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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.
Plasma has been ceding ground to LCD for years, and the latest patches of territory at risk are screen sizes above 50 inches. Panasonic, both sheriff and principal resident of plasma town, has traditionally ruled the vast-size flat-panel frontier with an iron fist, but with LCDs available in new 55-inch and, lately, 65-inch versions for competitive prices, the company has had to continually make its own big screens more affordable. The happy result, at least for HDTV shoppers with room to spare, is that larger models can be had for chunks of change that seem small by historical standards. And while the bigger sets in Panasonic's TC-PS1 plasma series might surprise you with their affordability, they still deliver better picture quality than most of their large LCD competition.
We performed a hands-on evaluation of the 54-inch Panasonic TC-P54S1, but this review also applies to the 58-inch TC-P58S1 and the 65-inch TC-P65S1. The three share identical specs but for screen size, so we expect them to exhibit very similar picture quality. Earlier this year we evaluated a 42-inch TC-P42S1, which applied to the 42-, 46- and 50-inch members of the TC-PS1 series. Although every model had identical specs, the large disparity in screen size across the series was the main reason we decided to evaluate two separate review samples.
Editors' note: The Design and Features elements are identical between sizes in the TC-PS1 series we reviewed earlier, so readers of the earlier review may experience some déjà vu when reading the same sections below.
Glossy black covers the entire frame of the TC-PS1, aside from a slim strip of silver shaped to mirror the gently curved bottom edge of the panel. Once we tore off the Energy Star sticker, the only other interruptions among all that black gloss were the Panasonic and Viera logos, along with an indicator light and a big power button that nonetheless blended nicely into the frame. The company's glossy black stand looks the same as last year's, and still lacks swivel capability. Overall the look is conservative in a way that keeps attention focused on the contents of the screen.
Panasonic's remote is quite good, except for an unnecessarily prominent trio of keys--Viera Link, Viera Tools and SD Card--that arc above the central cursor control. Each 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 like the feel of the keys, however, and the size, color, and shape differentiation 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 VieraLink (aka 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, and edges throughout are a bit more rounded. It's one of the more basic-looking menus on the mainstream market, but we still wish the company would see fit to include on-screen explanations of more advanced items. A new VieraTools menu showcases some of the TV's functions, although we'd like to see a few more useful ones, such as picture modes.
Aside from 1080p resolution, Panasonic's so-called Neo PDP panel itself represents the S1's major feature improvement over the company's entry-level TC-PX1 series. The panel improves on Panasonic's 1080p offerings from yesteryear with better specs and lower power consumption, although it's still an electricity guzzler compared with LCDs. The S1 models lack the THX display certification, 1080p/24-friendly refresh rates, and VieraCast interactive add-ons found on the step-up TC-P54G10 and the TC-PV10 series.
Panasonic offers far fewer picture adjustments compared with a lot of other name-brand HDTV makers. Yes, the basics are there, and 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; it doesn't eliminate video processing like some other makers' Game modes do--not that the S1 has much processing to eliminate.
Beyond the basics there are three color temperature presets, of which Warm came closest to the D65 standard, although unfortunately no further provisions for tweaking the grayscale exist. A "C.A.T.S." function senses ambient light and adjusts the picture accordingly; a pair 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). That's about it--there's no gamma, color management or other advanced settings.
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. We recommend using this setting unless you notice interference along the extreme edges of the screen, which can occur on some channels or sources. If you see that interference, try switching back to HD Size 1.
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 choose 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 a while.
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-PS1 series is adequate but not extensive, 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. We would have liked to see a standard analog audio output and, more importantly, a VGA-style PC input, but the latter feature is reserved for step-up models in the company's lineup. In addition to the HDMI port and SD card slot, the side panel offers a second AV input with composite video.
The TC-PS1 series delivered excellent picture quality, with deep black levels and realistic shadow detail, the former helping lend plenty of impact to colors. Color accuracy itself was an issue, as we've seen on previous Panasonic plasmas, but not enough to spoil an otherwise commendable performance. Speaking of previous plasmas, although we didn't have the TC-P42S1 we reviewed earlier on-hand to compare, as far as we can tell the picture quality of the two units was largely identical.
Our comparison of the TC-P54S1 didn't involve any TVs quite as large, so we made do with a selection of 50-inch plasmas--the higher-end Panasonic TC-P50V10, the Samsung PN50B650, the LG 50PS80, and our reference, the Pioneer PRO-111FD--in addition to a 52-inch LCD, the Samsung LN52B750. We checked out "The International" on Blu-ray for most of our image quality tests.
Black level: The Panasonic TC-PS1 series delivered in spades on the promise of deep black levels. When showing dark areas of dark scenes, like the letterbox bars, the shadow around the peephole and the night sky above the building in Chapter 8, or the nighttime cityscape in Chapter 12, its blacks appeared just a hair lighter than those on the V10, visibly deeper and more realistic than the Samsung B650's, and significantly better than on the Samsung LCD or the LG plasma (as usual, the Pioneer was a good deal better than any of them). Typically, the differences grew less apparent as scenes brightened, but we could still make them out in many cases, especially letterbox bars.
We also appreciated the S1's excellent shadow detail. The folds in dark the sweater worn by Naomi Watts in Chapter 10, for example, looked as realistic as any of the sets in the room, and the Panasonic's progression from darker to lighter areas was spot-on compared with our reference.
Color accuracy: As we've seen on many Panasonic plasmas, lack of control combined with less-accurate initial colors to hinder the S1's comparative performance in this area. Its grayscale was relatively accurate, but overall the greenish tinge was visible throughout in side-by-side comparisons, especially in skin tones, like Watts' face, and unlike with the V10 we couldn't adjust it out. All of the other sets were better to some degree in this regard. Primary colors on the S1 also fell short of the others, especially green. Even the muted plants in Central Park, after the Guggenheim shoot-em-up in Chapter 11 seemed too vibrant and neon-like compared with the other sets. And in most lush, saturated material, such as the field during a football game, the difference was even more apparent.
The S1's saturation in most scenes was very good, on the other hand, owing mainly to its deep black levels. But it didn't match that of the V10 and the Samsung B650 plasmas, primarily because we had to reduce color to make up for the Panasonic's red push, which turned skin tones too ruddy for our tastes. We also appreciated the S1's true color in dark areas, which remained as accurate as on any display in our group.
Video processing: In resolution tests the Panasonic performed as expected, delivering every line of a static 1080i and 1080p test patterns. Its de-interlacing was subpar according to test patterns, passing the video de-interlacing test but failing the more-important one for film-based sources. As usual, however, instances of improper de-interlacing were difficult to notice.
Panasonic makes a big deal about its new "600Hz subfield drive," which it claims delivers better motion resolution. There's nothing incorrect about that claim as far as we can tell. According to our test, the TC-PS1 series resolved all 1200 lines of horizontal resolution in the Monoscope pattern, beating the Pioneer PRO-111FD, for example, which resolved "only" between 900 and 1000 lines. As usual, however, it was basically impossible to see any difference between the two sets' capabilities to deliver detail in fast-moving scenes; as far as we could tell, both looked equally superb in this regard. As we've said before, to our eyes superior motion resolution is quite difficult to appreciate.
We did miss proper 1080p/24 processing, however. Unlike many 120Hz and 240Hz LCDs, as well as many plasmas, including the others in our test, the S1 cannot reproduce the correct cadence of film when fed a 1080p/24 source, which is available from most Blu-rays for example. We noticed the difference in camera movement especially, such as the sweep over the Intrepid from "I Am Legend," and the numerous establishing flyovers from "The International." In such scenes, objects would stutter with a slight hitching motion on the S1, whereas on the other sets they moved across the screen with the regular cadence of film. The difference is relatively subtle for most viewers, but videophiles definitely prefer proper 1080p/24 reproduction.
Bright lighting: The S1 did not attenuate ambient light in a brightly-lit room as well as any of the other models, aside from the LG. We could make out some sharp reflections in the glass of the Panasonic's screen, and the light washed out the darker parts of the image worse than on the Samsung models and the Kuro, but reflections still weren't as distracting as on that set. We didn't see any difference between the S1 and the V10 in this area.
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 Samsung, for example. The S1 did a subpar job of 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: Via HDMI, the Panasonic performed perfectly, resolving every line of a 1,920x1,080 source and showing text and lines with no edge enhancement.
|Before color temp (20/80)||6407/6439||Good|
|After color temp||N/A|
|Before grayscale variation||99||Good|
|After grayscale variation||N/A|
|Color of red (x/y)||0.659/0.333||Average|
|Color of green||0.264/0.661||Poor|
|Color of blue||0.151/0.056||Good|
|Defeatable edge enhancement||Y||Good|
|480i 2:3 pull-down, 24 fps||Pass||Good|
|1080i video resolution||Pass||Good|
|1080i film resolution||Fail||Poor|
Power consumption: Like most plasmas we've tested, the Panasonic S1's default picture mode, labeled standard, is relatively dim in an attempt to save power--which explains its decent scores in the Juice Box. We were surprised that when we equalized light output, the S1 was actually a good deal more efficient than the same-sized Panasonic G10 we tested earlier, and, in fact, used less power than the 50-inch models in our comparison. Of course, it's no match for a slightly smaller LCD, but compared with other plasmas the 54S1 is relatively efficient.
|Panasonic TC-P54S1||Picture settings|
|Picture on (watts)||245.85||288.17||N/A|
|Picture on (watts/sq. inch)||0.2||0.23||N/A|
|Cost per year||$53.11||$62.12||N/A|
|Score (considering size)||Good|