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Panasonic TH-42PZ80U Plasma HDTV  Print E-mail
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Written by Thomas Spurlin   
Monday, 26 January 2009
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Panasonic TH-42PZ80U Plasma HDTV 
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Performance:

First up on the TH-42PZ80U’s gauntlet of signal tests was television viewing, handled in both high-definition and standard-definition signals.  Watching 1080 HD broadcasts of “LOST”, “The Office”, and “Heroes” – three highly-touted televised sources – were all extremely pleasing experiences.  Exceptionally impressive was “LOST”, a living, breathing contrast-boosted drudge through the gorgeously-lit contours of a tropical island.  Though stark in rendering shade levels, detail never gets drowned out during the broadcast.  During pixilated scenes with higher motion, the PZ80U doesn’t skip a heartbeat in rectifying the signal.  When tested with live broadcasts on the Today show, texture and color clarity was outstanding.   Put briefly, Panasonic’s set aptly handles HD broadcasts in the same fashion that they’re relayed to it.  At 480 resolution signals, however, it’s not quite as attractive; when either sent through the composite line or utilizing the HDMI port, the signal looks flat and murky – something that improves a bit when using HD channels, but not by much.  Utilizing the Zoom feature with downgraded 16x9 HD signals improves the experience, if that’s a necessary route.  

To test its capacity to display Blu-ray technology, the PZ80U was sent through a range of tests with Sony’s Playstation 3 – set to output 1080p/24 via HDMI -- that exercised multiple aspect ratios, grain structures, and content differences.   After popping in Disney’s WALL-E, an all computer-generated animation with an expectedly pristine 2.35:1 print, it’s clear that Panasonic have maintained their competence with color saturation.  WALL-E’s a vibrant film, ranging in blistering blues and reds in space to the burnt orange and sepia-stained post-apocalyptic world that the little robot cleans up.  Panasonic’s television handles the color range of its splendidly flawless AVC encode, keeping pace with Wall-E movement with grace.   

Alternately, it was time to display the Criterion Collection’s high-definition presentation of El Norte, a film framed in 1.78:1 that stretches to each and every corner of the television.  It’s a grainy, low-budget film without the Hollywood polish, but it’s still a marvelously gorgeous transfer of an older source.  Panasonic’s PZ80U handles the heavy grain admirably, while displaying the drastic color gradients and hidden details in the film with splendid austerity.   Finally, Kingdom of Heaven – a film with rich production values and abundant miniscule details – underwent the close of the Blu-ray tests.  Every nuance and color popped on-screen with its dual-layered MPEG 2 transfer, giving grand life to skin tones and gothic architecture while displaying strong film grain competency.   To say the least, this set offers a splendid 1080p film experience.  

Utilizing Toshiba’s HD-A2 for upscaled DVD screening, the Panasonic also handles standard definition film screening extremely well.  With the resolution output set to 1080i and 480i/p respectfully, I popped in Kingdom of Heaven’s standard-definition counterpart to see how it held up.  The result was surprisingly good in both accounts, rendering an image that handles itself with bravado next to its higher-tier technology.   Little difference could be discerned between the television’s internal upscaler and the DVD player’s capabilities, which speaks well for the PZ80U’s natural aptitude.   Even DVDs without widescreen enhancement– tested with Grosse Pointe Blank and Alfonso Cuaron’s Great Expectations – looked relatively outstanding when paired with the TV’s ZOOM picture setting, only clipping off a very mild amount (+ or – 2%) on each side of the image out of box.   Whether a new Blu-ray player still seems far in the future or if the television set is being purchased for the purpose of handling the new technology, this Panasonic will not disappoint.  

Plasmas tend to suffer a bit in when used as a console gaming monitor, and Panasonic’s PZ80U follows suit with some of the same problems as its predecessors.   However, its competence with gaming consoles was rather surprising, whether utilizing its “Game Mode” pre-set or not. After testing the unit with several Playstation 3 games – namely the ever-addictive Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion and Prince of Persia – it’s obvious that the unit suffers from the unavoidable green trailing; conducting sharp turns in a first-person style game, whether in high or low contrast areas, always resulted in a light green stream along brightly-lit areas.   It’s noticeable, without question, but the trail becomes less noticeable as time goes on.  What do look splendid are the amazingly vivid colors that come from its HDMI-source, along with the oft-mentioned contrast competence.   Tromping around Shivering Isles, a bright and colorful realm in Elder Scrolls, looked outstanding, while gliding from obstacle to obstacle in Prince of Persia really amazed with its beautiful cel-shaded motion.   Surprisingly, it’s during these gaming sessions when I notice image retention the most, all of which dissipates once the source either shuts off or loads anew.  

Even with 480p sources, like Playstation 2 and Nintendo Wii games, the amount of color and detail can be fairly surprising.  However, they do fair a bit worse than their higher-resolution counterparts.  After giving World of Goo and Resident Evil 4 a go on the Wii, they suffer from all the same problems – just to a higher degree.  It seems that higher-resolution games result in more intense green trails and, sadly, more blurry motion.  Considering that this is a range of low-definition feeds, they don’t suffer too much in the process.  


 
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