Panasonic TH-50PZ750U 50" 1080p Plasma Television
Most of the features you expect of a modern HDTV are here: ATSC and QAM tuners for standard and over-the-air and cable HD broadcasts, respectively, and three HDMI connections (two in back, one in front).
The Panasonic also incorporates EZ Sync HDAVI Control, which lets you operate your other home theater components via a single remote control. The only catch is that those components must also be EZ Sync compatible.
An SD card slot on the front panel may be used to view digital photos. An anti-reflective screen is also said to cut down on reflections from the plasma's front glass. I didn't find it particularly effective.
The multi-component remote is well laid out, and while it has a lot of buttons, they are big enough for easy operation. It is not backlit, however, and you cannot select inputs directly.
There are four different picture mode settings: Vivid, Standard, Cinema, and Custom. They may each be configured separately for each input. Even if you use the same settings with all of the modes, however, you won't get the same picture. For example, the Cinema mode always looked a little soft and lacking in punch, no matter where I set the user controls.
The Color Management control is said to enhance green and blue, particularly on outdoor (bright) scenes. But I found its effect negligible. The C.A.T.A. control is said to "enhance brightness and gradation accordingly," but if it's supposed to be some sort of dynamic contrast feature I found it to have little effect.
Beware the control called Normal, which has two positions: No and Set. Whenever you input your own settings, the indicator for this control reads No. But if you select Set, it immediately wipes out your settings and reverts to the factory configuration for that mode. I strongly recommend writing down all of your preferred settings for each input in case they accidentally get deleted.
There's a lot to love here. Out of the box, the grayscale in the Warm Color Temperature setting measured just a hair under 6000K. Although a full calibration is desirable, out of the box the Warm setting was highly watchable.
The Panasonic's video processing (scaling and deinterlacing) going from 480i to the panel's native 1080p resolution was good, though short of the best I've seen. The set properly deinterlaced 1080i sources (video- or film-based) to the panel's native 1080p resolution, but like most current 1080p displays we've tested it did not recognize 3/2 pulldown with 1080i film-based sources.
The Panasonic's image was exceptionally clean, smooth, and free of obvious video noise from a normal viewing distance. The more time I spent with the Panasonic, the more I liked it.
It was an exceptionally relaxing set to watch, and when properly set up was neither too bright for films nor too dim for sports. While some of its colors were a bit too vivid—not unusual these days—a good calibration and a careful hand with the color control will keep things in line without noticeably washing out the color. While green remained just a little too day-glo aggressive on bright, sunlit foliage, it looked better on dimmer and overcast scenes.
Broadcast HD, via component from my cable system, wasn't quite as jaw dropping as the best high-definition discs, but viewed on its own terms it was fully satisfying.
720p programming over component from networks such as ESPN HD, Fox HD, and ABC HD into the Panasonic was softer looking than when those 720p sources were scaled and interlaced by my cable box and fed to the Panasonic at 1080i. I also found that a component multiburst test pattern showed little response from a 37.1MHz burst at 720p. With an HDMI connection, however, the 720p multiburst test pattern looked noticeably better out to 37.1MHz.
The Panasonic produces a punchy, rich image that only rarely, in the most challenging dark program material shows any sign of that dreaded gray haze. The Panasonic has the best deep black level I have yet measured on a plasma display, and the result is an image with outstanding richness and depth.
The Panasonic had problems that only cropped up under certain conditions. With a 1080p/60 signal, I got an image, but it was cropped off on both the right side and the bottom. The set would not lock onto a 1080p/24 source at all. Also, in some aspect ratios, particularly Zoom, the image was shifted drastically off-center. Fortunately, this did not affect the Full mode, which I used for most of my viewing. I had occasional trouble getting an HDMI lock with the Pioneer Elite BDP-HD1 Blu-ray player.
I was able to spend time with a sample of the less expensive TH-50PZ700U, which is functionally similar in many respects. This set worked fine with the Pioneer Blu-ray player, and did accept and properly display a 1080p/60 input. But it still did not respond properly to 1080p/24.
Also, the front HDMI input on our review sample did not work. We worked with Panasonic to try and get a look at a second sample in time for this report but that didn't happen.
The TH-50PZ750U was nearly flawless at deinterlacing difficult standard-def program material. The TH-50PZ700U I checked out performed poorly with the same material, suggesting that one significant advantage of the more expensive model is better video processing.
Putting it all Together
The Panasonic produced superb high-definition images from both high-definition discs and the best broadcast sources—in my case from HD cable.
The new buzzword in high-definition displays is 1080p, and manufacturers are tripping all over each other to elbow their way to the front of the line. The rush is on to outdistance those pesky LCDs, and with the TH-50PZ750U and its siblings Panasonic is in a strong position to meet the challenge. The TH-50PZ750U is a winner.
Outstandingly smooth yet detailed image
Highly detailed yet natural
Excellent black level and contrast
3/2 pulldown recognition could be better
Incompatible with 1080p/24