LCD televisions have been hogging the limelight recently and it's easy to forget that for all their glory they're only now catching up to the level of image quality that plasma TVs have enjoyed for a while. In that time, plasma manufacturers haven't exactly been sitting on their collective hands either and Panasonic has just released its shiny new eighth-generation Viera plasma displays to market.
- Superb image quality, HDMI input, high definition
- Could do with more in-depth image controls for the tweakers out there
One of the best plasma units we have seen - and good value too
Price$ 4,999.00 (AUD)
The exact model we're looking at is the 42-inch, high-definition TH-42PV500, of which there's also a 50-inch version and another, cheaper standard-definition version. Interestingly, due to physical limitations inherent in the plasma panel manufacturing process the resolution of the eighth-generation panel used in the 42PV500 remains unchanged from its predecessor at 1,024 x 768. This is something that might seem at first unusual - in a world where we're used to specifications that make exponential leaps and bounds with the passing of each generation - but ultimately is no big deal as the pixel count is high enough already to display a true 720p high-def signal.
Where the real technological progression comes in, is the video processing behind it all and the actual composition and electrical interaction of the gases that a plasma panel is made of. In terms of video processing, Panasonic has introduced an updated colour management system (the imaginatively named Viera Colour Management System), the aim of which is to smooth the onscreen image and eliminate those horrible colour banding problems some flat-panel TVs are prone to. The new engine is capable of producing roughly twice the number of graduations in colour shading as previous models and although there are still rare occasions when colour banding is noticeable, it is better than ever now. In fact, overall colour accuracy is so good we even got over the fact there was no way to tweak red, green and blue channels individually. There's really no need since the Panasonic engineers seem to have got it spot on and the single, all-encompassing colour slider is all you need for setting the overall colour saturation to your personal taste.
Black levels and contrast are superb thanks to two things - a new black filter has been applied to the glass to optimise light output, and a new, more energy-efficient mix of gas has been used that illuminates at a lower electrical charge. According to Panasonic, this raises maximum brightness by 10% and results in a wonderfully bright and vibrant onscreen image.
All our test discs looked as good as we've ever seen them - The Two Towers Extended Edition waivers between light and dark scenes every few minutes and is a great way of seeing how a display handles highly contrasting scenes and shadow detail. The Incredibles, on the other hand, has a colour palette at the opposite end of the scale with plenty of saturated reds and pin-sharp detail. Again, the 42PV500 did a sterling job reproducing the information packed away on this disc.
Of course image quality is only part (admittedly the biggest part) of the allure of a new TV; how easy it is to set up and use goes a long way towards making the perfect telly. To this end the menu system, the way you tune the channels and the way you access various settings is as simple as ever.
Onboard speakers lack punch and bass but are otherwise perfect for everyday TV viewing, while input options are in abundance with both HDMI and component sockets on hand for the ultimate in image quality. We feel this is easily one the best value and best quality large-screen televisions to date.
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