Saturday, December 16, 2006

Review: Panasonic TH-42PX60U - Great, Inexpensive, Plasma

Summary: A well rounded 42" plasma that can be had for less than $1300 at many reputable online and big box stores. It has enough inputs to keep most people happy and well within the budget of most HDTV enthusiasts. Features that have been honed over several generations of consumer plasma TV's really shine on this set. I think the biggest complaint that I have about the set is the HDAVI control system that is creating some consternation with the SONY DVR that I have.

Baby Room Steals FP, News at 11

For the past few years the only TV in our house was a 1024x768 DLP from projection system. This venerable system served us well with over 3k hours of use and we would have continued to use it if not for the new arrival in our home. In 2006 we celebrated the birth of our first child and I had to give back the "Movie Room" so that we could have a room for the child ( spoiling her already ). I proceeded to sell off the equipment that we had and would no longer need and seek out a new display device that we could use in our well lit living room. At this time I really though, after reading far too much about HDTV sets, that almost any unit would do and I didn't want to spend that much, boy was I wrong.

LCD TV's - Inexpensive or Cheap?

The first TV that we settled on was a Syntax 532H 32" LCD set. The company had good reviews and the unit was a good price. I plugged it in and immediately knew that something was wrong with the set. The best term for the defect was "motion muddiness". While worse on low poor quality sources, it problematic for all sources and resolutions that I tested. It turns out that the "Budget" LCD market is really a minefield of poor quality or outright defective units on top of the issues that normally plague LCD displays.

Plasma - Am I Going to Break This Thing?

My main concern that initially pushed me into the LCD market was the impression that Plasma's were inherently a fragile technology. With terms like "Image Retention (IR)", "Burn-In", a short lifespan, and warnings against pausing movies I had initially discounted the technology. After a careful re-evaluation of the state of technology it turns out that those impressions were partially or completely wrong. While there is such a beast as IR, it's hardly noticeable and has more to do with an electrostatic charge than any indication of permanent damage that you may be doing to the set. Burn-in is probably the most feared plasma damage as it permanently alters the image with a "ghost" of another image. While it is still possible to "Burn-In" a plasma the likelihood with the modern panels from Panasonic are slim. This set has no "orbiting" or screen wipe feature because the set really does not need it. It is barley more susceptible to burn in than a regular CRT set. All modern panels also quote a 60,000 hour lifespan and this translates to 10+ years under even the most demanding household.

Plasma TV's - Inexpensive or Cheap?

Not wishing to rehash the incident with a budget no-name Plasma I finally settled on the Panasonic TH-42PX60U which could be had for less than $1300 in a local, reputable, electronics store. Even with a big jump up in price is the least expensive brand name plasmaat this size. Saving a few hundred just didn't seem to be the wise thing to do in this case.

NOTE: This set is large enough that I recommend you find someone with a big car to help you get this home in one piece. It is not recommended that you move it lying down, it should really be move in the upright position.

Setup and Initial Impressions

It was easy enough to get this unit out of the box, unfortunately the pedestal is not pre-assembled. Removing and setting up the pedestal requires at least 1 more person. Someone needs to hold the TV steady while the pedestal is put together and in order to place the TV on the pedestal; As long as you have that other person the unit should setup in less than 30 minutes. Amply inputs on the back make attaching all of your devices a breeze.

The first time I turned the set on I knew it would work. It had none of the defects that I had come to hate about LCD and the picture of even the worst SD TV was more than acceptable on it's 42" screen. It was the best SD I've seen on a HD second to the Toshiba 42H81 CRT RP that I owned 5 years ago.

HDTV was stellar, even with the seemingly low resolution of the panel it was crisp and clear. Using simple brightness and contrast I was able to dial in a bright and vivid 3d image.

Styling is good, many people may not approve of the silver, but the black trim around the screen are good enough for me to give the video a real 3d look.


I have gone through several rounds of calibration and expect to go through several more before I am fully satisfied with the settings. I have been trying the various picture modes to see which looks best before and after attempted calibrations. The three picture modes ( cinema, standard, and vivid ) each map directly to a level of contrast enhancement in the video processing. Cinema has none, standard has a small amount, and vivid has a stronger amount. All three of these were checked with the cycling plug patten on the DVE disk. Although I am a discerning viewer, I believe that "out of the box" settings were very good for the standard picture mode.


I have several devices that I use on an almost daily basis.

XBOX w/XBMC: at 720p the XBMC puts out an acceptable image for videos and images stored on the household media server. It was a little tricky trying to get the gamma on XBMC to be approximatly equal to that of the DVD player. I also use this for retro gaming and it looks great on the big screen. We have had gaming sessions of "Super Mario 3" for up to 4 hours at a clip without any harm to the screen.

Sony DVR: Our main tuner is a Sony DVR that we use with OTA reception. The picture is everything that I have come to expect from HDTV shources and I have no issues except for the fact that the HDAVI ( some sort of control that goes over the HDMI ) seems to give the DVR issues when it first starts up. It's not a big deal it just takes longer than I would expect before and image appears on the screen and the DVR is controlable from the remote. I run the DVR at "HDMI Auto" and that passes through the video for the TV to deal with de-inetlacing ( if necessary ) and it does a great job.

Oppo 981HD: This wonderful upscaling DVD player is attached via HDMI@1080p. It throws an image that really does squeeze 100% of the possible PQ out of the lowly DVD format. At times the image is brutally honest about the poor quality mastering, but at viewing distance this is usually not a problem. Some people avoid the plasma and oppo combination for fear of "macroblock enhance"; so far I have not had a problem with this. I think I can see the effect from close up, but from normal viewing distance it is not a problem for me.


The TV is excellent considering the price I paid for it. It produces a stunning picture that is well within the reach of many A/V enthusiasts. Plasma works well for those people who are looking for the best in PQ from a flat panel display in this price range. I have now had mine for over a month and I believe it was a very good choice.

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