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Panasonic Viera TH-42PX80 42in Plasma TV
Although Panasonic now makes 37in TVs in both LCD and plasma flavours, the brand's love affair with plasma technology keeps LCD out of the picture for anything larger. So it is, that the 42in TH-42PX80 we're looking at today is every inch a plasma TV.
It's also got the potential to be every inch a bargain. For it's not often you get a chance to get your hands on a 42in screen of - we hope - real quality for considerably under £700. Fingers crossed Panasonic hasn't had to jettison too much of its near-legendary plasma prowess to make such a price feasible.
First impressions of the 42PX80 are mixed. It feels pleasingly solid compared with the rather flimsy finish of many of Panny's previous plasma generation, yet its simple black rectangle design feels somewhat staid by today's increasingly flash standards.
There are some slightly mixed feelings about the TV's connections, too. On the surface all looks well, with a healthy (for this money) three HDMIs, a component video input, a dedicated PC port, an unexpected SD card slot for the direct viewing of digital photographs, and all the lower-resolution analogue video stalwarts.
But it turns out that the HDMIs aren't able to take Deep Colour - a slightly ironic surprise given that Panasonic is in the process of launching camcorders with Deep Colour technology built in!
Still, we guess this little faux pas is hardly the end of the world on such an affordable TV - especially when it hits the mark in a couple of other key areas, namely compatibility with the now-so-important 1080p/24Hz format, and an impressive-looking native contrast ratio of 15,000:1.
When I say native contrast ratio, by the way, I mean that it's not derived via any sneaky dynamic backlight adjustments as happens with LCD technology. With the 42PX80 the brightest whites and blackest blacks that make up the claimed contrast ratio could potentially be visible in a single movie frame - should you somehow find a single frame containing the necessary extremes of light and dark.
Before we get accused of LCD bashing here, though, we must point out that the 42PX80 does fall short of the vast majority of its similarly sized LCD rivals when it comes to resolution, ‘only' boasting a pixel count of 1024 x 768. This is enough pixels, of course, to earn the TV its crucial HD Ready wings, but it falls short of the 1,920 x 1,080 pixels sported by full HD TVs.
Still, contrary to popular thought, resolution really isn't the be all and end all of a TV's performance. Sure, a full HD pixel count on an LCD can reduce scaling noise and improve detail and colour blending, but on a plasma the emissive nature of the light generated by the plasma photons exciting the RGB phosphors can also lend itself to improved colour accuracy and blends (rather like a CRT). Furthermore, other factors such as black level and motion handling can have a far more immediate and profound effect than simply resolution.