Panasonic TH-65PX600U 65-inch Plasma HDTV 
Home Theater Flat Panel HDTVs Plasma HDTVs
Written by Adrienne Maxwell   
Sunday, 01 April 2007

I’m not sure what I was thinking when I requested a review sample of Panasonic’s TH-65PX600U. No, that’s not true. I know exactly what I was thinking: “Hmmmmm, 65-inch 1080p plasma…ooooooooo.” The allure of it managed to push a few relatively important details aside, such as where in my house I would put it and how I planned to get it there. The panel weighs 174.2 pounds – that’s without the speakers or pedestal stand, both of which are optional accessories that cost extra ($600 and $1,200, respectively). Needless to say, this isn’t the type of product you casually throw up on the wall for a short-term viewing period, so I went with the optional stand, which is itself a serious piece of hardware: it weighs about 55 pounds, and its base (48.9 by 16.5 inches) is too large to sit atop my normal gear rack or any other short cabinet in my home, for that matter. Ultimately, I decided that, for my purposes, it would be fine to simply set the plasma on the floor.

Then there was the fact that I wasn’t strong enough to help my husband lift the panel out of its box and into said stand. Normally my pride prevents me from admitting when a piece of equipment is too heavy, but this time I had to acknowledge my complete and utter lack of upper body strength and call in reinforcements. The TH-65PX600U’s box shows four people unloading the panel; we used two, but we didn’t have far to go. If you plan to mount this panel on the wall, I highly recommend you adhere to the four-person rule. Once the spot was chosen and the plasma unloaded, all that remained was the small task of rearranging the entire room to accommodate my new toy. After all that, you may wonder, did these ergonomic challenges in any way deter my enjoyment when I finally turned on the TV? Nope. Would I do it all again? Yep.

The absence of speakers gives the TH-65PX600U a clean, straightforward look, and the build quality and aesthetic are of a higher-end caliber than other Panasonic plasmas I’ve reviewed. An inch and a half of black frame surrounds the 65-inch screen, and a two-inch, brushed-silver bezel runs along the bottom panel, housing on/off, channel, volume, input and guide buttons, an SD card slot and a set of A/V inputs, including one of this set’s three HDMI inputs. Despite its monitor-like appearance, this is a television, with internal ATSC, NTSC and QAM tuners, plus a CableCARD slot. The internal tuners share a single RF input; the channel scan is fairly quick, and it’s easy to set favorites and delete channels once the process is complete. In conjunction with my Terk HDTVi antenna, the internal ATSC tuner successfully found all of the major channels in my area and did a decent job of holding the signal, although I’ve seen better.

The remote looks like just about every Panasonic remote: it lacks backlighting and dedicated input buttons, but has a clean, intuitive layout. The TH-65PX600U uses the TV Guide Onscreen program guide and includes a G-Link port/cable for controlling an external cable box. Split-screen is the only PIP option, and you can’t view HDMI, PC, or SD Card sources through the PIP system. Should you forego the optional speakers, both optical digital and stereo analog audio outputs are available to send audio signals to an external sound system. If you do add speakers, the onscreen menu includes basic treble, bass and balance adjustments, an audio leveler, simulated surround and a set of BBE sound modes.

The connection panel isn’t extensive, but includes a decent amount of HD-capable inputs. As I mentioned, you get three HDMI inputs, including one on the front panel, which makes it easy to temporarily connect a product like the PlayStation 3 after you’ve already mounted the display on a wall. The remaining HDMI inputs – as well as two component video, one VGA, two S-video and two composite video inputs – reside in an easily accessible recessed panel on the unit’s backside. This plasma features Panasonic’s HDAVI control system; if you connect this TV to other HDAVI products via HDMI, you can automatically power the system, switch inputs and control devices in a more intuitive way.

As with connection options, the number of picture adjustments is adequate but not extensive. You can choose between three preset picture modes (Vivid, Standard, and Cinema) and make adjustments to color temperature (Cool/Normal/Warm), contrast (Picture), brightness, color, tint and sharpness for each mode. Advanced adjustments include a color management option to “enhance” green and blue, a CATS setting that affects contrast, and noise-reduction options for video, blocking and mosquito noise. The TV has four aspect ratio modes, but no automatic aspect ratio detection. You can adjust the color of 4:3 sidebars, and the menu includes two options for 16:9 content: the default Size 1 shows 97 percent of the image, with just enough overscan to cut off any undesirable or unused edges; Size 2 is a true 1:1 mode that shows 1,920 x 1,080 content pixel for pixel, which is the ideal choice if you mate this with a high-def DVD player.

As with other Panasonic displays, the TH-65PX600U doesn’t let you make separate adjustments to each picture mode for the different inputs. If you choose the Cinema mode, for instance, you can’t make one set of adjustments for component video and another for HDMI. On the plus side, the Standard and Cinema modes are similar enough that, with some minor adjustments to the general picture controls, you can enjoy pleasingly natural images through both. The first thing you want to do is turn down the sharpness control to eliminate some visible edge enhancement. Second, you want to turn down the contrast to less than two-thirds of its maximum setting. I noticed some phosphor lag, in which the screen retains a ghost of an image, when moving between test patterns and switching from 4:3 to 16:9 content. Plasmas are especially susceptible to short-term image retention during their first 100 hours of use; turning down the contrast helps minimize this, and you’ll also want to be mindful about leaving 4:3 sidebars and stationary content up for too long when you first break in the TV.

From a color temperature standpoint, both the Standard and Cinema modes appear to be a little warmer than neutral, with the Cinema mode looking redder than the Standard mode, but neither is far enough off the mark to adversely affect skin tones or overall image quality. Where the two modes differ is in contrast ratio. Panasonic has a reputation for delivering the best blacks in plasma, and this TV is no exception. Using a luminance meter, I measured the exact same black level (0.018 foot-lamberts) in both picture modes. Given the screen size, I wasn’t surprised to find that this TV has less light output than Panasonic gets out of its smaller plasmas: with a full-field white pattern, I measured around 15 ft-L for both modes, giving the TV a solid contrast ratio (for a plasma) between 826:1 and 861:1. However, in the Standard mode, the light output in a white window, which is arguably a better reflection of real-world content, gets much brighter (33.6 ft-L), and the TV’s contrast ratio goes up to 1,866:1. With this in mind, I used the Standard mode primarily for viewing HD cable, via component video, as this source sees a lot more action during the day. I went with the Cinema mode for the HDMI input, as it did a fine job with darker, more cinematic content from standard and high-def DVD sources.

Television and Movies
Normally I begin a TV review with standard-definition content and work my way up the quality chain. However, when this TV arrived, I happened to have both a Toshiba HD-XA1 HD DVD player and Samsung BD-P1000 Blu-ray player (with the firmware upgrade that fixed the performance issues) on hand, so I couldn’t resist the urge to start at the top. Beginning with a couple of excellent HD DVD transfers – V for Vendetta (Warner Home Video) and Swordfish (Warner Home Video) – sent at a 1080i resolution, the first trait to jump out at me was the TH-65PX600U’s great detail. I’ve grown accustomed to a certain softness in 720p plasmas, due to their lower horizontal resolution compared with LCD. With a full 1,920 x 1080 canvas to work with, the TH-65PX600U brings out the fine detail in faces and backgrounds; further assisting in this process is the TV’s more precise shading and contrast, compared with a backlight-based technology. Black detail in V’s dark coat was excellent. The Black Hawk Down (Columbia/TriStar Home Entertainment) Blu-ray disc is another beautiful transfer, filled with detail and rich in complex shading, and the TH-65PX600U did a superb job handling every nuance, especially when receiving 1080p from the player. Colors were rich and lush, although purists will note that greens and reds look somewhat exaggerated.

It was more of the same when I switched to HDTV programming: excellent detail, rich color and finer contrast that gave the image outstanding depth. The TH-65PX600U will expose quality differences between HD broadcasts. CBS consistently serves up the highest-quality HD images: How I Met Your Mother was very clean, with wonderfully rich colors and excellent detail. NBC shows like Heroes and The Black Donnellys had good detail, color and black detail, but were also noisier. To evaluate the plasma’s handling of motion, I checked out an HDNet hockey game, as well as several basketball games on ESPN and TNT HD. Compared with my 37-inch reference LCD, the plasma did a better job retaining details in the background as the camera moved quickly around the arena. It also does an equally good job with 1080i and 720p signals, which isn’t always the case; however, if you plan to use HDMI for your cable or satellite programming, these inputs are a little slow to pick up the signal when switching between resolutions.

Standard-definition DVDs also looked good on the TH-65PX600U. Test patterns and demo scenes from Kill Bill Volume 1 (Buena Vista Home Entertainment) and Lost: The Complete Second Season (Buena Vista Home Entertainment) show 480i DVDs to be a little soft, which isn’t surprising on a screen this large. Those Lost episodes boasted rich color and good black detail, with little digital noise in grays and solid colors. The TV’s good black level gives darker films like The Bourne Supremacy (Universal Home Video), Collateral (DreamWorks), and The Corpse Bride (Warner Home Video) great depth in a dark room, and you don’t loss image saturation when viewing the TV from an angle.

Speaking of image saturation, plasma can't compete with LCD in terms of overall light output, and light reflection off the glass panel is still a concern. Watch a dark scene in the middle of the day, and you'll see reflections in the screen. As such, plasma isn't a good fit for a really bright, sun-filled room. In my moderately lit living room, I watched a good deal of programming during the day. Neither the reflections nor the TV's overall light output was a concern with brighter HDTV content, especially sporting events, which looked rich and well saturated. SDTV and DVD content also had good saturation, but the glass reflections were more distracting when I watched consistently dark films like Collateral and The Prestige. Of course, these types of films are better suited to a darkened viewing environment, no matter what type of display technology you use.

The Downside
The TH-65PX600U’s main performance issue is one I’ve found with other Panasonic plasmas: processing. The TV’s scaling is solid; as I mentioned, 480i DVDs lack some detail, but neither DVD nor SDTV is excessively soft. It’s the deinterlacing that is a concern. Stair-stepping and shimmer were consistently evident with 480i SDTV signals, be they film- or video-based. The TV created noticeable jaggies in my standard DVD torture test from chapter 12 of Gladiator (DreamWorks) and didn’t fare much better with video-based DVD signals, like my Pilates DVD (Guthy-Renker) – all of those diagonals give a TV quite the workout. If you’re still watching a lot of standard-definition DVD movies, you’ll want to mate this TV with a good progressive-scan or upconverting DVD player.

Wisely, Panasonic has paid more attention to the TV’s deinterlacing ability with 1080i content. The HQV HD DVD test disc revealed that it correctly deinterlaces 1080i and picks up the 3:2 signal with 1080i film content, although it’s somewhat slow in doing so. I saw fewer artifacts with 1080i HDTV and high-def DVD content, but they didn’t disappear entirely. With the Black Hawk Down BD, I perceived a bit more detail when receiving 1080p from the Samsung player, as opposed to 1080i, suggesting that the player’s internal deinterlacer does a better job. The best solution to the processing dilemma is to invest in a high-quality 1080p scaler through which you can route all of your signals, but it isn’t an absolute necessity.

Digital noise was also a minor concern. As I mentioned earlier, the TH-65PX600U will expose quality differences between signal types, and the larger screen made it easier to see compression artifacts like mosquito noise and blocking in my HD cable signal. A 1080p display can reveal more high-frequency noise in a signal. With lesser-quality HD feeds from TNT, PBS, or NBC, I noticed a fair amount of noise in background details, while the better feeds from CBS, Discovery HD, and HDNet were usually pretty clean. Essentially, the TH-65PX600U won’t do much to make an inferior signal look better, but it does allow high-quality DVD, HDTV, and high-definition DVD signals to look their best.

The other day, a colleague and I were discussing the mystique that surrounds larger flat panels. We both use projectors in our home entertainment set-ups, so we enjoy a big-screen image every single day. And yet, for some reason, we’re still enticed by the thought of a 65-inch plasma. I don’t know if it’s the product’s physical presence in the room or its formerly astronomical price tag that gives it such an air of luxury, but there’s no denying that a big-screen plasma is just plain sexy.

Are you prepared to pay for that sexiness, for the reaction this panel may garner in your living room? The TH-65PX600U renders gorgeous HDTV and high-definition DVD images. But, truth be told, if picture quality and screen size are the only things you care about, you can get an even larger and equally attractive 1080p image for about half the cost, thanks to the recent crop of 1080p projectors priced around the $5,000 mark. Many people avoid two-piece projection systems because of the ergonomic challenges they present, but I think we’ve established here that the TH-65PX600U isn’t without its share of set-up obstacles. (By the way, Panasonic offers various levels of set-up assistance for a cost.) The decision to invest in the TH-65PX600U is about more than just picture quality and ergonomics. For one, it’s about flexibility, wanting to enjoy that beautiful picture day or night, outside the confines of a dedicated theater space – something most projectors can’t offer. Above all, it’s about sex appeal, about owning a TV that will have your friends and neighbors talking. Of course, if you really wanted to get them talking, you’d go for the 103-inch Panasonic plasma. I wonder how many people it takes to get that one out of the box.
Manufacturer Panasonic
Model TH-65PX600U 65-inch Plasma HDTV
Reviewer Adrienne Maxwell
Diagonal Screen Size More than 56-inches

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