At a Glance
The first 42-inch plasma 1080p set is great where it counts--in the picture. It earned particularly high marks for HD.
You might expect the only 1080p plasma in our November issue's HDTV roundup--and the first 42-inch 1080p plasma ever--to outshine its eleven competitors in image quality. It did: PC World's jury rated its picture higher than that of any other TV, with high marks for overall picture quality in high-definition broadcasts and in disc-based content (Blu-ray, HD-DVD, and plain old DVD). I was particularly impressed by the superb detail, especially in people's skin and hair.
The TH-42PZ700U's performance wasn't quite as impressive in our standard-def broadcast test. Colors here didn't pop out of the screen as vividly as they did with the top-scoring set in this measure, the Vizio VP42, but the overall image was certainly acceptable. It managed considerably better with a standard-def DVD.
But to get a good picture, you must set up the TV properly, and the TH-42PZ700U's unintuitive on-screen menus don't make this job any easier. For instance, in the Language section, with only 'English' displayed, I clicked OK. Nothing happened. I clicked the left arrow to go back to the previous menu, and the language selection switched to 'French'. After using the right arrow to return to 'English', I had to click the tiny Return button off to the side to go back a menu.
On the bright side, the menu for labeling input devices gives you the option of skipping them, which makes going from one input to another easier. (It would have been easier still if the TV automatically skipped the unoccupied ports.)
Physically, this television is easy to set up, with most of the inputs on the back and facing outward. The exception is the single coaxial connector, which faces down. A flap on the front conceals extra component video and S-Video inputs, plus controls. Another front flap hides a smart-card reader for viewing photos right out of the camera.
Panasonic's large, heavy, programmable remote feels clunky, and the lower half has too many buttons, but your fingers go naturally to channel surfing and volume controls.