Panasonic TH-58PZ750U Plasma HDTV - Review

Panasonic TH-58PZ750U Plasma HDTV - Review

Pros: Produces a deep level of black; highly accurate initial color temperature; clean, sharp image; numerous picture controls; sleek design.

Cons: Relatively expensive; some color inaccuracies and minor false contouring; less-effective glare-reducing screen.

Bottomline: Although we were impressed by the picture quality of the Panasonic TH-58PZ700U 58-inch plasma HDTV, we prefer the value proposition of its step-down sibling.

Specifications: Product type: Plasma TV; Diagonal size: 58 in; Image contrast ratio: 5000:1

Price: $3,395.00 - $4,999.98

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Panasonic produced a dizzying array of plasma HDTVs in 2007, with four full lines of multiple screen sizes each. The company's 2008 plasma lineup looks to be just as varied, but until it arrives this spring, the TH-PZ750U series, represented in this review by the 58-inch TH-58PZ750U, remains the company's flagship. Panasonic differentiates this model from the step-down TH-58PZ700U we reviewed earlier by including an extra HDMI input on the front panel, as well as a "Studio Reference" picture mode and an additional picture menu that includes a few choice options for picture tweakers. Since the two sets have basically the same picture quality, however, the 700U series is hands-down the better bargain, currently costing between $350 and $1000 less for the 58-inch model, depending on the retailer. The TH-58PZ750U is still an excellent television, however, and if those extra tweaks float your boat and you have the additional cash, it's probably the best big-screen plasma available, aside from Pioneer's more expensive 60-inch Kuro models, like the PDP-6010FD.

Design of the Panasonic TH-58PZ750U Plasma HDTV

The TH-58PZ750U looks basically the same as the TH-58PZ700U, and we like its understated styling. Its huge, 58-inch-diagonal pane of glass is surrounded on all sides by a relatively thick frame of glossy black. From both sides of that frame peek the speakers, which consist of extremely thin, black, vertical strips. The top of the cabinet is angled back, as is a larger section along the bottom where you'll find a door concealing controls and also an AV input, while a smaller hatch opens to reveal a slot for SD memory cards. The TH-58PZ750U measures 57.3 inches by 38.2 inches by 16.5 inches and weighs 165 pounds with the included, glossy black stand; sans stand, it measures 57.3 inches by 36.2 inches by 5.7 inches and weighs 141 pounds.

We really liked Panasonic's remote. Its layout is basically the same as that of last year's model, but the somewhat larger buttons feel much better. Its keys--of which there are just the right number--are arranged quite logically, and although there's no backlighting, we appreciated the ease with which we were able to locate buttons by feel. The remote can control as many as three other devices. Panasonic's internal menu system is intuitive enough, although we disliked the ease with which you can inadvertently erase your picture settings.

Features of the Panasonic TH-58PZ750U Plasma HDTV

Chief among the TH=58PZ750U's specs is its 1080p native resolution, which allows the set to display every detail of 1080i and 1080p sources. On a 58-inch screen size, the advantage of 1080p is more apparent than it would be on smaller screens (more info). As always, all sources, including 720p HDTV, DVD and standard-def television are converted to fit the pixels.

Picture settings on the TH-58PZ750U are pretty comprehensive. The menu offers three adjustable picture modes that apply to every input, along with a fourth Custom mode that's independent per input. Panasonic includes three color-temperature presets, of which Warm was most accurate.

We left most of the other controls in the main picture menu turned off. There's something called C.A.T.S. (the manual doesn't indicate what the abbreviation means) that dimmed the picture far too much for our tastes. We left Color Management turned off because it affected the color of Cyan the most, and engaging it made Cyan less-accurate. There are also three noise-reduction controls, a black-level control (best left set on Light to preserve shadow detail) and a setting that engages 2:3 pull-down. A couple of other controls are grayed out for HD sources, namely "3D Y/C filter," which should be left turned on in most circumstances, and Color Matrix, a nice extra that allows you to specify which color space--high-def or standard-def--to use. This is mainly useful for 480p sources, which can be either SD (for DVD) or HD (for digital TV broadcasts).

Panasonic differentiates its 750U from the less-expensive 700U series by including a Studio Reference picture mode and a Pro Setting menu. The Studio Reference picture mode is said to provide "high-quality gradation and color tone for a cinemalike feel," but in our experience it was a bit disappointing. The mode "crushed" blacks slightly--making details in shadows less apparent--and also measured an average of about 500K redder and less-accurate than the standard "Warm" color temperature preset in Custom mode (for the record, Studio Reference averaged 5908K while Custom/Warm averaged 6419K--the standard is 6500K).

We had better luck with the Pro Setting menu, where the color temperature detail controls allowed us to hone the set's already solid grayscale to become even more accurate. The other controls, for gamma, panel brightness and a few more-esoteric functions, also came in handy, although again we left most of them in the Off or default positions for our calibration. For our complete picture settings, click here or scroll down to the tips section. Note that picture settings on this TV are pretty easy to erase, so if you take awhile getting them right, it pays to write them down.

In addition to the five aspect-ratio modes for HD sources, there are four for standard-def. Although the Panasonic lacks a specific mode designed to perfectly match incoming 1080-resolution signals to the 1080p panel with no overscan (a setting known as "dot-by-dot" on some HDTVs), you can achieve the same effect by selecting the Full mode, then choosing Size 2 from the HD size selection on the Other Adjustment section of the Picture menu. We'd prefer that the option be easier to change--you'll want to switch to Size 1 if you notice interference or lines at the extreme edge of the image when in Size 2 mode--but at least it's there.

Convenience junkies will be bummed by the lack of picture-in-picture. Panasonic offers a version of control-over-HDMI, branded EZ-Synch, that allows other similarly equipped devices to be controlled via the HDMI connection using an onscreen interface and the TV's remote. We were disappointed, however, by the lack of menu item choices to deal with "image retention" or burn-in should it occur--features that can be found on many plasmas, including Panasonic's own professional models. While the menu lacks burn-in-related items, this and all other 2007 Panasonic plasmas have an always-on "pixel wobbling" feature that imperceptibly shifts the image one pixel at a time to avoid burn-in. The 4:3 aspect-ratio modes also include a screen saver, although it's useless when the TV is set to a wide-screen (16:9) mode and you depend on an external source, such as a cable box, to change aspect ratios.

The TH-58PZ750U also lacks controls that deal with energy consumption. There's no "power saver" mode, although as always you can achieve similar results by just turning down the light output (the "Picture" control in this case). As you'd expect from a big plasma, this model sucks down plenty of juice; see the appropriate Box below for details.

A grand total of three HDMI inputs, two on the back and one out front, kick off the TH-58PZ750U's connectivity suite--in case you're keeping track, the step-down 700U series lacks that front-panel HDMI port. There's also a VGA-style PC input (1,280x1,024 maximum resolution), a pair of component video inputs, two AV inputs with composite- and S-Video, an RF-style antenna input, and an optical digital output for the ATSC tuner. A panel on the front flips up to reveal that third HDMI port, as well as a set of buttons and another AV input with composite- and S-Video. A second panel hides a slot for SD, SDHC, and miniSD (adapter required) cards, allowing you to display JPEG digital photos on the big screen.

Performance of the Panasonic TH-58PZ750U Plasma HDTV

The Panasonic TH-58PZ750U is an excellent performer, exhibiting deep black levels and good color reproduction. Its color isn't perfect, however, and it can't get as dark as competing plasmas from Pioneer, but overall its image quality is still among the best available from any large screen HDTV.

Our evaluation began by setting up the television for optimal picture quality in our completely dark room, which involved setting its light output to our standard 40ftl , about the brightest this large plasma can get. We appreciated the fine color temperature controls, which as we mentioned above allowed us to improve the set's grayscale even further. We also choose the "High" setting for panel brightness, after making sure that this setting didn't affect black-level performance.

After setup we slipped Mr. Brooks, the Kevin Costner serial-killer flick, into our Sony PlayStation 3 and compared the Panasonic to a few other HDTVs we had on-hand, including the company's own 50-inch TH-50PH9UK, the 50-inch Pioneer PDP-5080HD plasma (our black-level reference), the Sony KDS-55A3000 (our color reference) and the Samsung HL-T5687S, a DLP-based rear-projection model.

The beginning of the film is quite dark, including nighttime shots of Costner and his wife at a banquet and on the drive home, and during these scenes the TH-58PZ750U displayed an admirably deep shade of black. Costner's tux and the night sky behind the titles, for example, looked relatively inky, and as dark as any of the sets with the notable exception (as usual) of the Pioneer, which appeared a good deal darker. Both plasmas were about equal in terms of shadow detail, showing the folds in the tux and the lowlights in his wife's hair, for example, quite well. We also appreciated that, unlike the 700U, the 750U maintained a stable level of black regardless of the brightness of other areas of the screen, causing it to pass our black-level retention test.

In terms of color the Panasonic's acquitted itself well, benefiting from an extremely accurate grayscale that made of white and dark areas look perfectly neutral and skin tones appear relatively good. We did have to back down the color control a bit, sacrificing some saturation and richness, to prevent the set's red push from making skin tones, like the delicate face of Mrs. Brooks, appear too rosy. As a result of that sacrifice, some of the more colorful areas lacked a little punch compared to the Pioneer or the Sony, but colors still looked rich overall, owing a lot again to those solid blacks.

Like most plasmas the Panasonic exhibited an inaccurate green primary, which made the grass and trees outside Brooks' first victims' home, for example, appear a bit too bluish and less natural than they did on the Sony. The inaccurate greens also caused some areas, like well-lit skin tones, to appear a bit too yellowish. The differences in both cases weren't drastic, however, and as usual were most-noticeable in side-by-side comparison.

We also noticed a bit of false contouring on the Panasonic that wasn't visible on the Pioneer. The rounded lamp in Brooks' living room, for example, showed some faint bands as the light hitting the top of the body progressed into shadow below, while later Mr. Brooks' flashlight showed some banding around the flare as he aimed it in Dane Cook's face. The other sets, aside from the other Panasonic plasma, showed a smooth gradation without any bands in these areas. The instances of contouring were again few and not distracting, however, even in typically contour-prone areas like white walls and shadows near light sources.

The big screen showed off the detail of this incredibly sharp-looking disc quite well, as we expected from a 1080p television. According to test patterns the Panasonic displayed every line of resolution from 1080i and 1080p/60 sources (it can't properly display 1080p/24, for what it's worth), and fine details like hair and close-ups of faces looked as sharp as on any other HDTV in the room. The Panasonic did fail to properly deinterlace film-based 1080i material, but we didn't see any evidence of this failure in the Brooks (although the grille from the RV in Chapter 6 of Ghost Rider did exhibit moiré) and we certainly don't consider it a deal-breaker.

The TH-58PZ750U's screen is coated with a similar antireflective compound as the 700U series, and in our experience it didn't do as well at attenuating room reflections as the Pioneer did. On the other hand, the 50-inch Panasonic plasma, which doesn't have any sort of antireflective measures, looked a good deal more washed out in bright light and captured more reflections than the 750U. Naturally, the two rear-projection sets, with their matte screens, fared best in this department.

With standard-def sources, delivered via the component-video input at 480i resolution and tested with the HQV DVD, the Panasonic performed about average. The set resolved every line of vertical resolution of the DVD format, although it didn't quite hit every line of horizontal resolution, which may explain the slightly softer-looking bricks and grass we witnessed in the Detail test. It smoothed out the edges of moving diagonal lines, including the stripes on a waving American flag, quite well. The Panasonic's noise reduction consists of three On/Off settings, "Video NR," "Block NR," and "Mosquito NR." The last didn't seem to do much, but turning on the first two decreased the amount of moving motes and video noise somewhat, although the noisiest scenes didn't look as good as we saw on some other sets with NR, such as the Sony. Finally, the Panasonic effectively engaged 2:3 pulldown.

With sources from a PC hooked up via the analog VGA-style input, the TH-58PZ750U didn't impress. Its maximum resolution over VGA, as stated in the manual, is just 1,280x1,024 (disappointing for a display with 1,920x1,080 pixels), and as expected the desktop at that resolution looked pretty soft, especially with text and other fine details. We didn't test the HDMI input with a PC, although we expect it to perform just as well as the TH-58PZ700U, which resolved every detail of a 1,920x1,080 source via HDMI.