VIERA CAST is Panasonic’s web-enabled TV service which grabs content from YouTube, Picasa, Eurosport, and other online sources, and brings them into your living room. Other than this, some minor cosmetic changes, and the additions of DLNA networking and DivX movie playback, the G15 would appear to be much the same as the well-received G10 model. Of course, that’s no bad thing, so let’s explore its performance to find out if this is really the case, or see if you get more for your extra cash.
Connectivity is rarely remarkable on HDTVs any more, because just about all of them do the job nicely. That’s true of the P46G15 - there are 4 HDMI inputs, a Component input, analogue PC "VGA" input, 2 SCART terminals (both RGB enabled), and a Composite/S-Video pair on the side of the panel. What is more remarkable though is Panasonic’s commitment to the Freesat brand - the TV has a built-in satellite tuner and can receive any satellite channel, including those marketed under the Freesat name. Since this is the only way to get free HDTV broadcasts in the UK, it’s great to see that Panasonic are building the tuners in to their displays, avoiding the need or a separate decoder.
Also, there’s Panasonic’s usual support for their SD card media, with an SDHC slot. I slotted an 8gb SDHC card given to me by Panasonic to test their recent Blu-ray Disc Recorder with, and sure enough, all of the JPEG images and AVCHD camcorder videos stored on the card were viewable on the TV, too, which is some nice interoperability.
There is also the Ethernet/LAN port, so you can hook the TV up to your home router and use the VIERA Cast and DLNA networking functions.
We can also pick one of three different "Colour Balance" options in an attempt to get the colour of grey as close as possible to the industry standard. "Warm" is the closest to correct, and the others add a blue wash to pictures, so don't use them. There’s the usual option called "Colour Management", which doesn’t let us manage anything (why do you tease us, Panasonic!)
Finally, our last two picture options are "Eco Mode" (self explanatory), and "P-NR", which is a spatial noise reduction filter. Spatial processing is incredibly ineffective in removing noise, but I find that any consumer-level noise reduction control is best left off, anyway, so it's not a big deal.
Calibration: Before and AfterAfter setting the basic controls that Panasonic give us to set correct Brightness and Sharpness levels, I had a look at some BBC HD 1080i programmes. The Wimbledon games were playing, and were already looking very nice indeed. The NeoPDP panel was retaining a huge amount of clarity during motion: unlike on some slower LCD displays, the tennis ball didn't disappear mid-flight. Additionally, the detailed net in the middle of the stadium didn't flicker or shimmer too much during subtle camera movement, indicating acceptable quality deinterlacing of the 1080i signal.
Here’s the detailed data which was read from the screen in this basic state:
Whilst the Continental European and North American models feature user-accessible Greyscale and Gamma controls, the UK version does not. This makes calibration a royal pain in the backside, because like on the V10 series Plasma, we have to enter service mode, make an adjustment, then exit service mode again to measure the result, because the readings between the two modes differed. We hope that Panasonic will join every other major manufacturer and add a control in the normal user menu on future models.
The only way to influence the Gamma characteristics on the UK version of the P46G15 is to change the top-level picture preset. "Normal" gives a richer look, but produces a fluctuating black level, whereas "Movie" gives a lower contrast appearance with no fluctuation.
Panasonic's trademark oversaturated green was still present, but most of the other colours were unusually close to their targets - an excellent result.
Video ProcessingPanasonic’s displays don’t feature any sort of film cadence detection, and when fed with a standard-def interlaced signal, the result is quite soft. Jaggies in interlaced video aren’t especially apparent, but this is probably more due to the softness rather than any sort of intentional diagonal interpolation. Yes, this is certainly "minimal effort" video processing here, but if it keeps the price of the TV down and lets Panasonic concentrate on high quality panel components, then I’m all for it, because it can be bypassed in most cases.
Something that frequently confuses people is the fact that the TV’s SD video processing capabilities are irrelevant when you’re feeding in an upconverted source to the TV. Remember that if you’re using an AV Receiver, video processor, or upscaling DVD player, then the TV’s SD processing is bypassed. This is why our reviews of Panasonic’s displays still manage to be almost consistently positive, despite their poor performance in this area.
Of course, the TV’s satellite and terrestrial tuners are internal, and therefore signals from these have to travel through the mediocre video processing before reaching the screen. In the case of 1080i HD from satellite, this is not a huge problem, because either no scaling, or only horizontal scaling, has to be done, depending on the channel (BBC's HD channel is actually 1440x1080, not 1920x1080). The high resolution of the original content also effectively masks any deinterlacing deficiencies.
VIERA Cast and NetworkingI have to admit it: the VIERA Cast functionality has grown on me. Normally, I'm a bit cranky when it comes to features like this one, but I've found myself browsing YouTube on the TV more often than I anticipated. It's a little irritating that the Aspect Ratio control is unavailable in this mode (meaning that 4:3 YouTube videos are stretched to fit the 16:9 screen), but I can't imagine anyone will be watching online video for its picture quality, anyway.
The Media Server functionality will also find its fans. I've been informed that the version sold in shops comes with a code, allowing users to download software called Twonky Media. I downloaded the 30-day trial version and, sure enough, I was able to browse through most of my JPEG, MP3 and AVI files on the TV on the first attempt. This surprised the living daylights out of me, because although I consider myself a computer nerd, networking never ceases to give me a headache. After spending hours and hours trying and failing to get similar functionality on my Xbox 360 (before my console died, that is), the first-time success I had with the TwonkyMedia Manger software and the VIERA TV was a complete relief.
Gaming PerformanceAs with all of the 2009 Panasonic Plasmas, there is no perceivable input lag, at any time. With an Xbox 360 connected, I was given the option of selecting a "Game" picture preset, but this simply appears to be yet another choice of gamma characteristic, and doesn't affect the already excellent responsiveness. Gaming is great fun on this display as a result of this – miles away from certain laggy LCD displays that I've recently used.
Energy ConsumptionThese measurements were taken while displaying a full black (0 IRE) screen, a 50 IRE screen, and a full white (100 IRE) screen, using the calibrated settings.
Mode / 0 IRE / 50 IRE / 100 IRE
Calibrated, Eco mode off: 84 / 261 / 476 (watts)
Calibrated, Eco mode on: 84 / 288 / 457 (watts)
I'm as confused as you are about these results. "Eco Mode" does not simply curtail the light output of the panel, but causes it to behave in a way which is different, but not notably more eco-friendly across the board.
Standard definition channels from the digital satellite and terrestrial tuners looked decent, but not amazing. Panasonic's video processor is not great at handling 576i material, but because this footage is rarely great-looking to start with, it's not a huge loss. One slightly annoying feature of this television is that when you have Subtitles turned on, the video display is forced to 16:9. That's no problem if you're watching a subtitled widescreen programme, but if you want to see subs displayed over a 4:3 broadcast, then you'll have to put up with a distorted video display. What's odd is that the TV doesn't even inform you of this limitation, and simply appears to ignore the command: it took me a good hour or so before I actually noticed why my button presses were having no effect.
Panasonic G15 (TX-P46G15) Plasma TV Review
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