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Panasonic Viera TX-P42S10 42in Plasma TV - Panasonic Viera TX-P42S10
Settling down to watch the P42S10, I have to say that my first feeling was one of gentle disappointment. For even in a fairly low-lit environment the image's lack of brightness versus Panasonic's own P46G10 - and any number of LCD TVs, of course - is instantly obvious, denying the picture immediate eye-catching impact.
Aficionados will be thinking here, that a TV picture doesn't have to deliver immediate impact to actually be very good. In fact, too much brightness and colour aggression can damage picture performance in the long run. But I couldn't help but feel that on the P42S10, the image's muted nature ultimately just feels a touch flat if you've got any sort of ambient light to contend with.
Or at least, this is the case if you use the TV's Normal or, especially, its Cinema picture presets. Things perk up if you choose the Dynamic preset - but only at the expense of hugely increased picture noise and some overblown colours. Scary.
Calibrating the image yourself can yield the best results, but with the image set to deliver the best blacks and lowest noise levels, I still felt it was a bit less bright than I would have liked.
This isn't the only cause of disappointment, either, as standard definition pictures also look rather soft. Perhaps as a result of this, standard definition pictures don't look as noisy as they do on some rival - especially LCD - Full HD TVs. But for me the softness goes a touch too far for comfort.
Another issue is that I didn't feel completely convinced by the TV's standard definition colour palette. Skin tones tend to look a bit orange or pink, and greens sometimes look just a bit weird, for want of a better description. And overall there just isn't that extra level of vibrancy we see from the best TVs.
The main upside with standard definition sources is a familiar one for Panasonic: excellent black level response. Dark scenes in any drama you care to watch enjoy blacks so deep - and consistent across the whole screen - that they could make any normal LCD TV weep. This inevitably helps dark scenes achieve a terrific sense of naturalism and scale.
Regular readers will know that I consider getting a credible black level response to be the fundamental starting point in building a good TV picture, and Panasonic still takes some beating on this key picture quality battleground.
The P42S10's 400Hz system also helps standard definition pictures look reasonably crisp and smooth when things get moving, and while colours might not be particularly vibrant, they are, at least, largely free of the striping issue that traditionally troubles plasma technology.