That looks set to change with the V10 series, though. Not only does this TV feature Panasonic's NeoPDP plasma panel, which all but guarantees spectacular contrast and motion resolution, but it's also one of the first TVs in Europe to finally feature THX Certification. This certification is a seal of VIDEO quality - THX isn't just about sound, remember - and guarantees that various aspects of the display's performance meet specific standards. Not surprisingly, many of these stringent tests are ones which we routinely perform here in AVForums reviews as part of our push for high quality video. It will be interesting to see if these qualitative criteria filter further down into the mainstream press now that a famous brand has been attached.
The most obviously practical implication of the above, though, is that the TV comes with a THX picture mode. Appearing alongside the usual "Normal", "Cinema" and "Dynamic" choices is the new option, which should deliver fairly accurate, high quality results, straight out of the box. It'll be interesting to see how close this can come to the usual full-scale calibrations we perform, but first, let's look at the TX-P50V10B's more superficial side.
Panasonic's newly redesigned remote control is bundled with this TV, and it's a big improvement on some of the older variants. All of the buttons feel good and are well placed. The directional pad works well, and the thoughtfully positioned VIERA LINK, VIERA TOOLS, and GUIDE buttons are welcome. It even looks great!
The back and left side of the TV features enough inputs to keep just about everyone happy. Here we have 4 HDMIs (3 on the back, 1 on the side), 2 SCART terminals, Component inputs, analogue RGBHV (VGA/PC input), a set of Composite/S-Video inputs, and a LAN connection for hooking the TV up to your home router (and consequently, to the internet). There's also the usual inclusion of a port for Panasonic's baby, the SD card, which you can use to view digital photos. For TV signals, we have an aerial input for accessing Digital and Analogue terrestrial feeds, and an input for a satellite dish, which lets the TV receive the Freesat HD service.
Of course, let's not forget that we have a THX picture preset, so hopefully the work done by our friends in California will make up for any lack of adjustability. Naturally, we do at least have the standard Contrast, Brightness, Colour, and Sharpness controls. And yet again, we have Panasonic's "Colour Management" option, which doesn't allow you to actually manage anything! In most modes, this option will simply oversaturate colours, but in the THX mode, it simply does nothing (which is no loss). There's also an Eco Mode option, which makes use of an ambient light sensor to vary the screen's light output, Panasonic's usual noise reduction control (a spatial filter which cuts off high frequencies at the single-frame level; not very effective), and a "Multi Window" (Picture in Picture/Picture And Picture) function.
With the TV in the THX Preset, overscan (that is, the cutting off of the extreme edges of the picture to hide noise) is permanently disabled, so the option doesn't appear anywhere. If you're using one of the other presets, it appears in the "Display Settings" screen.
Taking the TV out of THX mode reveals an additional option in the menu for the other viewing modes: "Digital Cinema Colour". This option is designed, apparently, to mimic the colour gamut used in Digital Cinema applications. From our point of view, this is a misguided promotional exercise – why? Because this is a television, not a digital cinema projector! Feeding in video which has been designed and mastered for use on HDTVs and then skewing the colours out beyond their normal levels is only going to distort the colour reproduction - not enhance it.
Although we have a THX preset now – which, in theory, should give us closer to optimal results right out of the box – we still don't have Greyscale, Gamma, or controls for each individual colour (a real colour management system) in these user menus. Considering that Samsung and Toshiba offer options like these on their cheaper LCD TVs, and that LG provide it on both their competing Plasmas and their LCDs, we are once again disappointed that Panasonic have kept such a basic set of controls – especially on a higher-end display.
THX mode AccuracyI'm going to break tradition here and not discuss the basic calibration first. Instead, I'm going to talk about the results gained from simply turning the TV on, selecting the THX mode, then after letting it warm up, observing what it's doing and taking measurements: no calibration, no changing controls, just the THX mode as it's supplied.
So, I pulled up the test patterns that I normally use to set basic "front panel" controls like Brightness and Contrast. These first showed me that the TV wasn't revealing quite as much shadow detail as is possible in its default setting, with higher-than-black video beginning at Position 19. In Video levels, positions 16 and below are defined as black, but here, 17 and 18 were also appearing as black. I soon realised the rationale for this, however: raising the brightness by one click to squeeze a little bit of extra detail out of these areas blanketed the screen in a very delicate helping of PWM noise. As a result, I left it as it was. The white level pattern (used for setting Contrast) was perfect with no adjustments necessary.
One change I did make, though, was to the Sharpness control. Even in the THX mode, the TV was adding extra edge enhancement, until I changed the settings. THX's own guidelines mention the problems associated with adding artificial Sharpness, so I was a little surprised to see it here. For 1080p video, which should already be more than sharp and detailed enough, no additional tinkering should be going on. So, I set Sharpness to its minimum position, and all of the slight halos that previously blighted the image were removed.
After this came the measurements, necessary for controls which aren't possible to verify or correct by eye. Performance was close to bang on, and the TV delivered a correlated colour temperature of 6475 kelvin (VERY close to the 6500k we want). This is an absolutely fantastic result and means that the entire image will have an incredibly accurate look (all other things being equal).
Well, I've just written about what the TV looks like out of the box with the same language and enthusiasm that I normally end up using for discussing the corrected, calibrated results! I think you'll agree then, that the THX certification has been a complete success in that regard (as has Panasonic's engineering). Of course, we're perfectionists here at AVForums, and the point of calibration is to make a system perform as well as possible. So, I naturally tried to improve even further upon these results.
CalibrationUnfortunately, the THX preset cannot be modified, so we have to fall back onto the "Cinema" viewing mode from this point on. The Brightness setting of this preset was already correctly set for my equipment (as it was with the THX preset). The Greyscale came set to "Normal", though, so the entire picture was overly blue. I set this to "Warm" for a more accurate colour temperature. I also turned off both the mislabelled "Colour Management" option, and the "Digital Cinema Colour" mode, which is pointless because this is a television. Then, I took these measurements...
In the UK version of this TV, to build on these results, we have to enter the service menu. Yes, I said "in the UK version", because the version sold in continental Europe – the TX-P50V10E - appears to feature an "Advanced Video" menu which contains user-accessible Greyscale AND Gamma controls. For some inexplicable reason, the UK model has been shorn of these. Admittedly, given that we're the country that invented television, our consumer display and review industries have an incredibly poor track record of adhering to and promoting quality standards, but the situation is never going to improve like this. Manufacturers with investments in high quality video like Panasonic are the people who have the power to change it - so why aren't they?
Entering service mode doesn't sound like too big a deal, but there's another issue here: although this menu lets us adjust these values, the Greyscale visible in service mode changes once we're back in the user mode – the measurements are not the same! In other words, to perform a change that our friends in continental Europe can make with ONE remote control click, we have to:
- Enter the service menu with the secret button combination
- Set the TV back to the AV input
- Re-select the CINEMA mode
- Navigate through the cryptically labelled engineer's screens to find the Greyscale adjustments
- Change one of the settings by making an educated stab in the dark
- Turn off the TV and wait for it to turn on again
- Re-select the AV input that has the test pattern device attached
- Wait for the TV to "sync up" and for the picture to appear
- Take a measurement and repeat
There is still one problem which sealed the deal, thogh: overall Luminance. In the Cinema mode, the entire image had a far less rich look when compared to the THX mode, which had a more accurate gamma curve (see images above). Guess what would have been useful here? That's right, the Gamma adjustment, which we haven't been given. As a result, we are now torn between these choices:
- THX mode out of the box: excellent Greyscale, excellent hue and saturation of Primary colours, large error with Magenta. Great Luminance of colours. Most accurate gamma.
- Cinema mode out of the box: less excellent greyscale, but still excellent. Colours oversaturated, but all on-hue. Luminance of colours is too high. Different gamma curve means that image looks a little washed out.
- Cinema mode calibrated: very, very good greyscale second only to the THX mode, excellent overall colour reproduction, but Yellow is undersaturated. Gamma is not correctable on UK version, so image still washed out.
Video ProcessingPanasonic's TVs normally skimp in the video processing area: they don't do the best possible job of upconverting standard-def content to HD, nor do they adapt to the presence of Film-sourced content and deinterlace it optimally. We forgive them for it, because we can step around the problem much of the time by outsourcing video processing duties to an Upscaling DVD player, dedicated video processor, or in my case, an AV receiver with video processor-like functionality. I had a hunch that this display was going to be the same, and I was right: the TX-P50V10 has no film cadence detection features at all, so treats everything as if it were content captured with a Video camera (an altogether different beast). This means that you'll see jaggies where there shouldn't be any in Film-sourced content, and suffer from a loss of vertical resolution in these cases.
Scaling (upconversion) was also fairly soft, as usual. As always, I recommend having another device perform the conversion to 1080p and then send this already processed video to the TV for display. Of course, since the built-in TV tuner is, well, built-in, this means that TV shows from Digital Terrestrial TV have to be processed by the TV's own less-than-ideal (or non-existent) algorithms. As always, I didn't find this to be a great loss, because broadcast TV quality is average to shockingly poor anyway. If you have an external TV receiver, like a satellite, cable or Freeview box, you'll be able to run it through a processor and then onto the TV, sidestepping the issues.
Gaming PerformanceVideo gaming performance was fantastic on the TX-P50V10. I could not detect any input lag whatsoever using my usual test game (Halo 3 on the Xbox 360, with the console scaling to 1080p). In fact, the TV was so responsive that I actually had to lower the game's controller sensitivity option, which I've had turned up to compensate for the TV lag that I'm all too used to. Games took on a new lease of life thanks to the lack of delay - the responsiveness was just a breath of fresh air. I wouldn't be surprised if users of this display have a serious advantage in online games over a lot of other people.
Extra FeaturesThe most notable extra features here are the VIERA Cast and also the Media viewer functionality. VIERA Cast uses the internet to deliver services such as YouTube, Picasa photo sharing, EuroSport, and Bloomberg. Since it relies on a web connection, you'll need to run an Ethernet cable from the TV to your home router. The software in the TV is incredibly responsive and is a decent "light" alternative to fully-fledged web access, meaning that unlike a lot of comparable systems on other TVs, I would actually use this one. The media viewer functionality is fairly standard and doesn't present anything of note - it works!
Power ConsumptionPanasonic seem to be aware that the perceived energy consumption of Plasma displays sometimes acts as a deterrent to eco-conscious customers buying them. Perhaps almost as much, in fact, as the misinformation often parroted by the youths at your nearest box-shifting electronics warehouse. Using full-screen patterns, I measured the consumption of the TV at various brightness levels. These measurements were taken in THX Mode with Eco Mode both on and off.
0 IRE (Full Black) - 50 IRE (Grey) - 100 IRE (Full White)
Eco Mode OFF: 85 - 310 - 520 (watts)
Eco Mode ON: 85 - 230 - 495 (watts)
Remember that a Plasma TV's power consumption varies depending on the brightness of the screen (unlike most LCDs, which have a constantly-lit backlight) - as you can see, an all white screen consumes maximum power, whereas an all black screen consumes a very small amount. Most viewing is going to fall somewhere in-between, so I think it's safe to say that Panasonic's usual eco-friendliness has well and truly been realised here - these numbers are very good indeed for a 50" Plasma.
Contrast was just absolutely excellent: blacks were incredibly deep while viewing with the room lights off, and the overall accuracy of the image meant that this highly stylised film was highly stylised in the way intended by the filmmakers - not as intended by a consumer electronics company's engineers! 24p input from the BD Player was handled correctly, too, without any 3-2 judder. The TV does feature yet another misleadingly named option called "24p Smooth Film", which should be turned OFF to gain judder-free 24p playback. What this option does is interpolate motion by generating new inbetween frames, and in doing so, creates a silly video-ish look. It's disabled at all times when using the THX mode.
Animated movies, like Disney's recent US Blu-ray release of Bolt looked amazing, too. Often, I've heard people describe the look of a badly set up display's colours as "cartoonish" to describe their performance shortcomings, but this is a mistake: even although they're not always shooting for realism, creators of animated films (at least the better ones) make precise and careful decisions to evoke moods in much the same way that live-action filmmakers do. This was perhaps the most eye-opening demonstration of the differences between the calibrated Cinema mode and the THX mode: the latter was far richer thanks to the more correct Gamma and colour luminance. There's a scene near the end in which a darkened movie set catches fire, which, apparently, was one of the most eye-opening scenes in the 3D Cinema version on the film. It's honestly hard to imagine that it looked as amazing as it does on this display.
I was so happy with what I was seeing that I also pulled out a DVD that I myself colour corrected, restored, encoded and authored, the Region 1 release of the cult French film L'important c'est d'aimer ("The Important Thing Is To Love"). There's a shot at the very beginning of Chapter 2 which features French actress Romy Schneider under deliberately strong light. On poorer displays, the strong light and incorrect luminance levels cause her face to look sickly and powdery. In the THX mode on this TV, the effect is exactly as intended: she looks like she's under strong light, rather than looking pale and ill. I only wish that I could take accurate pictures of the TV to show the difference: the job this thing is doing is so good that I want to share it. The overall effect is just as the original filmmaker and I intended it to be.
So, to sum up: we have the accuracy of the THX mode, the contrast performance of Panasonic's NeoPDP technology, and of course all of the other characteristics of Plasma displays (a wide viewing angle, a phosphor-driven natural TV-like picture, excellent motion resolution, and also the usual PDP quirks: a little bit of mild dithering/posterisation and PWM noise). The result? Overall, beautiful!
- NeoPDP contrast performance and black level are excellent
- Extensive connectivity options (Digital Terrestrial, Digital Satellite, Analogue Terrestrial, HDMI...)
- THX mode results in absolutely brilliant Greyscale performance...
- ...and very, very, very good colours, straight out of the box; the image is often good enough to get lost in
- Sublime detail thanks to 1:1 1080p input, and lack of "enhancers" to ruin the picture
- 24p input is handled correctly, judder-free
- Video gaming is incredibly responsive
- The lack of calibration controls is silly on a TV of this level (and of this price!): cheap LCDs sometimes have more control
- UK version is inferior to continental European versions in this regard - whatever the reason behind it, this is UNFAIR
- Gamma is incorrect, and we have no control over it in the UK version (see above)
- Standard-def video deinterlacing and scaling are lacking
- THX mode has large error in Magenta hue
Panasonic V10 (TX-P50V10) Plasma TV Review
With a certain other company pulling out of the PDP market lately, video enthusiasts are counting on Panasonic to step up and provide high quality images in the same way that Pioneer once did: through adherence to standards, which exist for a reason. The THX mode is an absolutely fantastic step in this direction - but it's just one step. Regardless, the effectiveness of this mode is undeniable: a one-touch mode for utterly brilliant video is too much to stay mad at regardless of the other controls the TV does or does not have. Do consider this, though: were it not for THX's input into this TV's behaviour, there would be almost nothing to set this model apart from the considerably cheaper G10 series. Thanks to them, though, the out of the box Greyscale performance is wonderful, and the colour reproduction is fantastic – leagues ahead of the usual "pumped up" look. This makes for an absoutely excellent display which is not only kind to standard definition content, but one which realises HD (almost) to its full.
I started this review by mentioning that none of Panasonic's Plasmas are bad TVs (not by a long shot), and I'm about to finish it in the same way. I do think that especially at the higher end, the company should be including more calibration controls to add value for money. Several manufacturers of what often turn out to be lesser displays are managing this feat, so we can only dream what Panasonic could achieve by implementing such features. For now, though, the THX image mode combined with Panasonic's Plasma know-how win the panel a Highly Recommended badge.
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