Panasonic TH-50PZ77U 50" 1080p Plasma HDTV



The Remote

The remote is pretty nice. It has the buttons in the right spots, the buttons are different shapes, and the tactile feel is good. Honestly, I don’t expect any more than this from a TV remote. It can in theory control your VCR, DVD, and Cable/Sat components as well, although I didn’t try it.

Out of the Box

panasonic-th-50pz77u-plasma-tv-figure-5.jpgThe Panasonic is well packed and can be moved by a couple of people fairly easily.  I once had a 36” Sony XBR CRT. That display was almost impossible for two people to lift, while the 50” Panasonic (which is probably heaver that a similar sized LCD) is still fairly light in comparison and has a much larger viewing size.

The pedestal stand that comes with the display is easily assembled with the supplied screws.  I was disappointed the stand didn’t swivel, as some of the other display manufactures stands do.

Let's just say this display has an Ahh factor when it comes to first impressions.  The frame is gloss black, and at 50” diagonal, has a presence in a room.  The first night I set up the display without any calibration. I threw on Entrapment on Blu-ray, and my wife started to watch it.  She was impressed with the Panasonic’s color and brightness.

However after about a week of using the display, she started to complain skin tones look a little off.  I figured it was time for a good calibration, so that following week, I set out to do just that.

The results are below, but the set was simply wrong out of the box, which is pretty typical, as most displays are set to look very bright when put on the shelves at video stores.  This isn’t anything new all display at the big box stores are calibrated wrong out of the box.  They have to be in order to sit beside all the other display models and look just as brilliant.  It looks good at first, but after awhile, you get tired of the brightness and contrast. So, enjoy your new HDTV for a few weeks, but call and make an appointment for a professional to come out and calibrate it for you. By the time he arrives - in a week or so - you will be ready for all that excessive brightness and contrast to be changed.

I believe this is the same experience my wife had with the Panasonic.  Out of the box it was, "Wow, what a great image," but after a week of watching the display questions came up as to why the colors of known objects simply looked wrong.  After calibration all the complaints about the skin tones, and odd textures went away, and again she was happy, but we both noticed that the very bright Panasonic display was now a little dimmer than before. That is part of calibrating the display. It's way too bright to begin with.

Anti-Glare Coatings

The PZ77U sets have an anti-glare coating applied to them this is different that the anti-reflective coating on the more expensive Panasonic models. The coating gives the screen the appearance of being dull when turned off, and I was worried the picture might be the same way. However, that is not the case, and the image is fine. The surface is just not glossy like older plasma TVs were.

In fact, the coating looks fairly close to the texture of an LCD panel. It is effective at muting the reflection of dim lights, however, it will not counter the picture window in your living room at 2PM in the afternoon. In my home at mid-afternoon the 10’ picture window will pretty much wash out any display and the Panasonic was no exception. Simply closing the vertical blinds made the picture watchable, and what the anti-glare did in this case was remove the single lines of light that reflected thought the vertical blinds at the edges. With a glossy panel, those line would have still been clearly visible.

Image Retention and Burn-In

Previously, I never liked plasma displays, and for years I was been advising people against them, directing them to LCD displays of smaller sizes for the same money.  However, this year at CEDIA I saw several plasma displays that changed my mind.  Both the Panasonic and Pioneer displays looked shockingly good and both claimed almost no chance of burn in.  The Panasonic has a half-life of 60,000 hours and the Pioneer 100,000 hours.  I was looking at the specs of several LCD displays, and the lights were also rated at 60,000 hours.  So, perhaps the problem is finally solved.

Image retention in the PZ77U is pretty much non-existent.  The entire time I have used this display (over 1 month) I have never noticed a single case of image retention under regular use.  This is not the case with budget plasma like the Vizio.  JJ, our editor, had a 50” Vizio 720p plasma he recently reviewed, and I used it for a day or so when I was setting up his media server.  It has some of the worse image retention of I have ever seen.  Everyone has seen Windows boot and on the Vizio plasma, when the Windows logo disappeared from the screen, or I should say was suppose to disappear, it stayed as a brighter area and remained this way until the windows desktop appeared seconds later.  Panasonic has clearly solved that problem, and when the Windows logo disappears, even with all the lights shut off in the room, you cannot even see where the logo was before.  The only way I could force any sort of image retention was to place a colored bar (say blue) on a black background and then produce a full white field.  Doing this left a very very faint hint of the blue bar in the white field. Honestly you would question if the blue image was there or if your eyes were tricking you, it was that faint.  You will never notice this under normal conditions.

Burn-in is also less of something to worry about, although I haven’t had the set long enough to be sure of that.  My wife still watches a large amount of standard definition 4:3 material (hours and hours at a time) and we use Media Center to listen to music which leaves a static image on the screen for extended periods of time.  There has not been even the faintest sign in of burn-in during the few months it has been here.  That doesn’t mean burn-in will never be an issue, but so far, so good.

Pixel Perfect 1920x1080

The other reason I have been steering people away from plasma for years is the odd resolutions the sets were released in, such as 1,024x1,024 in a 42" 16:9 panel. I suppose that was simply the manufacturing limitations of the time, but in any case, Panasonic new plasmas have this under control and the 1920x1080 resolution of this set is spectacular.  1080p content is crisp and sharp even when I am only 4-5 feet away.  Our test patterns showed it resolved the full resolution and there was only one single pattern I tried (which was a very high-freq pattern) that showed anything but a perfect result in terms of being able to resolve the full resolution.

Like many displays, the PZ77U comes from the factory set up to overscan signals.  This causes the image to be a little softer than maybe it should be as you aren’t getting a pixel perfect image.  It can be changed in the user menu under picture->other settings -> HD Size.  “Size 2” does not overscan, while “Size 1” does.  You do want to be careful though, because sometimes overscan isn’t a bad thing.  Many signals (or certain channels) may have some noise or a white line in the top or right size of the signal which can be really annoying to some people.  Overscanning the signal removes this problem, so if you don't want the extraneous material, use the overscan setting (Size 1).  Our preference would be to allow the customer to blank a few lines, but I haven’t seen that option since my CRT projector days.


Image: Note the white line on the left side of the image this is in the broadcast signal
and would not be visible in the "Size 1" mode which over scans the signal.

Standard Definition

The PZ77U looks fairly good with standard def signals, but personally, all standard definition looks soft to me.  If you watch standard definition, you will appreciate the Zoom mode on the TV, because these days, lots of widescreen material is broadcast on SD channels. This results in bars on the top/bottom and sides of the image, and the Zoom mode lets the image fill the screen.  It is still soft, but at least you aren’t wasting all those extra pixels.