Panasonic is well-known for heavenly plasma TVs at down-to-earth prices. In particular, these beauties have some of the best blacks in the business, which makes everything else about the picture they produce look better. The TH-50PX77U is no different, besting the blacks of every other plasma in this roundup. How else does it stack up? Mostly very well.
One of the most touted features of this and many other Panasonic plasma TVs is the SD memory-card slot on the side. The company’s digital cameras use SD cards, so it makes sense to include an SD slot on the TVs so you can easily share photos with family and friends. Also available are SD cards preloaded with high-def images of fine art and photography from a company called GalleryPlayer (galleryplayer.com), turning the TV into a high-tech art gallery.
The menu system is reasonably well-designed, though most of the picture controls are two levels deep, and instead of dropping to the bottom of the screen when you’re making adjustments, they remain where they were in the menu. Thankfully, the rest of the menu disappears, but it pops back after only two seconds of inactivity, preventing you from carefully considering your settings. Like most TVs, this one’s remote is a universal type that can control up to three devices other than the TV. The buttons are big and well-organized, which is great, since the remote is not illuminated. As usual, there are no direct-access input buttons—you call up a menu of inputs by pressing the TV/Video button. Please, Panasonic, at least give this button an intuitive label such as INPUT or SOURCE
Ever since I discovered chapter 8 on the Mission: Impossible III HD DVD and Blu-ray, I’ve been using it to test the video processors in TVs and disc players. In that scene, the camera slowly pans across a long staircase in the Vatican, an image that is deadly difficult for any processor to deal with. On the TH-50PX77U, the stairs were somewhat obscured by a wavy distortion, indicating that the set’s internal “deinterlacer” is not among the best available.
As might be expected from a Panasonic plasma, the TH-50PX77U produced the best black measurement of any set in this survey (visit AVguide. com/charts for details on this and other technical matters). With blacks this deep and rich, I had to watch a space movie, and Apollo 13 on HD DVD did not disappoint. The inky depths of space were faithfully rendered, and the letterbox bars were totally unobtrusive.
In dark scenes, I did notice a lot of image retention (also known as “burn-in”)—bright parts of the picture lingered when they were replaced by dark elements. But as I learned with the Vizio VP50HDTV, also part of this survey, it appears to be an issue only for brand new plasma sets and normally diminishes over the first days of use. Unlike the Vizio, however, image retention was still obvious after leaving the Panasonic on for several days, though it seemed to be slowly improving. Unfortunately, this set has no “screen-clean” function to combat image retention.
When dark areas of the picture are a true black instead of dark gray, colors tend to pop right off the screen. The blue sky beckoned me to ride with the astronauts, and skin tones looked completely natural. The green grass at the launch site looked a bit exaggerated, as did Marilyn Lovell’s bright red dress and the red rocket gantry, but not in a way that seriously detracted from an otherwise beautiful picture.
The texture of the tank treads on the massive vehicle that moves the mighty Saturn V to the launch pad was crisply defined, and the consoles in Mission Control and the Apollo capsule were clear enough to reach out and twiddle. I could almost feel the moisture in the stale air as condensation built up on the capsule’s surfaces.
On DVD, I watched The Mask of Zorro, and the detail was excellent—in the opening scene, I could clearly see each peasant in the crowd as they surge forward to condemn Don Rafael Montero, the evil governor of Alta California. The flower petals strewn in the entrance to Don Rafael’s hacienda led me into the party along with Alejandro and Don Diego as they infiltrate the governor’s inner circle.
The red of the soldier’s uniforms was perhaps a little brighter than it should have been, but faces looked quite natural, and the green tree leaves were not as exaggerated as I expected. Shadow detail in the dimly lit dungeon was excellent, revealing all the filth with disgusting clarity and making the scene all the more realistic.
Turning to HDTV from Charter Cable, The Tonight Show with Jay Leno was nice and sharp, clearly rendering the pinstripes in Jay’s suit and a few small chips in his desk. (No wonder set designers hate HDTV!) As the camera moved around, there was some slight shimmering in the finely detailed L.A. skyline backdrop behind the desk, but its colors were rich and vibrant.
For me, black performance is one of the most important aspects of a good picture, and the Panasonic TH-50PX77U is hard to beat in this area. Overall detail was very good, especially in dark areas of the picture. Its video processing is not the best, and strong greens and reds can be somewhat exaggerated, but otherwise this is a fine TV worthy of serious consideration. TPV