The Panasonic TH-42PZ700U is a 1080p 42in plasma that outshone all competitors in image quality. Indeed, our jury rated its picture higher than that of any other TV.
The Panasonic TH-42PZ700U got high marks for overall picture quality in high-definition broadcasts and in disc-based content (Blu-ray, HD-DVD, and plain old DVD). We were particularly impressed by the superb detail, especially in people's skin and hair.
The Panasonic TH-42PZ700U's performance wasn't quite as impressive in our standard-definition broadcast test. Colours here didn't pop out of the screen as vividly as they did with some TV sets, but the overall image was certainly acceptable. It managed considerably better with a standard-def DVD.
But to get a good picture, you must set up the TV properly, and the Panasonic TH-42PZ700U's unintuitive on-screen menus don't make this job any easier. For instance, in the Language section, with only 'English' displayed, we clicked okay. Nothing happened. We clicked the left arrow to go back to the previous menu, and the language selection switched to 'French'. After using the right arrow to return to 'English', we had to click the tiny Return button off to the side to go back a menu.
On the bright side, the menu for labelling input devices gives you the option of skipping them, which makes going from one input to another easier. (It would have been easier still if the Panasonic TH-42PZ700U automatically skipped the unoccupied ports.)
Physically, the Panasonic TH-42PZ700U is easy to set up, with most of the inputs on the back and facing outward. The exception is the single coaxial connector, which faces down. A flap on the front conceals extra component video and S-Video inputs, plus controls. Another front flap hides a smart-card reader for viewing photos right out of the camera.
Panasonic's large, heavy, programmable remote feels clunky, and the lower half has too many buttons, but your fingers go naturally to channel surfing and volume controls.
The Panasonic TH-42PZ700U isn't cheap, and you don't get a lot of neat extra features for your money, but it does have an excellent picture.