Panasonic produced a dizzying array of plasma HDTVs in 2007, with four full lines of multiple screen sizes each. The company's 2008 plasma lineup looks to be just as varied. Until it arrives this spring, the TH-PZ750U series--represented in this review by the 58-inch TH-58PZ750U--remains the company's flagship. Panasonic differentiates this model from the step-down TH-58PZ700U we reviewed earlier by including an additional HDMI input on the front panel. It also adds a "Studio Reference" picture mode and an additional picture menu that includes a few choice options for picture tweakers. The two sets have basically the same picture quality, however, the 700U series is hands-down the better bargain, currently costing between $350 and $1000 less for the 58-inch model, depending on the retailer. The TH-58PZ750U is still an excellent television, and if those extra tweaks float your boat and you have the additional cash, it's probably the best big-screen plasma available, aside from Pioneer's more expensive 60-inch Kuro models, like the PDP-6010FD.
The TH-58PZ750U looks basically the same as the TH-58PZ700U, and we like its understated styling. Its huge, 58-inch-diagonal pane of glass is surrounded on all sides by a relatively thick frame of glossy black. From both sides of the frame peek the speakers, which consist of extremely thin, black, vertical strips. The top of the cabinet is angled back, as is a larger section along the bottom where you'll find a door concealing controls and an AV input. A smaller hatch opens to reveal a slot for SD memory cards. The TH-58PZ750U measures 57.3 inches by 38.2 inches by 16.5 inches and weighs 165 pounds with the included, glossy black stand; sans stand, it measures 57.3 inches by 36.2 inches by 5.7 inches and weighs 141 pounds.
We really liked Panasonic's remote. Its layout is basically the same as last year's model, but the somewhat larger buttons feel better. Its keys--of which there are just the right number--are arranged quite logically. Although there's no backlighting, we appreciated the ease with which we were able to locate buttons by feel. The remote can control up to three devices. Panasonic's internal menu system is intuitive enough, although we disliked the ease with which you can inadvertently erase your picture settings.
Chief among the TH-58PZ750U's specs is its 1080p native resolution, which lets the set display every detail about 1080i and 1080p sources. On a 58-inch screen size, the advantage of 1080p is more apparent than it would be on smaller screens (more info). As always, all sources, including 720p HDTV, DVD and standard-definition television are converted to fit the pixels.
Picture settings on the TH-58PZ750U are pretty comprehensive. The menu offers three adjustable picture modes that apply to every input, along with a fourth Custom mode that's independent per input. Panasonic includes three color-temperature presets, of which Warm was most accurate.
We left most of the other controls in the main picture menu turned off. There's something called CATS (the manual doesn't indicate what the abbreviation means) that dimmed the picture far too much for our tastes. We left Color Management turned off because it affected the color of Cyan the most, and engaging it made Cyan less-accurate. There are also three noise-reduction controls, a black-level control (best left set on Light to preserve shadow detail) and a setting that engages 2:3 pull-down. A couple of other controls are grayed out for HD sources, namely "3D Y/C filter," which should be left turned on in most circumstances, and Color Matrix, a nice extra that allows you to specify which color space--high-definition or standard-definition--to use. This is mainly useful for 480p sources, which can be either SD (for DVD) or HD (for digital TV broadcasts).
Panasonic differentiates its 750U from the less-expensive 700U series by including a Studio Reference picture mode and a Pro Setting menu. The Studio Reference picture mode is said to provide "high-quality gradation and color tone for a cinema-like feel," but in our experience it was a bit disappointing. The mode "crushed" blacks slightly--making details in shadows less apparent--and also measured an average of about 500K redder and less-accurate than the standard "Warm" color temperature preset in Custom mode (for the record, Studio Reference averaged 5908K while Custom/Warm averaged 6419K--the standard is 6500K).
We had better luck with the Pro Setting menu, where the color temperature detail controls let us hone the set's already solid grayscale to become even more accurate. The other controls, for gamma, panel brightness and a few more-esoteric functions, also came in handy, although again we left most of them in the Off or default positions for our calibration. For our complete picture settings, click here or scroll down to the tips section. Note that picture settings on this TV are pretty easy to erase, so if you take awhile getting them right, it pays to write them down.
In addition to the five aspect-ratio modes for HD sources, there are four for standard-definition. Although the Panasonic lacks a specific mode designed to perfectly match incoming 1080-resolution signals to the 1080p panel with no overscan (a setting known as "dot-by-dot" on some HDTVs), you can achieve the same effect by selecting the Full mode, then choosing Size 2 from the HD size selection on the Other Adjustment section of the Picture menu. We would prefer that the option be easier to change--you'll want to switch to Size 1 if you notice interference or lines at the extreme edge of the image when in Size 2 mode--but at least it's there.
Convenience junkies will be bummed by the lack of picture-in-picture. Panasonic offers a version of control-over-HDMI, branded EZ-Sync, that allows other similarly equipped devices to be controlled via the HDMI connection using an onscreen interface and the TV's remote. We were disappointed, however, by the lack of menu item choices to deal with "image retention" or burn-in should it occur--features that can be found on many plasmas, including Panasonic's own professional models. While the menu lacks burn-in-related items, this and all other 2007 Panasonic plasmas have an always-on "pixel wobbling" feature that imperceptibly shifts the image one pixel at a time to avoid burn-in. The 4:3 aspect-ratio modes also include a screen saver, although it's useless when the TV is set to a wide-screen (16:9) mode and you depend on an external source, such as a cable box, to change aspect ratios.
The TH-58PZ750U also lacks controls that deal with energy consumption. There's no "power saver" mode, although, as always, you can achieve similar results by just turning down the light output (the "Picture" control in this case). As you would expect from a big plasma, this model sucks down plenty of juice; see the appropriate Box below for details.
A grand total of three HDMI inputs, two on the back and one out front, kick off the TH-58PZ750U's connectivity suite--in case you're keeping track, the step-down 700U series lacks that front-panel HDMI port. There's also a VGA-style PC input (1,280x1,024 maximum resolution), a pair of component video inputs, two AV inputs with composite- and S-Video, an RF-style antenna input, and an optical digital output for the ATSC tuner. A panel on the front flips up to reveal that third HDMI port, as well as a set of buttons and another AV input with composite- and S-Video. A second panel hides a slot for SD, SDHC, and miniSD (adapter required) cards, allowing you to display JPEG digital photos on the big screen.