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Panasonic Viera TH-46PZ81 46in Plasma TV - Panasonic TH-46PZ81
The last feature we need to talk about before seeing how the 46PZ81 and its Freesat tuner work is its Freesat electronic programme guide. This has been designed by Panasonic (Freesat doesn't dictate how its channel information is presented), and it's hard to see how it could be presented much better. In effect it's a slightly more extensive, less colourful version of the Freeview EPG, but with a Freesat Logo to the top left, and a touch more genre specificity.
Unable to resist, I started my tests off with a little HD from BBC HD. And boy, was I impressed. The Panasonic uses its Full HD resolution and terrific image processing engines to do an absolutely first rate job of rendering the HD footage with extreme sharpness, total pixel accuracy, and not a trace of noise beyond the slight grain that seems inherent to the BBC HD proposition these days.
In fact, I would say that the 46PZ81's HD pictures are clearly better (cleaner, sharper) than those obtained by attaching an external Freesat HD receiver - even Humax's Foxsat-HD, which is generally considered to be the best of the Freesat HD set-top boxes.
If you think about it, this kind of makes sense given the extra directness of the path between an incoming Freesat HD signal and its appearance on the 46PZ81's screen. But it's still very nice to see the theory turned into glorious HD practice, especially if you make sure you've got the TV's Overscan feature deactivated.
For similar reasons it also seemed to my eyes that standard definition pictures looked slightly cleaner through the Panasonic's own Freesat tuner than an external Freesat receiver box - but the difference here is only marginal.
In fact, the 46PZ81 proves an unusually canny operator when it comes to rescaling Freesat standard def pictures, adding less video noise than many rival Full HD TVs, and also doing a great job of reducing the noise inherent to the incoming broadcast signals.
This Freesat standard definition source noise is a touch annoying, in that there's at least as much of it here as we see in a standard definition Freeview broadcast - the move to satellite's greater bandwidth has not, it seems, had a positive effect. But this isn't the fault of the Panasonic TV, which actually does its best to make the most of what it's given.