Panasonic C3 (TX-P42C3B) 42 Inch Plasma TV Review
Steve Withers takes a look at Panasonic's entry level plasma
IntroductionThe Panasonic TX-P42C3B represents their entry level plasma and as such it is a little thin on the ground when it comes to features. First of all it is an 'HD Ready' display which means it has a resolution of 1024x768 instead of the 1920x1080 reslution of 'Full HD'. Secondly, it doesn’t have the Infinite Black Pro filter that adorns Panasonic’s more expensive plasmas and finally it doesn’t have any internet capability. Basically the TX-P42C3B is last year’s panel in an updated chassis and the only real feature is the addition of Freeview HD. So let’s take a look and see how the TX-P42C3B measures up to the entry level offerings from Panasonic’s competitors.
The sample that we reviewed was the Panasonic TX-P42C3B where the B suffix denotes the UK model, some online retailers may refer to this model as the TX-P42C3 but the two are identical. In addition to the 42” version, reviewed here, there is also a 50” model available with the model number TX-P50C3B.
Styling and ConnectionsThe Panasonic TX-P42C3B sports a revised look compared to last year’s displays, gone are the gun-metal greys to be replaced by a more contemporary gloss black appearance. The TX-P42C3B certainly won’t be winning any awards but the clean lines and simple design is actually quite appealing and we rather liked it. The gloss black bezel is 5cm wide at the top and sides and 7cm wide at the bottom and the entire chassis is 9cm deep. The TX-P42C3B might be an entry level display but you wouldn’t believe it based on the build quality, which is excellent. The entire display has a solid and well constructed feel with the back of the chassis made of black metal. This high standard of build quality also extends to the gloss black stand which provides solid support to the display and the detachable kettle style plug. Of course, this level of build quality results in a display that is quite heavy at 24kg, without the stand, so be aware of that if you plan to mount it on a wall. As we mentioned in the introduction, the TX-P42C3B does not have the Infinite Black Pro filter found on Panasonic’s more expensive plasmas and we noticed that the screen is much more reflective than we are used to from their plasmas.
The remote control that is provided with the TX-P42C3B is the same black plastic model that Panasonic includes with most of their displays and as such it is adequate. Of course, given that the TX-P42C3B is an entry level display you wouldn’t expect a fancy remote and the one provided fulfills its purpose - it is well laid out, intuitive and comfortable to handle.
As with the remote control the entry level status of the TX-P42C3B is reflected in the relatively limited number of connections. There are only two HDMI v1.4 inputs, both at the rear of the panel and HDMI 2 is the connection on the TX-P42C3B which allows the new Audio Return Channel (ARC) as part of the 1.4 specifications. Also on the back panel there is a SCART connector as well as one set of component RCA inputs and a composite RCA input, both of which share the same audio RCA stereo inputs. Finally, there is an Ethernet connection, a digital optical audio output and a standard RF socket for Freeview HD.
On the side panel there is a Common Interface (CI) card slot, an SD card slot and 3.5mm headphone jack, as well as the main power switch and some basic volume and channel buttons. We are still hopeful that Panasonic (and other manufacturers) will consider using downward facing inputs for the HDMI sockets and the power cable on their 2011 models. Such an approach would allow for better cable management and much easier wall mounting options which is how many of these new slimmer displays are installed.
Menus and Set UpThe setup of the TX-P42C3B is very straightforward, especially as there is no internet functionality. Once you’ve connected the aerial to the TX-P42C3B, tuning in Freeview only takes a few minutes and the resulting Electronic Programme Guide (EPG) is large, colourful and easy to read. Unfortunately the EPG is provided by Gemstar which also means annoying adverts instead of a PiP of the channel you are currently on and there isn’t even any audio.
The menu system is basically the same layout from 2010, although Panasonic have made a few minor changes which address issues we raised in earlier reviews. Like the EPG, the menu system itself is bright, colourful, easy to read and quick to navigate but unfortunately there are still no numbers on the control scales which is annoying. Pressing the Menu button on the remote offers three choices which are titled Picture, Sound and Set Up. The Set Up menu offers general controls such as Off Timer, Eco Navigation, Child Lock and Other Settings.
The Sound menu offers three distinct Modes which are Speech, Music and User, with User allowing you to customise the audio set up using an equalizer. There are also more general controls such as Bass, Treble and Balance as well as a setting for the distance between the speakers and the wall.
The Picture menu offers a series of Viewing Modes which includes Dynamic, Normal, Cinema, True Cinema and Game. The TX-P42C3B incorporates all the usual picture controls including a Contrast control for adjusting the luminance of the video signal, a Brightness control for adjusting the black level, a Colour control and a Sharpness control. The C.A.T.S. (Contrast Automatic Tracking System) is designed to adjust the Contrast setting from scene to scene in order to boost the contrast ratio numbers but this can cause fluctuations in the image and is best left off. Finally there is a Vivid Colour function that is also best left off and P-NR (Noise Reduction) function that is designed to reduce compression artifacts but we found this control to be of no real benefit so we left it off.
There is a sub-menu within Picture menu called Advanced Settings but unfortunately this proved to be a major disappointment with no CMS or even a two point white balance control. Interestingly the 16:9 Overscan control is included in this sub-menu which is an improvement because previously it was in the Set Up menu; so it is good to know that Panasonic has been listening to our feedback.
Measured Results Out of the BoxBefore we began any testing we made sure that the TX-P42C3B had been run in for over 50 hours and for these measurements we selected the True Cinema viewing mode. This is Panasonic’s attempt at a preset that meets industry standards and appeared to offer the most accurate image. Using test patterns we set the Contrast and Brightness control correctly and left the Colour control in its default setting. By using a sharpness test pattern the best setting for the Sharpness control appeared to be the minimum as a this setting the display wasn’t introducing unwanted ringing.
As the RGB Balance graph shows the out of the box greyscale is actually very good with green and blue both tracking close to the 100 target and some minor errors in red, especially around 30IRE. The DeltaE errors are all below 3 which means they would be indistinguishable to the human eye and in looking at a stair step greyscale pattern there was very little sign of discolouration except at around 30IRE. The Gamma is measuring at about 2.0 as opposed to our target of 2.2 which means the image is a little brighter than we would have liked. We use a gamma target of 2.2 because it is an appropriate setting for an average living room, a setting of 2.4 would be more appropriate for a darkened room and 2.0 for a room with a lot of ambient light. It is possible that Panasonic is deliberately using a lower gamma setting because they feel the TX-P42C3B might be used in rooms with more ambient light.
As with the greyscale the out of the box, colour gamut is very good in the True Cinema preset. As you can see on the CIE chart the excellent greyscale is reflected in the colour of white which is in the target box for D65. The overall DeltaE errors are also quite good with most below three and the main errors appear to be in red with some oversaturation in the colour of green and blue as well.
Calibrated ResultsUnfortunately as previously mentioned there is no White Balance control within the Advanced Settings menu which means no further improvements to the greyscale could be made. In addition there is no gamma control which means that no further improvements could be made here either.
Although there is no CMS on the TX-P42C3B we were able to make some improvements to the already very good colour gamut using the Colour control. By just moving the colour control two clicks to the left the colour gamut improved further resulting in excellent colour accuracy which is very close to Rec.709. The luminance and colour measurements are now superb for most colours and the overall DeltaE is below 2, which is excellent. To be honest, even if there was a CMS, there is little that it could improve apart from reducing the hue error in red and the slight oversaturation in the colour of magenta.
Whilst it is unfortunate that the TX-P42C3B includes very few calibration controls, in all fairness the True Cinema preset does offer a reasonably accurate greyscale and colour gamut that would be more than adequate for most users.
Video ProcessingThe TX-P42C3B has a 1024x768 panel which means that whatever your content’s resolution there will always be some form of scaling, either scaling up from 576 and 480 or scaling down from 1080. In fact, even if your content has a resolution of 1280x720, there is still some scaling due to the native panel’s resolution of 1024x768. However, if the scaling is good this shouldn’t create any issues and using the SMPTE colour bar test on both the PAL and NTSC HQV benchmark discs we could see that the TX-P42C3B easily passed, correctly scaling the full 576i and 480i images without any loss of detail or unwanted ringing.
The TX-P42C3B also scored very highly in the jaggies tests on both discs as well as performing very well on the diagonal interpolation test, with two of the three moving bars appearing smooth and only the bottom most extreme bar showing very slight jaggies. The TX-P42C3B also had no problems in resolving all the fine brickwork in the detail tests on both the PAL and NTSC discs, as well as correctly displaying the waving flag.
However, the TX-P42C3B did not perform so well in the film detail test and failed to correctly lock on to the image resulting in aliasing in the speedway seats behind the race car. It also failed all the cadence tests and was unable to correctly detect either 2:2 (PAL - European) or 2:3 (NTSC - USA/Japan) as well as a number of less common formats. This would suggest that the TX-P42C3B is using last year’s software because as the reviews of the VX200 and DT30 have shown some 2011 Panasonic displays are finally correctly detecting 3:2 cadence, although still not 2:2 cadence. Finally, the TX-P42C3B did perform well when displaying film material with scrolling video text, correctly displaying the words without blurring or shredding.
The TX-P42C3B can accept a 1080p signal which it then scales down, so using the HQV Blu-ray tests we could confirm that the TX-P42C3B correctly deinterlaced and displayed both the video and film resolution tests and correctly showed video text overlaid on film based material. The TX-P42C3B also had no problems displaying 24p material without any judder. The Spears and Munsil Blu-ray was used to check the high and low dynamic range performance of the TX-P42C3B which was very good, showing picture information down to reference black (video level 17) and above reference white (video level 235) up to peak white (video level 255).
Gaming PerformanceIn Game mode the input lag measured just 16ms, which is excellent, and is in fact one of the lowest lags that we have experienced. In actual game play we found the response to be extremely fast and whilst we make no claim to be hardcore gamers the low input lag on the P42C3B should please even the most demanding enthusiast.
Energy ConsumptionThe P42C3B is a plasma display and as such it uses a self illuminating technology so the power consumption varies with the content shown on screen. Therefore high contrast white background material will use more power to create an image whilst darker scenes will use less. The energy consumption figures using 0, 50 and 100 IRE windows in the calibrated picture mode were measured at 36 watts, 49 watts and 80 watts and the average with actual viewing material was 89 watts. These numbers are similar to the power consumption on a lot of LCD displays and as such are very good for a plasma.
Picture QualityThe excellent scaling and deinterlacing in the TX-P42C3B combined with the accurate greyscale and colour gamut resulted in a very pleasing standard definition image, with DVDs in particular appearing very clean and detailed. The Freeview tuner also performed very well and, depending on the broadcaster, resulted in some very good images, especially with high definition material. The only real problem with standard definition material was stair stepping (jaggies) and aliasing in film transfers as a result of the lack of a film detection mode.
As previously mentioned the TX-P42C3B is ‘HD Ready’ which means it has a lower resolution when compared to ‘Full HD’ Blu-ray, but at any sensible viewing distance this shouldn’t really be an issue. The TX-P42C3B scales down the 1080p output of Blu-rays and the resulting images were very pleasing, primarily because of the accurate greyscale and colour gamut. The TX-P42C3B was also able to display 24p material without introducing any judder.
The black levels were rather underwhelming, especially when compared to Panasonic’s other plasma displays. This is partly due to the absence of a black filter to reduce the impact of ambient light but might also be a result of the lower gamma measurement. Certainly the dynamic range lacked the punch we have come to expect from Panasonic plasmas. On the plus side, however, we didn’t experience any problems with ‘floating blacks’ during testing.
Since the TX-P42C3B uses 2010 technology we fully expected to see problems with 50Hz material and sure enough it was there. Using a recording of an HD football match as a test we could immediately see red, green and blue lines trailing the centre line as the camera panned across the pitch. The faster the pan the more obvious the trailing image, it almost looks like ghosting on very fast pans. We conducted the same moving zone plate test that we did in the VT20 review and we got the same results, with artefacts at 50Hz but not at 60Hz and 24p. Obviously the issue is less obvious on a 42” screen and how annoying you will find it depends on the individual viewer but we need to point out that the problem is there.
- Build quality is excellent
- Colour gamut is reasonably accurate out of the box
- Greyscale is very accurate out of the box
- Colour gamut is very accurate after calibration
- Input lag is excellent in Game mode
- Scaling and deinterlacing are very good
- Freeview HD tuner is included
- Energy consumption is very good for a plasma
- Problems with 50Hz material
- Poor black levels for a plasma
- Mediocre contrast ratio and dynamic range
- Due to the 1024x768 resolution all content has to be scaled
- There are no user calibration controls for greyscale
- Does not include a Colour Management System
- Unable to correctly detect 2:2 and 3:2 cadences
- No numbers on the menu scales
- Poorly designed EPG with adverts
- No internet capabilities
- Limited inputs and HDMI sockets that face out
Panasonic C3 (TX-P42C3B) 42 Inch Plasma TV Review
On the face of it the TX-P42C3B is a competent display that offers exemplary build quality and impressive performance thanks to an accurate image and very good video processing. The TX-P42C3B is incredibly responsive in Game mode with an input lag of only 16ms and for this reason we suspect that it might be aimed more at the gaming market which would explain the lower gamma setting. Certainly the screen size is better for gaming and the lower resolution is less of an issue when many games themselves are at a 720p resolution.
However, despite a redesigned chassis the TX-P42C3B uses last year’s technology and thus inherits last year’s problems, specifically the issues with 50Hz material. Thanks to the lack of a black filter and low gamma setting the TX-P42C3B also suffers from mediocre blacks and a disappointing dynamic range. In addition, whilst the TX-P42C3B has Freeview HD it doesn’t have any internet or streaming capabilities and uses last year’s menus and software. The TX-P42C3B is also lacking in even the most basic user accessible calibration controls such as a White Balance - let alone a CMS - which some of Panasonic’s competitors offer even on their entry level displays.
Whilst we appreciate that the TX-P42C3B is an entry level product, we can’t help but feel that it offers too little overall, even at this price point and the reality is that there are entry level plasmas from other manufacturers that offer far more in terms of features and performance. For example the LG PK350 is in the same price range as the TX-P42C3B but it uses a 1080p panel and includes full calibration controls. If you're looking for a panel for gaming then the TX-P42C3B is worth considering but if you’re looking for a panel for watching high definition content then there are probably better options for the discerning consumer.
Suggested retail price when reviewed: £499.00
Contrast/Dynamic Range/Black Level6
Ease Of Use6
Value for Money6
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