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Panasonic's GAOO TV

Panasonic's "King of TV's"

GAOO on, take a look!

Panasonic's flagship TV line is the GAOO ("King of Pictures") series, televisions they've aimed squarely at the Sony XBR series. And they're a darn fine crop of sets, too; we think they're the best Panasonic has ever offered.

GAOO's are offered in 27, 31, and 35 inch screen sizes; TechnoFILE got to play with the mid-sized model.

The CT-31XF43C (try to remember that moniker when you head for the store!), as with all the GAOO's, offers Panasonic's "Superflat" picture tube, and it's very flat, which is nice if your room layout is wide rather than long, as it helps viewers off to the sides get the full picture. It's also a common trend in the industry, however, so Panasonic isn't breaking any new ground here.

Our GAOO came with Panasonic's new "stone" finish, a marble-ous look that also doesn't display the ever-present dust from which our home theatre suffers.

The GAOO includes an MTS stereo tuner capable of bringing in 181 channels and you can also store your 15 favorite channels in its memory, so you don't have to scan up and down the "dial" all the time. Of course, you can enter your channel selection's number manually as well, via the keypad on the TV's remote control.

You also get a second tuner for the set's PIP (picture in picture) feature, and that's as it should always be - but unfortunately isn't. And that PIP offers you two different inner picture sizes - one quarter or one eighth (check this) of the screen size.

The PIP also lets you swap picture and sound from one window to the next.

GAOO also includes a digital comb filter and claims a horizontal resolution of 800 lines, which will be nice when someone starts releasing video material (or broadcasting stuff) that utilizes the 800 lines. Until then, it's a misleading and superfluous specification - and Panasonic is by no means the only company that uses it.

Still, 800 lines means the set is capable of showing you any picture you can find, short of HDTV. And that's good.

Setup...

GAOO has a series of menus that take you through the process of setting up the TV and they're fairly straightforward. The Main Menu offers you choices of picture and sound settings, as well as the activation of the StarSight "automatic TV guide" that's included on the CT-31XF43C.

Going through the menus is pretty easy, too, though programming the channels we wanted to scan wasn't the easiest we've seen. Still, we accomplished the task without incident.

Hooking in your other components is also straightforward, and the CT-31XF43C gives you an S-Video In port along with two sets of input and one set of output jacks for audio and video. There's also a centre channel input, a speaker wire input that makes the set's speakers handle the centre channel in a Dolby Pro-Logic program.

This will work in a pinch, but it's no substitute for a proper centre channel.

Picture Perfect...

As we mentioned, we think the GAOO is Panasonic's best TV ever, so we were quite happy with its picture, especially when the source material was good (like when playing laserdiscs).

Picture quality is very subjective, but we'd have to rate the GAOO right up there with the best. Flesh tones, always a good measure of TV quality, were very nice, and they stayed rock solid through channel changes, thanks to Panasonic's "AI Picture" circuitry.

The 31 inch screen size was very pleasant in our room. We set the GAOO to its factory defaults for the most part, though we turned the picture down a mite from its default.

It gave a nice, theatre-like (well, for video) picture that was well-suited to widescreen movies.

A Sound Solution?

GAOO comes with Panasonic's Dome Sound System, thin dome speakers that wrap around the picture tube and fire their energy out toward the audience. You also get a new surround sound circuit that's supposed to offer an airy, "3D" effect, and it works pretty well. An automatic volume control maintains an even audio keel when channel flipping or when commercials begin their inevitable assault.

The Panasonic does a good job, audio-wise, but like any other TV we've seen it still pales in comparison to a reasonably priced stereo system.

GAOO remote controlThe Remote...

One of the most important features of a TV is its remote control. It should be logically laid out and easy to use. The best of all worlds will have a remote that also controls your other A/V components. We're pleased to say that, for the most part, the GAOO's remote passes the test.

And the numeric keypad is backlit, to make using it in a darkened room easier . We'd have like to see all of the buttons illuminated, but we'll take what we can get.

The universal remote operated all our other components, in a "pidgin" fashion, but it was better than using seven separate remotes for the most basic functions.

We thought you had to aim it too directly at the TV for it to work, though. There was no bouncing it off the opposite wall with this baby, though since the GAOO went through a set of batteries in a month (they may have been partially discharged when we got them), that may have something to do with it.

StarSight...

This GAOO comes complete with the "StarSight" system, a built in "TV guide and VCR programmer" from StarSight Telecast Inc. StarSight promises to give you an on-screen TV listing that you can search by theme or other parameter and, with a single click of your remote, will then program your VCR to record your chosen show.

This is meant to be a convenience feature for those who can't, or won't, learn to program their VCR's, or who can't find their TV listings on the coffee table (perhaps it's hidden under a pile of remote controls!).

The idea is great in theory, and maybe some day it'll be great in practice, but this is a feature that really rubbed us the wrong way. However, to be fair, our problems may have stemmed from our location.

You see, StarSight uses the signal from your local PBS station (in the U.S.) to find the time and the StarSight information. If you live in a reasonably major American population centre, you're probably OK. We don't. We're based in Calgary, Canada and our closest PBS station is in Spokane, Washington. That puts it one time zone West of us, and we were mighty interested to see if StarSight would notice the difference and adjust itself.

We're still waiting.

Since we were just using the GAOO for a month or so, we didn't want to pay for a StarSight hookup, so the company set us up with a trial account. We were supposed to have the service by the morning after we phoned StarSight, and so looked forward to seeing how it would work.

It didn't. We never received any program information at all, so we can't tell you how the feature works (or even if it works at all!).

And what's worse, StarSight overrode all the channels we'd programmed into the GAOO - putting all the channels we'd erased back into the scan - and once we'd activated it in the set we couldn't get rid of it. So the majority of our test had the damn StarSight running control over the TV, but offering nothing to us.

And is anyone really going to string a couple of wires from the back of their TV and hang 'em over the edge of their VCR? Give us a break! There's enough spaghetti in a home theatre without adding more wires! 'Cause that's how StarSight activates your VCR: wires run from the back of the GAOO and you have to sit the other ends, which transmit the infrared signal, where they can activate the VCR's remote sensor. It's crazy.

Our advice to people? Learn how to program your VCR. It really isn't that hard!

Now, we can't blame Panasonic for our StarSight debacle (except for putting it into the set!), and we'd really like to give the system a fair shake. That said, however, our experience with StarSight won't have us recommending the system to anyone in the near future.

But as for the GAOO, if you're looking for a good, high end TV with lots of features, a good picture and sound, and a reasonably universal remote control, you might want to check out this Panasonic flagship.

 

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Updated May 13, 2006