While LCD technology seemingly thinks nothing of fitting full HD pixel counts into its screens, full HD plasma TVs at sensible prices and sizes have been a scarily long time coming.
But today, Panasonic has finally delivered its first full HD effort, the £2,500 TH-50PZ700 -- a 50-inch flagship model with the potential to be a real plasma torch-bearer. A stand can be included as an optional extra for about £300 more.
You don't have to look far to find the single most appealing thing about the 50PZ700: its picture quality.
The set sports the latest generation -- called V-Real -- of Panasonic's long-gestating picture processing system, complete with 1080p handling and upscaling, expansive noise reduction systems, automatic colour management and much more besides. And this all combines superbly with Panasonic's Real Black Drive system for boosting black level response to produce pictures to die for.
Particularly striking is the exceptional sharpness with which HD images are shown -- as you'd hope of a full HD TV. For instance, you can make out every strand of fur on the giant ape's body while watching the HD DVD of Peter Jackson's King Kong. But the set also displays other less obvious full HD traits, such as smoother colour blends -- thanks to the screen's extra pixel density -- and a near-complete lack of video noise while showing HD sources due to the way they're 'mapped' directly to the screen's pixels.
Another strength of the picture is its superbly deep black levels, which create a real sense of dynamism and depth and palpably add to the tension while watching dark movies like Alien. Plus they help create generally impressively natural colour tones.
Its high quality pictures certainly aren't the 50PZ700's only hot property, though. Its three HDMIs, PC input and SD card slot -- for viewing digital still pictures and MPEG2 video -- also make it better connected than most flat TVs, while a so-called 'Advanced Smart Sound Speaker System' pumps out way more powerful sonics than we're accustomed to hearing from Panasonic's lesser plasmas -- or flat TVs generally, come to that.
If you've bought one of these TVs, your bank manager is probably already reminding you of its most off-putting quality: the price. The Panasonic's £2,500 price seems rather on the steep side for a TV that performs only marginally better when all's said and done.
Also slightly odd is the way the TV loses its sound when showing 1080p/24 source signals from a Blu-ray player and the way rich red elements in a picture sometimes look slightly orange.
Finally, we have to say that the 50PZ700 doesn't handle standard definition as confidently as Panasonic's lower resolution plasma models -- but then such standard definition issues are true of many other full HD TVs as well.
The addition of full HD resolution to the 50PZ700 has instantly made it Panasonic's best-performing flat TV yet -- which is great, of course. But it would have been even better if we could have got our hands on this quality without having to stump up £2,500.
Edited by Jason Jenkins
Additional editing by Jon Squire