The Panasonic TH-58PZ800U lacks picture-in-picture, but it does include a thoughtful "Surf Mode" control, which can be set to restrict the TV's tuning options. You can set it to "all," "favorite," "digital only," or "analog only."
The jack pack of the TH-58PZ800U is as well-equipped as any high-end HDTV we've seen, starting with three HDMI inputs on the back panel and a fourth available out front. A VGA-style PC input is also onboard (1366x760-pixel maximum resolution), along with two component video inputs, an AV input with composite or S-Video, an RF input for antenna or cable, as well as an optical and an analog audio output. In addition to that last HDMI input, the front panel also sports a second AV input with composite and S-Video, as well as an SD card slot for displaying digital photos on the big screen.
The Panasonic TH-58PZ800U produces the second-best overall picture quality among flat-panel HDTVs we've tested this year. Its black level and color accuracy tested a notch below those of the Pioneer PRO-111FD--a 50-inch plasma that we assume matches the performance of the 60-inch PRO-151FD--and several notches above anything else we've seen in its class, including the THX-certified 60-inch LG 60PG60.
With the relatively few picture controls on the TH-58PZ800U, our user-menu calibration took very little time. The main change, after selecting THX mode, was to get the light output as close to our 40 ftl target as possible, which in this case meant maxing out the contrast (picture) control. Very large plasmas, larger than 50 inches, are often dimmer than other types of displays and this Panasonic was no exception, although after calibration we still measured an acceptable 32 ftl in THX mode. Other non-THX picture modes allowed higher light output, but it wasn't worth the trade-off in color accuracy--only THX hit the Rec. 709 HD standard closely enough (see the Geek Box). We would have liked the capability to tweak grayscale on this set, but that wasn't possible. Check out the bottom of this blog post for our complete picture settings.
Our comparison involved the LG and the Pioneer 50-incher flanking the TH-58PZ800U, along with the 50-inch TH-50PZ800U and a token LCD, the Samsung LN52A650. We checked out Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World on Blu-ray courtesy of our PlayStation 3.
Black level: The Panasonic 58-inch plasma produced the deepest shade of black in our lineup aside from the reference Pioneer, out-blacking even its 50-inch brother by a surprising margin and looking a good deal darker than the 60-inch LG or the Samsung LCD. The differences were most obvious in dark scenes, such as the black background behind the "Napoleon" titles the shadowed ocean and silhouettes of the rigging and flag poles, and as always the letterbox bars above and below the image. Details in shadows, such as the underside of the bell, the folds in the hammocks and the heads of the darkened animals below decks, came across distinctly and with a natural rise out of black, in part thanks to the accurate (2.178) gamma imparted by THX mode.
Color accuracy: We measured a slightly redder grayscale on the 58-inch Panasonic than on its 50-inch brother, which made whitish areas, such as the fog and the sails of the HMS Surprise appear a bit ruddier than on the reference Pioneer. The difference is hardly a deal-breaker, and numerous other areas seemed less-affected by the redder tinge, which was still relatively close to the standard. Skin tones, like the face of Blakeney during his amputation, still appeared natural enough and not too reddish compared to the reference Pioneer. Primary and secondary colors were superb, from the green of the rainforest and fruit to the red of some sailors' military uniforms to the cyan of ocean water under the tropical sun. Colorful scenes looked rich and vibrant thanks to the Panasonic's deep blacks and solid color decoding. We also appreciated that near-black areas stayed true and didn't discolor as we've seen on so many other displays.
Video processing: Panasonic equipped this plasma with the capability to change its refresh rate, when fed a native 24-frame signal such as 1080p/24 from a Blu-ray player, from the standard 60Hz to 48Hz, to better match the 24-frame cadence and eliminate the 2:3 pull-down required for 60Hz displays. In theory that's good idea, but in practice the 48Hz refresh rate introduced significant flicker. The flicker was noticeable in every scene but increased in brighter areas, such as the frequent fields of cloud cover or bright skies. The benefit of somewhat smoother motion, without the subtle hitching characteristic of 2:3 pull-down, just wasn't worth the flicker for us, so we left the TV in standard 60Hz mode. It's worth noting that the Pioneer plasmas can refresh at 72Hz, which also avoids 2:3 pull-down but doesn't flicker.
In terms of resolution, the TH-58PZ800U performed as expected, resolving every line of 1080-resolution signals and properly deinterlacing video-based sources, although it failed the test for film-based deinterlacing. We counted between 800 and 900 lines of motion resolution on this set, which is about what we expected on a plasma TV, although not quite a high as either the LG or the Pioneer. As usual, we couldn't tell any difference between the TVs' resolutions in our side-by-side comparisons.
Uniformity: We usually skip this section with plasmas, but it's worth noting in the case of the big TH-58PZ800U because, compared to any rear-projection HDTV, a plasma will deliver a more-consistent picture when seen from off-angle, as well as better brightness and color uniformity across the screen.
Bright lighting: Compared with the Pioneer, which has the best antireflective screen of any plasma we've tested, the Panasonic didn't do as good a job of attenuating glare. Watching dark scenes with the lights turned on and the windows open, reflected objects in the room appeared bit brighter and more distracting in the Panasonic's screen than on the Pioneer. Dark areas also washed out more quickly than on the Pioneer or the Samsung LCD. Compared with the LG, however, the Panasonic's screen both reduced reflections and preserved black levels better.
Standard-definition: With lower-quality sources, the TH-58PZ800U performed about average in THX mode. It didn't quite resolve every detail of the DVD format, according to the resolution chart on the HQV DVD, and as a result details in the bridge and grass from that disc looked a bit softer than the other displays in our test. On the other hand the Panasonic did a fine job of removing jaggies from diagonal lines and a waving American flag, although not quite as good as the Pioneer or the LG. Its 2:3 pull-down detection kicked in effectively, if not quite as quickly as some sets we've tested. Its noise reduction performed well with low-quality material, too, cleaning up the motes in skies and sunsets as well as any of the displays in our test.
PC: With our test PC connected to one of the HDMI inputs, the TH-58PZ800U performed perfectly--as expected from any 1080p flat-panel--in THX mode, resolving every detail of a 1,920x1,080-pixel source with no trace of edge enhancement or shifted pixels. Text looked sharp and natural. When we tried the VGA input, however, we were only able to get a maximum of 1,366x760-pixel resolution (as the manual says), which of course resulted in softer looking text and an overall less-impressive image.
|Before color temp (20/80)||5942/6020||Average|
|After color temp||N/A|
|Before grayscale variation||+/- 412||Average|
|After grayscale variation||N/A|
|Color of red (x/y)||0.638/0.334||Good|
|Color of green||0.292/0.613||Good|
|Color of blue||0.152/0.06||Good|
|Defeatable edge enhancement||Y||Good|
|480i 2:3 pull-down, 24 fps||Pass||Good|
|1080i video resolution||Pass||Good|
|1080i film resolution||Fail||Poor|
|Panasonic TH-58PZ800U||Picture settings|
|Picture on (watts)||196.37||363.45|
|Picture on (watts/sq. inch)||0.14||0.25|
|Cost per year||$60.78||$112.50|
|Score (considering size)||Good|
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