The first 42in plasma TV we tested cost £10,000, or roughly the same as a decent supermini. Today, Panasonic’s TH-42PZ80 plasma can be yours for around £750, or the cost of a decent mountain bike. That’s progress for you – especially when you consider the Panasonic isn’t just much cheaper, but much better than the flatscreens of yore.
A Full HD, 1920x1080p panel, it boasts most of the key performance-enhancing features in Panasonic’s arsenal, including support for 1080p/24fps and 100Hz motion-scan. You’ll also find three HDMI inputs (one conveniently placed on the fascia under a folding flap, making it easier to access for gamers), plus component and Scart inputs.
Panasonic also makes much of the set’s ‘advanced networking capabilities’, but look into that in more depth and you won’t necessarily be blown away. There’s an SD card reader for digital camera users, plus a 15-pin D-Sub PC input for your computer, but no hint of a USB or Ethernet hook-up. Still, the Photo Viewer works well enough, assuming you’re not already using something like Apple TV to display your digital pictures.
TV performance is excellent, too. As with most Panasonic TVs we’ve tested, the TH-42PZ80 has a first-rate digital tuner, giving it image stability and detail to shame most rivals. Given how much video scaling is being carried out, that’s hugely impressive: this is one Full HD set that makes watching standard-definition a pleasure, not a chore.
Full HD star
That said, indulge in some Full HD Blu-ray, and the Panasonic’s picture jumps up a notch in quality. Thanks to clever contrast-enhancing picture processing (Real Black Drive, since you ask), the TH-42PZ80 can realise black levels most LCD TVs only dream of.
It’s capable of plumbing the depths of Batman Begins, reaching right into Gotham’s murk to reveal details other sets simply miss. True, the best LCDs at this size are slightly sharper, slightly less perturbed by video noise, but the Panasonic’s contrast and its natural, vibrant colours more than make up for that.