The hole that Pioneer left when it announced it was leaving television was significant — television reviewers and enthusiasts the world over wept openly in the streets, clawing and clinging to each other with fat-fingered hands and gnashing their red-wine teeth.
However, with Panasonic's new range of NEO plasmas the potential of the Kuro is almost — ALMOST — a distant memory. The V10 sits in the middle of the series and combines the price-friendliness of the G10-series with the slim styling of the Z1. We were mightily impressed with the G10, can it be that the Viera TH-P50V10A is even better?
There is a definite "Panasonic" look the company has given its televisions over the past couple of years. To some it may look a little dowdy, to others simply conservative. The V series is suitably dour with its black shell and splash of silver. Now, we don't think that what we're about to say is an important consideration when buying a TV but it feels good to touch. The TV is encompassed by a metal frame which is cool to the touch, and the tapered back of the TV is elegant and well constructed.
The panel may be two inches (50mm) at its thinnest point, but like the glass in ancient cathedral windows it's much thicker at the bottom. So, while Panasonic says it's a slim panel it's still 84mm thick — almost three times the thickness of the Samsung LED 8 series. Of course, thickness is redundant if you're not wall-mounting a television as you watch the front, and not the side, of the screen. The size of the stand has more of a bearing, then, and in this case it's one of the egg-shaped numbers the company has employed in the past.
What can we say about the remote? Not much, as it's virtually identical to the G10 one. Get a decent universal remote and chuck this one in a drawer.
The Panasonic Viera TH-P50V10A is a 50-inch plasma that features a full 1080p resolution and a high 40,000:1 native contrast ratio. Picture processing is one area that the V series focuses on and to this end it features a 1080-line motion resolution (which means no interlacing on movement) and a 600Hz sub-field drive (which means there's no lag from signal to display).
Other picture processing goodness comes in the form of Digital Cinema Colour which involves an additional colour filter on the face of the screen, but there's very little content at present that supports it. When it comes to picture presets, manufacturers such as LG and Pioneer have chosen to align themselves with industry body ISF, while Panasonic has chosen a more populist route in George Lucas' THX. It's a specialised mode which sets the "colour space" to better match the original DVD source, which is far fewer colours than the Digital Cinema Colour filter displays.
The Panasonic features a 100Hz mode, of course, and adds a new option called 24p Smooth Film — essentially a 100Hz mode tailored to Blu-ray playback.
Connectivity is good, and while it lacks the intraweb functions of the new Panasonic G15 plasmas it still offers a healthy four HDMI slots and an SD card reader.
The Panasonic TH-P50V10A is a classy television, and is able to show off a source in its light. We threw a number of different discs at the V10 and were presented with a cinema-level performance every time. The THX mode made it easier to get these sort of results, but calibrating the screen in "Cinema" mode proved to be a little problematic.
One issue we found was an apparent lack of depth in the blacks, and we needed to adjust brightness levels several time. Firing up the Brontosaurus Stampede from the King Kong DVD for the first time, we found that the picture was blown out. But with a little adjusting the blacks were reined in, and looked a lot more natural. This panel seems more susceptible to ambient light than the G series and there is a lot of difference between viewing in a dark room and in a lit one. However, in a darkened room the screen featured blacks which make the pictures pop.
With King Kong, the TV was able to follow movement well, and there was a minimum of noise on the disc, though it perhaps didn't make the disc as squeaky clean as some other TVs can. However, we did find that the Viera had some issues with colour; there was some small colour instability and it seems it was unable to hold conto colour gradations as well as the G series. Overall though, it was a very good performance.
The results were equally impressive with our Mission Impossible III Blu-ray, and the Bridge scene cleaned up nicely, with very little judder and no moire on the railings on the aerial tracking shot at the start of the scene. Noise reduction performance was decent if not spectacular, but it also meant that detail levels were very high and images crisp.
We didn't think much of Intelligent Frame Creation, or its Blu-ray 24p Smooth Film variant, as we found the "smoothness" of the image came at the expense of additional haloing artefacts. To us, these more annoying than judder and so we turned them off again.
When it came to synthetic benchmarks, the V10 didn't fare so well. While the screen did well in reducing "mosquito" noise and getting rid of jaggies it failed the Film and Video "mode tests" which essentially evaluate how the screen copes with different sources. This surprised us, considering that the MI3 disc displayed very little judder. So, what does this mean in the real world? Not much, but you may still see a small amount of stuttering in HD discs, but it's relatively minor.
Where the Pana did disappoint was in the sound. While voices and music are carried incredibly well, it's in sound effects that the speakers fall down. For example, a bass-heavy scene like the above Brontosaurus Stampede flummoxed it by sounding compressed — the effect was more like someone blowing their nose rather than the panicked footfalls of 30-tonne dinosaurs. We found that the sound distorts at three-quarter volume which isn't even particularly loud.
Lastly, we hooked the Viera up to a games console and found that games looked great. The screen's fast response meant that there was no lag. The screen even comes with a Game mode to illuminate enemies hiding in shadows and disables laggy technologies like 100Hz. Of course, you may want to invest in some external speakers for fear of blowing the ones on the unit.
Having been mightily impressed with the TH-P46G10A we were expecting similarly impressive performance from this one, and yes we received it, but somehow we still feel a little let down. To us, an extra $500 for another HDMI port and a prettier shell isn't really worth it. In essence, the only reason we're marking the V10 down is because its baby brother is just as good, and palpably cheaper.