If you've bought a high definition TV in the past couple of years, you've probably been holding your breath, waiting for some HD content to come along. OK, so if you wanted to stump up the cash for a Sky HD install, you could have been enjoying the delights of HD viewing for a while but for many, that simply isn't an option. The recent launch of Freesat has attempted to address this issue, by offering the whole Freeview channel selection, along with HD content through a satellite dish and without the hint of a subscription charge.
The driving force behind Freesat is the BBC, which officially launched its BBC HD channel in conjunction with the unveiling of Freesat. Despite the fact that BBC HD has been available through Sky HD for some time, Freesat will give you access to the BBC's HD content without the need for a subscription - OK, so you still need to pay your license fee, so there's still a kind of subscription.
ITV will also be launching its HD service soon, and this will only be available on Freesat, so Sky HD customers won't be able to view it. How much of an issue that is really depends on how often you watch ITV, which in my case isn't very often. That said, it will mean that the Champions League matches that ITV gets next season can be viewed in HD, instead of the God awful SD transmissions that we've been subjected to thus far on the channel.
So far there have been a handful of Freesat boxes launched, from the likes of Grundig, Bush, Goodmans and Humax - with the exception of Humax, which has produced some great PVR boxes of late, most of what's available is somewhat bargain basement. Therefore when Panasonic offered me the chance to take a look at an early sample of its TH-46PZ81 plasma TV with integrated Freesat receiver, I jumped at the chance.
Panasonic's PZ81 Freesat enabled range will launch in 42 and 46in sizes in June, with a 50in model shipping in July - it was the 46in TH-46PZ81 that I got my paws on. First impressions of the set are very good, which is unsurprising considering that Panasonic generally makes great plasma and LCD TVs. The glossy black bezel from last year's models has been carried over, but the design looks even more sleek this time around. The speakers are mounted below the screen to keep dimensions to a minimum, but the speaker grille is curved rather than flat - I'm not sure why, but this small design highlight really adds to the aesthetic impact of the TH-46PZ81. The stand is also finished in glossy black, with silver highlighting around the edge - basically, this TV looks great even before you switch it on.