|Panasonic TH-42PZ77U Plasma HDTV|
|Home Theater Flat Panel HDTVs Plasma HDTVs|
|Written by Adrienne Maxwell|
|Thursday, 01 May 2008|
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Panasonic plasmas tend to struggle in the processing arena, and this one follows suit. Through both the HDMI and component video inputs, the TV’s de-interlacing is inconsistent at best. It often failed to correctly de-interlace 480i signals, resulting in jaggies and other digital artifacts in SDTV signals and in my reference scene from the Gladiator DVD. But then it turned around and passed the Venetian blind torture test in the Bourne Identity (Universal Studios Home Video) DVD. The same was true with 1080i content through both inputs. My HQV Benchmark Blu-ray disc (Silicon Optix) showed that the TV correctly de-interlaces 1080i to give you all the detail in these sources, but it doesn’t pick up the 3:2 sequence in film-based content and creates some odd blocking issues that I’ve never seen before with this test pattern. In Chapter Nine of the Mission: Impossible III (Paramount Home Entertainment) Blu-ray disc, I saw clear moiré in the steps, yet when I watched The Bourne Ultimatum (Universal Studios Home Video) on HD DVD at 1080i, I didn’t notice jaggies or other artifacts in the many ornate buildings and skyscraper flyovers. Because of the TV’s smaller screen size, digital artifacts are less obvious at a normal viewing distance. Still, combine the TH-42PZ77U’s inconsistent processing with the fact that it doesn’t accept a 1080p/24 signal, and that leaves 1080p/60 as the best HDMI output resolution for your high-def player. You should make sure to mate this TV with an up-converting or high-def player that has excellent processing of its own.
In general, I was much less impressed with the picture quality through the TV’s component video inputs. Standard-definition signals were noticeably soft, and there was a lot more digital noise with both SD and HD sources. The V for Vendetta HD DVD revealed a number of uneven light-to-dark transitions, and the picture was just generally noisy. Engaging the noise-reduction controls helped somewhat, but further softened the picture. I think the person who has embraced HDMI will ultimately be happier with the TH-42PZ77U’s performance.
Finally, this plasma TV doesn’t include common features to prevent or counteract the effects of short-term image retention, such as an orbiter that moves the image slightly or a test pattern that evens out the whole screen. The manual includes a warning about leaving static images on the screen for too long, especially 4:3 sidebars and JPEGs from a memory card, and I saw hints of short-term image retention when I left certain test patterns on the screen. The manual also claims that a screen saver will automatically appear after a few minutes of inactivity to prevent image retention, but I never saw this. As I said before, you should turn down this TV’s contrast and be mindful of static images, especially during the first 100 hours of use.
If you prefer plasma’s performance to LCD and really want 1080p at a 42-inch screen size, Panasonic is one of few companies to which you can turn. The TH-42PZ77U is currently the best deal in town in this category (at least until Panasonic’s new $1,600 TH-42PZ80U arrives), but it cuts some corners to achieve that lower price. Its input panel and features list aren’t as generous as those of other TVs on the market, and the anti-glare screen is something you might want to see for yourself before you buy. The TV doesn’t disappoint in the performance realm, offering a very attractive HD image, with great detail and color, through its HDMI inputs. The TH-42PZ77U may not offer the super-deep blacks and amazing three-dimensional contrast you’ll get from the best high-end panels on the market, but with both HD and SD content, it offers pleasing everyday performance at a pleasing everyday price.