Panasonic TH-50PZ800U Helena MT
East Helena, MT
West Yellowstone, MT
Great Falls, MT
October 9, 2008 By Geoffrey Morrison
The Audience is Viewing
THX, as a company, has an interesting "job" so to speak: work with companies to help them design better performing products. Their work with audio is well known, but home video is a new realm for them, which you can read about in Seal of Approval .
Panasonic plasmas offer a great starting point. Rarely underwhelming, Panasonic's displays are usually aimed towards the mainstream market, with performance to match. That is to say, good, but rarely great. To say I was intrigued by the idea of these two companies working together would be putting it mildly.
Each size in the 800-series from Panasonic (42, 46, 50) is THX-Certified for video. They occupy the higher end of Panasonic's line. The 850-series is a little more expensive, $300 more for the 50-inch, and while you lose the THX certification, you gain VIERA Cast, which gets you YouTube videos and other internet content that Dennis talked about last month in his "In the Box" feature. While that stuff is cool, I'll take the promise of better video quality.
The base swivels slightly left and right, which is a nice touch. The menus are fast and easy to navigate, but when you try to make an adjustment, they revert back to the base menu way too fast. This will drive your installer/calibrator nuts. The remote has big buttons (and big labels), but it's not backlit and isn't anything to ditch your current remote control solution for.
The first indication that the TV has been worked over by THX is a mode in the picture menu labeled, shockingly, THX. Switching to this mode moves the picture settings around significantly, as if fleeing from the garish out of the box Vivid mode. You would expect these settings to set your TV up perfectly, but unfortunately this reveals the first of two limitations with the THX certification.
No TV, even those within the same model line, is exactly alike. So the settings used on one TV aren't going to get a different TV dialed in. The only way to do this would be to set each of these settings for each TV before it leaves the factory. In the volume that Panasonic deals with (and the price they sell for) this is impossible. All this means is that for the primary settings (contrast, brightness, and so on), you'll still need a setup disc.
The same is the case with the color temperature. It's a little off the D6500 standard, with the darker images being a little warmer than brighter ones, but it's close enough that most people probably won't notice it.
The other thing you'll notice immediately is how dim the 50PZ800 is. This is actually a "feature" called C.A.T.S., which the manual claims optimizes contrast, but in reality just limits the overall light output (technically, reducing contrast). Turning it off revealed a decently bright image.
One feature that I was particularly excited to try out was a 48Hz mode. When you watch movies (24 frames ...