Teaming Freesat HD with a big Full HD picture, this top-spec Panasonic is a bargain way to watch hi-def broadcasting
Panasonic sure does love its Freesat: this 50in plasma is the biggest of a five-strong range of sets that come with support for the Sky-bothering service built-in.
Connect it into a suitable satellite dish (if you don’t have one on your house or flat already, it’ll cost around £80 to have one fitted) and you can receive a wide range of unencrypted, free-to-air satellite TV broadcasting directly via your TV.
Of course, the biggest selling point of all is the set’s support for high-definition TV from the BBC and ITV: at the moment, each broadcaster’s range of HD content is fairly limited (certainly compared to the likes of Sky), but it does have the advantage of being free. Well, apart from the cost of the licence fee.
Approachable and easy to use
Installation and set-up is easy enough, despite the Panasonic having three tuners built-in: the other two (should you choose to use them) allow it to receive conventional terrestrial TV signals via analogue and Freeview digital.
While we’ve seen TVs with sexier on-screen graphics – take a bow, Philips, Pioneer and Sony – there’s nothing fundamentally wrong with the Panasonic’s menus or remote, with everything working just as it ought.
That said, the socket fit is only OK rather than oh-wow – we’d hope for more than three HDMIs on a premium TV, and it’s a shame there’s no DLNA provision despite the presence of an Ethernet socket.
Still, the picture processing is all premium-quality stuff: the TH-50PZ81 is equipped with Panasonic’s Intelligent Frame Creation system, which uses motion compensation to insert additional frames of video between the source frames to help smooth out rapid shifts across the screen.
It’s also a 100Hz set, as you’d expect, and naturally can display 24fps video from Blu-ray on a pixel-to-pixel basis on its 1920x1080 panel.
High contrast, loads of punch
In action, it’s easy to understand why Panasonic (and a few others) still prefers plasma TV technology in its larger flat panels.
The TH-50PZ81 has a claimed contrast ratio of 30,000:1, and that doesn't seem too excessive a boast: blacks are dense and consistently impressive even with fairly mundane TV content, while switching to 1080i (via Freesat) or 1080p (from Blu-ray) is just plain delightful.
For a 50in panel, the Panasonic manages to generate a picture of remarkably consistent edge-to-edge brightness and punch, with truly dynamic colours and brilliant, rock-solid stability.
It’s almost free of noise, and motion is beautifully consistent. Only the slightly soft feel of the picture next to some same-sized alternatives (notably Sony’s KDL-52W4000 LCD) undermines it a little.
The sound quality also isn’t quite as open and forthright as is typical for a premium Panasonic TV – but then you really ought to be using a TV this big with an external sound system, shouldn’t you?
Panasonic TH-50PZ81 review
A top-notch TV in its own right, but the Freesat HD tuner seals its appeal. Big, beautiful and pretty good value, too