CNET logo Why You Can Trust CNET

Our expert, award-winning staff selects the products we cover and rigorously researches and tests our top picks. If you buy through our links, we may get a commission. How we test TVs

Panasonic Viera TH-P54Z1A review: Panasonic Viera TH-P54Z1A

The Panasonic Viera TH-P54Z1A is an excellent screen that could have been the best on the market if not for a largely superfluous wireless system.

Ty Pendlebury Editor
Ty Pendlebury has worked at CNET since 2006. He lives in New York City where he writes about streaming and home audio.
Expertise Ty has worked for radio, print, and online publications, and has been writing about home entertainment since 2004. He is an avid record collector and streaming music enthusiast. Credentials
  • Ty was nominated for Best New Journalist at the Australian IT Journalism awards, but he has only ever won one thing. As a youth, he was awarded a free session for the photography studio at a local supermarket.
Ty Pendlebury
5 min read

Wireless technology is sooooo noughties, man, um ... dude ... er tweeps? Sony tried it with limited success and Belkin bowed out completely. But surely it's possible to produce a decent wireless TV? Panasonic's attempt literally rolled into our offices recently (see the video), so is it any good?


Panasonic Viera TH-P54Z1A

The Good

Excellent colours. Deep, deep blacks. Smoothest motion yet. Slim.

The Bad

Wireless is literally tacked on. Expensive. Styling may not be to everyone's taste.

The Bottom Line

The Panasonic Viera TH-P54Z1A is an excellent screen that could have been the best on the market if not for a largely superfluous wireless system.


If Samsung and Sony are the glamorous weather girls of the television design world then Panasonic is the grizzled political commentator. While its televisions of late have been superb performers, they are perhaps not the prettiest to look at. Things are different with the Panasonic Viera TH-P54Z1A, it's quite stylish in a European way. It features a brushed aluminium chassis and matching silver speakers giving off an air of sophistication often missing from the company's other products. One of the only jarring things about the design are the dual piano-black strips on either side of the screen which may seem fine when the unit is off, but look like 4:3 "black bars" when it's on. If you go out of your way to zoom standard-definition pictures to fill the screen then this may not be the product for you.

Thin is in, and Panasonic has shown off its engineering chops with the Z1 — it's only 1 inch thick. This makes it a little easier to mount flush to your wall, which given its wireless capabilities is exactly what you'd want to do with this television.

The remote control is nearly identical to others in the Viera range, with the only difference being that it's silver. While it's friendly enough it's not the easiest remote to use: eg, it's easy to accidentally hit Viera Tools button at the top of the direction pad, which gets annoying.


The Z1 features Panasonic's 54-inch "Neo Full HD" plasma panel with a 1080p resolution and a claimed 2,000,000:1 dynamic contrast ratio. Like the V10 before it the Z1 includes a THX picture mode which makes it easier to get a fantastic image straight out of the box. You also get a 100Hz mode.

As far as connectivity is concerned, the Pana's biggest drawcard, and also its Achilles heel, is the 1080p wireless connection to the main media box. The TV uses an external receiver and transceiver combination that transmits at an ultra-high frequency of 60GHz. However, there is one major downside to this — both pieces of equipment need to be within line of sight, meaning the ugly "cigarette packet" receiver needs to hang off the bottom of the TV. The receiver uses a HDMI port on the TV itself, but unfortunately this cannot be used as a normal HDMI connector. For HD connections, there are instead four HDMIs on the media unit including one on the front. There is also PC input placed there as well.

Interestingly, unlike the equivalent TVs from Sony and Samsung, the screen lacks Ethernet connections, with the company choosing to include those on its new G15 plasmas and Blu-ray/DVD range. The panel includes the Viera Link HDMI control and AVCHD viewing via the on-board SD card slot, as do all of the company's 2009 plasmas.


They say that first impressions last, and we're sorry to say our initial impressions of the Z1 were not good. It all had to do with the wireless system, you see. We've used Sony's system in the past with the ZX1 and EX1, and while the Panasonic's is palpably superior it does have the line-of-sight disadvantage we spoke of. The transceiver is a little dongle on a stand, and we found it difficult to place properly — particularly if the TV and the media box are against the same wall. Not only that, but it was top-heavy and easy to knock over meaning an instant loss of signal. We were able to get a usable image from up to 9 metres away, but sit in front of the transmitter at that distance and the signal petered out. Poor connections manifested themselves in various ways from aliasing in images (jaggies), to blockiness, to a completely blank screen.

If you're setting up a Z1 yourself, you'll need to experiment with the best positioning, but thankfully you will be rewarded once you do: it's no doubt that the Z1 presents one of the best images we've seen outside OLED. While it didn't cope so well with our synthetic tests (failing the film res or 24p mode test and only just scraping through with the others) it's easy to overlook this when the TV presents you with an image that is, put simply, gorgeous. The Z1 performed in a superior fashion to the V10 — the company's other Made in Japan model — and boasts better cosmetics as well.

The most striking thing about the Pana's performance was its black levels — they were deeper than the pupils of Satan and yet still threw out plenty of shadow detail. This was apparent on a good quality source such as the Batman Begins Blu-ray. The slimy batcave at the start of the film was replayed with a great amount of depth and sharp detail. It could be argued that some of the images were too sharp, though, and we had to back off on some of the sharpness levels to get rid of some initial noise problems. Even so, the G10 plasma performed better at removing artefacts such as mosquito noise from images.

One of the most recent features to "grace" flat panels has been 100Hz systems, which get rid of image artefacts such as judder. While the Panasonic features this system, it doesn't need it: its 600Hz sub-field drive ensured slippery smooth motion on our Mission Impossible III judder test. So you can take its poor performance in the "film res" test with a grain of salt, then.

The screen's propensity for exposing a poor image continued with DVD replay, and displayed the noisiest parts of King Kong as is. To counter this, the Z1 was able to conjure up incredibly natural colours and bottomless blacks for an almost flawless three-dimensional image.

Lastly, the Z1 comes with external speakers and this is to the TV's benefit — after the schmozzle that was the V10's on-board sound we are happy to report they sound great. While there was a lack of deep bass, dialogue and special effects were clear and there was none of the distortion we heard on the V series.


The TH-P54Z1A has had two price drops since it was announced in April '09 at an initial price of AU$7699, and it now sits at a relatively reasonable AU$5999. The television looks good, it performs great and it even sounds shiny. The only drawback is the wireless system — we can see few situations where the wireless will actually be of a benefit. Especially when it's as clunky as this. However, unlike many other "thin" TVs on the market, the Panasonic really does put image quality first, and that's what matters most.