Panasonic TC-P46G10 Plasma HDTV Page 2
The Color Management control is said to enhance green and blue (it’s simply an on/off option, with no control over individual colors), and the Contrast Automatic Tracking System (C.A.T.S.) control claims to optimize contrast. For me, neither of these controls offered any benefit, so I left them off.
An Advanced menu includes additional adjustments. The only ones I used were Black Level (only the Light setting reproduced above white and below black), 3:2 Pulldown (film mode for interlaced sources), and 24p Direct In. The set will display sources up to 1080p/60. For 1080p/24 material, the 24p Direct In option lets you select either 24 fps (displayed at 48 fps) or 60 fps (with 3:2 pulldown added). For me, 48 fps wasn’t fast enough to eliminate visible flicker on some program material. Because of this, I used the 60-Hz setting for most of the review, even with 1080p/24 sources.
The set’s VIERA Link feature provides interoperability and interlinked control of other Panasonic components that are equipped for Panasonic’s HDAVI Control and connected together via HDMI.
Although the remote is well organized, it doesn’t offer direct selection of inputs. Its backlighting is limited to the volume and channel controls. While it can control other compatible components through VIERA Link, it’s not otherwise a multicomponent universal remote.
On the audio front, a slight reduction in the set’s treble control and a similarly modest increase in the bass helped make its thin, tinny sound suitable for non-critical listening. But it offered little more. However, it does include a Volume Leveler, which can provide more or less the same sound output on different programs, commercials, and across channels.
The Panasonic’s video processing was satisfactory for a set in this price range. Its 480i-to-1080p upconversion performance ranged from fair to good, with more jaggies than usual on some of our torture tests. It also failed the 2:2 (video-based source) pulldown test. It did lock onto 3:2 pulldown, though slower than usual. But the set’s 480i-to-1080p processing did well on my real-world program material tests from Gladiator, Star Trek: Insurrection, and The Day the Earth Stood Still (the 1951 version).
These days, manufacturers seem to devote most of their attention to processing 1080i sources. That might be a defensible position if you have a good upconverting disc player and a cable or satellite box with similarly good processing. Apart from 2:2 pulldown, which was still marginal at best, the Panasonic’s 1080i-to-1080p deinterlacing performance was solid. It handled 3:2 pulldown correctly, though still a bit slowly. More importantly, visible deinterlacing artifacts were rare on both film- and video-based real 1080i broadcasts. When I did see them, they were subtle. I saw an occasional bit of false contouring, but this wasn’t often, and it was mostly on commercial cable broadcasting.
One of the downsides I find in reviewing popularly priced HDTVs is the memory of high-end sets still rattling around in my head. But the latter does provide some perspective, and what we’re now seeing in affordable sets can be pretty amazing. Although this Panasonic can’t match what I’ve seen in sets that cost two or three times as much, it does get within shouting distance.
Before I fully calibrated this set, I spent over a week watching a wide variety of program material, including a heavy dose of high-definition cable (plus some standard definition as well). All of it was with an HDMI connection and, as I mentioned earlier, in the THX Picture mode. With a few tweaks to the standard video controls and with the Color Temp control set to Warm2, the Panasonic didn’t look far removed from what I’ve seen from some of the best, fully calibrated HDTVs.
This impressive out-of-box performance is significant for a $1,700 set, since many buyers in this price range will likely opt out of a $300 to $400 professional calibration. However, I must note that only a test with a large number of samples or experience with a wide range of THX- certified designs (there are, as yet, few of them) can verify how much consistency we can expect from THX-certified sets. THX’s goal in launching its certification program was not so much to ensure that every sample will be reasonably well calibrated as delivered, but rather that it can be made so—even aftermarket—if need be.
Until then, you can only be sure you’re getting the best out of the set if you calibrate it. In this sample’s case, calibration produced an improvement, but it was marginal. Whether out of the box or calibrated, the Panasonic’s color was hard to fault. As received, it took a little fiddling with the color and tint adjustments to produce fully satisfying fleshtones. But the control changes only amounted to two or three steps. The average user would be unlikely to notice the improvement. After calibration, I left both controls centered.
The Brightness control produced small changes with each step, and a broader range of settings than usual gave satisfactory results. I settled on a setting of 57—close to the bottom end of that range—for the best black level. The defaults in the factory THX mode put the Contrast control near maximum. Since this did not clip the whites or degrade the image in any other way, I left it there. A Sharpness setting of 50 produced an image with no ringing or artificial enhancement.
A quick switch between the calibrated THX mode and the Standard mode showed that the THX mode’s colors were unquestionably more natural looking. Fleshtones were always believable. While greens were a bit too flashy on some programming, that wasn’t always the case, which suggests that the source material itself was at fault. Reds popped, but they didn’t jump out in the unnatural way that they do on some sets. Measurements later confirmed that with the exception of a somewhat purplish magenta (never obvious on real material), the THX mode’s color gamut was far more accurate than I’ve seen on most recently reviewed sets.
I’ve said it before, but one of the ways that an HDTV distinguishes itself is how well it differentiates between various levels of HD quality. As with all things, there’s so-so HD and great HD. The Panasonic easily revealed the difference between the two, particularly from a viewing distance of about 8 feet. This was most evident on HD cable. First-run broadcasts of House, American Idol (stunning HD production values, whatever you might think of the show itself), and syndicated HD reruns of Stargate Atlantis all overflowed with crisp, natural detail. Atlantis, in particular, had some of the most convincingly three- dimensional images I’ve ever seen on a two-dimensional HDTV. I attribute this mainly to the source, since it wasn’t common on other good HD broadcasts. Still, the Panasonic certainly showed that it’s capable of passing this quality on to the viewer if the program material can provide it.
On the other hand, most cable HD programming, while still good, looked a little softer than the best. It was certainly less crisp than a good Blu-ray Disc. But this was clearly a source issue. I never felt that the Panasonic’s resolution shortchanged me on any decently produced video material, either from cable or disc, HD or SD (of course, given lower expectations for the latter).
Black level and shadow detail are qualities that unhinge many otherwise fine sets. That’s not the case here, although Panasonic’s use of the term Infinite Black for its new panel is more than a bit of a stretch. In a darkened room, the Panasonic’s black bars never disappeared completely, although they can look very dark if the main image is bright enough to distract the eye. And the screen never turned the darkest gray, much less total black, on fadeouts between scenes or with a full-screen black test pattern.
However, with that said, the TC-P46G10 costs considerably less than half the price of sets that can do significantly better at the darkest end of the video spectrum—sets such as local-dimming, LED-backlit LCDs or the now discontinued Pioneer KUROs. And the Panasonic rarely showed any sign of the gray fog or muddled shadows you’ll often see in dark scenes on competitively priced LCD sets. Apart from the very darkest, most challenging material, its blacks and shadow detail are impressive. For example, in the opening star field in Stargate: Continuum (Blu-ray), the darkness of space was less inky black than it is on a Pioneer. But more stars were visible on the Panasonic than on most of the few sets that can produce deeper measure blacks. In fact, it displayed more stars than I can ever recall seeing in this scene.
In a later chapter, on the deck of a tramp steamer crossing the Atlantic at night, the Panasonic also did a better job than usual in revealing details in a heavily shadowed bulkhead.
I’m still a sucker for blacks that disappear completely, or nearly so, on fadeouts between scenes. But given that you can’t quite get there in a popularly priced flat-panel HDTV such as this, the Panasonic didn’t let me down. It maintained its composure, contrast, con- sistency, and sheer image snap on dark, difficult program material.
The Panasonic won’t give you the searingly bright images that you’ll get from an LCD, but it’s bright enough. And unlike an LCD, you can enjoy it at its best from wide off-axis angles. Judging from our sample, it’s more accurate out of the box than most sets we’ve seen in this price range.
In fact, it does everything as well as, or better than, last year’s only THX-certified Panasonic set, the TH-50PZ800U (reviewed in the Face Off in our February 2009 issue, which is now online at www.HomeTheaterMag.com). That set costs $2,500, $800 more than this one. Yes, there is a 4-inch size difference in favor of the older model. The 50-inch TC-P50G10, at $1,800—a mere $100 more expensive than the TC-P46G10—might make for a better cost comparison. We haven’t tested the latter, and I will make no assumptions about how it performs vis à vis the TC-P46G10. But I’d expect it to be very similar.
Great flat-panel HDTVs are definitely getting more affordable. At the same time, they provide the same or better performance as earlier, more expensive designs. Panasonic is definitely in the forefront of that development. I enjoyed every minute I spent with the TC-P46G10 and recommend it highly.