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Panasonic TC-P54Z1 (photos)

Panasonic's flagship TC-P54Z1 plasma sails far beyond most buyers' price range, but the yacht enthusiasts who can afford it will enjoy superb picture quality and style in a wireless package.

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David Katzmaier

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1 of 18 Sarah Tew/CNET

Panasonic TC-P54Z1--overview

The company that brought you our favorite television of 2009, the Panasonic TC-PV10 series, built much of the same excellent picture quality into its most-expensive showpiece, the TC-P54Z1. Then it added wireless capability and squeezed the panel into an inch of depth, which helps justify the extra 2 grand it costs more than the 54-inch V10. The Z1's combination of picture quality, style, and features is enough to earn it one of the highest overall scores we've awarded to a TV at CNET, and the company deserves credit for advancing the plasma state of the art with this model. Of course, that state of the art is due for another advancement with the introduction of new 2010 models, including the TC-PVT25 series in a few months. None of those sets offer the thin, wireless chops of the Z1, however, so well-heeled style seekers might want to take the plunge anyway.

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Panasonic TC-P54Z1

An inch-thin profile is one reason the TC-P54Z1 costs so dang much.
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Panasonic TC-P54Z1--tuner box

The external tuner box houses the Z1's inputs and some additional electronics that can't fit in the thin panel.
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Panasonic TC-P54Z1--wireless transmitter

The wireless transmitter connects to the tuner box and blasts AV and control signals to the matching receiver on the TV.
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Panasonic TC-P54Z1--corner detail

Panasonic's silver frame is colored the same as its detachable speaker, and contrasts the glossy black vertical strip. The wireless receiver peeks underneath the left side of the panel.
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Panasonic TC-P54Z1--wireless receiver (rear)

The receiver piggy-backs on the rear of the TV panel, increasing depth but otherwise remaining relatively unobtrusive.
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Panasonic TC-P54Z1

The glossy remote works using RF signals, so it can control the TV without needing line-of-sight.
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Panasonic TC-P54Z1--stand detail

The stand matches the sliver theme and looks slick supporting the thin panel, but it doesn't swivel.
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Panasonic TC-P54Z1--tuner box

The tuner box is about the size of a DVD player or Blu-ray player.
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Panasonic TC-P54Z1--tuner box front panel inputs

The box's front flips down to reveal a few inputs and controls, as well as an SD card slot.
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Panasonic TC-P54Z1--tuner box rear panel inputs

The back panel of the tuner box proffers an array of inputs, including three HDMI and two component-video, as well as connections for the wireless transmitter.
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Panasonic TC-P54Z1--VieraCast home page

The VieraCast home page offers access to a few interactive services.
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Panasonic TC-P54Z1--Amazon Video on Demand

Amazon Video on Demand provides easy access to TV and movie rentals and purchases.
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Panasonic TC-P54Z1--VieraCast YouTube client

Panasonic's YouTube player has most of the features of the Web site.
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Panasonic TC-P54Z1--THX mode

The main picture menu includes a variety of settings, including a THX display mode, which we found a bit greener and dimmer than we'd like.
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Panasonic TC-P54Z1--Pro settings mode

The advanced picture controls found in the Pro setting menu are more extensive than ones provided in most step-down Panasonic plasmas.
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Panasonic TC-P54Z1--96Hz mode

The Z1's 96Hz mode is designed to better reproduce the cadence of film found on 1080p/24 sources, such as Blu-ray.
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Panasonic TC-P54Z1--picture quality

As we expected, given our experience with the step-down Panasonic TC-PV10 series, the flagship TC-P54Z1 delivered excellent picture quality. It equaled its line-mate in the important areas of black level and color accuracy, and while it fell short in video processing due to some strange (generally sporadic and subtle) quirks, it delivered a distinct advantage in bright rooms.

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