Pros Jaw dropping picture in Studio Reference mode, all the picture tweaks you'd ever use, deep, rich sound for flat panel speakers, viera cast a nice, currently gimmicky bonus.
Cons $500 premium a little high for essentially increased colour gamut and viera cast that is of little value at this time.
Summary I was so shocked by cnet's rating of the Panasonic TH50PZ850U, that I had to write my first cnet review after spending a with each tv. I purchsed the TH50PZ800U THX model of this plasma at a summer sale for a $500 discount. The tv had hands down the best looking image compared to all the tv's in store such as the sony xbr4 and the samsung toc. I was seriously considering the xbr4 since fall of 07 to replace my samsung 1080i capable crt. After purchasing a PS3 a couple months later, I was set on finding a tv that addressed the issues that kept me clinging to my crt: black blacks levels, high contrast ratio, colour accuracy, long panel life with no burn issues.
The xbr4 impressed me with its colour accuracy, deep blacks (for an lcd) and improved speed via 120hz processing. I knew the THX panasonic plasma was coming and would have deeper blacks, naturally faster speed and I was waiting to see how the colours would compare. I was glad I waited for the thx enabled panasonic. It completely trumped the image of xbr4 and the price discount had me sold. I enjoyed the tv for a week with an assortment of bluray movies, games, dvds and my imac through a dvi to hdmi adapter. Everything looked amazing in thx mode with a few minor modifications. If you own an intel imac, I strongly recommend a dvi to hdmi adapter and the mac dvi adapter. For about $50 of cable, you'll get a picture so clear and vivid, that it switched me to a wireless keyboard setup to do virtually all my computing through the tv. You'll save some dollars compared to apple tv and won't be limited by apple tv interface.
After a week with the pz800, the salesman from the store told me the 850's were in at that I should have a look. Both tv's were setup side by side with thx set to my modified preferences on the 800 and the studio reference mode on the pz850. The panels were running planet earth's pole to pole disc and the 850's increased colour gamut was apparent through the subtle colour details that could not be seen in the 800. The arctic ice colours have finer green and blue details (the snow and ice just have extra sparkle), additional colour range can be seen in the feathers of the birds of paradise (greater black detail also) and the rich red hues of the seasonal forrest transitions shots are absolutely breathtaking on the 850. The THX panel in direct comparison looked muted to me. I paid the sales price difference and left with the new tv.
After a week with the 850, I have no regrets about the $500 upgrade cost. The extra 'pop' in the colours is worth the price even if the colour accuracy may not be a 100% accurate in testing, they are far more appealing. I can see what cnet was going for in their custom setting for the 850 as it appears more like the thx mode of 800, though very comparable to the studio reference (you can't exactly duplicate thx mode on the 850 through the pro settings). Basically, between the studio ref and pro settings, you have the choice between the thx modes extreme accuracy and the high colour pop of the studio reference. Would have been nice if panasonic include the thx mode in the 850 though. Overall the difference between the two for movie like sunshine on bluray is that both will treat you to an amazing, colour accurate image, but on the 850 you will 'feel' it.
If price point is not a major issue for you, I recommend the 850 over 800 hands down. After a week with each tv, I feel comfortable that the 850 with its higher colour gamut will still keep me satisfied when the xbr8 and the kuro/panasonic plasma come out over the next year. Maybe in a another the year, the fun but pointless viera cast will have some uses that are not apparent now. Panasonic, please at least offer more customizable weather (major US cities only), stock info (more customization of the main view and more currency/commodity price tracking options would be nice), and choice of major news sources.
If you have the chance, compare the thx to the studio reference in store with some high def media you are familiar with (the difference is even noticeable in the Vivid setting most stores use). I did and I feel more confident that the 850's image production will age better as media is produced that actually takes direct advantage of the higher colour gamut. Extreme colour accuracy be damed, treat your self to the most breathtaking image you've ever seen in a consumer television.
Pros Extremely well designed/built plasma was easy to get going - new features like internet TV, photo albums and stock info are solid. Panasonic scaler does amazing job - even the quality of YouTube videos are surprising, given their low bitrate.
Cons Heavy - requires a solid wall mount. Remote has only a few lit keys. Currently lacks ability to add Canadian locations for internet weather info. Wish it had TV Guide Onscreen like the Sony sets.
Summary Panasonic has done a remarkable job with the PZ850 plasma models. We purchased the 58 inch and since this was our 4th large 1080 TV, we knew what we were seeking.
Our first 1080 set was the original 45" Sharp 1080 LCD which is still going strong, and does remarkably well, even now in a brightly lit sunroom after 4 years. Our second 1080 was a very large DLP-based Toshiba projection set purchased roughly 3 years ago and more recently, our 3rd 1080 purchase was a Toshiba LCD (w/ Samsung panel).
We like the way the Toshiba DLP handles grey scale in dark scenes - visitors often commented on how the TV was able to bring out so much more detail in shadows than their sets... movies like Star Wars or Mission Impossible with darker scenes really came alive on the DLP. Toshiba's LCD also did a surprising job of shadows as well, something we noticed that many LG's and Sony's still can't handle. In fact, many of the latest Sony's we saw seemed to take all shadow areas and turn them to black - a nice black, but void of any picture detail. The older Sharp lacks such deep blacks, but also rendered shadow detail well when set up properly in a darkened room. It's a noisy set though, as is the DLP... fan noise is noticible in movies such as Phantom of the Opera. Also, the Sharp was no match for the DLP when it came to action and sports - motion blur makes it hard to follow the puck!
So when looking for the best display for our home theatre, we wanted a set that could: 1) truly render shadow detail, not crushing them to black; 2) operate very quietly; 3) clearly display motion; and 4) render natural tones smoothly while delivering a sharp picture.
Since we were placing this in a basement media room, we weren't concerned about reflections, so we could consider any plasma and the Samsung LCD's which also have glossy screens, in addition to traditional anti-glare LCD's from Toshiba, Sony, etc.
After viewing a large number of competitive products (including the new LED LCD's), we found the Panasonic PZ850's were top in every category and justified it's elevated price point (fully $1000+ more than the similar sized Samsung Plasma, for example). The settings enable you to refine the picture beyond what's possible with other displays but likewise, you can also accidentally soften it (by tunring on various unnecessary video NR modes) or distort the colors.
Our older son initially liked the Samsung plasma TVs in Best Buy better, since they were set up with more vibrant color - but after watching more carefully, we could see that the natural color of the Panasonic was not only easier on the eyes, but also brought out so much more in darker scenes. Many competitive sets were able to deliver good color, but strangly, when trying to adjust settings for BOTH good colour and shadow detail AND overall picture sharpness, a grainy texture would appear - it seemed that with many sets, one could only get two out of three... natural color, shadow detail, sharpness - not so with the Panasonic which could deliver all three.
Besides the fact that this plasma seems to run so cool (in comparison with friend's plasma), for us, the icing on the cake was the Internet capabilities of the PZ850 series. Its fun to watch a couple of YouTube videos when waiting for a network program to start, and the link with the stock market is also well executed. The ease with which you can watch your online photo albums in 1080p is another bonus and we're curious what else will be delivered to the PZ850's through this simple Web interface in the future - we'd vote for access to Internet Radio stations and an enhanced TV Guide function as we miss the TV Guide Onscreen found in our Toshiba and Sharp sets! (Note to Panasonic: We'd even pay something for the ability to get customised TV Guide listings, and almost bought the Sony for it's excellent TV Guide!)
Lastly, if you're not going to hook up a 7.1 channel audio system, definitely listen to this set. Our amplifier wasn't working when we first set up the PZ850 so we simply used its internal speakers - wow - although we can't even see them, they are the best TV speakers we've ever heard. With volume set up to about 65% of it's range, we could clearly hear the 3D sound effects filling our home theatre and still wonder how Panasonic managed to get such sound quality without apparent speakers! Obviously, not true 7.1 channel sound, but far better then what we would have thought possible.
A truly exceptional plasma, which with 100,000 hour expected life (according to Panasonic), we hope to enjoy for many years! Solidly recommended.
Pros Deep blacks, vivid colors, great HD picture over cable and Blu Ray, TONS of picture tweaks, sleek single-pane frame, thinner and lighter than last years model.
Cons Softened non HD picture, somewhat softened HD pictures on some channels (probably due to bandwidth rather than the TV), flicker from 24p Blu-ray on bright scenes (in darker movies it looks amazing!)
Summary First off, this is a beautiful TV. The single-pane of glass that fronts the TV makes for a very sleek look. Setup was a breeze. I was able to unbox it, set up the stand and mount it within 20 minutes without anyone to help. There is a lazy susan swivel in the base that made cable hookup simple. After doing a few setup items (setting HD to size 2, turning on the noise reduction features, etc.) I was ready to go. Studio Reference is a great picture setting to default to. It is a great feature to have. I have a friend with the PZ800 and I prefer the studio ref to the THX setting. Not by a ton, but I prefer it nonetheless.
There are tons of adjustments available to tweak the picture. I am a constant fiddler so I like having the ability to do it, but I found myself coming back to the Studio Ref preset time and time again.
I have to the TV hooked up to a Panasonic BD30 Blu ray player. After setting it to output 24p, I decided to see how apparent the flicker was. In bright scenes, it is rather blinding, almost like a TV screen in an old movie at high frequency. It really is only noticeable in the brighter sections of the picture, so darker scenes still look fantastically smooth and natural. Even without the 24p output, Blu ray looks amazing with a very crisp, detailed picture. I really was amazed at the wideness of the color gamut. I feel like I was missing out on a range of colors my old TV just couldn't produce.
I do not have the TV hooked up to the internet, so I can't comment on the Viera Cast features. It didn't enter into my decision to buy the TV, and I don't plan on using it.
Overall, this is an amazing TV. Panasonic continues to have my vote as one of the best TV makers, period. Highly recommended.
P.S. I ordered it direct from Panasonic on Monday, had it by Friday. Quick shipping, good service.
"A beautiful TV"on by txpackerfan
Pros The TV looks amazing even when it is turned off. It is extremely easy to set-up. I use the studio reference setting for the picture and it is great. I also like the internet hook-up.
Cons There's nothing I don't like. I think it is an amazing TV and worth everything I paid for it.
Summary This is my first HDTV. It is a huge upgrade over my 15 year old 27" TV. So saying the picture is amazing really isn't saying much; I think I would say the same thing about almost any high end HDTV I bought. The TV looks awesome even when shut off. I have no problems with glare even though I have it in a room with lots of windows. If the TV is off, I can see reflections on the screen. When I turn it on, they are still there but you really have to focus deep in the screen to actually see the reflection. If you are focused on the program you are watching, you can't even see the glare.
I also considered a Sony XBR LCD TV, but the pictures on LCDs don't look realistic. They just don't pop out like they do on a Plasma. Panasonic always gets great reviews here and at Consumer Reports so I new that was the brand I wanted. I decided on the 850 over the 800 mainly because of the internet connection. I didn't notice a picture difference between the 800 and 850. Plus I like that I have more control of the picture on the 850. I find that I always just leave it on Studio Reference. I also liked the internet connection. I know the internet content on the TV is limited now, but I'm sure this content will really open up in the future. Plus it is nice to get firmware updates over the internet which is something I already have done. If you buy it online like I did, you typically can get a really good deal on it and it will only be a few hundred dollars more than the 800. If you shop at any high end electronic stores (not BB or CC), you also will find that they don't carry the 800 because it is not the flagship model.
All in all this is a great TV and I love it.
Pros Gorgeous colors, deep blacks, picture is very customizable.
Cons Not cheap...However, it's a very solid plasma.
Summary Read Megaloma's review.