It was always inevitable that flat-panel TV prices would tumble quite quickly. Of course, the current economic downturn has certainly encouraged manufacturers to keep their prices realistic and offer more. Panasonic is no exception, and the Viera TX-P42S10 is a great example of a well-made, well-designed, 42-inch, 1080p plasma TV that costs less than £1,000. You can expect to pay around £900 for the TX-P42S10, although some Web sites are offering it for £850.
We're not going to pretend that this is the cheapest TV on the market, but, for us, it ticks all the boxes, and we think Panasonic is aiming it at people who care about quality, don't care about having loads of extra features, and have a decent budget. But does this TV hit the spot?
Although Panasonic won't thank us for saying so, it's hardly the most adventurous company in the world when it comes to design. But most customers don't want an extravagant TV in their living room. They want a box that comes on when they ask it to, and shows them good-quality pictures.
That said, there's really nothing wrong with the design of the TX-P42S10. It's the usual fare: a piano-black box, with a matching tabletop stand and remote control, and an imposing panel just waiting to glow with high-definition images.
Connectivity isn't anything out of the ordinary either. You get three HDMI sockets -- two at the back and one at the side. There's a pair of Scart inputs too, as well as component video in and some stereo RCA audio jacks. The side of the TV houses an SD card slot, VGA input and the usual camcorder inputs for standard-definition video via composite RCA and S-Video connections. There's also the ubiquitous headphone jack, for late-night TV viewing.
The TV's speakers are hidden beneath the frame, and fire downwards. This is an increasingly common method of reducing the size of the TV bezel. For the most part, it works well and doesn't interfere with the sound.
As with most Panasonic TVs, the screen and stand need to be paired up by their new owner before the TV is ready to go. This is generally done to save packing material -- and the environment. Putting the whole thing together took us less than five minutes. It can be done by one person, although two people reduce the risk of damaging anything.
Unlike some modern TVs, the TX-P42S10 isn't especially laden with super-special extra features. It's got a few niceties thrown in, but the focus here is really on picture quality and performance.
Still, you can view photos from an SD card, which will be a real boon for some people -- it's always good to have the ability to play your holiday photos when you're not watching TV. The TV should also be able to play AVCHD video files from a digital camera or camcorder.
Panasonic also wants to banish the last motion judder from our viewing experience. To achieve this, the company has included its Intelligent Frame Creation system, which is designed to produce a more natural, smooth image by adding extra image information. It finds this extra information by guessing where moving objects will end up, based on their on-screen direction. If that sounds confusing, it's probably because it is.
Panasonic also touts the TV's 900 lines of moving-picture resolution. This is something that's likely to confuse people who think they're getting a 1,080-line TV. The truth of the matter is that, on any TV, when there's movement in the picture, you get less horizontal resolution. In any event, 900 lines is significantly better than much of the competition.
We always moan about the performance of HD televisions when it comes to Freeview. This is because Freeview doesn't use an especially high bit rate to transmit its signals, and that means the picture doesn't scale well to larger screens. The TX-P42S10, however, manages to do a decent job with standard TV, for the following reasons. Firstly, at 42 inches, it's not massive. Secondly, Panasonic really seems to be getting the hang of its picture-processing modes, and that means a good, clean image for all types of video.
Blu-ray video looks superb -- and it's here that the TX-P42S10's skill with motion really shines. Pictures have all the detail we'd expect from a 1080p TV. In fact, we really got a kick out of using this set, because it seems to do everything pretty much perfectly. We watched clips from The Dark Knight and xXx: State of the Union, as well as some material from our Live from Abbey Road Blu-ray discs. Everything looked terrific, from the realistic but bold colours to the incredible picture detail.
This TV seems to balance SD and HD performance perfectly. Everything we threw at it was displayed with skill and precision. We found ourselves wanting to spend more and more time with this TV, purely because it's such a pleasure to watch.
The Intelligent Frame Creation system is one of the more subtle picture-processing modes we've seen. When watching video, you can't even tell the mode is engaged. Even so, we still think this TV handles motion better than most of the competition, and that means it gets a big thumbs up from us, no matter how the set achieves it.
We do have one small gripe about Panasonic TVs. Although the simplicity of their menus is very welcome, it means you don't get a massive amount of control over the TV. Some options are also very hard to find. For example, the Intelligent Frame Creation and overscan modes are both tucked away in 'set-up', rather than in the more logical 'picture' menu.
Sound from the built-in speakers is good, but not ideal for watching movies. If you're using this TV for simple, day-to-day TV viewing, you'll be more than happy. Film fans will want to get some sort of external speaker system, though.
It's possible to buy the Panasonic Viera TX-P42S10 for significantly less than £1,000 and we don't have anything bad to say about its performance. If you want a TV with more bells and whistles, then a Samsung or LG model is more likely to interest you. For day-to-day use, and enjoying HD movies and TV, this really is a lovely set. In fact, we'd really rather not give our review sample back.
Edited by Charles Kloet