Patience folks, patience! Our Forums are abuzz with questions about Panasonic's first Freesat high-definition TV, and never ones to let you down, we've just finished testing the TH-46PZ81 plasma model.

It's fully-equipped with a built-in Freesat tuner, so all you have to do is plug it into a satellite dish and you'll have a selection of subscription-free HDTV channels to choose from. Sound too good to be true?

Well read on to find out if the promise of free high-def TV is all it's cracked up to be...

Panasonic TH-46PZ81

5 stars

£1700

For

First TV to include Freesat HD tuner – excellent HD and SD pictures; Full HD, 1080p/24fps; sharp, detailed, colourful video images

Against

Very little considering what it costs

Verdict

If you fancy some free-to-air HD content this summer, with the added bonus of a top notch 46in TV in to the bargain, then look no further

Hot-on-the-heels of our First Test of Humax's Foxsat-HD Freesat box in the July issue of What Hi-Fi? Sound and Vision, here's our first look at a TV with an integrated Freesat HD tuner.

It's from Panasonic, and you can call it the TH-46PZ81. You'll find 42in and 50in models in this range, as well as this 46in set.

We'll deal with Freesat HD in more depth in the panel at the foot of this page, but briefly, it's a non-subscription service, which requires a one-off payment for installation of the dish and connection. It then delivers a host of standard definition channels – similar, though not identical to rival service Freeview – as well as the all-important free-to-air HD content.

From the outside the TV certainly looks familiar enough but take a look at the connections on the back and you can't miss the Freesat HD tuner connection, which requires the rather fiddly F-Type screw-in connector aerial cable (as used on Sky).

Elsewhere there's a standard aerial connection for the integrated digital and analogue tuners, as well as three HDMI inputs, a component connection, two Scarts and other standard video connections.

There's also a digital optical audio output, too. Completing the specs, this set is a 1920 x 1080, Full HD resolution panel, perfectly capable of accepting 1080p/24fps video.

So on top of the usual scan for analogue and digital tuners, we run the Freesat HD set-up. This tells us our signal strength and signal quality – both of which register around 75 per cent – and shows your channels stacking up. Anticipation mounting, we soon head straight in to the world of Freesat HD...

And, well, it's pretty darn impressive. The TV Guide has a brand-new look to it but works in the standard way, so we navigate straight to the BBC HD channel. Watching endless trailers for Hotel Babylon, Wild China and Heroes may not be everyone's idea of fun but there's no denying the picture looks brilliant. Insight is excellent, edges are drawn sharply, and there's a vivid, lush colour palette. And hey, you get proper content in the evenings.

SD channels via the Freesat HD tuner look great, too, with these – and the HD channels – comparing favourably with the performance of the dedicated Freesat HD set-top boxes.

The Freeview tuner on board this set is decent, too, should you want a fix of channels, such as Sky Sports News, that Freesat doesn't provide. There's also much to admire with the sound quality, with solid, full-bodied dialogue and decent punch and weight.

Lest we forget, you'll of course want to know how this set looks with video. Upscaling the DVD of There Will Be Blood, the Panasonic shows itself capable of decent black levels, impressive contrast, good detail and smooth motion. All the things, you'd look for then, yes?

Switch to something a little more colourful, and packing a fair few more pixels, the Blu-ray disc of Ghost Rider shows bright, dynamic colours, with a clean, stable finish. Again, black depth is decent, putting up a good fight against some class-leading plasmas.

So this is another impressive television from Panasonic. All the more so when you consider the price tag, just £1700 – and that includes that hot-off-the-press Freesat HD tuner. If you were waiting for a viable alternative to a subscription-based service in order to get your HD fix, then – providing the content keeps coming – this could well be it.

More about Freesat

Freesat itself isn't a new service – the standard-definition box has been around for a while, and for £50 will deliver digital TV to many areas that can't get Freeview. A not-for-profit organisation devised by BBC and ITV, it threatens to break in to the mainstream now due to the addition of HD content, thanks to the Freesat HD tuners.

To get the service you need a satellite dish and tuner – an existing Sky dish will do the job. There are four set-top boxes on the market at the time of writing, as well as these Panasonic TVs.

And what do you get for your money? BBC HD and ITV HD content, potential for plenty more HD channels and also a host of standard-definition TV channels.

ALSO CONSIDER

Samsung LE46F86

£1900

5 stars Jan 08

Great value screen, and one of the best LCDs that we've seen at this size – though there's of course no Freesat HD tuner.

Philips 47PFL9632D

£1900

5 stars Jan 08

If Ambilight is your bag you could do worse than check out this Philips 47in set, which oozes class thanks to the fine style and finish.

TECH SPECS

Type plasma

Aspect Ratio 16:9

HD Ready yes

Full HD yes

Screen size (in) 46

Resolution 1920 x 1080

Accepts 1080p yes

24fps yes

HDMI 1.3a Yes

Integrated analogue tuner yes

Integrated digital tuner yes

HDMI in 3

DVI in 0

PC in 1

Component in 1

RGB Scart in 2

Scart in 2

S-Video in 1

Composite in 1

USB in 0

Memory card in 0

Phono audio in 2

Phono audio out 1

Digital audio out 1

Dimensions (hwd, cm) 80 x 116 x 39

Weight (kg) 40

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