- Review Price: £1139.00
As petrol prices continue to spiral skywards, the price of TVs continues to head in the opposite direction. Now, this situation doesn’t quite make up for the fact that the government continues to rip us off when it comes to fuel tax (if the polluter pays, as they put it, why is there no tax on aviation fuel?), but it does at least give anyone who’s thinking about buying a new TV something to be happy about – assuming that they don’t have to drive too far to pick it up of course! The result of these tumbling prices is that consumers can now afford a larger, and generally better TV than they first thought.
A fine example of just how much TV you can get for your money these days is the subject of this review, the Panasonic TH-46PZ80B. As its name suggests, this is a 46in plasma TV – ok, so the name may not overtly suggest that it’s a plasma, but anyone who’s familiar with Panasonic will be aware that anything above 37in is based on plasma technology rather than LCD. Now, many will tell you that an LCD TV of this size represents even better value, and to a certain degree they’d be right. However, given the choice, in the current climate of 1080p Full HD screens, I’d go for a plasma if I could afford it.
As both myself and John have said many times in the past, plasma as a screen technology has one very important ace up its sleeve – black level response. Because plasma is an emissive technology, the intensity of every single pixel can be controlled, which means that if there’s a scene with areas of both high and low intensity, the TV will not have to compromise on either area. The latest LCD screens employ dynamic backlighting in order to increase the contrast ratio, but you’ve still got a transmissive display with a single light source. Plasma’s intrinsically superior black levels done just make for deeper blacks and increased low light detailing, the resulting colours are also far more vivid and lifelike.
There’s more to the TH-46PZ80B than just its screen technology though. This is a Full HD panel with a native resolution of 1,920 x 1,080, so 1080p source material can be displayed pixel for pixel, with no need for scaling. That doesn’t mean that scaling isn’t important though, because you won’t always be watching a pristine 1080p high definition source, and when you have to resort to standard definition, you want to be sure that it will still look good when blown up to 1,920 x 1,080. The TH-46PZ80B is equipped with Panasonic’s latest V-Real Pro 3 picture processing, along with a staggering 1,000,000:1 claimed dynamic contrast ratio (30,000:1 native).
Panasonic has also addressed one of the complaints I had of last year’s series of TVs, a lack of true 1080p 24Hz support. It’s true that last year’s models would accept a 1080p 24Hz signal, but the TV then converted it to a 1080p 60Hz image before displaying it, somewhat defeating the whole purpose. Now however, Panasonic is doing it right, with the TH-46PZ80B keeping the 24fps signal squeaky clean, with the only post processing being 2:2 pulldown, creating a 48fps image, with no need for composite frames. Unfortunately, my other complaint still stands, since this TV still doesn’t support 1080p over a component connection. That means that anyone running a non-HDMI Xbox 360 won’t be able to play at the optimum resolution on this TV. Why Panasonic still refuses to offer 1080p support over component is a mystery to me, but at least as everything moves towards HDMI, it shouldn’t be a problem for too long.
While I’m on the subject of connections, this TV comes pretty well endowed. You get three HDMI 1.3 ports – two at the rear, one at the front – each supporting x.v.Colour wide gamut. On top of this you get component video for connecting analogue HD sources (but not 1080p as already mentioned), along with a D-Sub connection for hooking your PC up to the TV. You also get two SCART sockets, S-video and composite, but clearly anyone who plans on connecting anything to this TV via composite deserves to be committed. There are also analogue audio out ports, but no digital audio out, so you won’t be pumping the digital bit stream from your HDMI sources out to an external receiver or amp. Features like the digital audio pass through are reserved for the more expensive Vieras, but this TV more than makes up for this in other areas.
For one, the TH-PZ80B is definitely a looker – even before you hit the power button, this TV looks great. The combination of glossy black bezel and matte silver accent along the bottom works supremely, while the same combination is carried over onto the stand with equally successful results. And despite the fact that this is a very large TV, it pivots on its base smoothly, requiring the merest hint of pressure. A flap located below the screen hides the front mounted ports, as well as an SD card slot for viewing your digital photos directly on the big screen.
But it’s the pictures that the TH-46PZ80B produces that really matter, and here Panasonic has done a brilliant job. Considering the price of this TV, you really have no right expecting this much screen size, coupled with picture quality this good. As with all large HD screens, you really need a good source to show it off to its best ability, and luckily Panasonic launched its new Blu-ray player last week, the DMP-BD50 (full review coming soon). Sliding the Mission Impossible III disc into the BD50, I jumped straight to the night time assault on the Berlin factory. Not only is this scene a great action set piece, but the dark location makes it a real test for TVs when it comes to black level response. The TH-46PZ80B didn’t just manage to recreate the dark and dank location, but once the action kicked off, the muzzle flashes and explosions were delivered with supremely convincing realism. This TV does just as well at the other end of the contrast spectrum, with the attack on the bridge, later in the film proving to be just as convincing. This time the Panasonic had to deal with bright, almost washed out sunlight, while still resolving detail – again, the TH-46PZ80B handled its task with aplomb.
But it’s not just action scenes where this TV proves its credentials. Skin tones are also amazingly realistic, especially during close-ups, where beads of sweat and even skin pores are clearly visible. If you’re not a fan of Tom Cruise’s cheesy grin, you’ll probably want to look away on occasion, but the level of detail on offer when he’s tied up and questioned is staggering – every bead of sweat, every tear and every drop of blood are crystal clear.
Things are no less impressive when it comes to high definition gaming either. Firing up Hideo Kojima’s latest masterpiece, Metal Gear Solid 4 on the PS3, resulted in one of the most immersive gaming environments I’ve experienced in some time. Navigating Snake through a baked and bleached, war torn Middle Eastern cityscape is a vision to behold. The phrase “interactive movie” is an over-used one, but playing MGS4 on this TV really does feel like you’re playing a movie. Given, much of the effect is down to Kojima’s expert direction, but having a TV this good to play it on certainly helps.
Standard definition performance is also admirable, despite this being a large, Full HD panel. There is, of course a Freeview tuner built into the TH-46PZ80B, complete with a CI slot for adding subscription channels. If there’s one thing that’s consistent about Freeview, it’s that there is a plethora of channels employing the lowest quality bit rate, ensuring that your TV has to work very hard to piece together a decent image. Even this stern test didn’t seem to faze the TH-46PZ80B though, meaning that you can happily watch all those repeats of Top Gear on Dave.
The TH-46PZ80B features Viera Link technology, which is Panasonic’s take on CEC, but the company insists that Viera Link offers more features than standard CEC. One thing’s for certain though, if you choose to kit out your living room with Panasonic kit, Viera Link works a treat – controlling both the TV and the DMP-BD50 from a single remote control, definitely makes things simpler and cleaner, a situation that my wife would definitely welcome.
It’s probably a safe bet that anyone buying a 46in plasma TV is likely to have a sound system to go with it, but Panasonic has still ensured that the TH-46PZ80B can hold its own aurally. It certainly does its best to create a sense of drama and awe in during big action set pieces, but for me, that’s never the biggest problem with in-built speakers. I always find that dialogue is the weakest point, leaving the viewer to push the volume up to hear the characters speaking, only to be blasted back into the sofa during the next action sequence. Thankfully, this Panasonic manages to keep dialogue audible, even with the volume at a moderate level.
Considering how well this TV performs, it’s hard sometimes to remember that this is Panasonic’s entry level PZ plasma range, and it therefore carries a very attractive price point. It wasn’t long ago that the idea of a 46in Panasonic plasma for under £1,200 would have been pure fantasy, but the TH-46PZ80B can be had on the street for as little as £1,139! That makes it something of a bargain, and if you’re looking for a decent size plasma for your living room, this one should be high on your list.
This 46in plasma from Panasonic, may not be as cheap as the 50in LG 50PG6000, but it’s also a better TV. Considering the image quality and design, Panasonic has hit an amazing price point with the TH-46PZ80B. OK, so the black levels aren’t quite as deep as a Pioneer Kuro, but then it doesn’t cost anywhere near as much. Now that Panasonic has finally included proper 1080p 24Hz support, there’s very little that this TV can’t do. If you’ve got your heart set on a large plasma, this 46in Panasonic will fit the bill nicely.
Score in detail
Image Quality 9
Sound Quality 9