple-balling" (don't giggle, that's what 100Hz ghosting is also called) and good viewing angles. This is an LCD that simply refuses to act like one.
Sound quality was generally good, with Music mode sounding best for all content. Speech mode didn't really boost intelligibility and mostly came off sounding thin.
Judged against Panasonic's own plasma TVs the LZD800A comes off wanting, but against its competitors it's definitely a good screen. It may not have the fancy design or gimmicks of theor ' of this world, but you know that the money you pour into the 800 series is going to be spent on picture quality. Surely the bezel is of secondary importance.