If HD now takes up most of your TV viewing time, the 42PZ800 is a great performer
Excellent HD pictures
great operating system
Price is too high
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Fitting a full HD resolution of 1,920 x 1,080 pixels into a 42in plasma screen isn't easy.
In fact, Panasonic remains the only manufacturer that's managed to do it so far.
This gives the brand's latest full HD plasma immediate appeal, but will it be enough to bag the Panasonic TH-42PZ800 a Best Buy badge?
Plentiful picture settings
Unsurprisingly, the 42PZ800 is pretty well stocked with features such as an impressive four v1.3 HDMI sockets among the connections, alongside other highlights such as a port for connecting a PC, a digital audio output and an SD card slot. This will allow you to display JPEGs and AVCHD HD video files.
There's all manner of fancy picture processing to keep the 42PZ800 ahead of the pack, too. Panasonic's proprietary V-real 3 Pro system, for instance, works on a number of picture elements, including colour tones and saturations, sharpness and, especially, noise reduction.
Then there's 100Hz processing, and Panasonic's Intelligent Frame Creation system, which interpolates new intermediate frames of image data between the real frames in a source. Both these processors are designed to make motion look more fluid and stable.
If that's not enough for you, there's also Panasonic's Real Black Drive technology to consider, which has long-delivered truly excellent black level results, and a feature dubbed Digital Cinema Colour, which works in tandem with a colour management system to help produce a very impressive 5,120 equivalent steps of gradation.
The only feature of the 42PZ800 we're not entirely blown away by is the design. For while the chassis is robustly built, it looks slightly dated compared with some of today's slicker-looking models.
As for usability, we've long praised Panasonic for delivering foolproof onscreen menus and possibly the best-designed remote controls in the business. And that trend, thankfully, continues with the 42PZ800.
When playing Blu-ray discs, it's obvious right away, as we'd hoped, that high-definition pictures look slightly more detailed and crisper than they do on Panasonic's much cheaper, non-full HD 42PX80.
It also seems, to our eyes, that there is a little more subtlety and vibrancy to the 42PZ800's colours, probably as a result, again, of the screen's greater pixel density.
In other areas, the screen is more or less on a par with the 42PX80. Black levels, for instance, are typically impressive for a Panasonic plasma. Dark scenes are believable, full of scale, and natural in tone, with precious little, if any, of the green undertone that can characterise some plasmas. In fact, we'd go so far as saying the 42PZ800's black levels are actually deeper than the 42PX80.
The depth achieved by the 42PZ800 is not quite as profound as that of Pioneer's KURO models – the benchmark for plasma. But then those screens cost a serious premium, and no longer include a 42in plasma model in the range.
We also appreciated the supremely polished 'finish' of the 42PZ800's HD pictures, and the lack of blurring when showing motion, compared to the sort of smearing still common with LCD. Even Panasonic's traditional problems with slight touches of judder is tackled authoritatively by the Intelligent Frame Creation system.
However, the latter also generates a glitch or two, such as the occasional shimmering edge or flickering effect over anything that's moving really fast, especially if it's small.
We didn't feel that the 42PZ800's presentation of standard-def sources was quite as good as that of the 42PX80. This is presumably because of the extra difficulties involved in upscaling standard definition to the 42PZ800's higher native resolution.
It's not a major issue though; the 42PZ800's standard-def pictures still look perfectly decent. But it's worth mentioning all the same.
One final general moan, if you can call it that, is that while you can see the benefit of the full HD resolution with high-definition sources, the difference isn't as pronounced as it would be on a larger screen.
The 'Smart' speaker system used in the 42PZ800 employs separate tweeters and woofers that give a slightly cleaner, more powerful sound than you normally get with the majority of 42in flatscreen TVs.
The 42PZ800 costs £1,250, the 42PX80 costs just £650. And weighing up the differences between them, if we're honest, we're not completely convinced that the Panasonic TH-42PZ800 offers quite enough extra to justify the price hike.
John has been writing about home entertainment technology for more than two decades - an especially impressive feat considering he still claims to only be 35 years old (yeah, right). In that time he’s reviewed hundreds if not thousands of TVs, projectors and speakers, and spent frankly far too long sitting by himself in a dark room.