Panasonic Plasma HDTV Review

Model: Panasonic TH-42PX600U
Description: 42" Plasma Television, Widescreen 16:9 Format
Resolution: 1024 x 768 (HDTV)

Includes: Integrated pedestal stand and HD2D Sound Enhanced Speaker System, NTSC and ATSC (HDTV) tuners, 2 HDMI high-definition inputs and one compter 15 pin VGA input, 2 component video, 3 composite video, 3 S-Video connection.
Color: Silver and Black Bezel and casing.

Reviewer: Paul Doran
Review Date: August 2006


The Panasonic TH-42PX600U is contains the 9th generation panel of the ever-popular Panasonic plasma line replacing the TH-42PX500U in June of 2006. The resolution remains 1024x768 like the previous model, the highest ranking plasma TV in its price point in 2005, but Panasonic has upped the contrast ratio specification to 10,000:1 for this year's model and also increased the brightness spec significantly. Because of increased demand, Panasonic has included a second HDMI connection for this year's consumer plasma line. Panasonic even gives the TH-42PX600U a makeover to a more modern look.

With each passing generation, other top-tier plasma television manufacturers—such as Samsung, Pioneer, and Toshiba—are improving both their picture performance and overall value. Samsung and Toshiba have focused on matching Panasonic's aggressive price-point with their new models. Pioneer, on the other hand, remains focused on its first-rate picture quality and aesthetic appeal and providing a comprehensive feature set at a slightly more expensive price. This upgraded Panasonic PX600U series model compares equally with Pioneer's excellent PDP-4370HD model in features, appearance, inputs and quality while the Panasonic PX60U series lacks some of the "extras" these two offer.

PICTURE: 98/100

Like most televisions on the market today, the Panasonic TH-42PX600U came out of the box with superficially bright default picture settings. Out of the box, the picture is in a default picture mode setting of Vivid (which maximizes Contrast and Sharpness settings) and a color temperature setting of Cool. The first task before examining the picture quality of the plasma TV is to find the picture settings that get us closest to D6500K—the optimum prescribed color temperature used by the film and broadcast industry. Because Panasonic plasmas typically have a cooler default temperature setting than other brands (which often leads to a "blue push" in the white balance), the "Warm" color temperature setting is preferred for increased realism. By switching to the "Standard" picture setting (which has medium Contrast and Sharpness settings) and using a "Warm" color temperature, we quickly move much closer to D6500K. Maintaining a color temperature close to D6500K is important because it is the basis on which the rest of the picture calibrations are made.

Panasonic Plasma TV Review

Color and detail on the Panasonic TH-42PX600U was outstanding

In order to fully optimize the picture quality of our TH-42PX600U, we used a colorimeter, and a specialized software suite to calibrate the television to the Imaging Science Foundation (ISF) standard color temperature of D6500K. With this equipment, we were able to properly calibrate the picture settings on the television, and we were able to measure color temperature, color saturation, white balance, and black levels. Using these measurements as a reference point, we used the Sencore software suite to precisely calibrate the optimal picture settings for the TH-42PX600U.

The following table contains the picture settings for the TH-42PX600U after its ISF calibration. We highly suggest that you use these settings if you purchase or own this television. By configuring the television to the below settings we were able to get the color temperature to D6650K, a substantial improvement over the out-of-the-box measurement of D10000K+. Using the below settings to regulate the color temperature and white balance virtually perfects the picture of the TH-42PX600U:

Panasonic TH-42PX600U Optimal Picture Settings
Picture Mode Standard
Picture +22
Brightness +8
Color -1
Tint -4
Sharpness -14
Color Temperature Warm
Enhanced Black Level Off

Figure 1. Optimal picture settings for the Panasonic TH-42PX600U using ISF calibration.

At these settings, practically speaking, there is no further calibration needed on this model. There is no need to tinker with hiring a calibration specialist and tinkering with dangerous service menus.

Wow, once the picture was calibrated the TH-42PX600U had undoubtedly the truest picture of any television that we have tested to date. Using the HD-DVD edition of Clint Eastwood's Unforgiven on the Toshiba HD-XA1 HD-DVD player, we put the Panasonic's High Definition capability to the test. Using the Toshiba's 1080i High Def output via the HDMI connection, the picture detail in scenes from the HD-DVD were astounding. In one scene, inside a dark cabin, a fly crawls across one of the actor's cowboy hat. On a standard definition TV, it's doubtful you would notice the fly at all, but on the PX600U I could clearly make out the fly's legs as it crawled across the hat. With a high-quality 1080i HDTV source like the HD-DVD, you could literally get so lost in the details of each scene that you lose the plot of the movie: the grain of a weathered fence post, the fine textures of sweeping Wild West landscapes, the coarse stubble on Will Munny's cheeks--it's all there, and the Panasonic never misses a beat.

Panasonic's black levels have been the best in the industry for years, and the TH-42PX600U is no exception. Unforgiven is a challenging movie in that regard, because at any given time you may be sweeping from a scorching Western landscape to the interior of a oil lamp-lit saloon. From one scene to the next, we were impressed by the level of detail we could see in even the darkest scenes. This is an important strength for Panasonic because the dark matter detailing of the plasma television impacts the picture's realism as much as its color reproduction ability.

Panasonic HDTV Plasma Review

Panasonic Plasmas are unmatched in dark scene performance; the PX600U series is no exception

The black levels are really put to the test late in the film, when Munny (Clint Eastwood) returns to the saloon to exact revenge for his friend Ned. In true gritty Western style, the camera shifts to show Munny emerging from shadows at the saloon door. Every detail is portrayed impeccably by the TH-42PX600U: the sheen of sweat on Munny's stubbled face, the fibers of his duster jacket, even the subtle glint of lamplight from the blued gun barrel. This smooth transition between dark shades can be attributed to the 3,072 shades of gradation in the TH-42PX600U—an attribute that sets Panasonic plasmas apart from the 2nd tier plasmas manufacturers. It is also important to note that as the camera pans from face to face in the dark saloon, the bright oil lamps appear very clearly in the dark room without any elements of false contouring, a problem that can occur when plasmas try to display bright objects with dark surroundings.

After we performed the ISF calibration to optimize the television's picture, we decided to measure the TH-42PX600U's contrast ratio (light output ratio of "whitest white" to the "blackest black") for ourselves. We used a signal generator to display the checkboard test pattern for contrast, and the accompanying colorimeter to measure the light output from each sample. While the black levels on the TH-42PX600U are quite impressive, our measured contrast ratio for the television was 788:1 - one of the highest true contrast ratios we've measured! From our experience, all TV manufacturers, including Panasonic, greatly "enhance" their specifications to entice buyers and "beat" the competition. There are few standards for their measurements.

As is made evident by the Unforgiven HD-DVD, the quality of high-definition content on the 42PX600U is unparalleled. When we auditioned conventional DVDs including Kill Bill, part I in Progressive-Scan 480p, we saw similar sharp, detailed pictures with excellent contrast, but obviously not to the extent of the HD-DVD. It is important to note that the 42PX600U does not display the visual artifacts easily noticeable on lower-tier plasma displays with a conventional input source. Despite the upconversion necessary to display a 480p picture on a 1024 x 768 HDTV screen, we never noticed any edge artifacts or jagged motion on the PX600U.

The ATSC tuner pulls in digital broadcasts. When we watched the Evening News in high-definition, the image was very clear, and the news anchors' faces had accurate flesh tones. When they cut to reporters out in the field, the detail of their surroundings was excellent. Algorithmic scaling to full picture size was excellent. When we changed the channel to view the same program in regular definition, the picture was somewhat fuzzy. The image degradation is probably caused by the lower bandwidth emitted by local stations for their analog channels.


The PX600U series is a slight step up in aesthetics from the PX60U series. It's got that Pro appeal that says it costs more with black banding around the screen and a thin silver finish bezel surrounding the black banding. The excellent 31 watt audio system which incorporates 2 subwoofers is hidden in the casing. This is an 11 watt upgrade from the PX60U series. The new look of the TH-42PX600U is definitely very modern, and it has significant "pop." The unit is 42.5 inches wide, and 27.2 inches in height (29.3" with the table stand). 

For the TH-42PX600U, Panasonic improves its already user-friendly remote control. The easy-to-find buttons are generally in the same place as the last model, but now they are bigger and easier to find without looking. The remote feels good in your hand, has intuitive controls, and would be a serviceable solution as a universal remote control.

The on-screen menu system on the TH-42PX600U is relatively unchanged from Panasonic's previous generation TH-42PX600U, however it has the new electronic programming guide included in this upgraded model. I found the whole system very intuitive. When the Menu button on the remote control is pressed, the main menu options—Picture, Audio, Timer, Lock, Memory Card, and Setup – appear in an easy-to-read fashion. The Picture menu includes the picture controls required to calibrate the picture. The Audio menu features Bass, Treble, and Balance adjustments. In the Other Adjust sub-menu for Audio, you can choose Surround for a marginal Virtual Surround Sound experience. Also in this sub-menu, the users with Home Theater systems may choose to simply turn off the internal speakers of the television in favor of your own surround sound set up. The invisible speakers system will complement this choice.

When viewing material from a non-HDTV source, aspect ratio becomes a concern with the TH-42PX600U. There are four modes for adjusting regular 4:3 inputs to the widescreen 16:9. The first option is to watch the source in its native 4:3 ratio with the sidebar "letter-boxes." Panasonic allows the customer to change the color of the letter boxing, and it is wise to change these to black if you want to use this aspect ratio setting. With Full mode, the picture is uniformly horizontally stretched across the screen. With Zoom mode, the plasma cuts off the top and bottom of the screen and zooms in so that the sides match with the ends of the screen. Obviously, most people will not choose this setting because they don't want to lose any of the picture. The final choice is the most popular—Just mode - which most likely stands for 'justified". Just mode stretches the picture horizontally but uses a special stretching algorithm to minimize distortion, particularly in the middle of the screen. With this method, distortion on a 4:3 source is virtually undetectable and I have found this the preferred way to watch even 4:3 programming after a little break in period for your eyes to adjust.

Panasonic adds a front composite video input and digital card slot input at the front of the panel for this HDTV plasma. This is particularly useful if you want to display images from a digital camera or a source that you will use only temporarily. The 42PX600U also contains a 15 pin VGA input for convenient computer hook up and use. There is also an SD (secure digital) memory card slot for viewing digital camera and camcorder content.

Another important addition to the TH-42PX600U plasma TV is the second HDMI input. Because of the increase in popularity of new HD and Blue Ray DVD players and digital high-definition cable and satellite boxes which already support the HDMI format. One additional input over the PX60U series is the cable card slot for those who are adamant about losing that cable box. The plasma also includes digital audio output capabilities. Even though one cannot choose input sources directly on the remote, it is easy to navigate to the chosen source.

One more included feature of the TH-42PX600U series over the TH-42PX60U series is a PIP (picture in picture) option. Though rarely used, there are those football game days when sound is not a must but seeing both games is!

The two speaker two subwoofer audio system totals 31 Watts of power and are more than adequate for home viewing. This is an 11-watt upgrade over the PX60U series. With the beefier sound system, you notice discernable channel separation and a better soundstage than you might expect from TV speakers, and enough bass response to procide some punch. Panasonic offers a Virtual Surround option for the TH-42PX600U and its performance is robust for such a in-built system. While many home theater aficionados will want to use their own surround sound speaker system, the included speakers will impress the average consumer.

VALUE: 98/100

The Panasonic TH-42PX600U is an excellent value piece. It contains all of the features of the Pioneer PDP-4370HD but for much less money. It has the pro quality feature set of upgraded sound system, cool looks, cable card input, and computer compatibility and input that the TH-PX60U series lacks and at only a couple hundred dollars more.Panasonic introduced the TH-42PX600U with an MSRP of $2,999 at specialty retailers, but it can be found close to $2400 from some authorized Internet dealers.


Rating scale from 70 (denoting poorest quality) to 100 (signifying the very best quality). A rating in the 60s for any particular category of a product review indicates a serious defect which causes the product not to operate properly. Picture quality is double-weighted in the Overall Rating Score calculation.

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