First impression on unpacking the Q702 test unit was the solid feel and clean, minimalist styling.
- Excellent performance in standard definition and PC modes, Wide range of connection options, HDTV tuner
- Minor problems in high definition and standard definition, Front panel-flaps
The Panasonic TH-42PX600A performed brilliantly in standard definition and when connected to a PC. High definition content and HDTV also looks quite good on the unit, but not as good as the other image modes. If you own a media centre PC or want your DVD collection to look great, this is definitely worth consideration.
Price$ 3,299.00 (AUD)
The Panasonic TH-42PX600A is a 42in Plasma TV with a native resolution of 1024x768. We tested the Panasonic in both standard and high definition modes and found both to be excellent, with only a handful of image quality problems. While it is capable of displaying high definition content well, its performance in standard definition was the result that impressed us most.
High Definition (720p/1080i)
To test its high definition performance, we connected the TV to the same types of devices you might have running at home. We ran gaming tests using the Xbox 360 and also checked the image quality by watching HD-DVD movies.
On the Xbox 360 we played Ghost Recon Advanced Warfighter 2 and Tony Hawk's Project 8 at 720p and found the image quality to be excellent. We noticed minor noise in textures and some vertical pixelation but these were not noticeable from a comfortable viewing distance. The level of detail and clarity of the image was still good irrespective of these issues. In our motion tests, the unit performed well with no stutter or excessive motion blur. The only major issue that we had with the unit was that the dot pitch is too large. As such the image sometimes exhibits a slight dithering effect. This effect lessens as you get further from the TV, but it is still noticeable. With a screen this size, the native resolution of 1024x768 isn't enough pixels to adequately display the 720p signal. That said, the image quality is still excellent, it just may not be suitable for AV purists as there are other plasmas on the market that perform better in this department. There was also a minor amount of over-sharpening, but we were able to remove this easily via the on-screen calibration options. If you plan to hook up a HD gaming console like the Xbox 360 or the Playstation 3, this TV will perform well with only some minor image flaws.
We also viewed the bridge attack scene from the Mission Impossible III HD-DVD at resolution of 1080i. The same issues were present in this test as in the gaming test, except we also noticed some contrast stepping as well. It wasn't severe but it was definitely present and noticeable. Overall, the image quality is still quite good and superior to many mid-range units on the market, but due to these few factors, it falls short of being considered excellent. However, colours and black levels were both rendered beautifully and there was no over-saturation to speak of. We felt that whites were a little dull though and tended to look slightly gray. This is usually something seen on an LCD unit, so we were surprised to see it on Plasma. While the performance when watching HD-DVD films wasn't perfect, it was still very good and will satisfy most users.
Standard definition (576i)
The most common source of standard definition video is your DVD player. As such, we examined the TV's standard definition performance using two DVD tests.
For our first test we used the Digital Video Essentials DVD. This DVD consists of still image test patterns, which are used to check for any image quality flaws at a fundamental level. We found no discolouration, no contrast problems, no image noise and excellent blending along the grayscale. While the whites were still not as pure as we would have liked, that was really the only problem we encountered during this series of tests. We were impressed at how well the Panasonic handles interpolation of still images and even more impressed with the preceding video tests as well.
For our second standard definition test, we watched the lobby scene from The Matrix. Once again, we were thoroughly impressed with the image quality. There were some scaling artifacts, but only to acceptable levels for flat-panel TVs. No matter which TV you end up buying, there will always be some artifacts when watching a DVD due to the upscaling process. Compared to other units we have seen, the TH-42PX600A did a stellar job. If you're buying this TV to watch DVDs, you will be supremely happy with the image quality.
We connected the unit to a PC using a VGA connection and ran DisplayMate Video Edition at the native resolution of 1024x768. Plasma TVs are notorious for having severe problems when displaying signals from a PC but the Panasonic had very few problems. The desktop icons and text were displayed flawlessly and colours and black levels were rich and without any over-saturation. The only problem we found was some minor streaking in the greyscale bars tests and some very minor noise in low grey. However, neither of these will impact normal PC usage. If this were an LCD TV, these problems would be more damning but since it is plasma, the fact that there weren't more problems than these is very impressive indeed. If you are looking for a unit to use with a media centre PC, the Panasonic TH-42PX600A will certainly perform the job beautifully.
Design, speakers, tuner
The Panasonic TH-42PX600A is not the most attractive unit we have seen. In fact, it seems to hark back to early plasmas and some 1980s devices with buttons hidden by flaps on the front of the unit, rather than hidden by clever design choices. These flaps will no doubt be a magnet for curious children who will snap off their irreplaceable hinges. However, these are subjective observations and this design may appeal regardless of our objections. The rear panel houses one HDMI, two Component, three composite and one D-Sub connector, with a final composite connector on the front panel. The front panel also has a Secure Digital (SD) card reader as well, which can be used to view basic JPEG slideshows on the panel. The speakers are located below the panel and produce rich sound even at high volumes. The maximum volume isn't as loud as other units we have reviewed, but considering its excellent clarity, this isn't necessarily a bad thing. The bass was a little muddy at times, but the separation of different audio elements was handled well.
The integrated HDTV tuner worked flawlessly and took only 2 minutes and 43 seconds to discover all 45 of the available channels in our local area. The image quality is in line with what we have come to expect from the signal strength in our area and the switching speed was excellent. The Panasonic TH-42PX600A performed brilliantly in standard definition and when connected to a PC. High definition content and HDTV also looks quite good on the unit, but not as good as the other image modes. If you own a media centre PC or want your DVD collection to look great, this is definitely worth consideration.
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