Panasonic TC-P50G25 Plasma HDTV Reviewed

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Panasonic-tc-p50g25-plasma-reviewed.gifWith all the attention being paid to Panasonic's first 3D-capable TVs (the VT25/VT20 Series), it's easy to overlook the fact that the company has also released a complete suite of 2D models. At the top of the company's 2D lineup sits the G25 Series, which includes four models with screen sizes of 42, 46, 50 and 54 inches. (The G25 Series is virtually identical to the G20 Series, sold exclusively through Best Buy.) The 50-inch TC-P50G25 is a THX-certified, 1080p plasma TV: It features Panasonic's 600Hz Sub-field Drive to improve motion resolution, as well as the new Infinite Black Panel that rejects ambient light and improves black-level performance. Panasonic's VIERA CAST Web platform is available, and you can connect to the network via Ethernet or an optional USB WiFi adapter ($99.95). As with last year's incarnation, VIERA CAST provides access to Amazon VOD, YouTube, Picasa and news/weather information; this year, the service adds Pandora, Twitter, Skype (with the addition of an optional Web camera, $169.95) and (soon) Netflix. This model does not support DLNA media streaming, but an SD card slot and dual USB ports allow for quick, easy playback of music, photo and even HD video files. The TC-P50G25 is EnergyStar 4.0-certified and has an MSRP of $1,499.95

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Setup and Features
Panasonic hasn't quite kept up with the Joneses in the area of cabinet design. It's not that the TC-P50G25's gloss-black cabinet and rounded, swiveling base are unattractive they're just not as visually distinctive as you'll find elsewhere. With last year's high-end Z1 Series, Panasonic demonstrated that you could offer a super-slim plasma TV, but that design has yet to find its way into other lines. The TC-P50G25 measures 3.5 inches deep and weighs 57.3 pounds without the stand. The remote sports the same basic Panasonic look we've seen for years, but it now includes backlighting for key functions. The layout is generally intuitive.

Four HDMI inputs have become the norm in higher-end lines, but the TC-P50G25 offers just three. However, while other TV manufacturers have moved to a single component video input, Panasonic continues to offer two CV inputs, which is helpful to owners of legacy equipment. The back panel also includes a PC input and one RF input to access the internal ATSC and Clear-QAM tuners. One HDMI input is located on the side panel, where you will also find the SD card slot and dual USB ports that support the addition of the optional WiFi adapter, Web camera, and/or external keyboard. The Ethernet port for VIERA CAST is located around back.

The TC-P50G25 doesn't have quite as many advanced picture controls as you'll find in competing models, but it has more options than we've seen in previous high-end Panasonic panels. As with all THX-certified displays, this one includes a THX picture mode that should (and does) offer the most accurate, natural-looking image out of the box. Unlike LG's new THX-certified TVs, the TC-P50G25 does not have two THX modes--one for cinema and one for a brighter room. It has just the one THX mode, but you do have the ability to fine-tune the image quality in this mode--something LG doesn't let you do. In addition to basic adjustments for color, tint, contrast, brightness and sharpness, the picture setup menu includes five color-temperature presets, a C.A.T.S. function that tailors the TV's picture quality based on the room's ambient light, several forms of noise reduction, a blur reduction function and more. Blur reduction enables Panasonic's 600Hz Sub-field Drive, which creates extra sub-fields to improve motion resolution. The menu also allows you to designate a frame rate for 24p Blu-ray film content: 48Hz or 60Hz.

What you can't do in the THX mode is access the Pro menu that offers advanced controls like white balance (high/low red and blue only), gamma (six presets), black extension, contour emphasis and panel brightness. That's right, this plasma includes something akin to an adjustable backlight, with low, mid and high brightness options. These controls are only accessible in the Custom picture mode. Absent from the basic or pro setup menu is an advanced color-management system that allows you to individually fine-tune each of the six color points, although I'd soon discover that this wasn't a control I really needed.

The TC-P50G25 has five aspect-ratio options: 4:3, Zoom, Full, H-Fill, and Just. The menu includes two HD Size options: Size 1 shows 95 percent of the image, while Size 2 is pixel for pixel for 1080i/1080p content. In last year's THX models, the THX mode was locked in pixel-for-pixel mode, which is fine for Blu-ray but isn't always desirable with broadcast TV, where noise might be visible around the edges. Thankfully, Panasonic has unlocked it in this year's models, so you can adjust the THX mode's screen area just as you can the other picture modes.

On the audio side, the TC-P50G25 includes bass, treble and balance controls, as well as an advanced menu that includes a basic surround mode, a bass boost function, and A.I. sound and volume leveler functions to help minimize volume discrepancies across channels and inputs. This TV does not include an advanced volume-leveling mode from a company like Dolby or SRS.

In the general setup menu, you'll find Network setup options (which include the ability to perform firmware updates), as well as Anti Image Retention options: a pixel orbiter that periodically shifts the image, a scrolling bar to help counteract any image retention that may occur and the ability to adjust the color of 4:3 sidebars. The Eco menu only includes the ability to turn off the TV if it has received no signal or shown no activity for a designated time period.

The remote's VIERA CAST button launches Panasonic's Web platform, which offers a clean, easy-to-navigate interface. The source you're currently watching continues to play in the center of the screen, surrounded by VIERA CAST options like Pandora, Amazon VOD, Skype, etc. This year's design allows you to customize the interface, rearranging the various options or deleting them from view. Panasonic previously announced that Netflix's streaming video-on-demand service would be added in July; as I conclude this review on August 2nd, Netflix was still not available through the most recent firmware update (v2.050).

As I like to do with every THX-certified display I review, I began by simply switching the TC-P50G25 to the THX picture mode and making no further adjustments. In this particular case, a houseguest arrived just as I was beginning my review, so I wound up leaving the Panasonic un-calibrated, in the THX mode, for two weeks. During that time, we watched a lot of TV, as well as two movies--Terminator: Salvation on Blu-ray (Warner Home Entertainment) and Shutter Island on DVD (Paramount Home Video). Perhaps the highest compliment I can pay this Panasonic TV is that I was able to simply sit back and enjoy its performance with everything I watched, not once being distracted by any obvious performance issue. Both of those films are visually dense, with a lot of dark, complexly lit scenes that would easily reveal flaws in lesser performers. However, the TC-P50G25 handled them extremely well, serving up good blacks, rich contrast, excellent black detail, and natural color. The TC-P50G25 allowed me to turn off my video-reviewer mode and just get lost in the movie experience, and that's exactly what you want in a TV.

Of course, I couldn't very well leave my video-reviewer mode turned off for long. As soon as my houseguest left, it was time to bust out my standard arsenal of test discs and dig deeper into the TC-P50G25's abilities.

Continue reading about the TC-P50G25's performance on Page 2.

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