Panasonic Viera TH-50PZ800U Review
In this review, you get to read about a plasma TV that comes with both exceptional picture quality, as well as a very good price tag. Panasonic Viera TH-50PZ800U is not a cheap model, being one of the top models, but considering the quality it offers it makes the best deal. This combination of high quality and approachable price, will probably make Panasonic TH-50PZ800U one of the most popular plasma TVs of this year. In a nutshell, you get deep blacks, accurate colors, good anti-glare screen and plenty of connectivity options, all packed in a sleek design.
- Screen Size: 50 inch
- Resolution: 1920×1080 (1080p)
- Great value for the money.
- Perfect colors thanks to THX mode.
- No need for calibration, offering a great experience out-of-the-box.
- Very good black levels and great detail in dark areas of the picture.
- Sufficient connectivity options
- Black levels not as good as those of Pioneer Kuro models.
- No fancy features like network connectivity or access to internet services.
- No advanced picture controls, albeit it doesn’t really need them.
THX Certification Brings Perfect Colors
I’m personally not very impressed by buzzwords, usually managing to go beyond all the fuss around them in search of a real benefit, if one exists. THX Certification is a buzzword, but fortunately it also has a real benefit to back it up; unlike other specs (e.g. huge contrast ratio numbers). With or without THX, what matters is the picture quality, so I will focus on that and try to put everything in context in order for you to understand why THX matters (or not).
THX is a standard and only a standard. Moreover, it refers strictly to color accuracy, which is just one of the many things that make up great quality. You see, obtaining a superb picture from a HDTV is a matter of getting many factors to work together in harmony. Color accuracy is just not enough by itself. Black levels, contrast, brightness, environment and even your very own eyes, are factors that determine the overall quality of the picture. That being said, a HDTV that complies with the THX standard is one that has the color factor covered up. Being THX certified means colors close to perfect and that is the reason THX certification is a benefit.
From a different perspective, not being THX certified doesn’t mean anything. You should not make the mistake of thinking that just because a TV isn’t THX certified it means its colors are not accurate. Also, you should also understand that you are a human being, and your definition of “perfect colors” might be different than the one experts came up with. This entire explanation of THX, is not to emphasize nor to put in a bad light the qualities of Panasonic models that have such certification, but to give you a heads up so you don’t fall in a marketing trap and disregard models without such certification. Remember, what matters is the actual benefit not the buzzword!
Now that I’ve gave you that heads-up, let’s cut to the cheese. Panasonic Viera TH-50PZ800U has perfect colors out of the box. You just select THX mode and you’re ready to watch your favorite movie at best quality. Is not much more that I can say regarding the colors of TH-50PZ800U – “perfect” sums it all up pretty well. However I do want to tell you how it compares against other plasma TVs in this area. Most HDTVs have a slightly wider color gamut than the HDTV standard. In layman terms, that means more vivid colors – tomatoes appear redder, grass is greener, etc. According to the HDTV standard, most HDTVs are not perfect. Some can be calibrated and get close to perfect, others not so close. To a certain extent this is a very subjective matter, some people liking more vivid colors while others prefer the accurate ones. From this point of view, Panasonic Viera TH-50PZ800, is superior to other models since it has accurate colors out of the box, and if you happen to want them more vivid you can calibrate it, or should I say “mess it up”, as you want.
Deep Black Levels
Pioneer is without doubt “king of the dark”. Panasonic, though not an equal match in this area, certainly deserves recognition. The black levels of TH-50PZ800U are very deep and from that results great quality. There are significant differences between the blacks of Panasonic TH-50PZ800U and a Pioneer model like PDP-5020FD, but when compared to other plasma TV brands, TH-50PZ800U rises above.
Many movies have night or predominantly dark scenes. That’s where you can see the quality of the black levels. TH-PZ800U has very deep blacks in areas like night skies or those dark corners in SF or horror movies. At the same time it maintains a great amount of detail in areas such as slightly lighter clouds on a dark sky or terrain contour at night. The gradients are also very good, with smooth transition from pure blacks to lighter colors.
Standard definition performance of TH-50PZ800U is good. After all, you can’t expect miracles from poor quality material. Compared to its main competitors it has similar performances. Pioneer Kuro PDP-5020FD, Samsung PN50A650, Samsung PN50A550 and even his younger brother Panasonic Viera TH-PZ850U, all perform in a similar way when feed with SD content. The noise reduction is efficient, albeit common to all HDTVs, and comes very useful when watching SD content. Since this is a 1080p plasma TV, if you plan to watch mostly SD content you will probably get a better deal with the cheaper 720p Panasonic Viera TH-50PX80U, which is more suitable for SD content.
Connectivity and Features
Audio & Speakers
It has four speakers, two on each side. Two of the speakers are woofers, producing low frequency sounds (55Hz - 200Hz), while the other two speakers cover the higher frequencies (200Hz - 17kHz). The sound is more than decent for watching TV and is acceptable even for HD movies. Of course if you really want quality and power you better put some money aside for a serious home theater audio system.
There’s nothing extraordinary here. As with any top quality plasma TV, Panasonic TH-50PZ800U has everything you need to hook it up with other devices. It has the usual front door under the screen which covers a HDMI input, composite, S-Video and, as we’ve got used by now, a SD card slot. On the back you can find three more HDMI connectors, two component, one composite, one S-Video, digital (optical) and analog audio inputs, RF connector for antenna or cable and of course the VGA connector. Compared to its newer brother - TH-50PZ850U - it lacks the LAN and RS-232 ports.
Panasonic Viera TH-50PZ800U has all the controls you need. It lacks some advanced color controls but, even if it would have them, you would probably never use them since there’s no need to calibrate this HDTV. You will find a setting named C.A.T.S. which changes contrast dynamically. You will probably want to leave this turned off as it doesn’t produce a better picture. Actually, as it is the case with most “intelligent” settings that dynamically affect the image, C.A.T.S. will most likely do more bad than good.
Anti Burn-In Features
Panasonic TH-50PZ800U, as pretty much all of the latest plasma TV models, comes with the three usual features that protect it from burn-in. The pixel orbiter feature, slightly (and invisibly to your eyes) moves the whole picture around to wear out the pixels more evenly. To avoid burn-in generated by watching 4:3 content, you have the option to change the sidebars from black to gray. Finally, in the unlikely case that your plasma TV gets a burn-in, you can enable the white wash function.
No Fancy Features
One of the main reasons Panasonic TH-50PZ800U has a more approachable price as opposed to TH-50PZ850U, it the absence of Viera Cast™. This feature present in the models from Panasonic’s newer PZ850U line gives you access to some internet services: YouTube, Google Picasa, weather and stock info, news, etc. As I pointed out in TH-50PZ850U review, the absence of Viera Cast™ isn’t a big deal however.
Its competitor, Pioneer PDP-5020FD also has a fancy feature that allows you to hook it up to a network and play media files from a PC. I find that to be a more useful feature than Viera Cast™ but you may have a different option. Eventually, the lack of such fancy features in TH-50PZ800U means a lower price, and that’s always good news. In the end, the most important thing in a plasma TV is the picture quality, features coming last.
NOTE: The following comparisons are partly on a subjective tone! I recommend you to do your own comparisons because I am sure your personal taste matters more than anything.
Panasonic TH-50PZ800U vs Pioneer Kuro PDP-5020FD
Many say that Pioneer PDP-5020FD isn’t worth the money. I dare to disagree. If you know how to use it and get the best of it, it does look much better. If the budget is an important factor for you, by all means go for a cheaper model like TH-50PZ800U. It will look great and you will still have money left for popcorn. If however, the $700 difference (October 2008) isn’t a huge deal by your standards and you prefer to watch movies in a room with dim light you will get a better experience from PDP-5020FD.
I agree, Panasonic TH-50PZ800U has more accurate colors, and the lack of color controls in PDP-5020FD disappoints me, especially that the previous Kuro generation had it. However, in real life it doesn’t bother and when it comes down to overall experience I think Pioneer Kuro models are still way above any Panasonic plasma TV. Those black levels really make the picture stand out and that issue with color accuracy is going to be a problem only for the extreme purist. Also Pioneer has a much better anti-glare screen and a few more fancy features, even if useless for some.
So basically it comes down, as usual, to how you intend to use the TV, what your personal preferences are, and of course, the budget. The price is really steep, and I would have found a $500 difference much more acceptable, but Pioneer seems to have a thing for huge prices.
Panasonic TH-50PZ800U vs TH-50PZ850U
For me this is a no-brainer. I would rather pay extra $700 for a Kuro than $200 for a TH-50PZ850U. The difference in quality is slim between TH-50PZ800U and TH-50PZ850U, the latter having more vivid colors, in a way like the Kuro but without being as impressive overall. But, I have no use of Viera Cast™ and that may not be the case for all. Some of you might actually find it a nice feature to have for just $200 more. In the end $200 isn’t much and if you happen to personally like the slightly more vivid colors too, TH-50PZ850U is going to suit you better. If you want to read a slightly deeper (and maybe more objective) comparison of the two models, go at the bottom of TH-50PZ850U review.