January 01, 2007

Review: Panasonic 42 inch Plasma TV - Model TH-42PX6U from Costco

Input Selection

Remote on the Left

I’ve been waiting to get on the HDTV flat panel bandwagon for years. I spent hundreds of hours researching the latest plasma and LCD flat-panels and spent too many hours to count comparing TVs wandering around Best Buy, Circuit City, CompUSA, and Costco. With prices down 40-50% in the past six months, I decided it was time to make the plunge.

My viewing needs are movie DVDs (20%), sports (20%), a lot of standard definition TV shows (30%), OTA programming (20%), and a little console gaming (10%). I went with the Panasonic TH-42PX6U 42-inch plasma from Costco. I paid about $1500 with tax. I considered various Samsung LCDs (4051D), Sony Bravia S2010 and others in the S-line, Pioneer commercial plasmas, and even Panasonic’s commercial TH-42PH9UK, but in the end I went with the TH-42PX6U because of Costco’s famed “unlimited forever” warranty, included TV stand, and array of built-in inputs (2 HDMIs, 2 Components, and 2 Composites).

The ironic thing is the TH-42PX6U actually didn’t look the best when I spent all that time staring in the store showrooms. In the end I had to trust the internet hive mind expert consensus, that the picture settings at those stores were not optimally set. Out of the box, Panasonic is set in “vivid” or loud, bright eye-catching mode, which doesn’t do the set justice in terms of picture quality.

Unpacking the set was a painless experience. The only thing you have to do is attach the TV stand with a few screws and you are all set. Once it’s ready to go with the cables connected, I noticed how huge the TV seems when it’s at home. In the store, the 42 inches seems tiny, but it’s a different story when it is in your living room. The first thing I did change the picture mode from “vivid” to “standard”. After some research, I changed it to the recommended settings from the internet hive mind to: picture mode “standard”, picture +22, brightness +8, color –1, tint –4, sharpness –14, color temperature “warm”, and enhanced black level “off”.

After this, the picture quality blew my mind away. I chose this plasma set due to low motion lag, true black levels, and accurate color rendition. I couldn’t be happier with any of those aspects. I watched a couple of football games in HD through my antenna and I couldn’t believe how crisp the actions was, the amazing detail, and natural colors. One of my worries going with the TH-42PX6U was its lower resolution of 1024X768 compared to the LCDs, but I quickly didn’t care. At my typical viewing distance of 8-9 feet, the HD detail on this set is more than satisfying.

I popped in a couple of DVDs (King Kong and Mr.& Mrs. Smith) and was very impressed with the picture. The black levels and shadow detail was excellent. It wasn’t as detailed resolution-wise compared to OTA HD programming, but still good enough to make myself question why I would ever go to a movie theater again.

I connected the TV with a cheap DVI to HDMI cable I bought from Monoprice.com. My home-built HTPC with Nvidia fanless graphics instantly recognized it as a Panasonic display. The digital connection was flawless in 640X480 and 1270X720 modes. It looks a lot better than the component connection I had with my previous TV (Samsung 27” HDTV capable CRT). Web browsing was fine and the resolution rendition was perfect. I couldn’t notice any “rectangular pixel” issues that some worry about with plasmas. One weird thing was when I tried 1024X768 (which should of 1:1 pixel translation), the picture came out fuzzy and blurry. This is not a problem as 1270X720 comes through so well, but it is worth nothing.

Standard definition programs really depend on the feed. On good digital cable feeds, it looks almost HD-like. Unfortunately most cable channels are weaker and it is just respectable. Frankly once you see the quality of high definition programming, it kind of hurts to watch SD programs. One thing I did notice is if you watch SD programs on an HD channel and put it in “just mode” to fill the screen, the picture quality seems much better than watching the same program on its normal analog channel. The built-in speakers are decent, but nothing to shout off the roof-tops about. The remote control is pretty ugly, but usable.

The only negative so far is there is a slight fluttering fan noise that comes from the back of the TV on the upper right. I can only hear it when the room is absolutely silent and the TV sound is off. This isn’t a big deal as I have my HTPC on all the time which has a louder fan, but for the truly anal out there, it might be a problem. Also if I put my head behind the TV I can hear a buzz coming from the circuit boards. I can’t hear this 2-3 feet away from the TV however.

In conclusion, I couldn’t be happier with the TV. The picture quality takes my breath away every time I use it. Anyone looking for some HDTV loving, should walk, nah… run to their local Costco and pick the TH-42PX6U up. Highly recommended. 9/10. If you have any questions about this review, fire away on our discussion forum. I posted a bunch of screenshots of the plasma in action of both SD and HD programming on there. I also promise to reply to any questions within 12 hours. No joke. Permalink - Discuss