The Panasonic TH-50PZ800 is a tantalising prospect.
It's currently the brand's flagship 50in plasma TV and should be something truly special, if its impressive recent screens are anything to go by.
Unsurprisingly, the screen is formidably featured. Four v1.3 HDMI inputs instantly hit the right groove and these are joined by plenty of other useful in and outputs including a PC port and a digital audio output.
High-end status is further confirmed by its full HD resolution and its picture processing suite.
Heading up this processing is the top-level V-Real 3 Pro system, with its high-powered focus on reducing noise levels, adding fine detail, enhancing colour tones and saturation and boosting contrast.
This technology is also joined by 100Hz (for improving the clarity of motion and increasing image stability), and Intelligent Frame Creation. This effectively calculates new frames of image data to insert between 'real' ones to further counter the judder and lack of clarity that afflicts motion to some extent on all flat TVs.
Other more minor aspects of the 50PZ800 include a Digital Cinema Colour setting Panasonic claims can produce 5,120 equivalent steps of gradation, an automatic colour management system, various picture presets including a helpful Cinema option and, of course, Panasonic's near-legendary Real Black Drive system for enhanced contrast.
Thanks at least in part to the latter, the manufacturer is claiming an astonishing contrast ratio figure of one million to one.
The 50PZ800's remote is perhaps not quite as wondrously simple as some of those found with Panasonic TVs of the past, but it's still easier than the remotes of most rivals. The TV's onscreen menus are generally well organised and tidily presented, too.
Superior hi-def performance
With hi-def material; from a nice Blu-ray or Sky HD feed the screen's pictures are almost uniformly excellent. The full HD resolution, for example, is most evident in the amount of fine detail on the screen, and in the superb scaling-free purity with which these details – and sharp edges – are reproduced.
This exceptional clarity of HD pictures is enhanced by the TV's excellent black level response, which is natural enough to enable the screen to render shadow details to perfection.
Dark scenes are also rendered with only the tiniest trace of greyness. In fact, we might have said there was no greyness had we not had our idea of such a thing redefined by the extraordinary Pioneer PDP-LX5090.
Good black levels are usually joined by rich, natural colours, and so it proves here. The 50PZ800 comfortably avoids plasma's tendency to over-stress green hues with HD, and delivers skin tones that are among the most natural and smoothly blended we've seen.
Where the 50PZ800's pictures improve most over previous models is in motion handling. The pairing of 100Hz and the Intelligent Frame Creation (IFC) system completely counters previous complaints we've made regarding motion judder almost completely.
The only real gripe we have about this screen's high-definition pictures is that the IFC processing can struggle a bit with really fast motion, causing a distracting shimmering around the edges of certain objects. But then you can just turn it off.
Unfortunately, the set's standard definition performance isn't nearly as impressive as its HD delivery. SD pictures tend to look quite noisy, too processed, a little soft and subject to some suspect colour tones. Skin, for instance, can look rather orange and dark scenes take on grey-green tones not found with HD viewing.
Panasonic plasmas are usually good at handling SD, so we can only ascribe this screen's troubles to a combination of its full hi-def resolution, with the extreme level of picture processing, plus that unforgivingly large 50in screen.
Stunning audio power
As a flagship model the 50PZ800 really benefits from Panasonic's impressive Smart Sound speaker system, with its separated-out tweeters and woofers, and the result is a soundstage of stunning width, frequency response and raw power.
The sound quality from TVs lower down the latest Panasonic range has improved greatly, though, so the 50PZ800's audio power doesn't justify its price as it did with previous flagship models.
The Panasonic TH-50PZ800 costs far more than any other 50in TV in Panasonic's range, including its excellent Freesat tuner models. But there's not quite enough extra on offer in the sound, picture or feature departments to justify the extra outlay.