With the Viera TX-P46G15, Panasonic continues its increasingly lonely crusade to prove that plasma remains the best technology for big TVs. Costing a pretty reasonable £1,050, it's a slender, 46-inch, 1080p TV complete with built-in freesat tuner and online functionality.
From the front, the TX-P46G15 looks decent enough. Panasonic's current TVs aren't exactly setting any style agendas, but the TX-P46G15 is glossy and excellently built. Its aesthetic appeal grows if you view it in profile. For a plasma TV, it's impressively slim -- a benefit of Panasonic's latest 'NeoPDP' plasma panels.
Stuffed with features
The G15 series sits only two rungs below the top of Panasonic's current TV ladder, behind the flagship Z1 models and the impressive V10 range. Consequently, it's unsurprising that the TX-P46G15 has plenty of features.
Its connections, for instance, include four HDMI ports, a PC socket, and a handy SD card slot that's able to play DivX, JPEG and AVCHD files. That's ideal for fans of digital video and photography.
The set also sports an Ethernet port for accessing Panasonic's decent Viera Cast online service (containing YouTube, Eurosport and Picasa portals), plus a built-in satellite connection, showing immediately that the TX-P46G15 is another Panasonic TV with a built-in freesat tuner. In fact, it's a freesat HD tuner, able to receive and show the high-definition offerings of the BBC and ITV.
Panasonic has thoughtfully included a Freeview tuner too, so you can mop up the few channels that Freeview shows and freesat doesn't. Decently presented electronic programme guides provide easy access to the myriad programme choices available.
In order to make pictures look as good as possible, the TX-P46G15 has a 1080p resolution, as well as Panasonic's latest contrast technologies, claimed to produce a dynamic contrast ratio of 2,000,000:1 or a native contrast ratio of 40,000:1. To put this in perspective, most LCD TVs struggle to achieve a native contrast ratio in excess of 2,000:1
Panasonic's 600Hz system heads up the list of picture-processing features. Note that the screen doesn't actually refresh 600 times a second. The 600Hz figure is obtained from the amount of extra sub-field frames that the TV inserts into the video stream as it works to slash plasma technology's usual problems with motion judder and flicker.
The TX-P46G15 also sports Panasonic's high-level Vreal Pro 4 video-processing engine. Comparing this set's specs to those of the Viera TX-P58V10, the only obvious absentees are Panasonic's Digital Cinema Colour mode (for a more movie-like colour range), a THX mode and, strangely, the 24p Smooth Film mode that kicks in on V10-series TVs when you watch a 24p Blu-ray flick. With the TX-P46G15, you get the same Intelligent Frame Creation option for 24p Blu-ray that you get with standard-definition video.
Stunning HD performance
While watching HD material, we didn't feel like we missed any of these picture features particularly badly. Colours don't look quite as natural as those of the TX-P58V10, with fractionally more orange skin tones and slightly less pitch-perfect greens. Nor does motion look as fluid with 24p Blu-rays as it does on the V10 models.
But none of this stops the TX-P46G15's HD pictures from being absolutely stunning for the price, thanks to their superb sharpness, extreme clarity, surprisingly dynamic colours, and, best of all, tremendously deep black-level response.
While LED-backlit TVs are starting to challenge plasma sets' traditionally unequalled black levels, there's something so overwhelmingly natural and unforced about the TX-P46G15's presentation of dark scenes that even the very best LED-backlit screens would struggle to emulate it.
The TX-P46G15 isn't quite so competent with standard-definition pictures, though. They look slightly soft for our liking, and their colours look less consistently natural, especially where reds and greens are concerned. It's not a massive issue, and there are certainly many 46-inch TVs that deliver markedly worse standard-definition images than the TX-P46G15. But it's definitely an area for Panasonic to work on with its next generation of plasma TVs.
Our only other serious complaint about the TX-P46G15's images would be that horizontal motion in a picture can occasionally result in some dot noise when watching 24p Blu-ray material. Again, this is hardly significant enough to be a deal-breaker, but it provides another reason to consider stepping up to Panasonic's V10 range, with its Blu-ray-boosting 24p Smooth Film mode.
The TX-P46G15's audio performance is surprisingly decent. It delivers more punch, range and clarity than we'd expected given the TV's slender frame.
While the Panasonic Viera TX-P46G15's standard-definition pictures might not be all we'd hoped for, they're still quite good by the standards of most 46-inch, 1080p TVs. This slight shortcoming is also made pretty easy to tolerate by the set's generally outstanding HD performance.
Edited by Charles Kloet