Panasonic's flagship 42-inch plasma TV, the Viera TH-42PZ800, certainly has the on-paper credentials to impress. But, with its price tag of around £1,200 now looking slightly expensive for a 42-inch TV, it's going to have its work cut out if it's really going to tempt us away from all of its cheaper rivals.
The single most impressive thing about the 42PZ800 is the fact that it's got a full HD resolution. After all, making plasma pixels small enough to fit 1,920x1,080 of them into a 42-inch screen remains so difficult that Panasonic is still the only plasma maker that's managed to do it.
Also seriously eye-catching is the 42PZ800's claimed contrast ratio. At 1,000,000:1, it's one of the highest we've ever seen, thrashing the living daylights out of any LCD-based rivals -- or at least those that don't use LED backlighting.
Fittingly for a flagship 42-inch TV, the 42PZ800 benefits from Panasonic's full suite of image-processing technology. There's V-Real 3 Pro, for instance, with its focus on colours, contrast and noise reduction. Plus there's 100Hz processing to increase image stability, and Intelligent Frame Creation (IFC), which interpolates wholly new frames of image data to make motion look smooth and judder-free.
The 42PZ800 benefits, too, from a reasonably flexible colour-management system, and Panasonic's Digital Cinema Color processing, which extends the screen's colour gamut until it's apparently in the same ball park as that found in commercial digital cinemas.
Yet more good news concerns the 42PZ800's connectivity, which includes four HDMI inputs, a PC jack and an SD-card slot capable of playing JPEG stills and AVCHD video.
Given the screen's specifications and reams of video-processing software, not to mention Panasonic's venerable plasma reputation, it's no surprise at all that the 42PZ800's picture quality is outstanding -- especially with HD. For instance, while we're not sure we totally believe the 1,000,000:1 contrast ratio claim, the set's black-level response is terrific, in terms of both the depths of darkness reached and the amount of subtle shadow detailing portrayed.
The 42PZ800 also makes good use of its 'Full HD' pixel count and 100Hz/IFC processing to deliver (marginally) more sharpness and detail than the lower-resolution models in Panasonic's range.
Colours also benefit from the Full HD resolution, in the form of slightly smoother colour blends than you get with lower-resolution models, and the colour palette looks slightly more dynamic, thanks to the Digital Cinema Colour processing.
In short, the 42PZ800's HD pictures are about as good as we've ever seen.
The 42PZ800's 1080p resolution appears to have a marginally negative impact on its standard-definition pictures. They look just a touch noisier and less natural than they do on Panasonic's lower-resolution 42-inch plasmas.
To put this in context, the 42PZ800's standard-definition pictures are still actually very good as compared to those of most Full HD screens. It's just that the way Panasonic's lower-resolution plasma screens handle standard definition is particularly outstanding.
The only other performance issue we have with the 42PZ800 concerns the IFC processing, which can throw up some pretty distracting side effects with really fast-moving footage. If we were you, we'd probably switch it off while watching sport and action movies.
A much more minor downside of the 42PZ800 is its design, which, to our eyes, looks slightly dour by today's glamorous standards.
In the end, though, the biggest single problem with the 42PZ800 is its price. While you could certainly argue that £1,200 isn't too much to pay for one of the finest 42-inch TVs around, you could also argue that the set isn't quite superior enough to warrant costing twice as much as, say, Panasonic's 42PX80.
The dual presence of Full HD resolution and the full monty of Panasonic's picture-processing technology helps make the 42PZ800 a prime contender for the award of 'Best-performing 42-inch TV ever'.
The only question is whether, in today's financially challenged times, the 42PZ800 is quite good enough to justify its cost over that of Panasonic's own significantly cheaper plasma options.
Edited by Nick Hide