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So much for the rather vast background to the P46Z1. Now it's time to finally find out if its performance delivers on all the promise.
Actually, it does. Arriving on the heels of a cluster of decent but not awe-inspiring plasma screens from the lower reaches of Panasonic's latest TV range, the P46Z1 delivers exactly the sort of AV punch we'd hope for from a flagship model from one of plasma technology's most experienced devotees.
The first thing to stress is that the slender chassis has squeezed in one of Panasonic's new NeoPDP plasma panels, meaning that its pictures are capable of being markedly brighter than those of the brand's cheap models. And since this extra brightness is delivered without seemingly compromising Panasonic's famous black level response in the slightest, the P46Z1's pictures enjoy a stunning level of dynamism, even during dark scenes (scenes where most LCD-based rivals tend to hit a brightness-reduced, greyed-over brick wall…).
It's great to note, too, that the P46Z1's black levels don't drop off at all if you watch the TV from the side, unlike the vast majority of LCD screens.
Also worth pointing out is that if you happen to be using a P46Z1 in a very dark room, the screen carries the flexibility for you to massively reduce its brightness while still ending up with a very enjoyable picture, if you'd rather save money and be ‘green' by keeping its power consumption down.
Arguably the most pleasing thing about the P46Z1's pictures, though, is their colour handling. Tones generally, with both standard and high definition, look much more natural than they do with Panasonic's cheaper models, especially where rich reds and subtle skin tones are concerned. Colours look more dynamic and expressive than I've seen them on a Panasonic plasma too.
It's also a relief to find the considerable processing power of the P46Z1 helping it upscale standard definition pictures with much more sharpness and conviction, but less noise, than I've noted with Panny's cheap plasmas.
Of course, though, the screen's sharpness and clarity are really at their most potent when watching high definition. And they really are very potent indeed, helping the screen produce pictures of mesmerising, intoxicating detail, texture, dynamism and subtlety. What's more, with the exceptional clarity being joined by black levels at least rivaling those of Pioneer's KURO plasmas, and much brighter, more natural peak whites than you get with previous Panasonic plasma generations, you really do have an image that's truly cinematic in a way most ordinary TVs can only dream about.