Editors' note, March 3, 2010: Testing conducted on 2009 Panasonic plasma TVs, similar to this one, has revealed that black-level performance has become noticeably less impressive within what is typically the first year of ownership. As a result, we don't feel confident that the initial picture quality of this TV, as described in the review below, can be maintained over the course of its lifetime, and therefore find it difficult to recommend. Its Performance score has been accordingly reduced by one point to better indicate comparative picture quality after 1,500 hours of use. Click here for more information.
Separately, the Features rating has been lowered to account for changes in the competitive marketplace, including the release of new 2010 TVs. Aside from these changes to ratings, the review has not otherwise been modified.
Ever since we called the Pioneer Elite Kuro PRO-111FD "The best flat-panel HDTV ever," we've been comparing the most-expensive challengers on the market directly against it, looking to see if any could topple the champ. When Panasonic announced the TC-PG10 series at CES, we immediately knew it would go up against the Kuro in our lab. What we didn't know is that Pioneer would stop producing HDTVs, leaving the hill wide open for anybody to claim the king's throne.
The Panasonic G10 series is the new king. No, it's not as good overall as the soon-to-be-extinct Kuro Elite, but it comes closer than ever in the arena of black-level performance, and mounts a good fight in just about every other field of picture quality, with the exception of some color accuracy issues. Panasonic steeped the G10 in extra features compared with its less-expensive brethren, adding a THX mode that's largely responsible for its excellent picture, along with VieraCast for access to a limited range of Internet extras. The downside, as always, is that it costs significantly more than lower-end models, but if you're looking for the best picture quality in a post-Kuro world, the Panasonic TC-PG10 series is the safest bet so far this year.
Series note: The 2009 Panasonic TC-PG10 series is available in four screen sizes. We performed a hands-on evaluation of the 46-inch model, the TC-P46G10 ($1,699 street price), but our remarks on picture quality also apply to at least two other models in the series, the 42-inch TC-P42G10 ($1,299) and the 50-inch TC-P50G10 ($1,999)--all three share identical specifications except screen size. The largest model in the series, the TC-P54G10, also shares similar specifications, but the screen size difference is great enough to warrant another hands-on evaluation when that model becomes available.
(Editors' note: Many of the Design and Features elements between the TC-PG10 series and the TC-PS1 series that we have reviewed are identical, so readers of the earlier review may experience some deja vu when reading those sections.)
Like most TV makers, Panasonic differentiates its less-expensive line from its more-expensive model lines by blessing the latter with refined styling, and the step-up G10 series follows suit. It lacks the beautiful one-sheet-of-glass design found on the even more-expensive V10 series, but makes up for it somewhat with a thinner frame around the edge of the screen; this is the thinnest-framed plasma we've reviewed, with the exception of the company's "professional" models such as the TH-50PH11UK. Glossy black predominates, interrupted by a silver strip along the bottom that abuts the G10's signature design touch, a silver wash that fades into black after about a half-inch. Comparison Panasonic shoppers may care that the more-expensive G15 models lack the silver accents.
Another big change from last year is Panasonic's new circular stand. It out-styles the rectangular version found on the step-down models, but unfortunately, it doesn't swivel. Hidden speakers complete the G10 series' sleek look.
The remote control also differs from the one found on less-expensive Panasonic plasmas, and in general, we liked it. However, Panasonic's marketing people got to the button designers and apparently mandated that an unnecessarily prominent trio of keys--Viera Link, VieraCast, and VieraTools--arc above the central cursor control. Each button provides direct access to functions most users won't access as frequently as the Menu key; the trio relegates that button to an easily overlooked spot near the top of the clicker. We still like the feel of the keys, and appreciate the size, color, and shape differentiation, as well as the backlight behind select keys. The remote cannot control other devices via infrared (IR) commands, but it does allow for some control of compatible HDMI devices connected to the TV via Viera Link (aka HDMI-CEC).
Panasonic tweaked its menu design for 2009. The same yellow-on-blue color scheme is in evidence (albeit a lighter shade of blue) and navigation is basically unchanged, but the main menu actually has a couple of icons now. Overall, it's still one of the more straightforward, basic-looking menus on the mainstream market, but we still wish the company would see fit to include onscreen explanations of selections. A new Tools menu showcases some of the TV's functions, including THX mode and VieraCast.
The main rewards for stepping up from Panasonic's basic 1080p lineup include THX Display Certification and VieraCast, the company's interactive TV player. By engaging THX picture mode, the G10's color accuracy, shadow detail, and numerous other picture characteristics improve in most aspects without you having to make a bunch of adjustments. We'll go into the improvements below, but suffice it to say that THX comes as close to a "one-step calibration" as any such mode we've seen, with the possible exception of Pure on Pioneer's late, lamented Elite Kuro displays.
VieraCast, which debuted on the TH-PZ850U series last year, offers access to YouTube videos, photos stored on your Picasa account, stocks and headlines courtesy of Bloomberg, and local weather. It connects to the Internet via an Ethernet port on the back of the TV. Panasonic regrettably does not include wireless capability nor does it sell a wireless dongle, although, according to the company, third-party wireless bridges or powerline adapters will work fine.
New for 2009, in May Panasonic will add the capability to access Amazon Video on Demand content via a free online software update (PZ850U owners will also get the update). Currently, Panasonic also offers the capability to connect the TV to networked cameras for household monitoring. We'll update this section with a test of both new features in May; in the meantime, you can get more details from last year's in-depth look at VieraCast.
Compared with a lot of other name-brand HDTV makers, Panasonic offers far fewer picture adjustments. The basics are there, though, including Contrast, which the company was calling Picture for years. We liked that all four of the global-picture modes, including THX and the dim-by-design Standard mode (see below), are adjustable and that the fifth, called Custom, is independent per input. The company's Game mode is basically just a picture mode; it doesn't eliminate video processing like some other makers' Game modes.
Beyond the basics, Panasonic provides the capability to change the refresh rate to 48Hz, although doing so causes flicker (see Performance for more information). There are also five color temperature presets, of which Warm2 came closest to the D65 standard. No further provisions for tweaking the grayscale exist. A "C.A.T.S." function senses ambient light and adjusts the picture accordingly; a Color management toggle made color decoding worse when engaged; a trio of On/Off settings affect video noise; and another lets you set black level (the Light option exposed the correct amount of shadow detail). The setting to control 2:3 pull-down happily affects both standard- and high-definition sources.
You can choose from five aspect ratio options with high-definition sources, including a Zoom mode that allows adjustment of horizontal size and vertical position. The Full mode can be made to match the pixel counts of 1080i and 1080p sources, without introducing overscan, if you select the HD Size 2 option from the Advanced menu (in THX mode this option is called "THX" and you can't disengage it). We recommend using this setting unless you notice interference along the extreme edges of the screen, which can occur on some channels or sources.
Panasonic also offers ways to avoid temporary image retention, aka burn-in, and address it should it occur. A pixel orbiter slowly shifts the image around the screen, and you can elect to have it happen either automatically or in user-set periodic intervals. You can chose bright or dark gray bars alongside 4:3 programs. And if you do see some burn-in, chances are the scrolling-bar function, which sweeps a white bar across a black screen, will clear it up after while. We appreciated that the VieraCast menu went into screensaver mode after a few minutes of inactivity.
Panasonic touts the G10 series' power-saving chops, thanks to its so-called NEO PDP panel. But in reality, this is still one of the more energy-hogging TVs you can buy (see Power consumption). The set's ECO menu allows only automatic turn-off functions; it doesn't offer a specific power saving mode that affects power draw when the TV's turned on.