If you're still in any doubt as to the massive impact the recession has been having on AV prices lately, check this out. Back in June, we reviewed Panasonic's 46in P46Z1 flagship plasma TV with a quoted price of £5,400. Today, two and a bit months later, we're looking at the 54in version of the Z1, and have found it going for £4,500 - a cool £900 less than the old price of the P46Z1. Groovy.
Well, sort of. For there's still no doubt that £4,500 is a mightily large amount to pay for a TV, no matter how large and cutting edge that screen may be. So the P54Z1 is still going to have to go some to keep us sweet in these ever-more-competitive times.
The set still makes quite an impact aesthetically, at any rate. The distinctive metallic finish to its top and bottom sides ensures it looks every inch the TV flagship, and the contrast the metal makes with the bezel's black, glassy-finished side strips is deeply attractive.
And then there's the small matter of the TV only being 24.7mm deep for the majority of its body. Yes, I really did say 24.7mm. For Panasonic has been able to retain the extraordinary, groundbreaking (by plasma standards) slimness witnessed with the P46Z1 - and actually, because the slimness sits behind an even larger screen, its impact is even greater than it was on the smaller model.
The only flies in the P54Z1's aesthetic ointment, in fact, are the supplied WirelessHD system and the external multimedia/tuner box. Both of which clearly warrant further explanation!
The P54Z1's extravagant thinness means Panasonic hasn't been able to squeeze its usual Freeview, analogue and Freesat tuners into the main TV body. Hence the presence in the package of the slightly dour-looking external multimedia box.
The WirelessHD system, meanwhile, comprises two components: a receiver that fastens to the underside of the screen, and a transmitter that attaches to and, rather vaguely, sits somewhere near the multimedia box, sending audio and video information to the screen without the need for a direct cable connection.
Still, while having the WirelessHD receiver hanging off the screen isn't ideal, it doesn't actually make quite as much of a negative aesthetic impact as it did on the smaller P46Z1. And although I might wish that Panasonic had built its wireless transmission system into its screen and multimedia box like Sony did with the 40ZX1, rather crucially the P54Z1's beam-based HD transmission system supports 1080p/24 Blu-ray playback, whereas Sony's system tops out at 1080i.
As you'd expect of Panasonic's flagship plasma TV, the screen at its heart is one of the brand's latest NeoPDP jobs, offering you the choice of either brighter pictures or much reduced running costs compared with the older-style plasma screens populating the bottom end of Panasonic's plasma range.
Another feature that clearly marks the P54Z1 out as a screen aimed at someone as obsessed with video quality as fancy design is its THX certification. This proves that the P54Z1 has sufficient picture prowess and adjustment flexibility to satisfy the independent THX team's stringent demands. And this approval is backed up by a THX picture preset in the TV's menus, which enables you to watch pictures using the settings THX has determined to be the best for movie viewing. Folk usually too scared or too lazy to get involved with fine-tuning picture settings themselves could find this preset very useful indeed - provided it's actually been calibrated well, of course!