The last two generations of Panasonic PDP's have probably generated more forum discussion than any other range of televisions and have courted controversy as much as acclaim. The TX-P42G30B retains the Infinite Black filter but comes newly equipped with Panasonics' short stroke phosphors so will that have any bearing on motion performance?
Currently no other manufacturer produces a 42" plasma so, in this size, the G30B is really only in competition with some of its own stablemates but, at 50", the G30 will find itself up against the likes of the LG 50PK590/50PK790 and Samsung's PS50C7000.
With no 3D to propel it, can the TX-P42G30B build on the strengths of the outgoing range whilst addressing any of the niggles? There's going to be a lot to investigate so let's take a look!
Styling and Connections
The remote control was an even larger dose of deja vu with it being a carbon copy of the G20 handset. This is actually something of a minor gaffe on behalf of Panasonic as they've revamped and renamed their internet offering as Vierra Connect, yet the G30 remote still carries the Vierra Cast labelling. That said, there's little else to criticise with its highly functional layout and lack of directionality afforded by the offset, twin IR emitters. Unlike a certain Sony remote I'm currently handling, the TX-P42G30s controller requires the use of but one hand for the average human.
The G30 offers exactly the sort of connectivity we’d expect for this tier of product and on the metallic back plate we are presented with 3xHDMI terminals, with one of these (HDMI2) being HDMI V1.4 compliant - enabling Audio Return Channel (ARC) - which sends audio data “upstream” to an AV receiver and could eliminate the need for any separate S/PDIF audio connection. Unfortunately, for the wall mounting crowd, Panasonic have again seen fit to position the HDMI ports outward facing meaning a very flush fit isn’t really attainable without using angle adapters. Along with the HDMI inputs we have a single RGB Scart terminal; a component connection - limited to a maximum of 1080i, accompanied by the appropriate audio jacks; an Ethernet socket; a VGA input, limited to a max resolution of 1366x768. In terms of tuners, we’ve lost the Satellite input from the G20 but the DVB-T2 digital terrestrial tuner, capable of receiving Freeview HD, remains intact. There’s also a S/PDIF digital out for passing audio to your receiver/amp and a couple of USB inputs.
Recessed behind the left hand side of the frame, we’re presented with another HDMI v1.3 terminal - handy for plugging your HD Camcorder in to together with legacy RCA connectors, a headphone output; a USB input for use with the PVR functionality; a SD Card slot - capable of accepting SD HC cards plus a CI port.
Menus and Set Up
Unlike the outward appearance, the TX-P42G30 has benefited from Panasonics design reconsideration with the GUI over last years offering. It's out with the blocky blue and yellow to be replaced with a more refined overlaid transparent pale charcoal with clear white text. The blue and yellow is still in evidence but all in gradients and serving only as a splash of colour rather than a theme.
Just as the appearance of the menus has improved so has the placement of options taken a turn for the better. As well as the standard Brightness, Contrast, Colour and Sharpness controls - in the Picture Menu - you can find the Overscan and Intelligent Frame Creation(IFC)/24p Smooth Film settings under the Advanced tab. Panasonic, in previous generations, had secreted these options in the 2nd page of the Setup Menu. We'll discuss the virtues, or otherwise, of IFC/24p Smooth Film later on.
With the isfccc option enabled in the Setup Menu, the 2 Professional picture modes - intended for day/night settings - become available affording a generous suite of calibration options with White Balance, Colour Management and Gamma options on offer. Other picture modes are given a more limited set of controls but THX is locked down in the user menus as far as advanced adjustments are concerned.
Three all-new options have appeared in the advanced Picture Menu. The Clear Cinema setting - that testing found to engage film cadence detection from interlaced sources; a Pixel Orbiter that can either be set to On or Auto suggesting that in some modes, you've no choice if it's operational or not. Just in case the Pixel Orbiter failed to prevent image retention, the Scrolling Bar function is there to attempt get rid of it.
Beneath the Picture Menu sit three further sub menus - Sound, Timer and Setup. The Sound Menu 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 offfering a rudimentary equaliser. The slight puzzling third sub menu is labelled Timer, and only contains three options - an off timer, an auto standby option and a scheduler for recording programs, using the PVR functionailty, 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 Navigation and Advance(isfccc). The Eco Navigation item is a one stop shop for enabling all the G30's energy saving options whilst Advance(isfccc) activates the Professional picture modes and the additional Colour Management System that brings.
The Electronic Program Guide (EPG) is once again supplied by Gemstar which at least allows control of the PVR functionality but is, once again, marred by advertising content. The GUI redesign of the menus certainly hasn't been carried over in to the EPG but it gets the job done, even if it's in a rather unaccomplished way.
Panasonic are making more of an effort to keep up with the crowd with their internet offerings in 2011. Whilst the new Vierra Connect portal isn't yet fully launched - expected in May - it is certainly showing more promise than the rather humdrum Vierra Cast it supercedes. In addition to Facebook, Twitter, BBC iPlayer, YouTube, Picassa and all the other usual suspects, there's an App store on offer too which we expect to be populated with a lot more goodies come the full launch of Vierra Connect. If you like the idea of engaging in video chat via your large screen TV, then the TX-P42G30 is equipped via the built-in Skype functionality.
Measured Results Out of the BoxFrom past experiences, we'd expect the THX and Professional picture presets to offer results closest to the industry standards we'd like to see and things proved no different with the TX-P42G30 - in actual fact both presets measured identically on this occasion. Having run the G30B in for over 100 hours and with Brightness and Contrast set optimally we took the following set of measurements.
Considering the Gamma setting came pre-loaded at a value of 2.2, performance here was a little underwhelming with an average of close to 1.9 across the scale. This kind of value may be appropriate in a brighter environment than which we had the G30 situated in but the image did have a rather washed outlook in our test room. We would be happier to see an average somewhere between 2.2 and 2.3 to match the environment. The G30 doesn't have any multi-point gamma correction controls so we would have to see what effect calibrating the greyscale and trying some of the other preset values brought.
Greyscale and gamma peformance could probably be best described as average, for the most accurate preset, by todays standards but we've calibrated enough Panasonics to know that they generally respond very well to the process.
If you imagine the arched shape, in the CIE chart, as the entire spectrum of colours visible to the human eye, then the triangle contained within has points comensurate with the HD Rec.709 standards for hue and saturation of the primary (Red/Green/Blue) colours. Between the primaries, along the permiters of the triangle, the small squares represent the points for the secondary (Cyan/Magenta/Yellow) colours. What the diagram can't represent is the luminance (brightness) performance of the colours - and this is of the greatest importance as our eyes are wired to see errors in this area more than in hue and saturation. The Gamut Luminance bar chart shows that colours are a little too bright, out of the box, but not tremendously so and over all performance is actually pretty good for an uncalibrated set.
The TX-P42G30 comes equipped with a CMS to which they've added individual luminace controls over the prmiaries as well as the existing Hue and Saturation sliders present in the 2010 range. We'd ideally like to see controls added to more directly affect the secondary colours but given the results were already decent, calibrating the greyscale and getting the primaries sitting better should mean the missing controls wouldn't be a major issue.
Calibrated ResultsHaving performed what turned out to be a very speedy calibration of the greyscale, we were able to improve matters to give the following results:
The Gamma Point Graph is not quite so impressive with a general darkening of the mid tones as on-screen brightness increases but this is probably only something of concern for those used to a reference display. Certainly the rather washed out image the 2.2 setting gave was vastly improved by using the 2.4 preset. The G30B had around 150 hours clocked up, when the measurements were taken, and past experience with Panasonic PDP's would suggest that the gamma response may well flatten out a little with a few hundred more hours usage.
Feeling satisfied with our greyscale performance, we now set about tackling the CMS to see what improvements could be made to the already respectable gamut measurements.
Once again we're just about hitting reference standards and the addition of the luminance controls proved key in achieving that so well done for Panasonic to listening to feedback and providing the tools necessary to achieve what is an outstanding performance for a TV costing sub £1,000. We feel that only those in a position to make direct comparison to a true reference screen, costing far more, are likely to notice the slight over luminance in green and small over-saturation in magenta.
Since Panasonic are proving so good at listening to our feedback, we'd politely like to ask Panasonic to add just a couple more options to the calibration suite in a a multi-point white balance and gamma control together with full control of the secondaries. We know these features will be present in the upcoming VT30, that Phil will have for review, but it would be nice to see them trickle down to at least their top-tier 2D TV next year - not everybody wants 3D.
Video ProcessingPanasonic have made some good strides in this area over the last couple of years and are now aligning themselves with some of their competitors in the video processing stakes. Our experiences with all of the 2011 tested, so far, reveal that Panasonic had cracked cadence detection of 2:3 NTSC material and the G30 proved no different with the Clear Cinema option enabled in the Picture Menu. PAL based material, requiring 2:2 detection, unfortunately, doesn't fare as well - with the G30B failing to lock on correctly and in the process throwing away half the vertical resolution plus introducing some jaggies to proceedings. As we move toward more and more HD content, the need for SD cadence detection is becoming less of a requirement but, still, it would good to see Panasonic improve further in next year's ranges.
As with all of the other 2011 range we've seen, scaling of standard definition images - at both 576i and 480i - proved excellent with no loss of detail or nasty haloing effects. Deinterlacing of video content could ocassionally run in to minor difficulties with movement but most would have a hard time noticing without subjecting the TX-P42G30 to some rigorous test material. The G30 also stood up well when presented with a mixture of film based material with overlaid scrolling video encoded text.
Panasonic have made a revision to their Intelligent Frame Creation (IFC) interpolation system in 2011 by adding in an extra tier to give Mid and Max settings. The Mid setting is intended for use with 50 Hz material but we'd advise leaving it set to off for most applications. The 2010 sets did have some difficulties in displaying 50Hz material - particularly of the fast moving variety - and as this hasn't been eradicated in 2011, some may find that fast moving video content such as Football or Formula 1 may benefit from the Mid setting. We were left a little undecided on the use of IFC for sports and treated it on a case by case basis so it's one to experiment with at home and will be a matter of personal taste. What we would unequivocally state is that the Max setting should be left well alone - unless you're a fan of the image of a cheap video camera and the same applies to both the Mid and Max setting of 24p Smooth Film as the G30B already handles Blu-ray 24p material with faultless ease.
Gaming PerformancePanasonics plasma's have traditionally been associated with being a good choice for the gamer concerned with input lag and the TX-P42G30 continued that lineage. I brought up my trusty Everybody's Golf power bar as a real world reference and found no dicernable issues. Testing revealed the G30 lags between 1 and 2 two frames, at 60 frames per second, meaning a figure somewhere between 16 and 32 milliseconds with an average around 27ms. The ultra competitive gamer should probably looking at a lagless TN panel but the G30B will do a fine job for most.
Something worthy of note for gamers, in particular, was the G30's resistance to image retention. The panel managed to shift a 100IRE window pattern in under 1 minute without displaying any other content to wash it away. If the panel continues to maintain that sort of behaviour, with more hours on the clock, then it's a very big positive for those whom harbour IR concerns with plasma technology.
Energy ConsumptionManufacturers are being driven harder than ever to produce energy efficient sets and Panasonic have responded well with their VIERA NeoPlasma displays. In standby the TX-P42G30 consumed only 1w with a highly respectable averaged figure of 118w when calibrated.
The Pansonic 2010 ranges certainly provoked much discussion on our Forums and we expect nothing much will change in that regard over the coming months - they are the most popular brand of plasma afterall. We won't deny they were some issues of concern last year, indeed our testing helped uncover perhaps the most serious in the 50 Hz bug - where outer edges of images can be seen, by some, to break up under movement and unfortunately it's still present this year. We'll make no bones of the fact that we would like see this particular problem eradicated but, at the same time, would urge that prospective buyers get out there and audition these TVs for themselves. The fact is that the vast majority of owners wont see the problem but we realise that readers of AVForums are likely to be those most keen-eyed and discerning, so a demo is a must to see if it's something that would trouble you in practice.
Another issue that sometimes got lumped in with the 50Hz discussions was the two/three coloured posterization effect that some were seeing, in particular with skin tones under panning or movement in front of the camera. We are happy to put to bed the idea that they are one and the same problem as the effect was not once witnessed on the G30B.
Perhaps the other biggest talking point with the 2010 range was with the issue of 'Floating Blacks', that again some were very troubled by but most don't notice. To explain, whilst displaying very dark content on the screen (think night scenes) the ABL (Automatic Brightness Limiting) circuity would raise the luminance of the entire picture when an object appeared on screen that raised the Average Panel Luminance (APL) level beyond a certain threshold. The reason for inclusion of the feature is power related but at least in some of the 2010 sets was implemented over aggresively leading to some quite dramatic fluctuations, at times. We are very happy to report that 'Floating Blacks' should not be cause for any real discussions going forwards with the G30 maintaining its black levels admirably in scenarios that the G20, we compared to, didn't.
The reason that Floating Blacks seem no longer to be an issue appears to be in a change to the panels' driving. Whilst scenes of very low APL are no longer affected by brightness fluctuations, it seems that those with a more middling APL are. At this point of the review we need to point out that the effect described was far more dramatic whilst the panel was running in and settled to the point where we'd assume most wont see it at around 125 hours. The effect was particulalry prominent when something bright white appeared on screen where the screen would lower the luminance of the brighter elements of the image and then go back up again.
During the bedding in period the fluctuations could be pretty wild and cause a pulse or even a flicker to areas the image. We were actually concerned, initially, that the panel may have had a fault but having given it a fair running in, the pulsation effect became far more mild. Of course, we are here to watch these televisions as closely as possible for you and the fact is the rather over exaggerated behaviour of the panel, in its early hours, meant we we were watching for more manifestations of the issue closer than most would be. Having settled down, the effect is still present in all modes - THX included - but you really do have to be looking for it, in most instances, to see it and we'd describe it as mild brightness fluctuations that wont trouble the majority of users and we'll definitely take it in trade for floating blacks. We also expect there may be variances in manifestation of the issue, panel to panel, bearing in mind the sets will be manufactured from fairly wide tolerance components at this kind of price point.
It's something of a shame that we've had to spend so long discussing issues when, for the vast majority of the time, the TX-P42G30 produces such an excellent picture. The improved pixel fill rate seems to give an even more 'filmic' look to images, particularly with Blu-ray material and there will few sets matching up in this area over the coming months.
No television is perfect so we'll take the opportunity to remind you to get out there and demo these sets for yourselves before making any decisions. We can't tell you what your eyes will or wont notice but, at the same time, we feel that most will consider the TX-P42G30 to offer excellent picture quality.
- Excellent dynamic range and contrast performance
- Superb calibrated greyscale and gamut performance
- Very good scaling performance of SD material
- Extremely stable retention of black levels whilst displaying brighter content simultaneously
- Highly resistant to image retention
- Good networking features and Vierra Connect shows promise
- USB PVR functionality
- Freeview HD Tuner
- Redesigned menus are great
- Good gaming performance
- Handling of 50Hz will still be an issue for some
- Fluctuating brightness will similarly cause some consternation
- Ugly EPG with adverts
- Extremely bland design making it look like the poor relation of some of the 3D sets
- Still no effective 2:2 cadence detection
Panasonic G30 (TX-P42G30) Plasma TV Review
Thankfully the G30B does share the excellent newly designed menus, we've seen in other Panasonics this year, and they've become a relative joy to navigate as well making the calibration process a far less frustrating one. The repositioning of some important options affecting picture quality is to be welcomed as are the additional individual luminance controls over the primary colours. The EPG continues to disappoint with adverts taking up important screen real estate but the trade-off of in it providing PVR functionality is worthwhile.
Panasonic's new internet portal service, Vierra Connect, shows promise but we'll be in a better position to judge once more content becomes available. The continued support for PVR useage via USB is a nice feature that could even replace a dedicated machine for those with undemanding requirements but we feel it's perhaps best employed as a third - or even fourth- tuner to compliment an existing box.
The Panasonic TX-P42G30B does a lot right. From the impressive dynamic range through to its near reference calibrated greyscale and gamut performance, there's much to sit and admire. Whilst it's certainly no quantam leap over the outgoing G20, a couple of niggles have been eliminated making the G30B a better choice for anyone considering between the two as the G20 becomes end of line. The G30 also maintains contrast, in very dark scenes, far more impressively than the G20 and that's without the G20's floating blacks entering the equation!
For the two issues removed - floating blacks and occasional posterization of skin tones - Panasonic have seemingly intoduced another 'feature' with an issue of fluctuating brightness. The phenomena seems to occur with mid to low brightness content and is characterised by the lowering and raising in luminace of the brighter portions of the picture. Before bedding in the problem was looking to be a showstopper, for the G30B, but we're happy to report matters improved dramatically at around 125 hours - to the point where most will likely be totally unaware there's anything going on. We know that there will be a minority of prospective owners that will find it an issue so it's our duty to report the findings, much as it was with the ongoing 50Hz problems we first described last year.
Gaming performance and power consumption both proved strong suits of the Panasonic TX-P42G30B so, once again, a Panasonic plasma will find itself on the shortlist of many a gamer.
As with every TV we see, there are pluses and minuses but we feel the postives outweigh the negatives here, to the extent where we are comfortable in awarding the Panasonic TX-P42G30B our Recommended Badge. As ever, we urge you to go out and demo for yourself but the G30B is surely worthy of your consideration. As it can already be had online for just over £700, we don't feel there will be too many TVs that will give you this kind of price vs performance in 2011.
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