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Panasonic TH-42PZ77U Plasma HDTV Print E-mail
Thursday, 01 May 2008
Article Index
Panasonic TH-42PZ77U Plasma HDTV
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Television and Movies
I began by connecting the TH-42PZ77U to Pioneer’s BDP-95FD Blu-ray player, set for the Source Direct mode that outputs every source at its native resolution. When I tried to play my first Blu-ray disc, I discovered that the TV doesn’t accept 1080p/24 through its HDMI inputs. Well, that’s not entirely true. It kind of accepts it, displaying the image in a window that takes up about two-thirds of the screen. I’ve never seen this before in an HDTV; usually the HDMI inputs either display the 1080p/24 signal or they don’t. Anyhow, I switched the player to 1080p/60 output and settled in with test scenes from my favorite Blu-ray discs: Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl (Buena Vista Home Entertainment), Kingdom of Heaven (20th Century Fox Home Entertainment), The Corpse Bride (Warner Home Video), The Prestige (Buena Vista Home Entertainment) and Lost: The Complete Third Season (Buena Vista Home Entertainment).

With all of these high-quality transfers, the TV’s level of detail was excellent, and colors looked rich and inviting. The warm color temperature setting produces a color palette that looks to be a little warmer than the 6500-Kelvin reference; skin tones were a bit on the red side, but it wasn’t excessive. I found the color temperature to be fairly consistent across the board, not veering too cool in the dark scenes of The Corpse Bride. For those people who prefer a little more “pop” in their whites, the normal color temperature provides a slightly cooler (or bluer) color palette, without being too inaccurate. I also experimented with the color management feature, using the island greens of Lost as my reference. With this feature turned on, greens had that slightly unnatural, neon-like quality that we see in so many flat panels. Disabling the feature produced a more natural-looking green, which I preferred. In all, I found colors to be vibrant and eye-catching, without appearing oversaturated or cartoonish.

The TH-42PZ77U’s black level is also good, which allows the image to retain saturation in a dark room. I connected the TV to Toshiba’s HD-A35 HD DVD player to try out my favorite black-level demos from Batman Begins (Warner Home Video) and V for Vendetta (Warner Home Video). The overall black level doesn’t quite measure up (or would it be “measure down”?) to the best flat panels I’ve seen, like the Pioneer KURO or Samsung 81 Series, but hey, this product doesn’t carry those TVs’ prices, either. For the money, these are some of the best true blacks you’re likely to find, and black detail is very good. The dark brick backgrounds in Batman Begins (try saying that 10 times quickly) retained fine detail, and I could discern the individual folds and distinct textures in V’s black coat in V for Vendetta. The TH-42PZ77U also has solid light output, so brighter scenes from Pirates of the Caribbean and Kingdom of Heaven had nice pop, without seeming flat. The same proved true when I switched to HDTV content, which also boasted great detail and rich colors. In my darkened theater, the combination of good black and white levels produced a grabbing image with very good contrast. Of course, when it comes to light output, this plasma still can’t compete with LCD. As I mentioned, the Cinema picture mode was a bit dim for a bright room, and even the Custom mode I set up wasn’t abundantly bright, so the TH-42PZ77U may not be the best choice for a sunlit room in which you plan to do a lot of daytime viewing.

The good news is, the anti-glare screen successfully cuts down on light reflection off the glass, an issue for all plasmas. This design doesn’t get rid of reflections entirely, but it definitely provides improvement. With my blinds open and room lights on, I was better able to discern fine details in dark scenes from The Bourne Supremacy (Universal Studios Home Video) and Signs (Buena Vista Home Entertainment) on DVD. What’s the difference between this model’s anti-glare screen and the anti-reflective screen in the TH-42PZ700U? The anti-reflective screen is a shinier screen that filters out specific light frequencies, while the anti-glare screen has a duller finish that diffuses all light reflections, more like a basic LCD screen. The resulting image has a slightly duller quality compared to the better contrasts of an anti-reflective screen. I think it’s something you need to compare for yourself in a bright environment to see which type of screen you prefer. (It’s worth noting that Panasonic has decided to exclusively use anti-reflective screens in their 2008 lineup, due out this spring and summer.)

Next, I switched the Pioneer Blu-ray player back to Source Direct mode to see how the TH-42PZ77U handled 480i DVD content. Through the HDMI inputs, the TV’s up-conversion was on par with the better Blu-ray players I’ve seen, resulting in good detail in scenes from Signs, Gladiator (DreamWorks Home Entertainment), The Bourne Identity (Universal Studios Home Video) and Lost: The Complete Second Season (Buena Vista Home Entertainment). Standard-def TV channels also fared pretty well in the detail department; they weren’t soft, but they also weren’t quite as clean and detailed as I’ve seen through other HDTVs. Speaking of a clean signal, the TH-42PZ77U’s picture doesn’t contain a lot of digital noise, at least through the HDMI inputs. The light-to-dark ramp in Title 18, Chapter 7 of Video Essentials contained noticeable lines and one big jump in the dark grays, indicating that the TV can’t smoothly reproduce all of the steps between white and black, which usually translates as digital noise in grays and solid-colored backgrounds. However, with real-world test scenes from the Lost, Signs and Ladder 49 (Buena Vista Home Entertainment) DVDs, the picture through the HDMI inputs was cleaner than I expected. The light-to-dark transitions in Signs and the facial close-ups in Lost were fairly smooth, and the smoke that hangs over Chapter 10 of Ladder 49 looked like smoke, not pixels. I wouldn’t classify the TH-42PZ77U as outstanding in this respect; look close (or sit close), and you’ll see some noise and uneven steps in light-to-dark transitions. That was true even with HD content like The Prestige and Fox’s Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles, but I wasn’t overly distracted by it … and I’m pretty sensitive to the noise issue.

The TH-42PZ77U exhibited minimal motion blur in the test sequences on the FPD Software Group Blu-ray test disc. During the NBA All-Star game on TNT HD, the faces in the background retained a nice level of detail during quick camera pans up and down the court. Combine that with excellent detail and rich colors, and HDTV sporting events really highlight the TH-42PX77U’s strengths.

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