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Panasonic Viera TH-46PZ81 46in Plasma TV - Panasonic TH-46PZ81
Turning now to more general strengths of the 46PZ81's pictures - not connected directly to its Freesat talents - we find some predictably awesome black levels. We've no idea, to be honest, if the deep, rich, greyness-free black levels on show during a run-through of The Prestige on Blu-ray are representative of the boasted 1,000,000:1 contrast ratio. But we certainly can say that that they're absolutely superb, add a huge amount of punch and dynamism to anything you watch, and clearly get deeper than any LCD TV seen to date.
It's nice, too, to find precious little motion blur in the Panasonic's pictures, again countering a problem commonly seen with rival LCD technology. What's more, motion enjoys exceptional fluidity with the Intelligent Frame Creation system in play with, for the most part, only the rarest of processing ‘side effects' to worry about. You might want to turn this feature off during sports viewing, as it can cause a little shimmer and flicker with extremely fast footage. But for most of the time it's a seriously clever feature well worth leaving on.
Having just mentioned the lack of side effects from the IFC system, I'll also add that the 46PZ81 remains impressively free of traditional plasma technology shortcomings, such as striped colour blends and dotting noise over motion.
Colours are vibrant and eye-catching too - though the set's colour handling also gives us our only ‘beef' with its picture quality, which is that very occasionally, usually during darker scenes or with low-quality sources, the picture tone becomes just a touch over-influenced by orange or green.
Turning to the 46PZ81's audio, we find a surprisingly high level of performance considering the set doesn't employ Panasonic's Advanced Smart Sound technology (with its separated tweeters and woofers). Voices are clear, rich and well locked to the screen, there's a nice ‘spacious' feel to the soundstage that stops even the opening Omaha Beach sequence of Saving Private Ryan from sounding overcrowded, muddy or cramped; and there's enough power to propel the sound around your room with real attack and aggression. There's not as much depth or richness to bass as with Panasonic's Advanced Smart Sound TVs, but compared with most ‘ordinary' flat TVs, it sounds really rather good.
Although it's a shame for the 46PZ81 that the Freesat service doesn't currently carry a bit more high definition content to make the most of its screen's Full HD resolution, that's hardly the TV's fault. In fact, there's very little that IS the TV's fault. It's yet another terrific Panasonic plasma TV that works impressively hard at getting the best from its groundbreaking new source - while also costing considerably less than you might have expected.
What's more, it finally allows the Freesat name to be associated with a really high quality product from a well-respected brand rather than the mostly bargain-bucket brands shipping Freesat receiver boxes - and for that Freesat really ought to be very grateful indeed.