We realise that high definition isn't for everyone.Not least because getting all the kit needed to 'go HD'costs a pretty penny.Cue Panasonic's PE50 plasma TVs,which don't meet the industry's HD Ready specification,but cost relatively little.
The 37in TH-37PE50 we're looking at, for instance,costs a mere £1,250. This doesn't just buy you some bland piece of grey plastic,either.The 37PE50 enjoys a swish black screen frame,offset tastefully by silver trim and speaker section.The design is particularly spectacular if partnered with the optional (add £200) floorstanding cabinet.
Price-fuelled compromises have been made on the connectivity side, though,since there are no HDMI or DVI digital video inputs.The set is thus not fully compatible with all the upcoming HD sources,because some HD content (even a few Sky broadcasts) will only be viewable through HDMI or DVI jacks with HDCP anti-piracy measures.
The set also lacks PC inputs and,very unusually,any S-video or composite video connectors.Blimey. Oh well,at least there are three Scarts, analogue HD-capable component video jacks,and a CAM slot (reflecting this TV's provision of a built-in digital tuner).
The 37PE50 benefits from the same picture improvements on Panny's HD Ready PV500 range.These include a new colour management system reckoned to deliver up to 8.6 billion colours,processing to remove motion noise,10 per cent more brightness,and boosted black levels. Before assessing its performance, though,we should state that it's not just a lack of digital video inputs that cost the 37PE50 full HD Ready status. Its native resolution of 852x480 also falls short of HD requirements. Having said that,with standard definition,the 37PE50's pictures are as good,if not better than those of any rival plasma TV - including Pioneer's outrageously good PDP-43XDE.
Colours are extraordinarily vibrant, but always enjoy a 100 per cent natural tone.And Panasonic's nearlegendary talent with plasma black levels continues,too,as the 37PE50 reaches dark parts other plasmas simply cannot.Also,when it comes to traditional plasma artefacts such as motion noise,green dot crawl,and colour striping,this Panny more or less removes all of them.
Overall,there's a simple clarity, directness and noiselessness about SD and even digital tuner feeds that speaks volumes for the quality of image processing.It's here that the relatively low screen resolution helps, as it's easier to scale SD to a 480-line panel than a 766 or more line panel. The downside is that componentfed HD pictures,while still good,don't look quite as pin-sharp or textured as on premium true HD panels like the aforementioned Pioneer.
Happily,the 37PE50's belting pictures are backed up by first-rate sonics.The speakers serve up a soundstage free from harshness, rounded out with generous amounts of bass,and capable of serious volume without distortions.
As usual with a Panasonic plasma, there's no knocking it in performance terms - especially given its very affordable price tag.In fact,it's nigh on irresistible - if you're not an HD-ophile,of course. John Archer