- Review Price: £1157.49
The arrival of any Panasonic TV in our labs is generally a cause of some excitement these days. But it’s fair to say that the weight of expectation on the shoulders of the 46in TH-46PZ85 is particularly heavy. Partly because it comes hot on the heels of the truly grandiose Panasonic 58PZ800, and partly because it arrives as the proud winner of the ‘Best Value Plasma TV 2008-2009’ award from the European Imaging and Sound Association (EISA).
In case you’re not aware of it, EISA is a group of Europe’s top journalists (minus, outrageously, my good self – sniff) that meets annually to try and identify the Great and the Good from the whole gamut of AV products washing across our continent. So we should be able to feel pretty confident that the 46PZ85’s victory was certainly not just a case of someone shutting their eyes and pushing a pin into the ‘products for consideration’ list!
The 46PZ85 did not win any awards for its design, though. And it’s not hard to see why. Its remarkably wide bezel and same-old, same-old gloss black colour scheme just doesn’t make a splash in style terms – even though there’s a little arc of silver jutting out along the bottom. On the evidence of the 46PZ85, we’d say Panasonic’s ultra cool looking ultra-thin plasma models can’t arrive soon enough.
As we’d expect of what’s reckoned to be a ‘budget’ plasma, the 46PZ85’s connections include three HDMIs rather than the ideal four, though these are all built to the V1.3 specification and offer Deep Colour compatibility. They’re joined, too, by the customary component video and PC inputs, and an SD card slot for playback of JPEGs. Plus, of course, there are all those other TV connection staples you used to find back in the days of CRT TVs. Remember those?
At this point, it’s probably worth reflecting on the fact that despite winning a Value award from EISA, the 46PZ85 isn’t astonishingly cheap by 46in TV standards. Only yesterday, in fact, we were looking at a 46in TV from Sharp that could be found for as little as £900 – not far off £300 cheaper than this Panasonic.
But we guess the justification for the Value award comes from the fact that in terms of specification and features, the 46PZ85 actually comes across like a premium TV, not a budget one.
It carries, for instance, a Full HD pixel count, and delivers a truly enormous claimed contrast ratio of 1,000,000:1. But probably its most striking attribute is its video processing. For it carries not only Panasonic’s top-line V-Real 3 Pro image engine, but also the brand’s so-called Intelligent Frame Creation (IFC) system.
The V-Real element has delivered some impressive results on previous TVs when it comes to reducing video noise levels, boosting colours and rescaling sources to suit a panel’s native resolution. IFC, meanwhile, calculates and then adds in new intermediary frames of image data in a bid to make motion in the picture more fluid and crisp, and has again previously impressed (notwithstanding one or two caveats we’ll come to later).
It’s well worth adding that the 46PZ85 uses a combination of what Panasonic cryptically calls ‘an advanced panel structure’ and a newly developed screen filter to produce a larger than usual colour space, taking in 110% of the HDTV colour standards.
Other bits and bobs within the 46PZ85’s well-constructed onscreen menus include four levels of noise reduction and an unusual amount of audio flexibility. The latter comes in the form of both a ‘Simulated Surround’ mode and the impressive third-party BBE ViVA system, which adds a ‘3D’ soundstage element to the standard BBE’s already-established talent at making TV audio sound more natural and wide ranging.
Getting into the nitty gritty of performance, when the 46PZ85 is happy with what it’s being fed, we’re pleased to report that it’s every inch an award-winning product.
With HD courtesy of ”30 Days of Night” on Blu-ray and ”Gears Of War” on the Xbox 360 (the original one – I’ve been getting a bit of practice in ahead of the new one coming out!), the 46PZ85 absolutely purrs.
Particularly striking considering this is a plasma rather than an LCD TV is the image’s extreme sharpness. You can make out individual flakes in ”30 Days of Night’s” snowstorms, weaves in the vampire’s clothing, and every last pixel of the outstanding background textures that make Gears of War still arguably the finest looking game on any next-gen console to date. Basically, all the lovely, minute stuff that we love so much about the HD experience.
Rather less surprising given Panasonic’s record – but no less gratifying – is the 46PZ85’s black level response. An endlessly dark horror film like ”30 Days…” will repeatedly highlight flaws in any TV with even the slightest black level problems, but it seldom catches the 46PZ85 out at all. In other words, when something in the picture is supposed to be black, that’s generally exactly how it looks on the 46PZ85, with precious little of the greying over problem associated with rival LCD technology.
Now we’ve made one comparison with LCD we might as well make another, which is that moving objects on the 46PZ85 are noticeably clearer and less affected by blur than they are on all but the very highest level LCD sets. Even plasma’s customary tendency to judder during camera pans and rapid horizontal motion is processed almost completely away if you call in the Intelligent Frame Creation system.
Our HD sources also contain outstanding colour resolution, with natural skin tones, decently vivid saturations, and exceptional subtlety in terms of blends.
The 46PZ85 is also impressively at home with standard definition sources – provided they’re of a decent quality in the first place. The in-studio stuff on Sky News, for instance, looks really quite impressive versus many Full HD rivals, with minimal video noise, well-defined edges, satisfactory (though certainly not exemplary) levels of fine detail, and believable colour tones.
However, when the Sky News channel switches to a typical outdoor broadcast, with the attendant drop off in image quality, the 46PZ85’s pictures seem to break down more than I’m entirely comfortable with. Noise levels grow exponentially, the picture becomes quite soft, and colour tones tend to become much less natural.
Now that we’re in a negative frame of mind, just occasionally some dark scenes take on a very slight green pall. Also, the IFC system can cause a few glitches during fast-moving footage, and so might be worth deactivating when watching sport or action films. And with the picture calibrated to its best level for black levels, noise levels and colour tone, images are not as bright and aggressive as you’d expect to find with a TV using LCD rather than plasma technology.
But then, of course, no LCD we can think of gets close to the 46PZ85’s black levels, so really how much the image’s brightness matters to you boils down to a simple matter of personal taste.
We’ve been a bit disappointed with the sound quality of some previous Panasonic plasma generations, but the sonics from the 46PZ85 are actually very good. Not quite up there with the ‘Smart Sound’ speaker systems of Panasonic’s flagship PZ800 TVs, but certainly good enough to handle even the tough demands of an action movie soundtrack with reasonable authority, dynamism, clarity and enthusiasm.
The 46PZ85 is not perfect. It’s no great lover of low quality standard def, and its lack of brightness could be an issue if you’re using it in a very bright room. But if you don’t mind dimming your lights and are after a big-screen TV that eats DVD and HD movies for dinner, then this really is the great value set those EISA people reckon it is.
Score in detail
Image Quality 9
Sound Quality 8