Panasonic VIERA TC-P58V10 Plasma HDTV Page 2

The Panasonic offers the usual features to minimize the risk of image burn-in, including an image orbiter and adjustable side bar brightness for 4:3 sources (Off, Dark, Mid, Bright). The set was about average for a plasma in its ability to avoid image retention (temporary burn-in). As with all plasmas, you should use reasonable precautions. In particular, you should avoid keeping still images on the screen for an extended time. If you stay in the THX mode, with its relatively modest but sufficient brightness level, it should help you avoid problems—unlike Vivid, which invites trouble.

The remote has a solid feel and is well configured. All it’s missing is a direct selection of inputs and adequate backlighting (only the volume and channel controls are backlit). It can also control other components, but only through Panasonic’s HDAVI Control feature. HDAVI is Panasonic’s variation on the HDMI CEC standard, which can control compatible components that are connected together via HDMI.

Getting Down to Business
The Panasonic passed most of our video processing tests (see the Video Test Bench chart). White titles that scroll vertically over a background image rippled a bit, and the set failed an HD 2:2 pulldown test (for video-based program material). The latter is a fairly common failure, and it didn’t translate into frequent obvious artifacts on real-world sources like fast-moving sports. The set did not respond as far below black as we like to see, but it did go far enough (and went well above white) to earn a passing grade for video clipping.

The Video Test Bench chart doesn’t cover standard-definition upconversion from 480i to 1080p (all of the test results in the chart are 1080i to 1080p except for Scaling, which is 480p to 1080p), but the Panasonic had some difficulties with SD sources. It failed our most challenging 2:2 and 3:2 pulldown tests. Again, this didn’t produce excessive artifacts on normal program material, but the set’s 480i-to-1080p upconversion did produce a slightly soft image. While the set handled 480i sources adequately, if you can convert them to 1080p before sending them to the set (as with an upconverting DVD or Blu-ray player), you might get better results if the external device has better video processing.

However, when all is said and done, what we want from a good HDTV is a great HD picture. In all but one subjective area, the Panasonic stands out as a solid performer and an even more solid bargain for those who want a big-screen TV that’s more than just big.

The single subjective shortcoming is the set’s fullscreen black level. True, the Panasonic is impressive in this area compared with most sets. The TC-P58V10’s blacks are as deep as those we measured on the Panasonic Premiere TH-65VX100U plasma HDTV we reviewed in the April 2009 issue. That set is a monitor (no speakers or HD tuner) marketed by Panasonic’s professional division—currently for $7,500. Of the other plasmas we’ve tested, only the Pioneer KUROs have produced consistently deeper blacks than either of these Panasonics, and most have been far worse.

It’s only by that standard, and that of the best LCD local-dimming sets, that the TC-P58V10 comes up a little short. You will clearly see the black bars in the widest widescreen movies (movies shot at 2.35:1 or thereabouts). And on ultra-challenging material such as the belowdecks scenes at the beginning of Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World, or the decoy raft sequence in chapter 13 (“A Small Surprise”) of the same film, you’ll see a trace of the faded, foggy look that characterizes virtually all modern displays short of the state of the art. It’s these types of scenes that make you wish for better blacks on practically every set on the market—including the almost-there black level on this Panasonic.

Fortunately, such scenes are relatively rare in most films, even rarer on broadcast television shows that aren’t called The X-Files or Fringe, and nonexistent on sports. Most dark movie scenes consist of a mix of dark areas with enough bright highlights to give the eye the sensation of decent contrast. What’s most important on such scenes is good shadow detail (related to absolute black level but not quite the same thing) and a punchy, wellsaturated look that makes even brighter scenes realistically pop. It’s this type of performance that has kept Panasonic plasmas high in the running in our last two multi-set Face Offs, even against sets that can produce deeper full-screen black levels.

On the other hand, the Panasonic’s color would be hard to improve on in any respect. Yes, we’ve measured slightly better postcalibration color tracking. But the deviations here are well below the levels that are visibly distinguishable from ideal. When you combine this with a nearly perfect color gamut in THX mode, the result is unlikely to disappoint anyone. Greens and fleshtones are particularly impressive. We see green foliage and skintones nearly every day. While we tolerate a range of variations in our video sources depending on the lighting (and in the creative color choices made in many films), we can easily see when they look wrong. They aren’t wrong here. Other colors are impressive as well, as long as you choose THX mode. In other modes, the color gamut is oversaturated. In particular, the reds in those modes jump off the screen at you. Impressive, but distracting. And wrong.

Comparisons and Conclusions
At 58 inches (diagonal), the Panasonic is just slightly larger than the 55-inch Samsung UN55B8500 LCD HDTV also reviewed in this issue (see page 32). And at $2,700, the Panasonic is considerably cheaper. Nevertheless, when I viewed the two sets side by side after calibration, they looked strikingly similar at first. Both had virtually identical color (after calibration). However, the Samsung did win in small but important ways. Its blacks were generally better on the most challenging material. But on occasional shots, such as a densely packed star field against the infinity of space, the Panasonic clearly showed more stars, although they were presented against a lighter black background. The Samsung was also a little sharper, although it would be hard to criticize either set in this regard. On the Panasonic’s side of the ledger, in addition to size and value, was its off-axis performance. No LCD can equal a plasma in this respect. You can sit almost 180 degrees off axis on a plasma set and still experience an image that’s virtually unchanged in quality from the on-axis position.

I’ve mentioned the Pioneer KUROs’ black level superiority already, so I’ll only add that on those star fields, the Pioneer Elite KURO PRO-141FD (the 60-inch set used in the comparison, HT, May 2009) shows as many stars as the Panasonic. It also sets them against an inky, nearly pure black background—an effect that never fails to make me gasp. In terms of color and resolution, the Panasonic and Pioneer ran an even race. And it’s only fair to emphasize here that the KUROs are not only no longer in production, they were designed to be sold at far higher prices than the Panasonic ($7,000 for the 60-inch Elite KURO PRO-141FD).

So was this an unfair comparison with far pricier sets? Perhaps, but those were the sets that I had on hand, ready for a side-by-side comparison using identical program material. More importantly, we all want a really big flat-panel display that will produce great color and the finest details against a completely black background for less than $3,000. But then we’d also like to find a new Porsche for a pittance as well. Of course, we’re not likely to realize either dream any-time soon, but until then, the Panasonic TC-P58V10 will come as close as any current production plasma to satisfying the affordable dreams of nearly any HDTV junkie. As for the Porsche, you’re on your own.

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