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.
In our review of Panasonic's G10 plasma we discussed how it competed for picture quality supremacy against Pioneer's now-discontinued Kuro PRO-111FD--still the best HDTV ever--and how ultimately it couldn't quite match the Kuro. The same basic story stays true for the TC-PV10 series, but it's even better than the G10. This Panasonic plasma has the same deep blacks that grace its less expensive little brother, and adds a couple of key improvements: better video processing to handle 1080p/24 sources, and more picture adjustments that allow it to transcend the limitations of THX mode. Its picture should satisfy all but the pickiest of videophiles, and it also outperforms any LCD-based display, LED or otherwise, we've ever tested. Beyond image quality, the V10 delivers plenty of features and an eye-catching one-sheet-of-glass design, for a combination that deserves serious consideration from buyers willing to pay for it.
We performed a hands-on evaluation of the 50-inch Panasonic TC-P50V10, but this review also applies to the 54-inch Panasonic TC-P54V10. The two sizes share identical specs and should have very similar picture quality.
[Editors' Note: Many of the Design and Features elements are identical between the TC-PV10 series and the TC-PG10 series we reviewed earlier, so readers of the earlier review may experience some déjà vu when reading the same sections below.]
The Panasonic TC-PV10 is one sleek plasma. Its main external differentiator is what the company calls "one sheet of glass" design, where a pane of glass extends beyond the edge of the screen and over the bezel itself, leading to a seamless look that's even more impressive in person than in pictures. (It's worth noting that only the 50- and 54-inch models feature the one-sheet design; the larger members of the series have the more traditional, visually separate bezel around the screen). The V10 series eschews the relatively bright silver fade along the bottom of the frame seen on the company's step-down TC-PG10 models, instead opting for a much subtler silver accent that arcs slightly upward in the middle. We think the V10 looks more attractive and sophisticated than the G10, and indeed it's one of the coolest-looking TV designs we've seen this year.
The black frame around the screen is a bit wider than that of the G10 series, leading to the V10's slightly larger height and width dimensions (0.2 and 0.9 inch larger, respectively, on the 50-incher, for example). The panels' depth dimension, on the other hand, is just 3.3 inches--not quite as thin as Samsung's 850 series plasmas or Panasonic's own Z1, but thinner than the 4.2 inches of the G10 models. If you're keeping track, the 50-inch V10 also weighs 4.4 pounds more than the 50-inch G10, which is probably due to that big pane of glass. Unlike that of the 50-inch model, the 54-incher's stand does not swivel.
Beyond the panels and stands, the V10 models are pretty much identical in design to the G10s. The remote 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 apparently mandated that an unnecessarily prominent trio of keys--Viera Link, VieraCast and VieraTools--appear 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 only the huge volume and channel 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 (a.k.a. HDMI-CEC).
Panasonic tweaked its menu design for 2009. The same yellow-on-blue color scheme is in evidence (albeit a lighter shade of blue), and navigation is basically unchanged, but the main menu actually has 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, Digital Cinema Color and VieraCast.
As Panasonic's nearly top-of-the-line plasma series, excepting the Z1, the V10 models offer a couple of extras. One is the ability to refresh the screen at 96Hz, which allows the TV to properly maintain the cadence of film when fed a 1080p/24 source--typically from a Blu-ray player (the refresh rate remains fixed at the standard 60Hz for non-1080p/24 sources). The V10 also has a 48Hz setting, but we recommend using 96Hz instead since the 48Hz option can introduce flicker. (Here's where we mention that, like all Panasonic plasmas, the V10's spec sheet includes mention of a 600Hz subfield drive. Our best advice is to ignore this spec--it has no visible bearing on picture quality, aside from a slight improvement in motion resolution that's extremely difficult to see.)
The other big step-up is Digital Cinema Color, which allows the V10 to show a wider color space than the traditional HDTV color space. Since Blu-ray discs are produced in the HDTV color space, however, we prefer to leave DCC turned off--in fact, DCC is defeated and rendered nonadjustable if you select THX mode. See Performance for more information.
The V10 models also offer THX Display Certification. When you engage THX picture mode, the V10's color accuracy, shadow detail, and numerous other picture characteristics improve significantly without you having to make a bunch of adjustments. THX comes close to a "one-step calibration," but in the V10's case it's not as effective as using the Custom mode and Pro adjust settings.
VieraCast, which debuted on the TH-PZ850U series last year, is Panasonic's interactive TV feature. It 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 ability 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 also offers the ability to interface with compatible networked cameras to use the system to for household monitoring.
Panasonic offers fewer picture adjustments than lot of other HDTV makers, but the V10 includes more advanced adjustments, thanks to the Pro Setting menu, than step-down models. We liked that all five of the global picture modes, including THX, Studio Ref. and the dim-by-design Standard mode (see below), are adjustable and that the sixth, 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. The Studio Ref. mode, which isn't found on step-down models, supposedly delivers an image closer to that of a studio monitor.
There are five color temperature presets, of which Warm2 came closest to the D65 standard. The Pro Setting menu, which is only available in the Custom mode, offers white balance controls to tweak grayscale, although they're less complete (lacking control for green) than on other HDTVs. That menu also includes a gamma control and numerous other settings, and its presence really helped improve the TV's picture.
Adjustments available on all picture modes include a "C.A.T.S." function that senses ambient light and adjusts the picture accordingly; a Color management toggle that 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 happily affects both standard- and high-definition sources.