Editors' note, March 3, 2010: Testing conducted on 2009 Panasonic plasma TVs, similar to this one, has revealed that black-level performance has become noticeably less impressive within what is typically the first year of ownership. As a result, we don't feel confident that the initial picture quality of this TV, as described in the review below, can be maintained over the course of its lifetime, and therefore find it difficult to recommend. Its Performance score has been accordingly reduced by one point to better indicate comparative picture quality after 1,500 hours of use.
Separately, the Features rating has been lowered to account for changes in the competitive marketplace, including the release of new 2010 TVs. Aside from these changes to ratings, the review has not otherwise been modified.
For some people, a 50-inch HDTV just isn't big enough. Panasonic created its new 54-inch screen size, represented here by the TC-P54G10, for just those kinds of people. This set competes directly against the new 55-inch LCD size for your big-screen consideration, and occupies a nice middle ground between merely large 50-inch plasmas and truly gigantic 58- and 60-inchers. In our testing, the TC-P54G10 proved every bit the equal of its smaller brothers in the company's G10 series, which remain one of the best value propositions on the market for shoppers who prize picture quality.
In April 2009, we published a review of the three other sizes in Panasonic's TC-PG10 series, based on a hands-on evaluation of the TC-P46G10. We didn't review the 54-inch TC-P54G10 back then, despite its identical specs, because it was an entirely new screen size for the company. After testing the 46- and 54-inch members of the series, we observed very similar picture quality on both sizes, and as usual remarks from this review can be applied for the most part to all other sizes in the series.
Editors' note: Many of the Design and Features elements are identical between the TC-P54G10 and the TC-P46G10 we reviewed earlier, so readers of the earlier review may experience some déjà vu when reading the same sections below.
Like most TV makers, Panasonic differentiates it less from its more-expensive model lines by blessing the latter with refined styling, and the step-up G10 series follows suit. It lacks the beautiful one-sheet-of-glass design found on the even-more-expensive V10 series, but makes up for it somewhat with a thinner frame around the edge of the screen; this is the thinnest-framed plasma we've reviewed, with the exception of the company's "professional" models like the TH-50PH11UK. Glossy black predominates, interrupted by a silver strip along the bottom that abuts the G10's signature design touch, a silver wash that fades into black after about a half inch. Comparison Panasonic shoppers may care that the more-expensive, otherwise-identical G15 models lack the silver accents.
Another big change from last year is Panasonic's new circular stand. It out-styles the rectangular version found on the step-down models, but unfortunately it doesn't swivel. Hidden speakers complete the G10 series' sleek look.
The remote also differs from the one found on less-expensive Panasonic plasmas, and in general we liked it. Panasonic's marketing guys got to the button designers, however, and mandated that an unnecessarily prominent trio of keys--Viera Link, VieraCast, and VieraTools--arc above the central cursor control. Each provides direct access to functions we'll warrant most users won't access as frequently as the Menu key, and the trio relegates that button to an easily overlooked spot near the top of the clicker. We still like the feel of the keys, and appreciate the size, color, and shape differentiation that helps us forget that none of the buttons are illuminated. The remote cannot control other devices via infrared (IR) commands, but it does allow some control of compatible HDMI devices connected to the TV via Viera Link (aka HDMI-CEC).
Panasonic's menus have a highly legible yellow-on-blue color scheme and navigation is basically unchanged. The main menu offers a couple of icons now. Overall, it's still one of the more straightforward, basic-looking menus on the mainstream market, but we still wish the company would see fit to include onscreen explanations of selections. A new Tools menu showcases some of the TV's functions, including THX mode and VieraCast.
When you engage THX picture mode, the G10's color accuracy, shadow detail, and numerous other picture characteristics improve significantly--at the expense of a dimmer picture--without you having to make a bunch of adjustments. We'll go into the effects below.
VieraCast offers access to YouTube videos, photos stored on your Picasa account, stocks and headlines courtesy of Bloomberg, and local weather. It connects to the Internet via an Ethernet port on the back of the TV. Panasonic regrettably does not include wireless capability nor sell a wireless dongle, although it says third-party wireless bridges or powerline adapters will work fine.
New for 2009 Panasonic has added the capability to access Amazon Video on Demand via VieraCast. The pay-per-view movie and TV service is integrated nicely into the television, includes access to so-called high-def content, and can supplement or supplant cable or satellite PPV offerings with its significantly larger catalog. We also appreciate that, unlike some implementations of Amazon VOD, VieraCast allows you to preview content before purchase. One downside of using the system is that it disables many of the TV's aspect ratio controls and doesn't allow access to the THX picture mode, but happily the other picture modes are all available and fully adjustable. Like the G10, the V10 can interface with compatible networked cameras to use the system for household monitoring (we did not test this feature). Check out last year's in-depth look at VieraCast for more information.
These content offerings are solid, albeit not up to the level found on some interactive TVs this year, including the Netflix-enabled LG and (soon) Sony models. VieraCast also lacks the variety, and promise of future expansion, of Yahoo-widget-equipped TVs from Samsung. On the other hand, it feels more polished and certainly more responsive than widgets, and of course Panasonic can add more services to keep VieraCast in the future. May we suggest Netflix?
Compared with a lot of other name-brand HDTV makers, Panasonic offers far fewer picture adjustments. Yes, the basics are there, including Contrast, which the company was calling Picture for years. We liked that all four of the global picture modes, including THX and the dim-by-design Standard mode (see below), are adjustable and that the fifth, called Custom, is independent per input. The company's Game mode is basically just a picture mode; it doesn't eliminate video processing like some other makers' Game modes.
Beyond the basics, Panasonic lets you change the refresh rate to 48Hz, although doing so causes flicker (see Performance for more). There are also five color temperature presets, of which Warm2 came closest to the D65 standard. No further provisions for tweaking the grayscale exist. A "C.A.T.S." function senses ambient light and adjusts the picture accordingly; a Color management toggle made color decoding worse when engaged; a trio of On/Off settings affect video noise; and another allows you to set black level (the Light option exposed the correct amount of shadow detail). The setting to control 2:3 pulldown affects both standard- and high-definition sources.
You can choose from five aspect ratio options with high-def sources, including a Zoom mode that allows adjustment of horizontal size and vertical position. The Full mode can be made to match the pixel counts of 1080i and 1080p sources, without introducing overscan, if you select the HD Size 2 option from the Advanced menu (in THX mode this option is called "THX" and you can't disengage it). We recommend using this setting unless you notice interference along the extreme edges of the screen, which can occur on some channels or sources.
Panasonic also offers ways to avoid temporary image retention, aka burn-in, and address it should it occur. A pixel orbiter slowly shifts the image around the screen, and you can elect to have it happen either automatically or in user-set periodic intervals. You can chose bright or dark gray bars alongside 4:3 programs. And if you do see some burn-in, chances are the scrolling bar function, which sweeps a white bar across a black screen, will clear it up after while. We appreciated that the VieraCast menu went into screen saver mode after a few minutes of inactivity.