When the first round of THX-certified displays began to appear on the market from companies like Panasonic and LG, they demanded a price premium over other similarly-sized panels, which begged the question: is THX certification worth the extra money? Opinions were mixed. As Panasonic moves into its second generation of THX-certified plasmas, the company has rendered the question somewhat moot by offering more THX-certified models at lower price points. This year, three of Panasonic's lines will feature THX certification: the top-shelf Z1 Series (with a one-inch depth and wireless HD transmission), the step-down V10 Series (a two-inch depth), and the mid-line G10 Series reviewed here.
The G10 Series includes four models, sized from 42 to 54 inches. The TC-P46G10 is a 46-inch, 1080p panel with an MSRP of $1,700. This TV may not have the super-slim profile or wireless HD options found in the more expensive lines, but it still boasts an impressive array of performance specs and features for the price - beginning with Panasonic's VIERA CAST• Web platform, which allows you to stream Amazon video-on-demand (including HD content) and access YouTube, Picasa Web albums, Bloomberg stock information and local weather forecasts. The G10 Series uses Panasonic's newest Neo PDP, which purportedly offers a better contrast ratio and motion resolution than previous-generation panels. Other noteworthy features include three HDMI inputs, a choice of 48Hz or 60Hz output for 24p film sources and an SD card slot for photo and AVCHD video playback.
The TC-P46G10's connection panel includes the full complement of HD-capable inputs: three HDMI, two component video and one PC/VGA. The HDMI inputs accept both 1080p/60 and 1080p/24. Panasonic has put the VGA and one HDMI input on the side panel, along with the SD card slot for photo/video playback. A single RF input provides access to the internal NTSC/ATSC/Clear-QAM tuners. The Ethernet port for VIERA CAST• is located around back; the TC-P46G10 does not have built-in wi-fi for connection to your network.
All THX-certified displays feature a THX picture mode in which adjustments like contrast, brightness, color, tint, color temperature, etc. are (supposedly) set to their optimal levels based on SMPTE standards. The consumer need only switch to the THX picture mode (which you'd think would be the default, but it isn't) and not have to worry about using a disc like Video Essentials (DVD International) to fine-tune the image quality. This holds true with the TC-P46G10's THX mode. It is without a doubt the best and most natural-looking of the available picture modes (which also include vivid, standard, custom and game modes; you can set different parameters per input for the custom mode, though not the other modes), but there was one setting that jumped out at me: the contrast is set to its maximum. This high setting doesn't crush whites; however, with plasma displays, we usually recommend that you turn down the contrast in order to prevent short-term image retention, especially during the initial usage period. THX obviously isn't as concerned about this and admittedly image retention has become less of a concern with each new plasma generation. Additionally, Panasonic includes a pixel orbiter that automatically and imperceptibly shifts the image to prevent uneven pixel wear. I therefore took THX's lead and left the contrast setting as is.
Panasonic does allow you to make changes to the THX mode, which is something LG didn't permit in its previous THX displays. However, there aren't many advanced picture adjustments at your disposal to dramatically alter the image; absent are the advanced white balance, gamma and individual color-management adjustments you'll find in higher-end displays - probably because Panasonic feels that the inclusion of an "accurate" THX mode renders these advanced options unnecessary in a mid-priced TV.
The TC-P46G10 has five aspect-ratio options: 4:3, Zoom, Full, H-Fill and Just. The menu includes two HD size options: size 1 adds a little overscan, while size 2 is pixel-for-pixel for 1080i/1080p content. In the THX mode, this menu item is locked at a "THX" setting, which is pixel-for-pixel for 1080i/1080p signals, so you can't add overscan to the image. The TV also includes an "H Size" function that allows you to slightly stretch the horizontal edges with 480i content. In addition to the aforementioned pixel orbiter, the "anti image retention" menu lets you dictate the brightness of 4:3 sidebars (from light gray to black) and offers a scrolling bar to help counteract any short-term image retention that may occur.
On the audio side, the TC-P46G10 includes the standard options we've seen in past Panasonic models, minus the BBE VIVA HD3D surround processing. You get bass, treble and balance controls, basic surround processing, and AI sound and volume leveler features. In general, the audio quality in this new TV was fuller and less tinny than I've heard from previous Panasonic TVs.
One last set-up note: thank you, Panasonic, for finally renaming the reset function. At the top of both the picture and audio menus, there used to be a selection called Normal, with yes or no options. Click yes, and all of your settings are reset to the defaults. Panasonic has finally changed this menu option to "Reset to Default" to avoid confusion.
With Blu-ray and HDTV content, I could find very little fault with the TC-P46G10's picture quality in the THX mode. It serves up a natural-looking image, with wonderfully neutral skin tones and colors that are rich without being artificial or cartoonish. If anything, the color may be a bit too subtle for consumers who have grown used to the overly vibrant colors they see in a lot of today's HDTVs. The overall level of detail is excellent, and the TV did a great job rendering fine shadow detail in darker scenes from Ghost Rider (Sony Pictures Home Entertainment) and The Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl (Buena Vista Home Entertainment). I was particularly impressed with the smooth facial contours and minimal digital noise in backgrounds and light-to-dark transitions.
Read more about the performance of the TC-P46G10 on Page 2.