If you're prepared to become a complete couch potato, invest in this monstrous Panasonic plasma
superb 1080p performance
Great virtual-surround audioscape
No RGB fine-tuning through GUI
No native 24fps support
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Having recently returned from the ‘world’s largest’ consumer electronics show, where I observed a selection of self-styled ‘world’s largest’ flatscreen TVs, I have an embarrassing secret to reveal. When I first laid my eyes on this 65in plasma there was a brief moment when I thought, ‘what a tiddly telly’.
It’s not, of course, it’s massive.
A detail soon enforced when I tried to lift the darn thing without enlisting the aid of several colleagues and/or Lou Ferrigno. It’s perspective, innit? Even King Kong would seem a pip-squeak if surrounded by Godzilla and her combatants. Obviously, this is a 65in plasma TV, but you get the picture…
And the picture is good. Scrub that. The picture is exceptional, but more on that later – there’s more to gush (and gripe) over first.
In accordance with Panasonic’s current range of PDPs, the 65PZ700 has a great selection of socketry. Admittedly, there are only three HDMI v1.3 inputs, with one of them being front-mounted and therefore aimed at camcorder or console duties, but the rear is further graced with a separate PC (VGA) input, an optical digital audio output (for Dolby Stereo or PCM 2.0 to an amp), hi-def-capable component and stereo phono audio inputs.
There are also three Scarts, but considering that the sheer magnitude of the screen-size amplifies any picture foible, you might want to consider upgrading your kit if Scart’s the only option.
A more interesting proposition is the front-mounted SD card slot, which is compatible with the higher capacity SDHC cards found in HD camcorders (and the associated codecs; AVCHD, MPEG-2 and HD-JPEG). Plug one in and footage or stills are available to play through the screen’s own GUI, without the need for a separate player. It’s not a new gimmick for a Panny panel (we saw it last season), but a welcome one.
Also welcome is the company’s proprietary Advanced Smart Speaker System, enabling the telly to produce a deep and involved soundscape without overt speakers. Those who wish to wall-mount the beast will be pleased that, by hiding the speaker array in the bezel, Panasonic has created a simple, framed-look that may seem bland to some, but is unobtrusive.
Essentially, there’s more to its design than just aesthetics. And when switched on, the 65PZ700’s pictures benefit from its plain surround. Functionality is impressive too. When first switched on, the digital and analogue tuners whip their way through the scanning process with nary a prod in your direction. And you’ll be suitably pleased with the way menus and EPGs are presented.
As a Full HD panel, there’s a PC-style crispness to their look that makes the experience seem more professional than the archaic, rough-edged GUIs of lesser rivals. And those unworried by the minutiae of calibration will applaud the simplicity of its picture controls, which easily cover most viewing circumstances.
This is just as well, as therein lies the PZ700’s first minor caveat. While ‘contrast’, ‘brightness’ and the rest of the usual picture alteration family are available, separate red, green and blue controls are not. No matter how much you fiddle, there’s no way to calibrate the screen to the extent of a Pioneer plasma, for example. Their omission isn’t a disaster, but picture purists (and our own tech Labs) will bemoan the absence.
Fans of 24, beware
A more serious foible is the way it processes video, and specifically, a 1080p24 signal. While it can display pictures running at 24Hz, it converts them to 60Hz, thereby negating the need to output them in the ‘way the director intended’. Again, this will mean little to 99 per cent of people who want to invest in, what is, a huge slice of TV tech rather than a projector – more so considering that the processor does such a good job that you’d be hard pushed to notice upconverted frame-rate from the original. But badge-collectors are best forewarned.
Thankfully, that’s the only consideration with the picture, processing or otherwise. In every other respect, this Panny’s images are, quite simply, jaw-dropping. After calibration (as much as is possible without individual colour controls) our Tech Labs have measured the ‘real world’ contrast ratio at 983:1 which, while nowhere near the quoted 10,000:1 ratio, is still phenomenal.
Spinning the DVD version of War onto the screen actually makes the movie look better-shot than it is. As an experiment, I let the panel handle upscaling duties, feeding it 576p from the player, and the images were excellent; smooth, bursting with detail, unblurred and unmarred by artefacts. I doubt an upscaling DVD player this side of £500 would do any better.
During the car chase towards the end of the film – which is at night and subsequently very dark – every light, gleam and sheen of the vehicles is displayed with prominence, lifted from the dingy backdrop like dandruff on a black polo neck. Indeed, the only blocking noise observed comes from the encoding.
Freeview doesn’t fare quite so well due to its multitudinous bitrates and being blown up to mammoth proportions, but it’s still watchable. Thanks to a healthy, beaming colourfield from panel and tuner, the digital TV pictures can even match DVD imagery; not as often as you’d like, but no less so than any other bigscreen flatpanel TV.
No matter how good standard- def feeds look, though, the 65PZ700 sings most when fed HD. Running the Blu-ray version of Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within into the screen is a treat. The Full HD pictures are sharper than a room full of Oscar Wilde impersonators, taking on an almost 3D quality at times.
Naturally, with picture quality attaining such high praise, it would be hard for the overall audioscape to follow suit. And it doesn’t. Not quite. But the sonic experience is surprisingly good. Lower mid-bass is well-represented and, although I’m no fan, a Dolby Digital mix of Insane Clown Posse genuinely shook the room with enough whoomp to make the neighbours bang on the wall.
In essence, Panasonic’s 65PZ700 is a defining reason why plasma is better than LCD as a large screen display technology. It is cinematic (albeit, without 24Hz processing) and sumptuous. There are those that may argue that a screen this size is unnecessary when you could have a projector instead, but they are wrong. With its minor issues aside, you will never tire of watching all manner of fare on this TV. One final problem, buy one and you’ll be spending far more time at home than is healthy.
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