|Panasonic TH-42PZ80U Plasma HDTV|
|Home Theater Flat Panel HDTVs Plasma HDTVs|
|Written by Thomas Spurlin|
|Monday, 26 January 2009|
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Staying their course, Panasonic have continued their ever-popular PZ plasma line with their 42” TH-42PZ80U – a 1920x1080p, native 20,000:1 contrast ratio set with plenty of experience underneath the hood. They’ve been the go-to line for budget plasmas for quite a while now, tweaking and perfecting their models to the best of its capabilities. This model represents one of the better marriages in budget and quality available on the market, which etches the PZ80U out as a strong option in the midsize flat-panel television market. Sitting comfortably at a list price hovering underneath $1,300, you’ll find a lot to love with this bang-for-the-buck unit.
Recently, Panasonic made a consumer-conscious decision to steer away from silver cabinet units, instead draping them in a glossy black chassis. The PZ80U is no exception, and it’s a design beauty: sitting at roughly 29 inches high on stand, 41 inches across including frame, and 3 inches thick (14 inches back to front including stand), it’s covered from top to bottom with glossy black material. Sporting a semi-bowed silver stripe near the bottom of the set itself, it has a nice touch of flare. However, keep the light sources in the television’s room in mind, because glare will be a problem; while attractive and glossy to look at, the Panasonic reflects a lot of light against the chassis. The thick glass protecting the plasma screen itself fares a bit better considering the Anti-Reflective filter toted on the box, but – as with all plasmas, especially budget ones of its ilk – there’s still a glassy reflection to consider. Keep all windows in mind with placement, along with plans to purchase a set of thick curtains for those within a 15+ foot radius.
To the rear, the Panasonic sports a standard array of plug-in options without much in the frill department. Two HDMI ports, two Component plugs, a standard cable line, and two standard Video plugs lay the groundwork for wiring up all the electronic devices hovering underneath the television. Unlike its nearly-identical big brother, the Panasonic TH-42PZ85U, it doesn’t have a PC-input to enable usage as a computer monitor. It does, however, have a handy SD card slot on the front panel for easy image/video viewing, presented in a stripped-down, no-frills layout that gets the job done. Speaking of front-loaded plugs, an extra HDMI slot, S-Video, and standard L/R sound inputs are available underneath the slickly-hidden panel.
The remote is a bland affair, sporting a stripped-down and basic block-button style that won’t come as a surprise to any Panasonic-brand purchasers. It’s a predominately black remote, sporting large numbers in the lower half of the casing while keeping the Channel [CH] and Volume [VOL] buttons near the center of the construct. At the top, the compass-style maneuver button helps to navigate through the MENU, which is clearly accessible from the large button at the top. On each side, there is the TV VIDEO toggle button, a SUB MENU Button and both RETURN and EXIT buttons corresponding to the others. Aside from the rest, there are five brightly-colored buttons: the POWER button, as well as the R,G,B, and Y buttons that hover directly underneath the menu functions. If you’ve handled any of Panasonic’s remotes before in the past – whether we’re talking about television or DVD player remotes – this will feel quite comfortable. To keep with cost efficiency, this low-brow remote hasn’t been built with a backlight.
Once you’ve reached the Picture function in the remote menus, the TH-42PZ80U’s setup process will feel extremely familiar if you’ve spent some time with a Panasonic flat-panel before. Along with the pre-set adjustments, labeled Vivid, Standard, Cinema, and Game, there’s the Custom Picture mode where you can tweak the Picture, Brightness, Color, Tint, Sharpness, Color Temp, Color Mgmt., and x.v. Color. Toggling these options offers a flexible and responsive picture adjustment experience, ones that help match coloring with the demonstration disc of your choosing. Most of these were set to higher than average levels, but none of them were turned to maximum strength. These options are a bit limited and rigid in making minor adjustments, but still offer enough tweaking to reach desired results.
Aspect ratio selection mirrors Panasonic’s other efforts as well, marked by Full, Just (modified stretch) 4:3, and Zoom. One earmark that I particularly favor is the Zoom Adjust function, where the Zoom option in your FORMAT range can be tailored to the source. It’s a useful tool if you own films that aren’t enhanced for 16x9 sets – whether they’re non-anamorphic DVDs or Letterbox VHS – but it’s a chore to adjust. Its setting out of the box, however, is surprisingly spot-on (see DVD discussion below). Under the “advanced” options, there’s a Video Noise Reduction, 3D Y/C filter, Color matrix HD/SD selection, MPEG Noise Reduction, Light/Dark Black Level toggle and an HD size toggle. I left the HD size in the “2” position – revealing the entire picture – while making sure that the Light black levels and HD Color matrix option were selected for all sources.
On the Audio side of things, the first menu only gives the option to adjust Bass, Treble and Balance between the full-range 20W speakers. Under the advanced settings, however, there’s a host of other options: there are AI Sound and Surround functions which alter the dimensionality of the source, Bass Boost and Audio Leveler which bolster desired areas of the audio source, as well as a Yes/No Speaker Output toggle. Furthermore, it gives the options to select the source of your HDMI source’s audio – Digital, Component 1, Component 2, Video 1 or Video 2. Often than not, it’s wise to leave the Bass Boost function alone to preserve cone integrity within the speakers, while choosing the AI and Surround functions is at listener discretion – though neither have really impressed me with past Panasonic sets, both sounding a little hollow and echoed.