Sleek, stylish and streaked with brushed-metal strips, Panasonic's VIERA Z1 is indisputably one of the sexiest PDPs we've ever encountered. However, before you plonk yourself into that comfy sofa to savor the beauty of this thin-profile display, it pays to know that some assembly work is required. Four holding screws are needed to secure the panel to the stand's brackets, dubbed as the "pedestal". Additionally, the Z1's pair of sidebar speakers has to be fastened to the panel as well. When you're done, don't forget to insert the two audio terminals fitted with a Ferrite-core noise suppressor. After much huffing and puffing, we dare say the panel is relatively heavy on its own (30.5kg), so take extra care if you're planning to make this a solo effort. Its elliptical base is nice to gawk at with a layer of curved textures on a chrome surface. One downer, of course, is its lack of swiveling capabilities.
Panasonic is an active member of the WirelessHD consortium. Unfortunately, the localized Z1 isn't loaded with WirelessHD (like its American counterpart) for reasons cited earlier in our review. Being so, you'll need to connect the external tuner box to the TV via a supplied HDMI cable, minus the wireless benefits. This additional box demands more rack space for sure, but you can't deny it's a whole lot easier to access the box's assortment of AV connectors, compared to reaching for the TV's back panel. There are four HDMI 1.3 ports situated at the STB's (set-top ala tuner box) stern for your AV peripherals, including a dedicated HDMI TV Out connector. In front, a flip-down flap conceals a SD card slot and a HDMI port amongst others. One glaring caveat is that the display lacks internet connectivity. At the navigation end, the Z1's comprehensive remote wand is identical to the V-series we've reviewed previously, with a VIERA Link button seated around its directional pad. Strangely enough, Panasonic sent us a stick with Chinese labels which we had to make do with.
Specs wise, there's little to differentiate the Z and V premium class PDPs. The Full-HD NeoPDP panel is capable of 1080 lines of 'moving' resolution instead of 900 (compared to Panasonic's previous installment), an improvement made possible by its 600Hz Sub-field drive feature, delivered with thanks to the NeoPDP's new cells and drivers. One glance at its specs sheet also reveals an eye-popping dynamic contrast ratio of 2,000,000:1. Furthermore, Panasonic has bumped up their VIERA Image Viewer to support MPEG2 on top of its current support for AVCHD and JPEG files. If you know next to nothing about the mechanics of AV qualifications, perhaps the Z1's THX certification would settle any doubts. Simply put, THX facilitators have placed the TV through a barrage of stringent video test patterns to ensure the TV is up to a certain visual standard. THX-certified displays, like the Z1, come with a THX mode with presumably optimal settings for film playback if you prefer not to tinker too much.
We didn't spot any major changes with the user interface. For quick access, you can hit the VIERA Tools button to read the media contents in your SD card, or adjust your home theater speakers, for example. The Z1 has enough display tweaks for the savvy, like an x.v.Color options for improved gradations with HD movies, and an Eco mode which automatically adjusts the picture settings based on ambient lighting conditions. Speaking of which, the 54-inch Z1 only devours 485 watts (including the tuner box) operationally, compared to the 50-inch V11 who is a hungrier guzzler at 530 watts. One other feature that's lacking, compared to the US release, is Panasonic's omission of VIERA Cast, an online service which gives you access to sites like YouTube and Google. A pity that didn't make it to this region.