Last Updated: June 25, 2013
2009 Panasonic Plasma HDTVs
and Black Level Performance Issues
Are Panasonic having a problem with their deep blacks?
When the first 2009 Panasonic plasma TVs came out on the market, many were impressed by their deep blacks. With the Pioneer Kuro brand extinct, reviewers soon proclaimed Panasonic as the new king for its deep black levels.
It is not that Samsung - Panasonic major HDTV competitor in plasma HDTV sales, and LG were not up to standard. In particular Samsung plasmas did prove to be capable of exceptional picture quality with a color accuracy that no other TV maker managed to achieve. Yet deep blacks turned out to be an area where Panasonic was definitively the supreme king. But for how long?
Recently some started complaining that the blacks on their Panasonic plasma TVs were unexpectedly turning into a lighter shade of black. Are Panasonic deep blacks really long term, or these would eventually turn into gray?
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 model from Panasonic turned out to be even better - delivering a picture you would generally expect from a more expensive flagship model.
Its 3D picture is not among the best, yet the ST60 is capable of amazing picture quality at a price that is well within reach of the average budget.
Panasonic's Deep Black Levels: Is there a serious problem?
We have recently been following a thread on the popular AVS forum site which seems to indicate that with some Panasonic plasmas, the much renowned deep blacks were in effect becoming a lighter shade of black. Is Panasonic falling off the throne in this respect?
The correspondents on the AVS site complained of a problem on their new 2009 plasma TVs that relates to a sudden unexplained lowering in their plasma black levels after a certain period of use. A few submissions also refer to 2008 plasma TVs. According to one correspondent who managed to get insider information from Panasonic, the problem seems related to software that periodically adjusts the pixel voltage levels to ensure pixels do not misfire. Panasonic is aware of the thread on the AVS forum site but did fail short of making any specific statements.
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We are not in a position to confirm or otherwise the reports appearing on the AVS site, especially when the whole issue seems to have been reported only by members of the said forum. It is not that we doubt the correspondents on the site, but one has to keep in mind that sites like AVS Forum where submissions can be anonymous, anyone can be making these claims. In addition, not everyone has the necessary knowledge to correctly report a technical matter least imagine to correctly interpreting technical problems. And even if the issue were as reported on the AVS forum site, one still has to see the percentage of Panasonic plasma TVs affected by this problem to determine if this is a market-wide issue or just affecting only a few unlucky Panasonic plasma TV owners.
But on February 3, Panasonic e-mailed a statement to Cnet saying among others that... In order to achieve the optimal picture performance throughout the life of the set, Panasonic plasma HDTVs incorporate an automatic control which adjusts an internal driving voltage at predetermined intervals of operational hours.
The goal of these voltage variations is to preserve the phosphors for as long as possible, thereby prolonging the plasma display panel usable life. But the problem here is that as a result of this adjustment, display background brightness will increase and according to Panasonic, this will continue till the materials inside the display will stabilize. According to Cent, Panasonic further added that the newest plasmas incorporate a more refined voltage adjustment for a more gradual change in the black levels over time.
So as correctly pointed out by some correspondents on the AVS site, the black levels on these plasma TVs do actually get lighter after a predetermined period of use. And this seems the way 2008 and 2009 Panasonic plasma TVs are designed to operate!
However this whole matter now brings us to a serious issue
Apart from the fact that these type of statements should be made available to the whole press and not just Cnet, we say that incomplete information - as is the case with this Panasonic statement - is worst than nothing. Panasonic does not specify how long does it take for the materials inside the display to stabilize, nor when the voltage change takes place. And are the newest plasma referred to in the statement the 2010 Panasonic plasma TVs?
Worst still is that Panasonic's statement 'per se' does not represent a complete admission to the problem. In fact, Panasonic is not promising some firmware update to hopeful resolve the issue and adjust the voltage levels in more tiny increments as apparently will be the case with the 'newest' 2010 Panasonic plasma TVs.
Rather, Panasonic is saying that this is the way its plasmas are designed to operator! Is Panasonic playing some funny game when it comes to black level performance - designing plasmas capable of exceptional black levels during initial use, to get a sales advantage? Isn't this cheating, knowing that these same Panasonic plasmas are not capable of maintaining their exceptional deep blacks over time?
This is definitely not the type of customer support one would expect from a major TV brand like Panasonic. At least, this is not the type of consumer support I would expect from a brand I have invested my hard-earned cash in its products. The least thing a company can do is to inform its customers about known product performance facts and issues.
Unfortunately, this type of manufactures' approach is becoming even more common with major consumer brands. Case in point are the problems reported by a number of consumers on the consumeraffairs.com website about their Samsung TVs taking longer to start, due to what appears to be problems with the power supply. And in as much as you find consumers complaining about Panasonic and Samsung, you find others complaining about other major brands as well like Sony, Sharp, and the like.
OK, as stated earlier on, one cannot say to what extent problems reported by consumers in online media represent a true and exact picture about a product performance over time. But the fact that consumers were so unhappy about the customer support they got from their trusted brand that they resorted to reporting the matter online for all to see, should in my opinion compel major brands to re-think about the type of consumer support they are offering.
Professional Product Reviews and Product Long-Term Performance
In the light of such problems that cropped up on some Panasonic plasma TVs only after a period of use, one may very well ask to what extent product reviews published by major sites, should be taken to serve as a correct indication of the product real performance?
One should differentiate here between product reviews published by major review sites like Cnet, HDguru, Home Theater Magazine, Sound and Vision, and the like, and long-term evaluation of product performance. Why?
Most product reviews appearing on major professional review sites - and which we often use as reference to our product evaluations - typically take one to two weeks to complete. This means that product reviews should not be taken to constitute a long term evaluation of the product performance over time.
This means that while product reviews appearing on major sites and evaluations appearing on this site represent a true evaluation of the product performance at the time of the review, consumers should also be aware of the limitations associated with such reviews.
It is also for this reason that we constantly advise out readers to research what other consumers had to say about a product following their purchase. There is no better way to get a real understanding of a product performance over time and associated product limitations, than to see what other customers had to say about a product once put to everyday use.
Would you like to let us know what you think? Are you happy with your Panasonic plasma TV purchase? Will you still buy a Panasonic HDTV? And what do you think of the customer support offered by these major TV makers?
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What Others Have Said
Click below to read what others have said on this issue.
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