Panasonic TH-50PZ700U Review
50" 1080p Plasma HDTV
Dick De Jong
September 18, 2007
The TH-50PZ700U is the new 50" entry into Panasonic's expanded Z700 Viera series of 1080p plasma HDTVs. With the addition of the 42" TH-42PZ700, this Full HD line now goes from 42 to 50 to 58 (TH-58PZ700).
[Editor's note: Since the TH-42PZ700 and the TH-58PZ700 have the same specifications as this 50", the review can be applied to all three.]
Of course, if you need bigger, last year's 65" model, the TH-65PX600U is still available. And for a cool $70,000, you can own the 103", TH-103PZ600U, a 1080p plasma that rivals the wingspan of a wandering albatross.
Panasonic is now rating their new 1080p plasma HDTV's to last 100,000 hours before reaching half brightness. (Previously, it was 60,000.) If you are an average American viewer, you watch six and a half hours of TV a day. 6.5 x 365 into 100,000 = over 42 years.
In TV years, that sounds like an eternity; but once you experience the beautiful high resolution image that the TH-50PZ700U produces, you may want to keep watching it that long.
Out of the Box
Unlike the Panasonic TH-42PH10UK monitor that we reviewed recently, the TH-50PZ700U is a full fledged HDTV with built-in NTSC/ATSC/QAM tuners and integrated speakers.
At 106 pounds without the pedestal stand, pulling the TH-50PZ700U out of its packing can be a strain on weaker backs. (Remember to lift with your legs.) Graciously, the designers do provide two convenient hand grips on the back of the chassis. As a side note to those of you who are responsible for maneuvering around these deceptively hefty flat panels, I have found - at least for this aging physique - that my unease increases exponentially as I step up from 40 to 46 to 50".
The heavy, dark gray metal stand, which is packed separately in the box, requires some assembly before you can attach the TV to it. After the unit is slipped over the stand's arms and screwed on, the display is fixed. It doesn't swivel or tilt on the stand. And if you are fearful that your Wii playing might become too out of hand, Panasonic does provide bands and screws to secure the stand to the furniture.
With many manufacturers attempting to reduce their bezels to anorexic thinness, the TH-50PZ700U defies the trend with an almost three inch black frame surrounding the picture screen. Beyond the elegant piano black finish, the design is rather nondescript.
The front is unadorned except for the Panasonic name and a red power light. On the bottom, in the middle, under a swing out door, the Control buttons reside alongside S-Video and Composite video and audio inputs. Farther to the right, under a tiny swing up door, an SD Memory Card reader is housed. When an SD card is inserted in the slot, a crescent of blue light is turned on.
Facing out in the center of the back are all of the usual A/V connections: 2 HDMI Inputs, 2 Component Video Inputs [Y, PB(CB), PR(CR)], 2 S-Video Inputs, 2 Composite Video Inputs, (all of the above have matching stereo Audio Ins), 1 PC Input (RGB-VGA), which is a Mini D-sub 15-pin, (with matching mini plug stereo Audio In), and finally a Composite Video Output, (with matching stereo Audio Out), and 1 Digital Audio Out.
|Panasonic TH-50PZ700U Connection Panel
To connect to the NTSC/ATSC/QAM tuners, one Antenna Input is included. Other TVs often have separate connectors for their digital and analog tuners. I prefer this one input type because when you scan for channels, the TV does both analog and digital at the same time and displays all the channels together in its guide. In addition, when you click the channel changer on the remote, you can move directly from an analog to a digital channel.
If you have cable service but don't use a set top box, you can plug the cable directly into the Antenna input and tune the non-scrambled stations with the TV remote. Of note, there is no CableCARD input on the TH-50PZ700U.
And I know this will be a deal breaker for some of you who cannot do without multiple visual stimulation, but this particular Panasonic model does not have a Picture in Picture (PIP) feature.
With its chunky buttons, the non-backlit remote might look a bit clunky, but I like the big thumb sized buttons and the easy to read white on gray labels. I'm not a huge fan of universal remotes, but at least on this one most of the DVD/VCR controls are out of my way on the bottom.
If you are one of those who avoid buying plasmas because of the hobgoblin of image retention, I would suggest that you reconsider. Modern plasmas are much less prone to burn-in and this unit does come with a screen saver feature.
Vivid! Why oh why, vivid? This TV's default Picture Mode is Vivid, which Panasonic describes as "enhanced picture contrast or sharpness for viewing in a well lit room." I guess I'm an un-Vivid guy viewing in a muted room, because Vivid always seems garish to my eye, which leaves a bad initial impression. Luckily, simply switching the mode to Standard quickly erases that glaring vision.
To setup the TV, we change the Picture Mode to Custom and tweak Picture (Contrast), Brightness, Color (Saturation), Tint (Hue) and Sharpness according to a series of test patterns from the Digital Video Essentials DVD, (the SD version) playing back at 1080p through the upconverting OPPO DV981HD connected with an HDMI cable.
The second page of the Picture Menu offers Color Temp (Normal, Cool, and Warm), Color Management (On or Off), and C.A.T.S. (a Contrast optimizing feature). For setup, we leave Temp on Normal and turn the latter two options off. A third page of Other adjustments includes a number of Noise Reduction features, which remain in their defaults.
Since this consumer unit is not aimed at the professional display market it does not have individual Bias and Gain adjustments, which is fine with me as long as the picture controls that are available do the job. And they do. With a few tweaks here and there, I was able to dial in a totally satisfactory image with great skin tones, which is of particular importance to me.
To add to my viewing pleasure, I found that as I switched from channel to channel I didn't feel the urge to pick up the remote and punch the Picture Menu button. Often TVs can't keep up with the vagaries of broadcast TV. The TH-50PZ700U kept a good rein on shifting color and picture quality even on SD channels.
As I write these reviews, I turn on the TV often to check on a detail. Right now, I'm watching the sonically (Rufus Wainwright singing Hallelujah) and psychically astounding documentary, Leonard Cohen: I'm Your Man on the Sundance channel in SD. Yes, I could quibble with color blockiness, but that is a content delivery problem and not something that I would expect the TV to solve.
Once again, HDTVs really shine when you feed them high definition programming and the TH-50PZ700U was no exception. Even at a modestly rated 5000:1 Contrast Ratio, this plasma did an admirable job of producing solid blacks and rich colors. And I'll say it again, skin tones were right on for my taste.
Another complaint I hear about plasmas is that their screens reflect too much. Panasonic has addressed that concern by adding an Anti-Reflective (AR) Coating. In our non-bright-sunlight testing facility, I have never been distracted by glare or reflections.
(Editor's Note: We have posted a video review of this Panasonic HDTV. You can see it here.)
I used the Xbox 360's HD-DVD player to view HD-DVDs and I must report on a couple of points. If you have this player, you probably know that it does not output a 1080p signal through its Component cable. With other TVs, I have been able to send 1080p out through a VGA cable.
When you feed VGA to the TH-50PZ700U, the manual notes that it only accepts resolutions up to 1366 x 768, (basically 720p), so that is what I set the Xbox output to. I switched back and forth comparing Component to VGA and it was a close call as both were excellent. With this TV, I think I preferred the Component.
For you gamers, playing Gears of War on a 50" plasma battlefield is intense.
To test the laptop on the Panasonic, I plugged in a VGA cable and tried to set the computer's resolution to 1366 x 768. My Dell laptop and the TV did not want to handshake at that resolution, so I had to settle for 1024 x 768, which stretched the display horizontally.
After adjusting the Aspect setting on the TV, the image was squared up but the computer desktop was flanked by gray columns. The colors were true, but at least for me, the TH-50PZ700U does not make a good computer monitor. And I'm sure if you ask Panasonic, that wasn't their intent for this product anyway.
If you just wish to view your photos, you can download them to an SD memory card that can be inserted into the SD slot on the front of the TV. When you select SD Mode on the remote, a Photo Viewer interface appears that shows you thumbnails of your images along with file information.
|Photo Viewer Interface
Once all the images are read, you can choose either the Single or Slide show for the display mode. In the menu, Display Time can be set from 1 to 120 seconds per slide.
This SD feature only plays back JPEGs. And even though the manual says the TV will accept images with resolutions up to 10,000,000 pixels, in practice, I found that any image larger than about 1920 x 1080 crashes the loading process. So I basically resized all my images to fit into the TV's native 1920 x 1080 resolution.
This photo playback function is not full of bells and whistles. For example, you cannot pick a transition between slides, nor can you add music to the show. And if your images are not in a 16 x 9 format, they will be letterboxed and you cannot change the background color. With those caveats, watching your photos illuminated on a 50" plasma can be quite gratifying.
If you're not a shutterbug, Panasonic offers a service called Panasonic HD Image Gallery, Powered by GalleryPlayer. On GalleryPlayer's website you can purchase and download artwork made available by content partners including National Geographic, MoMA, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, The New York Times and Time-Life. For as little as 99 cents you can acquire high definition images created by artists like da Vinci, Van Gogh and Klimt.
|Gustav Klimt's The Kiss (shown with credits) Available from GalleryPlayer
If you have your computer hooked up to your TV, you can impress your guests with your high definition art collection. Also, GalleryPlayer allows you to download images to an SD card that can be plugged directly into the TH-50PZ700U. I discovered that currently the only external SD card reader/writer that works with GalleryPlayer new technology is available from them.
Finally, the integrated speakers do not do justice to the quality of the image. You can adjust the settings in the Audio menu to shape and pump up the sound. For TV viewing, the quality is more than adequate. But why buy a 50" plasma and not have a separate sound system, especially if you watch movies?
The Panasonic's TH-50PZ700U is a full bodied 1080p plasma HDTV that produces rich high definition images. At 50" it's big enough to be considered for a small home theater installation and small enough to fit comfortably into a more intimate setting.
First, realize, that ratings are relative to when the review was written. The obvious example is Value, what you could purchase for $2000 two years ago or even two months ago would seem like a bad value for that price now.
Second, we have given only a few 5 Star ratings, which we reserve for truly outstanding accomplishment.
When watching high definition content on the TH-50PZ700U, the picture quality of some scenes still steals my breath. And I appreciate how well it consistently reproduces skin tones.
For a high end HDTV, it lacks a few features, like PIP, that you would expect. I like the SD Photo Viewer, but it also could be more robust.
Ease of Use: 4.5
Since you don't have to tweak too much to achieve a highly acceptable picture, setup was fairly easy. The stand does require some assembly.
I realize that we are talking about a 50" 1080p plasma that delivers a beautiful HD picture. I know this size still demands a premium in the current marketplace where the sweet spot is in models in the 40" range. Still, if I could find a little wiggle in the price, I would grant another half point.