As you would expect from the base model there are no fancy extras adorning this plasma, so no NeoPDP panel, DNLA, Viera Cast, THX, Digital cinema colour or intelligent frame creation. And the screen resolution is also not full HD; instead it is 1024 x 768 pixels from a G12 plasma panel. So with all the fancy features missing and just an HD ready screen resolution the X10 is going to have to really impress with its picture quality and overall build. Right?
Well let’s dispel a few myths while we are here - full HD resolution is not the Holy Grail. There, it has been said, and while the superstore salesman’s patter or subjective magazine articles will tell you it has to be 1080p or nothing else, there is far more than just resolution to make up a great picture. This also doesn’t take into account viewing distances and the fact we are looking at a 42 inch screen, either. Indeed, looking at some full HD LCD panels in the same price range as the X10, many will have brighter and more over saturated colours and an overcooked, blue looking white level, especially in a superstore showroom. Image quality is made up from more important aspects than just resolution itself.
Do we get better image quality from the new features on this year's new models? Well in my personal opinion the only extra features that should really matter are those which allow the picture quality to be as accurate as possible to the source material you are going to watch. Everything else from widgets, slim design, intelligent frame creation, super cinema modes to DNLA have their place in the market, but these should never take precedence over the actual image quality. So with the X10 I am only disappointed that it doesn’t feature calibration controls or the THX mode for attempting to achieve accurate images to the Industry Standards. Otherwise, this TV is taking things back to basics with a no nonsense approach to providing living room entertainment.
Design and layout
Menus and TV set up
Moving to the menu system and again we find the standard Panasonic layout here with the initial options screen of Picture, sound and other settings. The picture menu features picture mode choices of ‘Dynamic, Normal, Cinema, and Game’. Under this we have the main front panel controls, ‘Brightness, Contrast, Colour and Sharpness’ with Colour Balance selections of ‘Cool, Normal and Warm’. The remaining controls are Colour Management (which is on or off and offers no management at all), Picture noise reduction and an eco mode. The last selections from Colour management down are best left switched off for a consistent image. I also found, as with almost every other Panasonic Plasma, that picture mode ‘Cinema’ and Colour balance ‘Warm’ with contrast and brightness set correctly for the viewing environment as the most accurate settings out of the box – see the picture calibration area.
In the sound menu we are offered a number of selections such as sound mode choice between ‘Music’ and ‘Speech’ with bass, treble and balance controls. Also included are the V-audio options, headphone volume, distance and volume correction and an option to switch HDMI 1 input between digital and analogue.
The final menu selection is titled ‘Set up’ and offers control over Viera link options, parental setting, system menus and input names. As the X10 is the entry model there is no intelligent frame creation feature available or indeed any other video processing controls.
The menu system and selections are well thought out and easy to understand but I can’t help but feel disappointed that there is a lack of an expert menu selection. We would and have recommended this type of control to Panasonic as there is a growing enthusiast market along with a growing number of people wanting to calibrate their sets to industry standards. We will cross our fingers that this type of flexibility is made available on future models as they are long overdue.
So with everything set up just how does the TX-P42X10 perform out of the box to industry standards? This is the only way to properly assess any display device and is the back bone to our review system.
Out of the box and Calibration resultsLets start by looking at how close the TV gets to industry standards out of the box, with the front controls (Contrast, Brightness, Colour) set correctly for our review room. I measured each picture preset and colour balance setting to find the closest to Rec.709 and D65. In the case of the TX-P42X10, like every other plasma from the company so far, ‘Cinema’ picture mode and ‘Warm’ colour balance gave the best results as you can see below.
One thing that I did notice with the X10 images out of the box and in Cinema and Warm was a lack of visual red tones in the image. There was a distinctive green/yellow feel to skin tones and an obvious lack of Red in the greyscale. And, as you can see when I measured the greyscale, this was born out with our results. (It’s interesting to note that Normal and Dynamic where even worse in this regard with very little red energy in the greyscale, presumably this is deliberate to achieve as much image brightness as possible, but with the side effect of blown out images and cartoon colour performance.) In terms of greyscale and gamma, out of the box the X10 is not quite as accurate as we would like towards the Industry Standards and as a result the image on screen suffers slightly with errors.
Overall out of the box the X10 impresses and with some service menu calibration the results are encouraging with gamma hitting 2.2 and the tracking of the greyscale almost perfect. The colour point errors are set in stone thanks to a lack of a CMS system, but onscreen errors are thankfully not that noticable in every day use. It would be nice if Panasonic could do a factory calibration to try and get this close out of the box, or even better gives us the menus. So with the measuring and ISF calibration out of the way, how does it look?
This performance when compared to LCD screens in the same price range, show why Plasma is still a preferred choice for videophiles and those looking for accurate images. And the 720p image capabilities are not detrimental to overall sharpness or detail on screen. Indeed at normal viewing distances and side by side with the Reference Kuro in our testing room, image sharpness and detail was never an issue at normal distances. Colours do look slightly over saturated out of the box, especially reds and greens, but this is also only really noticeable with material using strong examples of those colours. For the most part you will need to give the X10 some time if your used to strong bright LCD images to get the very best detailed images. As with the more expensive Panasonic's for 2009, PWM noise is also reduced and this offers a cleaner and sharper feel to images. The X10 offers an exceptionally good image performance out of the box at this price level and certainly offers some accuracy for film and TV material. And things only got better once I completed a greyscale calibration.
With the Greyscale calibrated in the service menu I suddenly saw the potential on offer from this base model plasma, although you will never get an accurate Panasonic this year because of a lack of controls. In cinema mode and with a calibrated greyscale, suddenly skin tones looked better and fine detail in the brighter areas of the image also added a sense of depth back to the image where required. And the strong black performance of the X10 was also improved by a perceived contrast boost with the gamma now tracking correctly at 2.2. Shadow details and low light areas of the image bristled with detail and depth, which at the price point left me very surprised indeed. With strong daylight in our testing room I thought the X10 would show the usual Panasonic trait of washing out the image, however this was not nearly as bad as I had feared. Place the X10 correctly in your living room with well designed lighting and this set shines with its image quality. That doesn’t mean that this TV needs to be used in a dark room only, in fact its dynamic range and contrast performance is far better than expected, rather you just need to be careful not to put it in an area where it will obviously wash out.
The TV tuner image quality as expected performed well with very few obvious issues. I found that the freeview images with slight noise reduction looked acceptable and watchable at normal viewing distances. The SD performance is good and I doubt there will be many complaints unless you watch one of the very poor channels. But let’s face it; freeview is always going to have issues. Feeding a 1080i image from my Sky+HD box with SD and HD material faired much better in quality terms with the screen managing the down conversion with no issues present. There is no Freesat HD tuner or Intelligent frame creation available on the X10 – maybe that's a good thing really.
The sound quality from the built in speakers benefit from the normal TV cabinet size and offers a very good sound performance. I found the ‘Music’ selection offered the best all-round soundstage which offered clear vocals and a nice full sound to music. It will never come anywhere near an off board speaker set up, but for those users who just want to use the built in options, the sound quality is certainly good enough to allow this with a clear and undistorted performance.
Panasonic X10 (TX-P42X10) Plasma TV Review
It might only be HD ready, but with an acceptable out of the box performance against the standards, strong dynamic range, black levels and with no special features getting in the way; the X10 is an absolute bargain that offers performance levels well above its price point. It’s a best buy!
Contrast/Dynamic Range/Black Level
Ease Of Use
Value for Money
Our Review Ethos
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