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Panasonic NEO plasmas consume half the power

Panasonic's S1 series of plasmas are its least expensive to incorporate the important features like improved contrast ratio and power efficiency.

Panasonic's S1 series uses half the juice. Panasonic

Update 3-11-2009: We've posted reviews of three products in this series, albeit with smaller screen sizes: the 42-inch TC-P42S1, the 46-inch TC-P46S1 and the 50-inch TC-P50S1. Judging from their identical specifications, we expect the picture quality of the larger 54-, 58- and 65-inch models to be similar to those of the smaller ones. See the reviews for further information.

As we've been reporting for years, plasmas are much less energy efficient than LCDs. Panasonic aims to level the playing field with its new NEO PDP plasma panel, which uses half as much energy to create the same brightness, according to the company.

The S1 series, the company's least-expensive with NEO PDP panels, will be available in a whopping total of six screen sizes. The 42-inch TC-P42S1 ($1,199 street), the 46-inch TC-P46S1 ($1,499), and the 50-inch TC-P50S1 ($1,799) will ship in March, the new 54-inch size TC-P54S1 ($2,199) will ship in May and the behemoth 58-inch TC-P58S1 and 65-inch TC-P65S1 (both $TBD) will ship in August.

Unlike the step-down X1 series, the S1 incorporates many of the company's most-desirable picture quality enhancements. The NEO PDP panel, in addition to its purported energy savings, offers improved contrast ratio that should contribute to deeper black levels. The S1 series is also the least-expensive in Panasonic's lineup with 1080p resolution, for what it's worth.

Like all Panasonic plasmas they have "infinite black," which means the sets essentially shut off during entirely dark scenes. The company, in an obvious effort to compete against "Hz"-happy LCD makers, is touting a "600Hz sub-field drive." Here's our effort to staunch consumer confusion: ignore this feature. It basically means plasmas have very good motion resolution, but as usual it's very difficult to discern the difference for most people. The company is using the same anti-reflective filter as last year for all of its plasmas.

Between the energy-efficiency and what we expect to be improved black level performance over the 2008 models, the S1 series seems to strike the perfect bang-for-the-buck balance, since we assume they'll be significantly less-expensive than the company's step-up THX-certified, VieraCast-equipped G10 series and Digital Cinema Color-equipped and 24p-ready V10 series. We're looking forward to getting a review sample.