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Panasonic and Pioneer are the current leaders when it comes to plasma HDTV panels both in technological advancement and sales volume. The rivalry between these two AV giants mirrors that of Intel and AMD: one may pip the other with a new release in the short term, but the one who's trailing will remain in touching distance, safe in the knowledge that their own next update will give them the lead again.

TH42PH9 is the most affordable 9th generation high-definition commercial plasma display screen from Panasonic. Originally intended for commercial and industrial use (e.g. airports, shopping malls), these units have curiously found their way into home theatre settings because of their superior video processing, minimalist design and "tweakability".

However, there are significant trade-offs. Compared to the consumer versions sold on the high street, these commercial panels do not come with internal TV tuner, speaker or stand. Connectivity is also limited, as you need to purchase and install the input boards separately (akin to a PC) before you can link up your source to the plasma, ultimately adding to the cost of a functional unit.

It's worth noting that the Panasonic TH42PH9 – with a native resolution of 1024x768 – barely passes the minimum specification required for a HD-ready display as outlined by EICTA (see "Why We Love 1080p"). During the course of this review, we will stack the TH42PH9 up against full-HD-capable (1920x1080) LCD TVs which admittedly look more appealing at this sub-£1200 price point.


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