Last Updated: June 25, 2013
2009 Panasonic Plasma HDTV Sets - Part 2
Entry-level Panasonic 720p Plasma HDTVs
Panasonic X1 Series... covering also X14 and C1 Series
Affordability, solid black-level performance, and adequate connectivity characterize the new Panasonic Viera 720 Plasma TVs for 2009.
These Panasonic plasma HDTVs are among the cheapest plasma TVs presently available on the market - something which should help Panasonic reach a much wider consumer market. Their inexpensive price tag does not imply that they lack somehow when it comes to overall performance. Admittedly, these HDTVs are not perfect - in particular, they suffer from a slight color inaccuracy - this apart from a rather skimpy set of user-adjustable picture controls.
But they do deliver solid picture performance - partly thanks to their very deep blacks. More in this Panasonic Plasma TV review article.
Editor's Note - Feb. 5, 2010: According to a thread on the AVS Forum site, some Panasonic plasma HDTV owners have experienced a sudden unexplained lowering in the black level performance of their Panasonic plasma TVs. Click here for more information.
Panasonic VIERA 55-inch TC-P55ST60
...first HDTV to ever gain a 5-Star rating
in a Cnet review!
If the ST50 from 2012 did prove to be the HDTV to deliver the best value for your money, this new 2013 TV from Panasonic is even better - delivering a picture you would generally expect from a more expensive flagship model. Though its 3D picture is not among the best, the ST60 is capable of amazing picture quality at a price that is well within reach of the average budget.
Panasonic Viera 720p Entry-level HDTVs: TC-PX1, TC-PX14, and TC-PC1 Series
The cheapest plasma TVs from a top-brand...
For 2009, Panasonic has come up with three 720p entry-level series against the only PX80U 720p HDTVs we have seen for 2008.
These are the X1, X14, and the C1. Each of these entry-level series covers two screen sizes, a 42-inch and a 50-inch. The most popular within this entry-level lineup is the X1 series with its 50" TC-P50X1 and 42" TC-P42X1. This rather extended range of 720p HDTVs may appear strange especially when the plasma TV market is shrinking. However, the X14 and the C1 series are just variations of the more expensive X1 series.
This in view that X14 and C1 Panasonic plasma HDTVs come with a somewhat reduced feature set. In particular, you get two HDMI inputs against the three found on the X1, though the X14 would then add a VGA-style analog PC input - something which is missing on both X1 and C1 HDTVs. The X14 and the C1 also come with a slightly reduced contrast ratio. This also explains why the C1 comes with the cheapest price-tag from the trio, with a difference in MSRP of around $100 between corresponding X1 and C1 HDTVs. Despite being entry-level plasmas, these Panasonic plasma HDTVs still represent an interesting inexpensive option for home entertainment applications.
All three 720p Panasonic plasma HDTV series come with a rather very similar minimalistic look and feel that takes an all black glossy finish.
Panasonic adds a subtle but effective slim strip of silver along the bottom of the frame on the X1 and X14 series.
As with 2008 Panasonic plasma HDTVs, this year entry-level 720p Panasonic Viera TVs come with a similar wedge-shaped pedestal stand that does not swivel.
All front controls and inputs are on the sides completely hidden from front view. Similarly, these sets come with down-firing speakers positioned along the bottom and completely hidden away from the front. This is becoming typical on most HDTVs as it helps render for a more compact design. Unfortunately, we find that positioning speakers facing downwards does not really help with the TV sound.
The user menu is a remnant from that found on 2008 Panasonic plasma HDTVs though there are a few differences for 2009. It has retained almost the same navigation structure except that now you find a number of icons and a new Viera Tools menu that make it easier to select what you want. It is relatively easy to navigate though it does not include on-screen help as instead is the case with the latest Samsung LCDs we have recently reviewed on our site.
Directly associated with the menu is the set remote. This is again very similar to that provided with 2008 Panasonic Viera plasma HDTVs. The main difference is the provisioning of three additional keys labeled Viera Link, Viera Tools already referred to above, and SD Card, all positioned around the central cursor control. The Panasonic remote does not include illuminated buttons but most buttons are relatively large and differently shaped for ease of identification when used in a darkened environment.
Thanks to Panasonic Viera Link feature, the set remote control can also be used to control other compatible HDMI devices with HDMI-CEC support connected to Panasonic plasma HDTVs.
All three series of Panasonic plasma HDTVs come with a G12 Standard plasma display panel supporting a resolution of 1024 x 768 pixels for the 42-inch and 1366 x 768 pixels for the 50-inch sets, and 4096 shades of gradations. Do not be misled by the lower resolution. The human eye is not able to perceive any difference in picture detail with normal program content at the screen sizes involved between 720p and 1080p screens for the same input from normal viewing distances.
As indicated in the first part of this series of articles, all 2009 Panasonic panels are built to resist shock. They also come with plasma panels capable of a brighter picture, have a rated lifetime of 100,000hrs, and employ a new anti-reflective coating that can do a very good job under bright lighting.
Despite the specs sheets published by Panasonic indicate that all three series use the same G12 panel, yet there are a few differences between these series when it comes to rated contrast ratio. While the X1 series come with a 30,000:1 static contrast and 2,000,000:1 dynamic contrast ratings, the other two series support 15,000:1 static contrast rating. X14 HDTVs also come with 1,000,000:1 dynamic contrast instead of the 2,000,000:1 found on the other series. This lower contrast ratio rating for the X14 brings this series more in line with the 720p PX80U series Panasonic released for 2008 than with the rest of the 2009 lineup.
Worth mentioning that despite the 'lower' 1,000,000:1 dynamic contrast rating of X14 Panasonic plasma HDTVs, the contrast ratings involved here are too high for the human eye to perceive any difference in contrast performance between these series. In other words, do not let these large numbers impress you! This is more of a number game originally started by Samsung a couple of years back. Contrast alone does not make the picture. We are not saying that an improved contrast ratio does not make a difference, but... More on contrast ratio ratings can be found in our article: 'The Contrast Ratio Game - Playing with Numbers!
As one may expect, these 720p entry-level Panasonic plasma HDTVs come with a rather reduced feature set. You would not get a USB port or picture-in-picture; the latter is not even available on any of the more expensive 2009 Panasonic plasma HDTVs.
These sets come with a rather reduced set of user-picture controls, in comparison to similar entry-level sets from Samsung and LG. However, all basic picture controls - Contrast, Brightness, Color, Tint, and Sharpness - are there.
There are also four picture modes - Vivid, Standard, Cinema, and Custom - that are all user adjustable. In addition, the 'Custom' picture mode enables you to adjust the settings independent per input.
In the case of the X1 series, there is also a fifth mode, termed Game mode, which according to Panasonic should help deliver quicker image response while also producing darker images more clearly. Selecting the game mode will also automatically select that input which has been labeled 'Game' in the input naming menu. However unlike other TV makers, the Panasonic games mode as implemented on these plasma HDTVs is just another picture mode; it does not eliminate any video processing to help minimize delays between the player and the action on the screen.
Apart from the above, there are three color temperature presets - Normal, Warm, and Cool, with the warm settings being the one closest to the D65 standard. These sets include five aspect ratio or Format settings for SD and HD content - including a zoom mode that allows the user to adjust both the horizontal and vertical position of the displayed part of the image.
As for advanced settings, all three series come with a C.A.T.S. function, or contrast automatic tracking system function. This senses ambient light and optimizes the contrast by adjusting the brightness and gradation on the fly to better match the ambient light level. Video and MPEG noise reduction settings can be set to either on or off, while a black level setting - light or dark - is provided for use when viewing content carried over the HDMI inputs.
You would not get neither gamma adjustment nor color management support. However, these Panasonic plasma HDTVs include a 3D color management function - which use a three-dimensional color matrix to optimize hue, saturation, and brightness, and Panasonic Sub-Pixel control originally featured on 2008 Panasonic Viera HDTVs.
- Sub-Pixel Control -
The latter is said to help improve picture clarity by eliminating jagged or blurred diagonal lines through contour correction at the dot level, i.e. by processing the red, green, and blue color sub-pixels separate rather than together, for a clear, more natural-looking image.
All Panasonic plasma HDTV series also come with 600Hz sub-field drive for improved motion resolution supporting up to 720 lines - which is the full supported resolution by the 720p HD standard. This should help render sharper images when displaying fast action content.
One should note that here, we could identify a few inconsistencies in the published specs by Panasonic for its entry-level 720p series and in particular with respect to the X14 series. At one point, the specs refer to a 480Hz sub-field drive - this apart from a 900 line resolution for a 720p HDTV!
But apart that no 720p HDTV can support 900 lines of motion resolution, the issue with 480Hz or 600Hz is to a certain extent irrelevant; the difference is one that is impossible to discern with the unaided eye. In other words, like the mega contrast ratings, these 'big' numbers are mainly there to help sell the product rather than to help you experience a significant difference in product performance.
Panasonic seems extremely mindful about avoidance of temporary burn-in, or as the company calls it, 'image retention' even though such occurrence with today's plasma display panels under normal viewing is no longer an issue. But in any case, in the remote instance that such a need arise, you get a full menu that deals with burn-in in a similar manner to what you get with more expensive plasma HDTVs. There's a pixel orbiter that moves the entire image gradually around the screen, along with an option to set the 4:3 mode to include gray instead of black bars on either side of the picture. Gray has less chance of causing image retention. In the remote chance of a retained image, there is also a scrolling bar feature that sweeps a white bar across a black screen to help erase the retained image.
Connectivity is among the most comprehensive for these relatively cheap plasma TVs, with two component video inputs, two composite video inputs, and multiple HDMI ver. 1.3 complete with Deep Color (x.v.Color) support and CEC via Panasonic Viera Link.
As indicated earlier on, the X1 series gets three HDMI inputs with one positioned on the side panel; the other two series just do not get the HDMI connection on the side.
There is no dedicated VGA-type PC input on both the X1 and the C1 series though you would still be able to connect your PC - should you desire so - via one of the HDMI inputs. Unfortunately, the 3 percent overscan present means that these sets are not ideal for computer use as part of your desktop may end up truncated. Furthermore, the lower resolution of 720p sets does not help with on-screen computer generated text - with small text often rendered not as sharp as one would like it to be for easy viewing.
Similarly, you would not get analog audio out on the X1 and the C1 - something which is available on the X14 series of Panasonic plasma HDTVs - though you would still get a digital audio out on all three series. Instead, you get an SD memory card slot as standard to view JPG files on your big screen plasma HDTV thanks to Panasonic Viera Image Viewer.
Audio output is 20W total power over the two down-firing speakers; there is no virtual surround sound but these 720p Panasonic plasma HDTVs will still output surround sound over the set digital audio output connection.
Energy Star: These Panasonic plasma HDTVs are all Energy Star compliant when engaging the Standard picture mode. But as with most TV makers, the default standard picture mode is too dim for viewing under normal ambient lighting; this is being done by TV makers to ensure that their HDTVs qualify for Energy Star 3.0.
Summary of the main specifications for 720p Panasonic Plasma HDTVs:
|2009 Series||X1 Series||X14||C1|
Glossy black body with a 'wedge-type pedestal stand; stand does not support swivel action; a silver accent differentiates the X1 and the X14 from the C1 series.
|Power (default) for 50" HDTV sets||
G12 standard PDP
720p 42-inch: 1024 x 768 pixels
720p 50-inch: 1366 x 768 pixels
|Shades of Gradation||4096 levels|
|Moving Resolution||720 lines|
|Screen Coating||New Anti-Reflecting Filter|
Three HDMI 1.3 compliant inputs (1 side), with CEC support via Viera Link and x.v.Color compatible;
|Two HDMI 1.3 compliant inputs with CEC support via Viera Link and x.v.Color compatible;||Two HDMI 1.3 compliant inputs with CEC support via Viera Link and x.v.Color compatible;|
2 component video, composite video, S-video, digital audio out
2 component video, composite video, S-video, digital and analog audio out, PC input,
|2 component video, composite video, S-video, digital audio out|
Not included: USB, PC input, audio analog o/p
|Not included: USB||Not included: USB, PC input, audio analog o/p|
|SD Memory Card||Yes for playback of JPEG files using Viera Image Viewer|
|Other Main Features||
Viera Image Viewer
600Hz Sub-field Drive
Viera Image Viewer
600Hz Sub-field Drive
Viera Image Viewer
600Hz Sub-field Drive
|Anti-Burn In Support||Yes - pixel orbiter|
|Audio||Power: 10W x 2 channels at 10% THD; 2 down-firing speakers|
|Surround Sound: Yes|
|Virtual Surround: No|
|MSRP||42-inch: $800||42-inch: N/A||42-inch: $700|
|50-inch: $1,100||50-inch: N/A||50-inch: $1,000|
|Best Selling Price at amazon for 50" sets||$840||N/A||$840|
|Models in the series||
Note: Performance issues discussed hereunder relate to the X1 series. However, we expect X14 and C1 Panasonic plasma HDTVs to perform in a similar manner as these share very similar picture related specs to the X1 series HDTVs. The differences in the rated contrast ratios between these series is not enough to bring about a perceived difference in performance - except in side-by-side comparisons.
If there is one characteristic that pops out of the rest within this year line-up of Panasonic plasma HDTVs is their deep shade of black. This is something that emerges in all expert reviews conducted on 2009 Panasonic plasma HDTVs and including the Panasonic 720p HDTV under review in this article. As expected, more expensive plasmas within the Panasonic lineup such as the THX-certified G10 series HDTVs deliver a deeper shade of black. But the deep level of black found on Panasonic entry-level HDTVs by far exceeds that found on most plasmas and significantly more expensive LCDs.
Definitely, a picture is more than just deep black levels but a display capable of a deep shade of black helps render dark scenes better while making colors look richer and more saturated under all lighting conditions.
Directly related to a set's ability to display deep black levels is the rendering of shadow detail especially during predominantly dark content. In this respect, Panasonic X1 HDTVs are capable of handling subtle detail even in predominantly dark content; most HDTVs fail here.
The area where these 720p Panasonic plasma HDTVs fall short of the ideal standard is in color accuracy. Color tests conducted by Cnet in their Panasonic TC-P50X1 review show inaccurate primary colors of green and red - apart from a slight red push in the video processing. Unfortunately, due to the lack of user-adjustable picture settings, there is not much one can do here.
In a similar manner, grayscale tends to exhibit a sort of bluish tint. This can be partly corrected by reducing the color control. However, overall grayscale remains consistent - including in dark areas.
Video processing is good to average, correctly de-interlacing 1080i video-based content but as with most HDTVs, unable to de-interlace 1080i film-based content correctly. This is not much of an issue if your HDTV source can be set to output content directly in 720p.
On the other hand, handling of standard definition material from a DVD source is relatively poor - with a lot of jaggies along the edges of diagonal lines.
Noise reduction on X1 Panasonic plasma HDTVs is quite good - with both the Video NR and the MPEG NR settings being effective in removing noise from low quality shots without too much softening of the image.
Glare: Panasonic new AR (anti-reflective) coating can do a good job in minimizing reflections off the screen even under a brightly lit environment. Darker parts of the image on these Panasonic plasma HDTVs however tend to wash out somehow when bright lighting shines direct on the screen. Samsung's new Ultra FilterBright anti-reflective coating does better here but then fails when it comes to attenuating reflections.
Power consumption is typical of 720p plasma HDTVs; in their review, Cnet quotes 218W in default standard mode for the 50-inch TC-P50X1 Panasonic plasma HDTV. This represents some 20% less power consumption than that of the corresponding entry-level 50-inch S1 1080p Panasonic plasma HDTV, and over 40% less power than a similar size 1080p HDTV using a standard plasma display panel. The reason for this increase in power with 1080p HDTVs is that power requirement in plasma displays increases with an increase in display resolution, or pixel count.
These sets do not come with a dedicated 'energy saver' mode as found on most of the competition. They include however a couple of power-saving options and also qualify for Energy Star 3.0 when engaging the standard picture mode with default settings. But as with most Energy Star 3.0 complaint HDTVs, the display is too dim for use under normal lighting in default standard picture mode.
These 720p Panasonic plasma HDTVs are relatively inexpensive with an online price that hovers between $850 for the 50-inch TC-P50X1 and $600 for the smaller 42-inch model within the same series. Definitely, at this price bracket, sets such as the 50-inch TC-P50X1 Panasonic plasma HDTV represent an excellent cheap plasma TV option with adequate connectivity for those HDTV buyers looking for the best overall performance to price deal.
Overall... These sets are capable of solid black levels and good shadow detail. The inaccurate greens and slight inaccurate reds represent the X1 weakest spot, but as most customers would tell you, these Panasonic HDTVs are still capable of an excellent picture that pops out with lots of depth and well saturated colors. And this... at a price that is a pittance for a big-screen plasma TV from a top brand!
Next: Entry-level 1080p Series: S1, S14, and U1 Panasonic plasma HDTVs
Note: All prices quoted in this 2009 Panasonic Plasma HDTV Guide were correct at the time of this write-up. Prices of HDTVs change continuously; we therefore advise to check the respective amazon links for the latest price updates and online offers.