The technical difficulties of squeezing 1920 x 1080 plasma cells into a screen smaller than 65in have meant that before now we've only seen one Full HD 50in plasma TV: Pioneer's PDP-5000EX waltzing in at a cool £6,000. So the arrival of Panasonic's debut full HD 50in model, the TH-50PZ700, for the relatively small price of £3,400 is a real red letter day for plasma technology.

Slot machine

Externally, the TH-50PZ700 is attractive in its tidy and robustly built gloss black bezel. The fascia is distinguished by an SD card slot which uniquely plays AVCHD video files as well as digital photos. Other connections include three HDMIs and a D-Sub PC port.

As well as the AVCHD playback and full HD pixel count, the TH-50PZ700 differs from its lesser Panasonic siblings in having 12-bit processing, enabling 4,096 greyscale gradations. This should result in subtler colour blends and more shadow detail.

The TH-50PZ700 shares the V-Real 2/Pro image processing that's helped make other models in Panasonic's current range so special, with the only slight specification concern being a claimed contrast ratio of 5,000:1 - half that of Panasonic's lower-resolution panels. This is potentially worrying given the revolutionary black level performance of Pioneer's PDP-508XD.

We tested this Panasonic TV with the Superman Returns HD DVD - to precious few complaints. For instance, with Overscan deactivated (so the source is mapped 'pixel for pixel' to the screen), detailed scenes like Superman's rescue of Lois from a sinking ship look phenomenally clean, detailed and crisp - more so than on any 50in plasma before.

The Full HD pixel count also helps colour blends look unusually subtle, while colour tones are mostly natural (except for the occasional orangey red) and black levels are deep enough to immerse you in the film's frequent night-time scenes. Even though the Panasonic TH-50PZ700 can't take 1080p/24fps feeds properly (only 1080p/50/60 work flawlessly), we also found its motion handling generally very good.

With some robust sonics adding plenty of punch to Superman's antics, the TH-50PZ700 really is a phenomenally classy performer.

Peer pressure

But is it better than Pioneer's new PDP-508XD? Well, if you're driven by a desire to get the ultimate resolution from your HD sources (and we know many of you are), this Panasonic is currently without peer.

But personally, we felt the beneficial impact on our viewing pleasure of the Pioneer's extra black level and more natural colours slightly more than the Panasonic's slight extra HD resolution. Plus the Pioneer handles standard definition sources better, and is cheaper to boot. As 'Our Graham' used to say, the choice is yours.