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Panasonic TH42PH9 Picture Quality
Out Of The Box
The Panasonic TH42PH9 ships with the retinal-burning 'Dynamic' mode switched on by default, which not only produces an overly bright and unnatural picture, but more importantly greatly increases the risk of screen burn as explained in the Setup & Design section. We quickly changed it to the more tolerable 'Cinema' mode, and for good measure dialed down the brightness and contrast for the next 200 hours to run the Panasonic plasma in before starting our calibration.
While it's entirely feasible to calibrate the TH42PH9 solely through the user menu, we used the service menu from the get-go as it offered more options and range of control. Please note that accessing the service menu will invalidate your warranty so it's not for the faint-hearted. If you decide to tinker with it, at the very least write down the default values – it's all too easy to press the wrong button and you end up with an altered value without knowing what it was before.
Panasonic commercial plasmas have a reputation of being calibration-friendly, and true enough within 10 runs we obtained a greyscale graph that was within 500k of D65 throughout:
The usual way to align colour decoding is to use filters but these can be unreliable due to light scatter and inherent inaccuracy. Imagine our delight when we discovered that we could turn off individual or a combination of colour guns from the service menu, which provided the purest template on which to make our colour decoding adjustments. This is the result:
DVE colour bar adjustments with red, green, blue guns turned on individually
Unfortunately the near-perfect colour alignment was marred by oversaturated primary colour points when compared against the HD 709 standard (the darker triangle in the CIE chart below), with green particularly culpable. Fortunately the secondary colour hues are largely preserved so the colours still look right, just richer than they should be.
We had high hopes for the Panasonic TH42PH9 in its post-calibration state, and we were not disappointed. The colours were so equally balanced that backgrounds came to the fore – our eyes simply relaxed and soaked up every little detail that was delicately painted by the 3072-step gradation.
This sort of fine detailing tends to bring out the best in high definition material. As the search party trekked through the prehistoric forest to rescue Ann Darrow (Naomi Watts) from the clutch of King Kong, layer after layer of towering trees, hanging vines and waving fern – that would have been otherwise carelessly smudged by lesser systems – were presented with effortless panache without the slightest hint of strain.
This is not to say that the Panasonic TH42PH9 handles standard definition poorly; in fact, it is the best-performing flat panel we've ever seen when it comes to displaying SD video and film material. When paired with a Sky box using the JSTech Scart RGB to VGA convertor (highly recommended), the TH42PH9's built-in scaler and deinterlacer does a bang-up job in reducing line twitter, combing, moire and jaggies to a minimum, while its rich colour palette renders skin tones convincingly. Football in particular was a joy to watch especially when compared to even the most advanced of LCD TVs: mosquito noise was largely suppressed; panning shots were virtually noise-free; and motions were free-flowing without any signs of ghosting/ smearing.
Black Level & Shadow Detail
This is an area where plasmas traditionally reign supreme over LCDs, and as expected the Panasonic TH42PH9 succeeds in flying the flag high and proud. It delivers reference-level blacks and nuanced shadow detail that we're so used to seeing on bulky CRTs. Again this was demonstrated in spades on King Kong HD: as the giant centipede crawled towards Miss Darrow (1:41), we could clearly distinguish its glistening jaws, armoured segments and striped antennae – all against a dark background of decayed twigs and earthy soil in a dim environment.
That said, there were times we could see our own silhouette reflected in the screen... chiefly when the plasma was outputting very little light. We used bias lighting to offset this problem.
Detail & Resolution
Part of the reason why the Panasonic TH42PH9 deals with standard-definition content so well is its relatively low (by today's standards) 1024 x 768 panel resolution... 576 material (e.g. UK DVDs, Freeview) requires less upscaling to fit on its screen compared to LCDs with higher resolution.
However, when it comes to full resolution (1080) HD material, the latest LCDs will have the edge in terms of sharpness and detail. This was obvious to us during the BBC HD broadcast of the England vs Spain friendly, where we noticed that the lines delineating the penalty box were very slightly blurred in a side-by-side comparison with the Sharp 42XD1E. Interestingly when matched up to the Samsung LE40F71B, the TH42PH9 more than held its own (perhaps even appearing a touch sharper) as the Samsung's inability to fulfil 1:1 mapping over HDMI crippled its fine detail rendering.
As is the case with most respectable plasmas, the Panasonic TH42PH9's viewing angle is unrivalled by the current crop of LCD TVs. No discolouration is evident even from extreme viewing positions of 150°.
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