The Panasonic Viera TH-42PZ700B represents the pinnacle of Panasonic’s plasma TV range, this being the 42″ Full HD version. There is also a 50″ version of the PZ700 available.
I have to admit that I really didn’t know what all the HD fuss was about. How much better can HD pictures really be? There is also some confusion over HD Ready and Full HD. I wont go in to this in to too much detail here, suffice to say that Full HD is better as it supports all the standards that an HD ready TV does plus the 1080p format.
The TH-42PZ700B is Full HD with a native resolution of 1920 x 1080 pixels.
The PZ700 is not just limited to TV and Video though as the front mounted SDHC compatible SD card slot will allow you to play MPEG-2 and AVCHD video formats as well as JPEG images and MP3 audio files. Good news if you have a video or still camera that records on SD media.
What’s in the box?
We recorded the unboxing of the Viera but it’s worth pointing out that we have a PR sample and we’re not the first to open the box so this is what you can expect to find in the box:
Panasonic Viera TH-42PZ700B Specification:
Like the Viera models that have gone before, the PZ700 is housed in a glossy back chassis which makes for an attractive package and wife-friendly piece of ‘furniture’. The front of the unit has clean lines with only the power lights and power button obviously visible.
However on closer inspection you will see a hinged panel in the middle of lower part of the frame, behind you’ll find a host of buttons and connectors. These include channel and volume controls, headphone socket, S-Video socket, composite video and audio inputs, and a front-facing HDMI socket.
Further to the right is another hinged cover behind which is the SD card slot.
The sides of the PZ700 have no additional connectors or controls, you have to move to the rear of the unit in order to see anything else. The back panel has a raft of AV connectors; 3 Scart sockets, Component Video sockets, digital audio out, VGA socket and two more HDMI sockets. There’s even a CI card slot when (if) pay per view card readers become available in the UK.
This Viera TH-42PZ700 comes in three varieties: wall-mount, pedestal and cabinet versions. We’re concentrating on the display itself and not the mounting methods. However, if you are looking to wall mount this plasma, you should bear in mind that it weighs approx. 35KG and you’ll need good wall fixings!
Initial unpacking and setup of the PZ700 is pretty straight forward. I’d prefer to see more of an ‘idiots guide’ to help the average user though. As with many TV’s, when you first turn the power on you are prompted to go through the setup programme which scans for TV channels etc. This takes a few minutes, definitely enough time to drink your cup of tea and have a look at the user guide.
There is a comprehensive menu system that’s either fantastic or scary depending on your point of view. For people like me that love to tinker with image and colour settings this is great but for the novice this might seem rather daunting. It need not be though as you probably only need to know how to switch between the different preset picture modes: Auto and Cinema modes for watching TV and DVD’s and Dynamic mode for playing games.
Before I move on to describe how the Viera performs I want to mention the remote control. In the past, I’ve found it frustrating that you spend hundreds of pounds on a TV, DVD or HiFi and get a cheap plastic remote. This isn’t the case with the PZ700, what you get is a fairly large, well designed and clearly laid out unit finished in graphite and chrome. It does at least feel like it belongs to a TV costing over a thousand pounds!
We start our PZ700 testing with analogue TV. Typically, low-def pictures, such as those from terrestrial TV, can be poor on an HD TV, but this is just not the case with the Viera. The picture was surprisingly free of noise and even high contrast scenes were rendered accurately. It’s a similar story when viewing digital TV but if anything things are a little better. Motion tracking is smooth and shows no signs of blurring or shimmering which can happen with low-def. I suspect that this thanks to the excellent picture noise reduction and 3D-Comb filters which help to remove artefacts and perform smoothing.
With the integrated digital tuner you also get 7-day EPG functions and genre filtering.
Moving on to some High-def footage we connect up a Blu-Ray player via one of the HDMI connectors. As this is a Full HD display there is no scaling and video footage plays in its native 1080p format. Watching Spiderman 3 and Casino Royale really does show the Viera off, there is an astonishing amount of detail, colours are truly dazzling and incredibly sharp. Even the black and white scenes at the beginning of Casino Royale are a wonder to behold, the contrast is excellent and the blacks really are er, black!
It’s a similar story with normal DVD’s. Obviously there is less detail to be seen in regular DVD films and with the compression ratio some artefacts are evident, however, the image scaler on the PX700 does a brilliant job. It’s at this point that I start flicking through our DVD collection to see how well it plays my favourite scenes from various films. All very impressive.
Hooking the PZ700 up to my PS3 gave me the ability to test 720p and 1080i sources. Again, using HDMI means that connection is easy and even carries the audio signal to the TV too, only one cable needed.
Playing some of my favourite games, Fall Of Man and FEAR, you begin to see the levels of detail and contrast that the Viera is capable of. There are some dark scenes in these games but these are handled with ease, no obvious motion blurring and again, amazing detail. The brighter, cuter games show an amazing richness and depth of colour.
However, it’s while playing games on the PS3 that I first noticed some obvious colour banding on more subtly shaded areas. Initially I thought that this might be down to the game I was playing or the video encoding so thought I would put this to the test by connecting my PC. Using a photo package I filled the screen with a 32bit image which was a black to white colour fade. Sure enough there was some nasty colour banding. As you’ll see from the photo below which I took of the image on screen, the top quarter of the screen is pure black before some grey colour bands and the fade to white. This isn’t down to the image compression, this is what you see on screen.
I should mention that you can reduce the effects of the colour banding by altering the picture noise reduction settings but you can’t get rid of them completely. However, you probably wont notice banding on TV and DVD/Blu-Ray pictures as things move rather too quickly. You may notice when playing computer games, I found it most noticeable while playing Gran Tourismo HD. I should also mention that the Viera is not alone in suffering this problem, many if not most plasma and LCD demonstrate the same issue.
Audio performance on the PZ700 is pretty good. There are several audio settings that you can play with, from the normal treble and bass settings to the SRS and SRS TruSurroundXT settings. The virtual surround works quite well but is no substitute for a proper surround system but I feel sure that many will find this good enough. It certaily is good enough for watching ordinary TV.
I like the overall design of the PZ700 but I guess I should mention that glossy black bezel. While it does mean that the Viera is quite attractive to look at it can lead to some distracting reflections, especially if you do not have a completely dark room. Also, as you’ll be able to see in top right of the picture below, it’s a fingerprint magnet – parents with young children beware!
If you saw my unbox video you’ll have heard me mention those cooling fans on the back of the set. In fact all plasma TV’s have these as they tend to run quite hot. There are times, especially during films with quiet dialogue, when you can hear these fans running. You’ll get used to it after a little while and it really isn’t a problem, it’s another of those things that once you become aware of it you start to listen for it!
If, like me, you thought that HD was more Hype than substance then you really do need to take a look at the Panasonic Viera! This really is the best HD plasma TV that I’ve seen to date.
That said, I was rather disappointed by the colour banding issue, especially from such a high-end set, and once I noticed this I just couldn’t get away from it. Luckily the PZ700 makes up for this with everything else it does get right!
The PZ700 offers fantastic sharpness and overall picture quality, this set delivers on the promise of the digital home cinema experience.
Will I be buying myself a Panasonic Viera TH-42PZ700B? No way – I’ll be buying it’s 50″ big brother!
Posted by: Matt