For HDTV shoppers who recognize that burn-in and product lifespan, two bugaboos that have plagued the public perception of plasma TVs since their introduction, are largely not worth worrying about today, one potential hurdle on the path to plasma remains: power consumption. Plasma has always used significantly more power than LCD. Panasonic aims to narrow that gap with a new plasma display panel it calls, naturally, Neo PDP. The least expensive of the company's numerous 2009 plasma models to boast the new panel is the TC-PS1 series.
In our testing, we found that the S1 series model does indeed suck less juice than before. Its picture quality is also very good, starting with deep black levels that nearly rival the all-time champ in that department, Pioneer's Kuro models. Picture quality nitpicks include less-than-accurate color, which thanks to the company's minimal user-menu controls, cannot be adjusted. Despite these issues, we found a lot to like about the TC-PS1 series, not the least of which is its appealing price point.
Series note: The 2009 Panasonic TC-PS1 series is available in six screen sizes. We performed a hands-on evaluation of the 42-inch model, TC-P42S1 ($1,199 street), but our remarks on picture quality also apply to at least two other models in the series, the 46-inch TC-P46S1 ($1,499) and the 50-inch TC-P50S1 ($1,799)--all three share identical specifications but for screen size.
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 the dim-by-design Standard mode, are adjustable and that the fifth, called Custom, is independent per input. The company's Game mode is basically just a picture mode; however, it doesn't eliminate video processing like some other makers' game modes.
Advanced settings include a "C.A.T.S." function that senses ambient light and adjusts the picture accordingly; a pair of On/Off settings affect video noise; and another lets you set black level (the Light that option exposed the correct amount of shadow detail). That's about it--there's no gamma, color management, or other more advanced settings.
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.
Connectivity on the TC-PS1 series is adequate, but not extensive, starting with two HDMI inputs on the back. Other back-panel connections include two component-video inputs, an AV input with composite and S-Video, and an RF input for cable or antenna. There's no analog PC input on this model.
The remote control is similar to last year's, but not as good. Panasonic's marketing guys got to the button designers, judging from the unnecessarily prominent trio of keys--Viera Link, Viera Tools, and SD Card--that arc above the central cursor control. Each button provides direct access to functions we'll warrant most users won't access frequently, and the trio relegates the more important, yet now-tiny Menu key to a secondary 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 commands, but it does allow some control of compatible HDMI devices connected to the TV via Viera Link (aka HDMI-CEC).
Overall, the TC-PS1 series delivered excellent picture quality with deep black levels and shadow detail, the former helping lend plenty of pop or saturation to colors. Color accuracy is an issue, but not enough to spoil an otherwise commendable performance.