Those manufacturers jealous of Panasonic's impressive plasma screens will be hoping that this review will give the manufacturer a thorough shoeing. But Panasonic has done it again with an excellent mid-range 42in plasma TV.
The Panasonic TH-42PX700's gloss black screen surround and silver trim flags this screen as being a cut above the 'none more black' PX70 entry-level models. Within this grey undersection, the TH-42PX700's first surprise can be found: a slot for SD and high capacity SDHC cards, for showing friends and relatives your digital snaps.
Panasonic has given this TV three HDMIs, all with Viera Link. This allows other Viera Link-compatible equipment to be controlled using the TV's remote.
Other connections include three Scarts (two of which are RGB-enabled), component video and D-Sub PC inputs, and stereo audio and digital audio outputs. Basically, all bases are covered - except one.
Although the TH-42PX700 has a digital tuner for receiving Freeview broadcasts, it doesn't have a common interface slot needed for the smartcard and CAM used to decode the pay-TV service Top Up TV.
The TH-42PX700's specification similarly covers all bases, with an HD-ready resolution of 1024 x 768 and a sizable claimed contrast ratio of 10000:1.
As you might expect, the TH-42PX700's feature count is lengthy. There's an Advanced Smart Sound Speaker System, speakers that Panasonic claim deliver greater clarity, bass and mid-range sound localisation, Viera V-real 2 image processing engine, along with various processing tricks up its sleeve, the ability to accept 1080p sources, and also remaster non-1080p sources for greatly improved images.
Also on list are a digital optimiser for removing noise common to digital video signals; Motion Pattern Noise reduction facilities; Panasonic's Real Black Drive system and Deep Black Filter, and Advanced 3D Colour management.
But an impressive feature list doesn't always mean impressive pictures.
Upholding the tradition of Panasonic's legendary black levels on their plasma screens, the inky blackness of space in The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy appears inky, thanks to black levels that are astonishingly deep without a trace of grey. Similarly, in the darkest corners of the interior shots of the Vogon Constructor fleet, there's great shadow detailing, giving scenes a deeply convincing sense of scale.
The TH-42PX700 also puts in a magnificent colour performance. Bright and busy scenes, like the control room of the stolen Heart of Gold spaceship, have perfectly saturated colours, which are also free from distracting noise. Skin tones are also well executed - human and alien alike.
Fast moving sequences, such as the Magrethean nuclear missile attack on the Heart of Gold, are delivered with little of the motion blurring that seriously cripples many an LCD TV, looking excitingly smooth.
The TH-42PX700 even gets to grips with the common plasma motion problem of noise over moving skin tones. This is an impressive hi-def picture performance that shows off what hi-def discs can do when paired with a suitably impressive flatscreen.
While the TH-42PX700 puts in a fantastic performance with hi-def material, it's not bad with standard-def DVDs, particularly if you use an upscaling DVD player, but we have seen better pictures elsewhere.
This isn't a major criticism, but some of this TV's similar sized rivals may have the edge when it comes to sharper hi-def images and more vibrant colours. Also, horizontal motion can judder sometimes, and some contrasting edges have the appearance of being slightly jagged.
However, these minor points don't even come close to tarnishing the good name of this TV, as its picture performance is undeniably superb.
As we were tripping over ourselves to enthuse about the TH-42PX700's killer pictures, we nearly forgot to wax lyrical over the TV's sonic prowess.
That enhanced speaker system earns its keep. The TH-42PX700 delivers a depth of bass and openness of mid-range that puts the audio capabilities of most flatscreens to shame.
This is first-rate plasma screen. High and standard-def pictures are superb with material, and it has super audio to match.
Although the TH-42PX700's pictures aren't perfect, we've no hesitation in giving this 42in plasma a strong recommendation, so get your credit card ready.