Panasonic quotes a contrast ratio of 10000:1, which is on par with some of the high end LCD screens these days, on paper at least. What you need to remember is that the contrast ratios quoted for plasma screens are real, whereas the high numbers we’re seeing for the latest crop of LCD TVs come courtesy of dynamic backlight technology, where the backlight is dialled down for low light scenes. The difference is that a plasma screen is emissive rather than transmissive, so if some of the pixels in a scene are dark and some are bright it can achieve the desired result without compromise. An LCD on the other hand can often leave you with dark greys instead of blacks when there’s a mixture of bright and dark imagery in a scene. So, the 10000:1 contrast ratio quoted for the TH-58PZ700 is more impressive than a similar number for an LCD screen, but it’s worth remembering that Pioneer’s KURO screens manage a 16000:1 contrast ratio!
Connection wise the TH-58PZ700 is quite well endowed. You get three HDMI 1.3 ports, two at the rear and one at the front – this means that this TV is ready for Deep Colour if discs ever appear sporting the high colour depth standard. There’s also a set of component video inputs, with corresponding analogue audio inputs. You also get three SCART sockets, a D-SUB input for hooking up a PC, S-Video and composite inputs, along with corresponding analogue audio inputs. There’s an optical digital output for passing through a surround sound bit stream from an HDMI source to an external receiver or processor. The final connection is a CI slot for adding subscription services to the built-in digital tuner.
To give the TH-58PZ700 a really good run for its money, I hooked up my trusty Toshiba HD-XE1 HD DVD player and loaded up Blade Runner: The Final Cut. This disc is quite simply stunning, as is the film itself. I’ve waited a very long time for a better version of Blade Runner than my old CAV Criterion Collection LaserDisc, but this HD DVD really does do Ridley Scott’s masterpiece justice. The thing about Blade Runner is that the vast majority of the film is, well, dark. This makes a TV’s black level performance paramount, and I’m glad to say that this Panasonic does a superb job of rendering Scott’s dark and gloomy vision of the future.
Despite the constantly grim and dark settings in Blade Runner, the film is also blessed with some of the best lighting effects ever caught on celluloid, making this a real challenge for any TV. The TH-58PZ700 managed to resolve all the detail in low light areas of each scene, while also expertly portraying the high intensity lighting without causing any of the greying over that affects many LCD screens.