Panasonic TX-P42S30B Plasma TV Review

Note: Our Panasonic TX-P42S30 review sample was calibrated using Calman Professional, the industry-leading video calibration software.

There’s no calibration controls – and it’s a budget model, meaning that it’s arguably less likely to get given the calibration treatment than a high-end HDTV would, anyway. These two facts mean that the out-of-the-box picture performance of the Panasonic TX-P42S30B is very important. We were happy with the image quality presented by the [True Cinema] picture mode already, so we ran some measurements to get the hard data on how well it was producing accurate grey shades.

Greyscale

Pre-calibration RGB Tracking
Pre-calibration RGB tracking and delta errors (dEs)

Our TX-P42S30 review sample presented images that were slightly too blue, an inaccuracy which we find much easier to ignore than images that are too red (like a budget Samsung LCD we reviewed lately) or too green (like a lot of other Panasonic plasma HDTVs we’ve measured). For a preset mode on a budget display, this is pretty good going (we can hardly expect a £450 Plasma display to be individually calibrated at the factory). For the majority of S30s out there, this will be the end of the story, and the performance is definitely satisfactory.

Post-calibration RGB Tracking in [True Cinema] mode
Post-calibration RGB tracking and dEs in [True Cinema] mode

It doesn’t officially feature any calibration controls, but professional calibrators have been fine-tuning the Greyscale performance of many an HDTV before user-accessible controls were the norm. The hidden engineer’s menu offers Greyscale tracking adjustments, which we made use of to see just how far this budget television could be pushed. The answer is: very far. Other than slight “running out” of blue at 90% brightness, the tracking was fairly linear, being neutrally coloured from the brightest to the darkest shades in the image. It’s a shame, but not a deal-breaker, that Panasonic hasn’t built this option into the standard TV menu.

Gamma curve in [True Cinema] mode Gamma tracking in [True Cinema] mode
Gamma curve in [True Cinema] mode Corresponding gamma tracking

Gamma – the amount of light output by the screen relative to the input video signal – has been a little unpredictable even on Panasonic’s more expensive Plasma TVs. Good Gamma tracking subtly (or sometimes, not so subtly) improves the depth and realism of on-screen images.

Last year’s S20 PDP featured Gamma tracking that was a little low, or put another way, its images erred slightly towards the “less punchy” end of the scale. The S30 tracks much closer to the “general purpose” gamma setting of 2.2, meaning that under the best viewing conditions, it should produce a fairly rich image. As with the rest of the 2011 Panasonic PDP lineup, the small dip downwards in the “Gamma Y” chart at the 10% stimulus position indicates that it has the tendency to over-brighten shadow details… at least with the test patterns we used to measure it. We didn’t feel this was particularly obvious when we watched dark content on the plasma. All in all, this isn’t a bad result, and is an improvement on the S-Series last year.

Colour

There’s no Colour Management menu to be found on the Panasonic TX-P42S30B, so we crossed our fingers and hoped that the hard-coded, unmodifiable colour gamut presented by the “True Cinema” mode would do the job. It was certainly looking great by eye, so we put it to science:

Post-calibration CIE chart in [True Cinema] mode
Post-calibration CIE chart with reference to HD Rec.709

At this price point, we can’t imagine many complaints about the highly accurate, lifelike colour presented by the TX-P42S30. Red is just a little bit pushed towards orange, being a tiny bit less saturated than would be ideal, but we found it hard to spot the inaccuracy, even in a side-by-side comparison with a fully accurate HDTV. All in all, an excellent result.

Post-calibration Luminance levels in [True Cinema] mode
Post-calibration colour luminance (coloured bars = targets; black bars = measured values)

The all-important colour luminance levels were also highly accurate, with a barely-visible darkening of green and cyan being the only sticking points.

One thing to note here is that we initially used windowed colour test patterns to measure this attribute, and our calibration software reported that luminance levels were too high across the board. When we reduced the [Colour] control in order to satisfy it, we immediately saw that real-world footage looked very dull. We then re-calibrated using the APL (Average Picture Level) test patterns from the AVSHD calibration disc, which place all of the colours on screen simultaneously (rather than surrounding a small test patch with a large black border), to better approximate the characteristics of real-world video content. Under these circumstances, the default [Colour] setting measured as being the most accurate. This is just another example of how the behaviour of these Plasma televisions can be unpredictable. We’d speculate that the discrepancy is the result of the driving algorithms Panasonic are using to optimise black level, which are probably being triggered by the large amount of black which surrounds the measuring patch in the windowed test patterns. The workings of a Plasma TV are somewhat complex, and much of the driving algorithms – the “secret sauce” that gives each manufacturer’s Plasmas their performance differences – are kept confidential, meaning that we’re kept in the dark as to why they behave in a certain way. As a result, we can only make educated guesses based on the observed behaviour of the TV.

Benchmark Test Results

Dead pixels None
Screen uniformity Perfect
Overscanning on HDMI 0% with [16:9 Overscan] disabled
Blacker than black Passed
Calibrated black level (black screen) 0.02 cd/m2
Calibrated black level (ANSI checkerboard) 0.02 cd/m2
Black level retention No brightness fluctuation noted
Primary chromaticity Excellent
Scaling Excellent
Video mode deinterlacing Effective jaggies reduction
Film mode deinterlacing Erratic, sometimes passed PAL 2-2 test
Viewing angle Perfect (Plasma)
Motion resolution 1080 lines out of 1080
Digital noise reduction Optional
Sharpness Optional edge sharpening
Luma/Chroma bandwidth (2D Blu-ray) Perfect
1080p/24 capability Perfect, no judder
Input lag Only 16ms compared to lag-free CRT!
Full 4:4:4 reproduction (PC) No

Power Consumption

[Normal] mode 108 watts
Calibrated [True Cinema] mode 124 watts
Standby 1 watt

Note: Measurements taken with full 50% grey screen.

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