Review: Panasonic TH-50PZ850A Plasma TV (Verdict: Where's My Wallet?)

panny850review.jpgMy opinion on this particular TV can be summed up in the following anecdote: Last weekend I went down to my local Harvey Norman store and bought one of my own...Let it be said that I've always preferred plasma to LCD. Not that LCD is bad, but I find plasma a lot more sympathetic to the kinds of programs I like watching. For the past 12 months I've had my eyes set on Pioneer's LX Kuro panel, but I've been waiting for the price to drop to about $4K before I spent my money. But that all changed when I got the Panny in for review.

Let's start with the design. At 50 inches, it's fairly hefty. The curved silver trim at the bottom of the screen differentiates it form all the other large, black TVs on the market today. While there's nothing overly different about it, it still looks like a nicely designed set.

The 1080p screen itself is stunning. Stick in an HD source (or use the inbuilt HD tuner) and you'll be drooling over the level of detail. Plug in an SD source and you'll be suitably happy with the quality. Black levels are superb (you get a 30,000:1 native contract ratio),and colour reproduction is equally impressive. And with 100Hz tech on board, fast motion isn't an issue for the screen. Cinema lovers will also love the 24p playback support for Blu-ray, which adds vibrancy to the movie experience.

The 850 has connections galore, including four HDMI inputs and an optical audio output for your surround sound system. Unlike some overseas models of the same set, there's no ethernet port on board here, so you won't be able to connect straight to the net from your TV. There's also an SDHC slot at the front that apparently plays AVCHD videos straight from the card, although not having an SDHC card with videos (or an SDHC card fullstop) meant I couldn't test that one out.

The TV's sound quality is decent from the inbuilt speakers, although ultimately you'll want to make use of that optical output for sound. The user interface is clean and easy to understand, with a remote control that is both comfortable and simple to use.

The only potential drawback I've found with this set is that the screen itself is a glossy, reflective screen, which exacerbates plasma's problems in brightly lit rooms. Fortunately, I have a nice, thick curtain that dulls any light in the room rendering this a non-issue for me, but anybody else thinking about joining me at the 850 plasma club should take this into consideration.

On the whole, this is an awesome screen, no matter what way you look at it. In more detailed comparisons with Pioneer's world-beating LX-series Kuro, it not only holds its own, but wins when you take into account that the price is two grand less than the Pioneer. And when it comes down to it, that's a crucial factor - $3,899 vs $5,999 (RRPs - you can pick them both up for much less) for a similarly specced TV - Panasonic have a winner on their hands here.

[Panasonic]