CNET editors pick the products and services we write about. When you buy through our links, we may get a commission.
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. Click here for more information.
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.
Panasonic touts the G10 series' power-saving chops, thanks to its so-called NEO PDP panel, but in reality this is still one of the more energy-hogging TVs you can buy (see Power consumption below). The set's ECO menu only allows automatic turn-off functions; it doesn't offer a specific power saving mode that affects power draw when the TV's turned on.
The TV lacks picture-in-picture and cannot freeze the image temporarily to catch a phone number, for example. It can, however, accept SD cards with digital photos into a slot on the left side, which allows it to play back the images on the big screen.
Connectivity on the TC-PG10 series is perfectly adequate but not overboard, starting with three HDMI inputs, two on the back and a third on the side. 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 also an optical-digital-audio output and an analog stereo audio output. In addition to the HDMI port and SD card slot, the side panel offers a second AV input with composite video along with a VGA-style PC input (1366x768 maximum resolution).
The TC-P54G10 delivers nearly identical picture quality to its smaller brethren, which makes it among the best-performing HDTVs we've tested this year, second only to the company's own V10 models. Its picture starts with deep black levels that lend realism and contrast to every scene, especially dark ones, and also offers relatively accurate color. On the downside, its video processing can't handle 1080p/24 sources properly, and color suffers from insufficient user menu adjustments, but neither issue spoils the 54G10's excellent overall picture quality.
As we saw on the smaller G10 models we reviewed, the TC-P54G10 requires certain compromises during picture setup that result from a paucity of picture control. The THX mode offers more accurate color and a low light output that cannot be increased, while Custom is less color-accurate yet can be made brighter. For what it's worth, THX on both the 46-inch and 54-inch G10 models we measured was virtually identical, to the point of topping out at a maximum of exactly 28.26ftl on both sizes. Primary and secondary colors were likewise within a hair's breadth of one another, and the secondaries of cyan and magenta were equally less accurate than the other colors, which were equally spot-on. Gamma in THX on the 54-incher was 2.14, compared to 2.25 on the 46-incher, and both came quite close to the standard of 2.2.
As before, we used THX for our critical evaluations because of its superior color accuracy, but our picture settings do include Custom, for people who want a brighter image and are willing to compromise color and gamma performance. We used the scant available user controls to calibrate Custom to our nominal 40ftl level and adjusted the rest of the controls as well as we could, but in the end the dimmer, albeit more color-accurate, picture of THX was still preferable. We wish Panasonic had allowed us to eke more light out of THX mode, or simply provided a choice of color spaces, gamma, and fine color temperature controls with all modes, like many manufacturers do, but that's not the case with the G10.
Our comparison of the Panasonic TC-P54G10 pitted it against a few 50-inch plasmas, including the company's own TC-P50V10, the Samsung PN50B850, the LG 50PS80, and our reference Pioneer PRO-111FD. We also threw in our favorite 52-inch LCD, the Samsung LN52B750. For our image quality tests we checked out the luscious "Speed Racer" on Blu-ray.
Black level: When the camera stopped long enough for us to appreciate them, it was clear that black levels on the TC-P54G10 were superb. The depth of black in the letterbox bars, the shadows behind the announcer in Chapter 2, and the recesses inside the car for example, all appeared darker and truer than on any of the other displays, aside from the V10, which was basically equal, and, of course, the Pioneer. Shadow detail also looked more natural than any of the others, aside from those two sets, from the hair in John Goodman's mustache to the side of young Speed as they both observe the race. Blacks stayed constant with no fluctuation we could observe in program material.
The G10's excellent gamma, which affected shadow detail as well as the appearance of bright areas, worsened considerably when we switched from THX to Custom, which made brightness progressions appear less natural, especially in side-by-side comparisons.
Color accuracy: In THX mode, colors on the G10 looked mostly excellent, although not up to the levels of the other displays in our lineup. Primary and secondary colors were spot-on for the most part, as evinced by the riot of reds and blues in the racing scenes. The G10's solid grayscale came through in shots of white and gray areas, like the test paper young Speed fills out in the opening scene or the white of Rex's car. We also loved the rich, lush color saturation of this film as reproduced by the G10, which matched that of any of the displays in the room aside from the Pioneer.
But like other Panasonic displays, THX mode on the G10 betrayed a slight yellow/green tinge, for example in the pale face of Christina Ricci as she watches the race at the start of Chapter 3. We still preferred that look to the bluer, paler look of Custom (the result of its less-accurate color temperature) and in Custom her red lipstick, for example, appeared inaccurate and less natural compared with THX and our reference.
Regardless of mode, we appreciated that blacks and dark areas on the G10 remained true, without veering into the bluish tinge seen on so many other displays, especially LCDs like the Samsung B750. The G10 also outdid the Samsung B850 plasma in this regard, although the difference was much more subtle.
Video processing: In our resolution tests, the TC-P54G10 performed very well, and matched the performance of its smaller brothers in the series. It delivered every line of 1080i and 1080p content with still resolution test patterns, properly deinterlaced both film and video-based 1080i content with the "3:2 pulldown" control set to "On" (a first for Panasonic in our experience, whose displays have always failed the film test, prior to this year) and passed all 1080 lines of motion resolution, matching other 1080p Panasonic plasmas and most other displays we've tested, including other plasmas, which hit between 800 and 1,000 lines at most. As usual, however, we found it basically impossible to discern any differences in resolution, motion or otherwise, between the Panasonic and the other 1080p displays in our test when watching actual program material as opposed to test patterns.
The company also includes a "24p direct in" setting that's available when the TV detects a 1080p/24 source, typically from a Blu-ray Disc. As with the other G10 sizes, choosing the "48Hz" setting, as opposed to the standard 60Hz setting, causes the display to refresh at 48Hz to match the 24fps cadence of film. And as with those sets, selecting 48Hz on the G10 causes flicker, more intense in brighter areas, but visible everywhere, that basically renders the image unwatchable. We don't expect any of the videophiles toward whom this setting is aimed to stand for the flicker, so we kept the G10 set to 60Hz. It's worth noting that the step-up V10 series refreshes at 96Hz, eliminates the flicker problem, and properly reproduces the cadence of film.
Bright lighting: The TC-P54G10 did a solid job attenuating ambient light and glare in our bright room--not quite as good as the Pioneer or Sony, but better than the highly-reflective Samsung LCD or the Samsung plasma. It uses the same antireflective screen as other 2009 Panasonic plasmas and handled bright lighting as well as those displays. The G10 did not preserve black levels in the bright light as well as any of the other non-Panasonic displays, however, and the Samsung in particular delivered better blacks in bright rooms.
Standard-definition: The Panasonic was a mediocre performer with standard-def material. It resolved every line of the DVD format, although details weren't quite as sharp as on the Samsungs, for example. It did a subpar job with moving diagonal lines and stripes on the waving American flag, leaving plenty of jaggies along the edges. Noise reduction was solid, on the other hand, and both Video NR and MPEG NR settings contributed to removing moving motes and snow from low-quality shots of skies and sunsets. Finally, the set properly engaged 2:3 pulldown to remove moire from the grandstands behind the racecar.
PC: With an HDMI source and set to THX mode, the G10 performed perfectly, resolving every line of a 1920x1080 source, with no sign of edge enhancement or overscan. Via VGA, the TV would accept a maximum resolution of 1366x768, as the manual indicates, and the test looked softer, blockier, and generally worse than via HDMI. We'd love to see a full-resolution VGA input on a TV this expensive.
|Before color temp (20/80)||6487/6696||Good|
|After color temp||N/A|
|Before grayscale variation||198||Good|
|After grayscale variation||N/A|
|Color of red (x/y)||0.637/0.333||Good|
|Color of green||0.295/0.61||Good|
|Color of blue||0.151/0.057||Good|
|Defeatable edge enhancement||Y||Good|
|480i 2:3 pull-down, 24 fps||Pass||Good|
|1080i video resolution||Pass||Good|
|1080i film resolution||Pass||Good|
Power consumption: The Panasonic TC-P54G10 is the first 54-inch HDTV we've tested, so it's impossible to compare directly with others of its size. We have checked out one 55-inch LCD however, the Vizio VF550XVT, which, as expected, used considerably less power, but the rest of the models in our post-calibration comparison are different sizes. Like other Panasonic plasmas, the default setting for the 54 incher is quite a bit dimmer (29.19ftl) than our post-calibration setting (40ftl), which as in previous models is designed to help the TV achieve Energy Star status (and results in a "Good" overall rating in our system). No matter which way you slice it, however, the Panasonic TC-P54G10 is a power hog.
|Panasonic TC-P54G10||Picture settings|
|Picture on (watts)||282.85||324||N/A|
|Picture on (watts/sq. inch)||0.23||0.26||N/A|
|Cost per year||$61.03||$69.90||N/A|
|Score (considering size)||Poor|