Panasonic S30B (TX-P42S30B) Full HD Plasma TV Review
Mark looks at the 'forgotten man' of the Panasonic plasma line-up. Could it be a recession beater?
IntroductionThe model reviewed here is the Panasonic TX-P42S30B 42 inch Full HD Plasma TV with a Freeview HD tuner and full UK specifications. Also available is the Panasonic TX-P50S30B 50 inch Full HD Plasma TV, which has not been reviewed here but should offer the same features and a very similar viewing experience.
Spare a thought for the Panasonic S30 that barely gets a mention from our forum members or, indeed, the manufacturers themselves, seemingly lost in the rush to sell 3D product. The S30 shares much of the same feature-set and processing as the G30, we looked at back in April 2011, but lacks THX Certification and full calibration controls in the user menus. The G30 was also fitted with a newer generation filter, to combat ambient light, but both are equipped with the new – for 2011 – ‘Real Black Drive’, 600Hz sub-field processing, a Freeview HD tuner and access to Panasonic’s, cloud based, Viera Connect platform.
At this stage in its lifecycle the Panasonic TX-P42S30B can be had online for around £450 so it’s certainly approaching the realms of a bargain basement option. Can the S30 cast off the shackles of disregard and put itself on the radar? Let’s see…
Styling, Connections, Menus and SetupDepending on your outlook, the S30 could be viewed as plain, simple or just bog-standard. There’s barely a nod of acknowledgement in the direction of any modern day style ethos, with just a flash of white - below the Panasonic logo – providing evidence that Panasonic had given any thought, at all, to the looks of the S30. We don’t get particularly hung up on design, here at AVForums, and there’s nothing to distract the eyes but we can’t help thinking this TV will get barely a second glance on the showroom floor with its gloss black bezel and chassis thick-set by 2011 standards. There’s a couple of other touches of ‘flair’ with the bottom of the bezel featuring cut off corners and two recessed vents, presumably to give the rather average speakers more room to breath. When in standby the mono filter betrays its age by making the screen appear rather grey but we’re far more concerned with how it looks when switched on. The rectangular base standard is also plain gloss black plastic and doesn’t swivel, sadly. The supplied remote control is typical Panasonic with its charcoal grey fascia having most of the key controls, and directional buttons, top centre and the volume/channel +/- buttons bottom centre. It’s sensibly lain out, weighty and solid but never uncomfortable to hold; in short, it works.
The rear of the Panasonic TX-P42S30B is equipped with two outward facing HDMI ports (not the three in the picture – we had camera failure); a LAN connection; a single RGB Scart terminal; a component connection - limited to a maximum of 1080i, accompanied by the appropriate audio jacks; stereo and SPDIF audio outs plus the antennae input capable of receiving Freeview HD transmissions. The side connections feature a third HDMI input; SD and CAM interfaces; two USB ports; a headphone jack and legacy RCA connectors. Almost inevitably, the side facing HDMI port is so close to the edge of the bezel that concealing a lead would almost certainly require the use of an angled adapter.
Set up of the S30 was pain and trouble free with a brief set of location questions and, new for 2011, an invitation for you to get yourself connected to Viera Connect right away. The TV then proceeded to scan for services, on the internal tuner, with all Freeview services tuned in under 3 minutes. We were pleased to see the S30 had benefitted from Panasonic’s fairly snazzy redesign of the GUI with its gradated blue and yellow colour scheme complimented by clear white text. The Electronic Programme Guide has had no such rethink, unfortunately, and remains disappointingly blighted by advertising and the fact the audio and video feeds are cut whilst viewing it.
The Menu is split in to four main sections, Picture, Sound, Timer and Setup and are sensibly structured with almost all of the functions and features where they should be.
The Picture Menu houses the regulation Brightness, Contrast, Colour and Sharpness sliders on the first page together with the Vivid Colour, C.A.T.S and P-NR options that we never had cause to engage, although C.A.T.S. can prove useful if your room becomes bathed in light and your viewing is of the non-critical nature. We can also elect to turn off the Screen Display which can be useful if you’re using your TV as an auxiliary radio and you don’t want to retain the stations’ logo. The Advanced Picture sub-menu has the new options for Clear Cinema, Pixel Orbiter and the Scrolling Bar function - to combat image retention – and also the IFC (Intelligent Frame Creation)/24p Smooth Film and 16:9 Overscan items. We’ll cover IFC/Smooth Film and Clear Cinema later but we’ll tell you here that you want overscan off for your HD sources.
Beneath the Picture Menu we have the Sound Menu that contains the standard Bass, Treble and Balance functions together with a slider for the Headphone output. There are three sound modes available - Music, Speech and User - with the latter offering a basic equaliser. The Timer Menu only contains three options - an off timer, an auto standby option and a scheduler for recording programs, using the PVR functionality, or just to set a reminder. Finally, the Setup menu deals with just about everything else you could think of with perhaps the most notable being Eco. The Eco Navigation item is a catch-all for enabling all the S30's energy saving options and is worth a look from both the perspective of seeing what it you can do to reduce your carbon footprint and also to view what can be disengaged to prevent annoying reminders popping whilst viewing.
FeaturesDespite its fairly lowly standing in the Panasonic hierarchy, the S30B comes able to take advantage of Panasonic’s new Viera Connect internet portal. Since we last had the opportunity to sample Viera Connect, Panasonic have been busy updating the service and has launched the Viera Connect Market which enables users to purchase applications and accessories directly from the TV. There’s not a huge selection in there yet but we know Panasonic have opened up Connect to third party developers so there will be plenty to follow, including an online racer that was rather embarrassingly previewed at IFA 2011. There will also be a few free apps available shortly including Aupeo!, an online music streaming service, and CNBC news, allowing viewers to access contents from CNBC TV and get latest business and financial news as well as Live Market data.
The ‘app store’ is complemented by the more usual BBC iPlayer, YouTube and AceTrax video on demand/streaming services and the almost ubiquitous Twitter and Facebook widgets. There’s a Skype application in there too although we couldn’t test if it was functional owing to the lack of proprietary camera/mic attachment. The S30 is also Wi-Fi ready but, again, we weren’t issued with the appropriate dongle to test performance although we’ve no reason to suspect it would be sub-standard.
The Panasonic TX-P42S30B isn’t able to connect to a home network for media file streaming but owners can playback content via USB storage and SD Card. Many will be pleased to see that .mkv container support is present via USB although, as ever, support will not be exhaustive. There’s also DivX HD and AVCHD file support for further HD video options and mp3, AAC and WMA compatibility for music playback. The S30 doesn’t show anything but .jpg photos but we can’t imagine that will trouble too many and there’s the basic slideshow and rotation features present.
Whilst it’s not the most feature packed TV we’ve seen this year, for this price-point we have no complaints and what is there works pretty well.
Measured Results Out of the BoxWith no THX mode or isfccc controls at our disposal we would have to hope that the Cinema or True Cinema picture modes would get us close enough to calibrate the greyscale in the service menu. True to form, the True Cinema mode gave us the best basis for our calibration, returning the following results for greyscale and gamma:
Moving on to colour reproduction, against the Rec.709 HD standard, and the S30 impressed giving us these results:
Calibrated ResultsSince we last had cause to enter a Panasonic service menu things have taken a slight turn for the better in that screen luminance isn’t altered dramatically, as it once was, and we were able to affect the White Balance controls without having to hop in and out too much. In actual fact the process is slightly less painful, in some ways, than using the user menu controls in the higher-end 2011 range but the controls are a little coarse and it took a few iterations before we were able to attain the following charts:
Picture ProcessingThe S30 showed all the strengths and weakness of its more illustrious siblings with some excellent scaling of standard definition and decent deinterlacing of video content that would, on rare occasion, trip up with some visible jaggedness. The S30 also stood up well when presented with a mixture of film based material with overlaid scrolling video encoded text and had no problems in displaying the full 0-255 video signal, when required. The fact that, with Clear Cinema enabled, the S30 managed successful lock on to NTSC 2:3 cadence yet failed to lock on (in time) with PAL 2:2 material came as no surprise as it mirrors what we’ve been seeing from Panasonic all year.
We’ve gone in to great lengths on the issues Panasonic plasma’s have had in displaying 50Hz content (in short, some will notice edge break-up under panning) and, to this end, Panasonic have attempted to alleviate the issue, somewhat, by introducing a Mid setting to their motion interpolating IFC system. We have to say we found it quite effective on video content, especially sports broadcasts, but it’s not something we’d want on all the time and the 24p Smooth Film setting is a crime against Blu-ray disc with some very unnatural looking movement, in either setting. The S30 is already to very competently handle 1080p24 material without need for a prop.
Gaming PerformanceWe had high expectations here and we weren’t disappointed by the snappy performance of the S30 when it came to gaming with the amongst the lowest input lag figures we’ve seen all year. In 10 tests, the S30 averaged lag of less than one frame, at 14 milliseconds, and we could sense no disconnection between controller and game. Some might have issue with low motion artefacting with games running at under 60fps, natively, manifesting in double imaging so we’d advise ardent gamers to take one for a test drive before purchasing as tolerances to this vary quite widely. The S30 also proved fairly resistant to image retention with any traces being washed away by normal content in short time. Those that like marathon gaming sessions would be advised to give their S30 a ‘break’ from time, much as they should do the same!
Energy ConsumptionPanasonic’s NeoPlasmas are designed to be energy efficient and this shows in the S30B consuming an averaged 120w, calibrated, and less than 1w when in Standby. They’re never going to compete with LED/LCD in this regard, however, and we just hope that they’re not further throttled by further regulations. Some hope.
Picture QualityThe greatest strength of the Panasonic TX-P42S30B definitely lies in its excellent black and contrast levels and, of course, there should be no uniformity issues to worry about. We have seen for ourselves, and in forum discussion, evidence of green patches being visible on light backgrounds but the sample here was blemish free. With our calibrated greyscale and excellent colour reproduction, married to the excellent scaling and competent deinterlacing, standard definition was looking about as good as we could expect and the quality of standard definition broadcasts, themselves, cause far more issues than any TV introduces, these days. High definition content, both interlaced and film based, was looking truly stunning and left us wishing for the TX-P50S30B to enjoy its rich and deep presentation. If we’d have been able to affect the gamma in calibration images would have had even more pop, but at £450, we’re not complaining.
Another complaint we’ve witnessed and read dozens (actually thousands) of posts on is the phenomena of ‘fluctuating brightness’, that manifests in scenes of mid to low brightness and causes the image to look like someone is raising and lowering the Contrast control before your eyes. Whilst we did see this occur on less than a handful of occasions we wouldn’t consider it anything likely to be spotted by the majority of owners and the behaviour of the S30, in this area, was actually quite a bit better than that of the G30 - although we’re guessing that’s not necessarily a range-wide difference, more a result of component variance, panel to panel.
When all’s said and done, the S30B punches above its weight in terms of picture quality and if the combatting of ambient light is not a concern, presents a viable alternative to the TX-P42G30; with the lights down, we would have been very hard pressed to tell them apart.
- Excellent black level and contrast performance
- Super fast gaming response
- Calibrated greyscale
- Very good out-of-the-box colour reproduction
- Attractive and responsive GUI
- All round video processing is good
- Full Viera Connect service
- 50Hz problems still evident
- Some fluctuating brightness apparent
- Still no effective 2:2 cadence detection
- Some might find styling too bland
Panasonic S30B (TX-P42S30B) Full HD Plasma TV Review
The Panasonic TX-P42S30B is an excellent performer at this price-point, there’s no doubt. Given the contrast heavy images, with excellent and consistent black levels, we think we’d struggle to find much competing in this sector of the market. We were also pleased to see full Viera Connect integration and it’s an ever-improving service with a clear commitment, from Panasonic, to its continued enhancement going forwards. Were it not for the ongoing problems in handling some 50Hz content and some instances of minor brightness fluctuations, we would have certainly considered it worthy of higher reward but, as it stands, the S30 is still a fine television that belies its, not considerable, price-tag.
It wont be the prettiest TV on the shop-floor and its looks aren’t likely to win over your other halves but the S30 is no-frills and not likely to offend and nor does it have any distracting or unnecessary features to take you out of the on-screen action. The fact that it’s, more or less, an entry-level set does manifest in the lack of a 4th HDMI port and the dated mono-filter that doesn’t cope particularly well with high levels of ambient light or combat lighting from above. With the clocks just gone back, this is not something likely to be an issue for those with a day job!
The look of the menus is of the higher end sets, although lacking in calibration controls and a THX mode. Following a few logical replacements of key menu items, since last year, we find the menus easy to navigate and snappy in response; although the EPG is a continuing disappointment with its tasteless looks, advertising and lack of video/audio. Video processing was also of the same quality seen in the upper ranges, with some very decent scaling, deinterlacing and at least a stab at cadence detection. We expect Panasonic may well come fully to terms with the PAL 2:2 cadence by next year but, for now, it’s a ‘could do better’ on the report card.
The lack of calibration controls in the user menus meant we were forced in to the service menu to affect greyscale but it didn’t really hinder us unduly and we were able to gain excellent, believable tone and colour reproduction, despite the limited and rather coarse nature of the controls. Once we’d calibrated and freed the image of the green cast, the natural palette complimented the deep blacks in an extremely pleasing way and our only regret is that Panasonic didn’t send us the 50 inch for review. There are still some problems with break up under panning on 50Hz material and some fluctuating brightness is present but we’d wager most won’t notice either; and given the other qualities the S30B possesses, we find them forgivable. Every display we see has at least one issue that some will find unacceptable so, as ever, we’d advise getting out there to demo wherever possible.
The TX-P42S30B proved itself an extremely worthy performer when it came to gaming, averaging a measly 14 millisecond latency to controller input. Some may be put off by the ‘double imaging’ on games running at less than 60 frames per second but it never bothered us. The S30 isn’t going to save the planet but it does all it can by consuming just 120w, in calibrated state, and less than 1w in standby.
Suggested retail price when reviewed: £800.00
Contrast/Dynamic Range/Black Level8
Ease Of Use7
Value for Money8
Our Review Ethos
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