It's not an exaggeration to say that we've been very impressed by this year's Panasonic plasma TVs. We think this is good news, especially since the company will be providing the panels for Pioneer TVs next year. Of course, Panny remains committed to plasma, which we're also pleased about, as the technology has matured wonderfully and 1080p TVs are now becoming more common.
We took a look at the company's 46-inch TV from the PZ85 range. The Panasonic Viera TH-46PZ85 is a high-end TV that's available online for somewhere around £1,300, a reasonable price considering the tags of some competition. Does that mean this Panny scrimps on features?
It seems fair to say that until Panasonic brings out the ultra-thin plasma it demonstrated at CES this year, it isn't going to win any awards for 'world's most beautiful TV'. That said, we've yet to see a screen from the company that we'd describe as ugly. The screens just aren't as appealing as some of the thin bezel LCDs that have been cropping up recently, like Toshiba's Regza 40ZF355D.
Finished in the glossy black that's all the rage currently, the PZ85 is a handsome machine. Some people weren't thrilled with the sliver strip that sits beneath the partially concealed speaker, but for the most part, it won't worry most people.
There aren't really any controls on the front of the TV -- just a power LED and an off switch. It's a clean, modern look, and we like it. There are some basic controls on the right-hand side of the screen, underneath a flap alongside an SD card slot. There are S-Video and composite inputs next to an HDMI on the left-hand side of the TV for easy access.
At the rear of the set, you'll find two other HDMIs, a pair of RGB Scart sockets and the usual aerial, PC VGA, conditional access module (for pay TV services) and component video sockets.
The remote control is identical to every other Panasonic TV's companion we've seen recently. It's sturdy, about the right weight and has nice large buttons, which are reasonably easy to find in the dark. We do think the volume and channel change buttons are the wrong way around, though.
The TH-46PZ85 has plenty of nice features to keep us happy. Most significantly is the inclusion of what Panasonic calls 'Intelligent Frame Creation'. This complements the TV's 100Hz picture mode, and claims to create extra frames of video to reduce the judder when you're watching movies recorded at 24 frames per second. This is one of those features that you'll either love or demand to be switched off at all times.
Panasonic makes some bold claims about its 11th generation plasma screens. For a start, it says you should get 100,000 hours use out of your TV before the brightness is reduced by 50 per cent -- this is the way TV manufacturers measure the life of a TV: at 50 per cent brightness, you'll probably want to replace the set. To put this claim in perspective, LCD TVs will get an average of 60,000 hours before seeing this reduced brightness.
Panasonic also bigs up the TV's overall performance. For example, it says you get contrast ratio of 30,000:1 -- or 1,000,000:1, if you want the oft-quoted 'dynamic contrast ratio' figure. You should also see (or rather not see) 5,120 steps of gradation, which should mean smoother pictures free of any banding.
In the sound department, you get BBE ViVA HD3D, which should create a more immersive listening experience.