Sunday, February 1, 2009

Panasonic PZ800 50-inch Plasma Quick Review

I like to review new electronics I buy, even if they are not exactly new to the market. Enter the Panasonic 50PZ800 plasma television, which I picked up yesterday from The Brick (here in Canada) for $1999 (CAD).

Pricing and Purchase
The MSRP for this television is $2999 CAD (or $2499 USD). The reason for the substantial discount on this television for me mostly was because the TV was a "3-month" old floor model. The sale tag price of the TV had $500 off intially (being a floor model and all), but the rep took off another $300 after a little bit of haggling. There was a store-wide clearance sale going on also, which probably helped allow the sale rep to be more flexible on the price.

At $2200, the TV was equal to the original price that the store bought the TV for from the manufacture. When the sales team was packing up the TV though, they noticed when the power was off that there were some small nicks on the display. It looked like someone punched the display with their wedding ring or something. They alerted us to this, as you couldnt tell when the display was on... the sales rep contacted the store manager though, who authorized a further $200 of the sale price, because of the damage. So, in the end, we only paid $1999 + tax + extended warranty. yes, we got a discounted extended warranty and we can exchange it for store credit in 4 years if we do not ever use it. Sounds great to me!

I was happy with my experience shopping at The Brick. They let me use their store's computer to check and compare online pricing, which they would price match if needed, and the TVs were setup in a sensible way that made comparing image quality easy. TVs are one of those things you have to see in person I find, to get a true sense of what looks good. Futureshop said they could not give us a discounted price when we asked for one, but all of a sudden they did start making lower offers when we started heading for the door. Tricky bastards. The $100-off offers they made sucked though and their extended warranties were much more expensive than what we paid at The Brick.

Pioneer vs Panasonic
I looked at Pioneer also, which Futureshop had on sale for $2999 and BB had for @3499, but The Brick did not carry. The Pioneer did look like it had really good black levels. There seemed to be a bit of choppiness in high action scenes, but that might of been simply been due to a 24 FPS input source. Who knows. The Panasonic PZ800 did not seem to have as good black levels as the Pioneer, but they both still were great. I went with Panasonic, as it was a better price, and there were some things about it that I liked, even if it didnt have as good a black level.

Nice Features of the Panasonic PZ800
The PZ800 comes with a unique THX-certified pre-calibrated image setting. This was a really nice feature for me, as I can just press a button and know Im getting a near-perfect image, without needing to calibrate the display myself. Things look natural, not-washed-out and moderately bright. For movies, this setting is awesome.

There is a Game-mode image setting, which increases the brightness and makes colors more vibrant. With movies and TV, I found this setting washed out the whites and over-saturated the colors, but it did make things BRIGHT. When I hooked up my laptop to the TV via VGA (which is another really nice feature, as my laptop does not have DVI or HDMI) things went pretty well. However, when I loaded up a computer game, with the THX setting the game seemed dark and murky. The Game-mode image setting though really did make things easier to see and made the game more pleasant. Nice. When going back to watching movies, the THX mode was remembered. double nice!

The Panasonic PZ80, PX80 and PZ75 do not have the THX or VGA PC input features I dont think. The VGA PC input though is limited to 1366 x 768 resolution i think, which was expected. The HDMI PC input though is full HD.

Black Levels
The black levels on the TV are great, although when there is a very dark scene with not much contrast, i notice that the black levels seem suddenly less-black. When there is some contrast on the screen though, when is like 99% of the time, the blacks look very black. I look forward to the days when blacks are truly 'black', but this screen does it pretty damn well still.

I thought at first that I might need to get a separate sound system for the TV, but after plugging the TV in a loading up a movie, it immediately became apparent to me that I could totally do without a big surround system. The TV has hidden in it some speakers that work quite well, and even have some bass to them. Things get pretty loud, but the bass does gets weak when the volume gets 'loud'. I'm not a big fan of surround sound systems anyways, too messy. The sound does sometimes seem to have a virtual surround sound effect, which is pretty neat. Overally, I was pleasantly suprised by the sound of this TV, and will likely not buy a separate sound system.

LCD vs Plasma
Its just my personal opinion, but I prefer Plasma over LCD. The LCDs look sharp and bright, but they also look more pixelated, flickery, and less natural. Also, the black levels on many of the LCDs I saw were pretty crappy. The actual image quality of the PZ800 is fabulous. I can't find any ways to fault it other than unrealistically wishing it had even better black levels THIS PLASMA LOOKS GREAT.

DVDs and HD material.
I don't have a Bluray player yet, but I might get one eventually. As it stands, I will be mostly watching OTA ATSC channels and DVDs. I hooked up my noname DVD player to the TV via composite, which is realize is crap, but even still things were pretty great. Sitting about 8-feet back, I watched Alien vs Predator on DVD, and was thrilled with the way things looked. I could tell it wasn't HD material from 8-feet away, but there was nothing about the image quality that bothered me.

The dark scenes in AvP were not a problem for the TV at all, and the action went by without any noticable flicker. I noticed some rainbow effect or something like that for a split second, but it was during a high contrast, black and white scene, with a lot of movement. It didnt bother me, but it was interesting that I noticed it.

As for HD sources, I hooked the TV up to my roof antenna, and was able to pull in about a dozen HD sources with the ATSC tuner. NTSC sources i also pulled in fine. The reception on the TV was great, better than any other I have used so far. Im in the Toronto area, and Im getting the New York WNED PBS HD and NY FOX 29 HD with no problem. The 1080i HD ATSC sources LOOK GREAT. Stunning. I can only imagine what Bluray might look like. From 8-feet away, i can tell a difference between SD and HD sources, as HD sources are more crisp, but both look GREAT. SD sources have no pixelization and other than looking a bit softer, they still are pleasing to watch.

In moments of high action, the ATSC HD sources do seem to have a bit of motion blur or flicker, but this might be to the limited frame rates of the source. I quickly stop noticing it after a moment, like the flicker I intially notice when at the movie theatre. It really does have less flicker than a lot of the TVs i looked at it.

The TV does show relfections and finger prints, but when the TV is on it is easy not to notice them. light scratches do not show when the TV is on.

Pros: Great picture, good black levels, good integrated sound system, useful THX image mode, Frameless edge-to-edge glossy display (easy to clean), simple but easy to use remote control, good OTA reception, PC VGA input

Cons: remote control is not back lit, dark levels did not seem as good as the pioneer's, SDHX card slot can only display photos--> cannot play movies it seems.

@ $2999, this TV seems a bit on the pricey side, but it is good competition for the Pioneer Plasma. After using the TV, I would find it hard to pick the Pioneer instead now if the two TVs were the same price. For the $1999 I paid for this TV, I feel like it was a great deal and I am very happy with the purchase -- even if there is a few scratches on the display. $2700 or less seems like a good price for this TV, IMO. The display is an absolute delight to watch and I really have to be picky to find any faults. It may not have Youtube or Divx support, but it does the important things VERY WELL.


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