Product Type: Panasonic 3D Plasma
Newest Review: ... this TV is attractive in a minimalistic way. A thick black frame that is high gloss black and bears the Panasonic logo at the bottom an... more
A Year On: Still The Best TV I've Ever Had
Member Name: Nibelung
Date: 08/01/09, updated on 30/01/10 (293 review reads)
Advantages: Picture quality, Connectability
Disadvantages: Why does the EPG have to have bloody advertising?
After a year's use, I'm still very impressed with this set. Obviously by now, it'll be an endangered species aka 'old model', but none of that takes away its main virtue of superb picture quality. There is now one little niggle which doesn't affect me very much but which you might find annoying. The Electronic Programme Guide, or EPG, which is supplied by Gemstar (the VideoPlus people) has now sprouted scrolling advertising on one side of the panel when it's in use. Originally, this was just a single Gemstar logo, but now the money-grabbing bastards have decided that you'd like nothing better than to look at adverts even whilst choosing which BBC programme to watch next!
I'd been 'sort of' writing this opinion since early November 2008. In the early stages, I hadn't actually bought a new TV, but the process in buying one was such agony, I thought I'd give it an airing.
You, see, I'd already got a widescreen 32" Sony TV. I can only assume that picture-quality wise, the Sony has been punching above its weight all this time, as the number of people I'd had round who had opined that I'd have trouble finding a "panel TV any better than that" were legion.
To be fair, there was minimal pressure to upgrade to Hi-Definition in our house, since I don't have Sky (nor never will), and I didn't at that time have a Blu-Ray DVD player. Freeview was not slated to become 'HD' for several years* but, just to muddy the waters, Freesat, a free-to-view service using the same satellite as Sky has now reared its head with HD content from BBC and ITV.
Note: For many, HD Freeview is now nearer than I at first thought. For some it's already here, well sort of but as of January 2010, there was no hardware availible to view it (yet). Various makers are aiming to get stuff out there before the World Cup, predictably. No doubt, 'Muggins' will be an 'early adopter'! Following the Digital Switchover of the Winter Hill transmitter, serving much of the 'Granada' area, HD on BBC, ITV and C4 is now being transmitted, as it is from Crystal Palace serving London. Thus, a sizeable percentage of the viewing population, could in theory now start watching twin tuner HD recorders and single-tuner boxes are pencilled in for the second quarter of 2010. Watch this space for even greater web-integration, including built-in browsers and 'catch-up' like BBC iPlayer and C4 4oD.)
TAKING THE PLUNGE
Perusal of the 'wall of TVs' at our local big Tesco didn't help.
They were all demonstrating BBC HD Preview on Sky (what a surprise). Nowhere was a set to be found actually showing live terrestrial "standard definition" TV, which to my mind seemed highly unfair, as most of us will be watching a very high percentage of standard definition pictures for years to come.
How is someone supposed to decide on parting with several hundred smackers on the strength of what is shown? Even in stores where they ought to know better, like Currys Digital, just try finding live TV from Freeview.
In the end, you begin to wonder whether or not it wouldn't be better to go with what you know, read a few reviews that are favourable, including towards the standard definition picture, and find the best price for the lucky TV.
Then along came John Lewis' Kingston branch with a wall of TVs showing Freeview, bless 'em! It would seem that to really get to grips with a set's picture quality, checking out its standard definition makes a whole barrel o' sense, since they are ALL good at HD (well they would be wouldn't they?)
From what I'd read, one 37" set stood out for me - the Panasonic TH-37PX80E. This is a 'plasma' TV, not a liquid crystal (LCD), the impact of which is initially difficult to spot, but as you move around the set, you become aware of no picture fade of the kind you'd expect with LCD - yes, plasma can be viewed from just about any angle that you're likely to throw at it within the average lounge. Of course, you don't have to pay John Lewis prices, and a quick check of www.richersounds.co.uk revealed that it could be had for a very reasonable £499 (or £549 with 5-year warranty).
Why so cheap? Well, a cynic might say that because it has been a current model for nearly a year, it's due for replacement no doubt and it's only 'HD Ready', not 'Full HD Ready', which means that it's limited to 720 horizontal lines, not 1080. However, at 37" screen size, it's doubtful if there's much real difference from 11 feet away, and anyway, the likes of Sky HD and Freesat only push out 720 lines at the moment.
THERE WENT NEW YEAR'S RESOLUTION ONE! (SPEND LESS ON LUXURIES)
Once I'd read the accolades heaped on the set by the press, I was hooked.
In October 2008, What Hi-Fi? Sound & Vision named it 'The Best 37-inch TV" full stop and in September 2008, Which? Magazine made it their Best Buy. Most heartening from my point of view were the several mentions of its excellent Freeview performance.
Just about the only drawback I could see is that it was rather glossy and black in the surround area, all of which shrieks 'Dust Magnet!' at me.
My heart sank as I approached the new Richer Sounds branch in Chiswick, W4.
No sign of the set on display, but then it is only a little shop and panel TVs take up a lot of wall.
As luck would have it, they had one in stock, so with a bit of a struggle to get it onto the car's back seat (plasma sets are supposed to be kept upright), home it came, completely unseen and on trust that the magazines were right.
Once you've struggled with extracting it from a box large enough to live under a subway in, you have to mate the set with its base, which is an anxious moment as you gently lower 500 quid's-worth over two metal prongs and fit the retaining screws.
SORTING THE SPAGHETTI
Set-up is largely automated these days. Once the mains and aerial are plugged in, off it goes finding channels. In my case this was a 'full house' of all locally-available Freeview channels, all at 10/10ths signal strength (Thank you Crystal Palace for being so powerful - that's the transmitter, not the bankrupt footy team). The menu allows for hiding pay-channels so that they don't appear annoyingly when using the channel up/down button. You can of course pay to rent channels like TopUpTV or ESPN Sport using the 'CAM' slot, (Common Access Module) with a suitable subscription card.
Initially, I'd no HD sources to connect, although my Sony DVD/HDD/Freeview recorder does have what's known as an 'upscaled' HDMI output which affects some gentle enhancement of its picture quality over its already excellent SCART output, barely discernable it has to be said.
My other set-top box, a Topfield twin-tuner PVR also puts out an excellent picture via its analogue SCART output.
The only fiddly one is my laptop PC feeding the PC input. Why bother with a computer connection? Well, if your PC has web access, you can access facilities like BBC iPlayer or C4OnDemand and use them full-screen as if they are recordings you've made yourself.
A graphics card with wide-screen capabilities is a distinct advantage, but even so, you may find you have to go through a whole raft of settings to get a good picture.
The Panasonic isn't exactly short of inputs. You have two full-function SCART (composite, S-Video and RGB) sockets, three HDMI terminals, a WXGA PC input, a set of three component video phono plugs and various audio in/out option. At the front under a discrete flap, you have another set of video inputs which can be used as a quick connection for a camcorder. There's even a card reader for direct viewing of digital camera slide shows. Somehow, it knows whether the still picture was taken as a portrait or a landscape, but only if you camera has one of those motion sensors to turn the picture up the right way on playback. Without this information added to the jpeg file, Panny can't jump through this particular hoop.
Yipee! The standard definition picture really is as good as the magazines say.
In the early days of colour TVs, they used to say that you could judge a set's colour quality by the accuracy of it's rendition of black and white. Panel TVs seem to follow a similar rule, in two ways. As a new rule maybe you should judge an HD set by the quality of its SD, and perhaps the old rule about blacks and whites still applies too.
Such is the contrast and colour rendition that I began to wonder whether a Blu-Ray player was going to be necessary.
After all, players are pricey and, we can't expect the upstart format to be around anywhere near as long as plain old DVD before it's superseded so it may not be such a good idea to commit to an expensive U-turn in movie collections. OK, I know existing DVDs would still be playable, but Blu-Ray disks cost considerably more in most cases.
Contrast and colour are the two key areas where plasma seems to win over LCD sets in my limited research (i.e. looking at several of each!).
Firstly, the contrast; the blacks really are as near black as they can be - technically it's got a real contrast ratio of 15,000:1, i.e. the black is 15,000 times darker than the white! Beware claims that some sets have 50,000:1 ratios - these may be post-processing figures, not the 'native' ones.
My old CRT TV was never going to achieve this, since even switched off, the screen was only light grey, and you can't get any blacker than 'switched off'!
The colour is quite stunning - brighter than before but never garish. Of course there's a whole gamut of variations from 'Edward Scissorhand's' complexion down to positively 'Dale Wyntonian' skin tones if you must, but after playing around, I came to the conclusion that the defaults were well-enough chosen in the first place.
Thanks to the 100hz picture scanning, the result is rock steady with not a hint of flicker on large expanses of sky. Although I have been susceptible to 50hz flicker (and spending 500 quid on a whim), I'd previously avoided 100hz technology on cathode ray tube sets as it always looked to me like someone had hung a net curtain across the screen, but this is something else. Motion is smoothed, and there's no annoying bleeding of saturated colours at the edges. It's enough to get me watching sport (nearly).
Frankly, I never dreamed that 'ordinary' TV could look this good.
It may well be some time* before the dreaded words 'upgrade to Blu-Ray' play around my lips as there's a whole DVD collection out there just begging to be re-watched!
(*It wasn't )
My only minor disappointment compared to my old set, is that in making a slim surround to the screen, speaker size has been compromised, and therefore the sound is only adequate, with not much bass. However, movie buffs, me included, get over this by having a 'home cinema' set up with enough loudspeakers to start a political movement in Nürnberg.
The remote is capable of controlling my Sony box too after a brief perusal of the manual, which up to this point has been largely superfluous.
Thanks to a level of compatibility between the Panasonic Q-Link and the Sony Smartlink systems, I am able to send a direct command to the recorder to start recording whatever's on my TV screen. This is useful for dubbing something on my Topfield PVR (which has no means of making a permanent recording) onto my Sony box which does.
In amongst its viewing mode (Normal, Cinema, Game etc) there's an 'Eco' mode which matches picture brightness to ambient light, thanks to a sensor at the front of the set.
I have but one very minor complaint - the remote control seems very 'directional', needing to be pointed quite accurately before the TV answers the helm.
VALUE FOR MONEY?
There are three key features that make this set very keen VFM.
a) Firstly, try finding a 37 inch set from a major maker for £499 without it being an old model.
b) It was just about the smallest plasma set anyone made
c) 100hz technology usually adds about £100 or so to a set, if Panasonic's other sets are anything to go by.
It's extremely versatile with more HDMI ports than I'll be using in the foreseeable future, and it handles all my existing needs better than my poor old Sony which was starting to look like the limiting factor to my future projects.
As a mainly Freeview- and DVD- watcher, this set is an immense upgrade to my viewing pleasure. Coming from a 32" CRT set, its picture is not only bigger but sharper too, which is a heady combination I wasn't necessarily expecting. The general rule that the bigger the set, the fuzzier the picture just didn't make itself felt.
The 'future-proof' mob who would baulk at buying a set with a 'mere' 720 lines of resolution when 1080 are already available will give it a wide berth, but I'm happy with it.
After the event, any mention of the fact that you've bought a PLASMA set brings sharp intakes of breath from all those experts that didn't say a word beforehand, largely based on claims that plasma sets cost more than LCD sets to run.
Perusal of my instruction manual does indeed reveal power drain of 235 watts, but to my relief this seems to be a pessimistic maximum. In reality, mine hovers between 80 and 120 watts. I think the figure of 235 watts relates to an all-white screen with the brightness turned up. Me, I'm using the 'ECO' mode where the magic eye assesses ambient brightness and adjusts the set accordingly.
For all those LCD protagonists I'd like to make two points. With very few exceptions, all the big sets were at the time plasma, so it's no surprise that they cost more to run. It's only where the two formats cross over at 37 inches that comparisons are fair. LCD current usage is almost constant, whereas plasma usage goes up and down with brightness of picture - in essence a black screen costs nothing to run in plasma.
The other 'cautionary intake of breath' I'd heard was that plasma screens can 'burn in', i.e. if you leave a bright image in one spot too long, permanent marking of the screen is possible. I'd certainly counsel against letting the kids use one for console games, given their short spans of attention, and thus the likelihood of walking away leaving the same frame displayed, but in ordinary usage, I've had no such problems.
Leaving the same image in situ for over 30 minutes is advised against, but other than that, it's a non-issue as far as I'm concerned. I'm told that avoiding high brightness in the first couple of hundred hours use helps - maybe I accidentally did something right!
Summary: HD Ready 37" plasma TV