Once the exclusive domain of the super-wealthy, truly massive sets like Panasonic's 58-inch, 1080p Viera TX-P58V10 plasma TV are really plummeting in price. Admittedly, we're not likely to find such tellies sitting on the shelves of our local supermarkets anytime soon, but the TX-P58V10's asking price of £3,500 or so definitely makes it a convenient alternative to a good projector for a dedicated AV room, especially considering how well it performs.
There really is no overstating just how colossal the TX-P58V10 looks. Compared to a 50-inch set, the screen appears much larger than a mere 8-inch on-paper difference would lead you to imagine. But the set also sports a chunky bezel that adds a good 2 inches to each side.
People thinking of installing the TX-P58V10 in a dedicated home-cinema room may be pleased to note that, aside from subtle metal strips along its upper and lower extremities, the bezel is finished in a non-reflective black. This means that, in a darkened room, the only thing you'll notice is the picture, and not the bodywork around it.
Jam-packed with features
The V10 range sits only one rung from the very top of Panasonic's latest TV line-up. Unsurprisingly, therefore, it boasts loads of connections and features, including a built-in freesat HD tuner, alongside Freeview and analogue ones.
As well as four HDMI ports, there's an SD card slot capable of playing DivX/AVCHD movies and JPEGs, plus an Ethernet port through which you can access Panasonic's Viera Cast online service alongside BBC iPlayer at some point in the future.
Unlike the online system found on Philips' latest TVs, Viera Cast doesn't give you unfettered access to the whole Internet. Instead, it channels you into a ring-fenced corner of the Web that's been specially formatted for easy navigation via a TV remote. Sadly, the content of Viera Cast is currently limited to YouTube, Eurosport and Picasa. But, on the upside, Viera Cast is exceptionally easy to use, especially since Panasonic has done such a great job of designing the system's front end.
Another of the TX-P58V10's headline features is its 600Hz processing. The screen doesn't really refresh itself 600 times a second, though. Instead, a 600Hz effect is generated by interpolating extra frames of image data using Panasonic's Intelligent Frame Creation processing system. But, however dubious the 600Hz title might be, the bottom line is that the system produces good motion-handling results.
The other significant features of the TX-P58V10 are that it uses one of Panasonic's new, more energy-efficient NeoPDP panels, is unusually slim for such a large plasma TV, and claims a massive contrast ratio of 2,000,000:1.
We regularly praise Panasonic's plasma TVs, but the TX-P58V10 outperformed our already high expectations. It's hardly surprising that the TV has been certified by the independent THX group for its picture quality. It even comes complete with a dedicated THX picture preset for delivering the most natural picture possible when watching films.
The set's contrast is truly spectacular. Dark scenes enjoy a mesmerising black-level response, without a trace of the greyness that, to some degree or other, afflicts so many flat TVs. Perhaps more surprising is the startling intensity of colours that the TX-P58V10 is able to portray alongside its inky blacks. It seems to us that the TX-P58V10's colours have a generally more natural and less green-tinged appearance than those of Panasonic's flagship Z1 TVs.
The combination of the TX-P58V10's top-spec Vreal Pro 4 video processing and 1080p resolution ensure that high-definition pictures look mesmerisingly detailed and sharp, without tipping over into looking gritty and noisy. Indeed, we'd argue that you haven't really seen just what Blu-ray is capable of unless you've seen it running on a TV as large and accomplished as this.
The TX-P58V10's outstanding sharpness with HD material does rather emphasise the slightly soft look to standard-definition pictures, though. Standard-definition colour tones occasionally look slightly overcooked too. They look very overcooked if you're daft enough to use the set's insane 'dynamic' picture preset. But there's surprisingly little video noise with standard-definition sources considering that the TV has to remap them to a 1080p pixel count and show them on a massive screen.
A final and really important strength of the TX-P58V10 is its motion-handling capability. The Intelligent Frame Creation processing does a terrific job of blitzing the stuttering and blur that can otherwise affect objects passing across plasma and LCD screens. Even camera pans looks smooth and clear, in stark contrast to the judder witnessed on Panasonic's entry-level plasma sets.
Aside from the rather soft standard-definition images, the only other picture problem is a slightly yellowish tinge to bright whites. But you grow accustomed to this over time.
Pioneer's similarly priced, 60-inch Kuro PDP-LX6090 is marginally better than the Panasonic Viera TX-P58V10. But, with the PDP-LX6090 already hard to find in stores and set to disappear completely at any moment, the TX-P58V10 is a hugely worthy heir to the mega-screen throne.
Edited by Charles Kloet