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Panasonic TH42PZ85B Image Quality
High Definition (Blu-Ray)
This is not the first time I've used a Nicholas Cage movie with a supernatural theme to assess the picture quality of a Panasonic plasma television (I watched Next during our TH42PZ70B review). In spite of some cliched dialogue and unconvincing acting, Ghost Rider's Blu-ray release sports a pristine transfer and lots of eye-popping CGI wizardry, making it one of the best high definition demo material around.
Although just a shade off those churned out by Pioneer Kuros, black-level performance on the Panasonic TH42PZ85B HDTV was excellent. This was evident right from the beginning of the film: the night sky and the black letterbox bars above and below the image on screen were painted with a degree of solid inkiness that most LCDs would find difficult to match.
And in the face of such strong and deep blacks, it's even more remarkable that shadow detail delineation was not compromised in any way. One particularly telling scene that demonstrated the Panasonic TH42PZ85B's prowess in this department was when Johnny Blaze (Nicholas Cage) was heading home on a small lane alongside his friend Mack at night (00:25:32) – I could still effortlessly tell apart his black T-shirt and every lapel, crease and lining on his black leather jacket.
Colours were well-saturated (thanks to the solid blacks acting as an ideal canvas) and flesh tones appeared natural enough, though if you're a hardcore D65 junkie, you may need to violate the service menu (or employ a professional calibrator to do so) to rectify the slight tinge of blueness in colour temperature especially during well-lit daytime scenes.
With [Picture Overscan] set to "Off" to achieve 1:1 pixel mapping for 1080 source, the Panasonic TH42PZ85B true HD 1080p plasma HDTV extracted and portrayed delicate detail with exquisite finesse. For example, when the camera closed up on the Caretaker's face while he was stitching Johnny's wound (01:01:52), the Panasonic TH42PZ85B held nothing back in presenting every single deep line and fine wrinkle, and every strand of his silvery mane and grizzled moustache/ beard. Similarly, sequences containing the Ghost Rider's transformed motorcycle (check out the gleaming demonic scupltures and ferocious flaming wheels) and the cemetery (the texture and inscriptions on the tombstones) never failed to reveal a stunning level of detail.
All Panasonic's 2008 range of plasma televisions are meant to handle 1080p/24 video signal correctly, and the TH42PZ85B duly did so. Camera pans (e.g. the overhead shot scanning across the carnival around 00:03:10) looked smooth without any sign of telecine judder.
For evaluation purposes, I watched a good chunk of Ghost Rider with [Intelligent Frame Creation]/ "24p Real Cinema" engaged. All motion-compensated frame interpolation (MCFI) implementations I've seen on other HDTVs thus far have introduced a video-like hyper-real effect to movies, and the Panasonic TH42PZ85B was no exception. I must admit that personally I've never been a big fan of this video-like effect, since I cherish the dream-like filmic quality that 24p affords. However, if you're one of those who prefer watching your movies this way because they look more "real", you'll be pleased to know that the amount of interpolation artifacts (e.g. the mild shimmer/ judder when Johnny emerged from behind the tree to pick up the shovel around 01:37:33) that comes with [Intelligent Frame Creation]/ "24p Real Cinema" on the Panasonic TH42PZ85B was among the least I've observed on HDTVs featuring MCFI/ 100Hz technology.
Standard Definition (Freeview Digital TV)
Unfortunately the interpolation artefacts introduced by [Intelligent Frame Creation] when watching sports proved to be more distracting. During the live broadcast of the second leg of Champion's League quarter-final tie between Liverpool and Arsenal, I noticed the ball breaking up/ tearing and juddering whenever it went past the crowd, indicating that IFC's interpolation algorithm had difficulty differentiating between the ball and the fans' heads for motion rendering.
The solution, of course, is to simply disable IFC. You're not going to miss anything: for me, even with IFC off motion handling on the Panasonic TH42PZ85B was easily among the best I've seen on any flat screen HDTV to date: individual figures in the crowd and the pitchside advertisements exhibited minimal loss of definition and clarity during medium-quick camera pans.
Freeview picture from the inbuilt TV tuner veered on the soft side, so I'd be tempted to bump up [Sharpness] a couple of notches. Posterization a.k.a. false contouring only tended to rear their ugly heads when the source is poor... I've certainly seen Panasonic plasmas that perform a lot worse than the TH42PZ85B in this regard.
Due to the glaring deficiency in film mode deinterlacing, you may notice numerous artefacts such as line twitters and jaggies when watching broadcast film-based material (e.g. movies, American drama like CSI) on the Panasonic TH42PZ85B. One way of getting around this problem is to feed the interlaced broadcast video signal into an intermediary device (for example a home theatre PC) to perform the deinterlacing before sending a progressive signal into the TH42PZ85B plasma television. Another is to simply adopt a farther viewing distance to avoid seeing the artefacts, though you'd need to move back closer to the screen to appreciate any resolution benefit for high definition content.
High Definition Console Gaming (Sony PS3)
Anchored by excellent blacks and blessed with bright whites that had no problem matching those generated on LCD televisions, the Panasonic TH42PZ85B 1080p HDTV delivered detailed and vibrantly colourful images which should appeal to gamers.
I did not detect any motion benefit with [Intelligent Frame Creation] activated. Instead, it increased the input lag on the Panasonic TH42PZ85B plasma both objectively and subjectively. By using a Samsung LE52F96BD LED-powered LCD TV as benchmark, I determined that engaging [Intelligent Frame Creation] on the Panasonic TH42PZ85B would increase input lag by up to 55 miliseconds (ms) compared to if IFC was disabled.
Now I can't say for sure if you're sensitive enough to feel this mild increase in IFC-induced input lag, but it was certainly reflected in one of my increasingly frequent Call Of Duty 4 (COD4) online gaming sessions. The night prior to measuring the input lag, I was scratching my head wondering why my headshot count had drastically dropped to an average of 1 or sometimes even none per game (I generally average 4 per game). It turned out that I had unwittingly left IFC on; once I disabled IFC all was well again.
Talking of which, I captured a video in COD4's multiplayer map "Overgrown" which – Youtube's compression and your monitor's characteristics permitting – should show some yellow/ green flashes at the side edges of the concrete slabs as I panned sideways quickly.
These flashes are known as phosphor trails, the result of differential phosphor decay on plasma televisions. The good news is that the majority of people will not see it (individual susceptibility plays an important part): despite what the above video demonstrates, I simply did not experience such flashes in real-life viewing. The bad news is, if you've been troubled by such flashes on other plasma TVs, it's very likely that you will still see it on the Panasonic TH42PZ85B HDTV as the underlying technology remains unchanged.
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