(October 21, 2009) Panasonic recently released its top of the line plasma model, the 54Ã¢â‚¬Â TC-P54Z1. It builds on the high performance of the V10 series models by shrinking the depth to just 1 inch, adding an outboard media center, wireless 1080p connectivity and removable Ã¢â‚¬Å“elephant earÃ¢â‚¬Â side speakers.
The Z1Ã¢â‚¬â„¢s panel takes a cue from PioneerÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s Kuro by eliminating the top sheet of glass from the panel and bonding a very effective anti-reflective coating directly to the top glass, thus eliminating any internal reflections between the top two sheets of glass found on all other plasma panels.
A brushed aluminum-finished bezel flanked by black left/right vertical inserts distinguishes the Z1 from the rest of PanasonicÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s 2009 plasma lineup. The TC-P54Z1 package consists of a media receiver, wireless transmitter module, wireless receiver module, a pair of speakers with associated brackets, a table stand and all connecting cables.
Because of the large number of parts, unpacking and setting up the Z1 consumed about an hour, far longer than any other HDTV tested to date. Most flat screens simply require the assembly and mounting of the table stand. Overall, the assembly went very smoothly and the complete system functioned properly immediately thereafter.
The monitor section has but one HDMI input plus a mini HDMI jack for connection to the wireless HD receiver. As an experiment, we connected a source component directly to the HDMI input, but were unable to get a signal to appear on the screen; hardly surprising considering that all switching, functions and user controls reside in the media center box rather than in the display.Ã‚Â Outboarding the switching and controls allowed PanasonicÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s engineers to shrink the monitorÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s depth to just an inchÃ¢â‚¬â€ thinner than SamsungÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s LED LCD HDTVs.
The media receiver includes a built-in HDTV over-the-air tuner as well as an Ethernet connection for PanasonicÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s Viera Cast internet content providers that include Picasa (photo uploads and downloads), YouTube, Amazon Videos and Bloomberg News. There are four HDMI (3 rear/1 front) and two component video inputs, as well as two composite video/S, a 15 pin sub-D for a PC (front) and RS-232 serial connector (for remote control systems such as Crestron). Also included is a front SD card slot for on-screen digital photo viewing. The front inputs are located under a swing down door (see photo).
The wireless transmitter and a mini Ã¢â‚¬Å“DCÃ¢â‚¬Â terminal connector attach to the media receiver box via an HDMI cable (see photo).
The accompanying wireless receiver attaches to the back of the monitor panel by two screws and connects via an HDMI cable and another Ã¢â‚¬Å“DCÃ¢â‚¬Â (Display unit Connector).
The receiver adds about an inch to the overall depth when attached to the back of the display. However we donÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t see any reason why one couldnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t mount it beneath the screen ann.
The user interface is similar to the one used on the V10 series (review link). The Z1 has the same features including Digital Cinema Color, a user control for adjusting white balance, 96 Hz display for 24 Hz sources (Blu-ray discs and select DirecTV HD movies) and THX certified viewing mode.
The wireless system, designed by Sibeam (link), sends source signals (up to 1080p) a distance of up to 30 feet from the transmitter to the receiver. Panasonic recommends pointing the transmitter module towards the receiver attached to the monitor.
Unlike competing systems, such as the one Sony offers with its XBR10, the Sibeam 60 GHz (gigahertz) system claims to work within an enclosed cabinet. We put it to the test by placing the transmitter within a Stormcase type thick plastic PC case and latching it closed. From a test distance of 12 feet, the system worked flawlessly, delivering perfect 1080p images to the screen!
The ability to connect wirelessly is a real boon to potential purchasers living in residences with plaster or concrete walls. Now youÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ll only just an electric outlet at the panel to wall mount the Z1.
Primary Color points (red, green, blue) measured in the THX mode were found to be close, but not quite at the HDTV rec. 709 standard. The results are as follows with 709 standard in parentheses R= x.629, y.332 (x.64, y.33) G= x.313 y=.591 (x.30, y.60) B= x.152, y.065 (x.15, y.06).
The Z1 is capable of producing intensely bright images. The factory Ã¢â‚¬Å“VividÃ¢â‚¬Â mode designed for showrooms and not recommend for home use came in at a blazing 80.35 ft lamberts. In the THX factory setting, the level measured 33 ft. lamberts, a brightness perfectly suited for low ambient lighting levels found in many home TV viewing rooms. In the calibrated Ã¢â‚¬Å“CustomÃ¢â‚¬Â mode, the image brightness read 40.46 ft lamberts, a level that is more than adequate for any normal day ambient room light conditions.
The Z1 produces very deep black levels. Using our new Konica Minolta LS-100 meter we obtained a minimum black of just .009 ft lamberts, a number that beats most LCD displays and produced a very deep shade of black. How does this compare to the Pioneer Kuro Pro-141FD? The now discontinued Pioneer still beats it, coming in below the accuracy of the meter, which is at or below .003 ft. lamberts (according to Konica Minolta). We did not have an opportunity to compare the Z1Ã¢â‚¬â„¢s reading with a V10, however we plan to do so in the near future and will update the review accordingly.
Motion resolution measured a full 1080 lines without the artificial video look seen on all 120/240Hz LCDs tested to date (see the V10 review for more on this phenomena).
Using the HQV standard and high def test discs, we checked out the media boxÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s signal processing. The Z1 aced the HD and SD deinterlace and 3:2 pulldown tests but fell short on the jaggies tests, smoothing just two of the three moving lines with both standard and high definition tests. According to a Panasonic spokesman, the media box uses the same signal processing as the V10 plasma models, creating a mystery as to why we obtained different results (the V10 passes all the tests).
Gray scale in THX mode measured close to the 6500K standard out of the box with a reading of 6325K at 80 IRE and 6016K at 20 IRE in the Warm 2 color temperature mode. In custom mode, before calibration (in Warm 2) measurements were 6159K at 80 IRE and 5827K at 20 IRE. Post calibration resulted in near perfect readings of 6621K at 80 IRE and 6546K at 20 IRE.
The side speakers are a vast improvement over the downward firing speakers found in PanasonicÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s V10 series models and many competitorsÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ < 2Ã¢â‚¬Â thin LCDs. They provide far better overall range and clear high frequencies. They can also play really loud without audible distortion.
Energy consumption using the IEC standard test disc measured 192 watts in the THX mode and 240 watts in the calibrated Ã¢â‚¬Å“CustomÃ¢â‚¬Â mode, the same measurement as the 54Ã¢â‚¬Â TC-P54V10. The media box with the wireless transmitter uses 30 watts.
With the user controls tweaked, we sampled HD and SD content using source material from Verizon FIOS, DirecTV and HD movies from Blu-ray discs via PanasonicÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s DMP-BD80.Ã‚Â The deep black level and bright whites consistently produced images with punch; undoubtedly due to the real world high contrast ratio the Z1 is capable of producing. Although the Z1 didnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t ace the HQV jaggies tests, we noticed no problems with any source material we threw at it.
The Sibeam wireless circuitry worked flawlessly and transparently, never calling attention to the fact that no physical connection existed between the media box and the monitor.Ã‚Â Ã‚Â As economies of scale kick in, the price delta for this wireless solution will eventually diminish to where the need for any long HDMI cables between the display and the source may be totally eliminated.
The TC-P54Z1 currently retails for $5499.99 making it $2100 more expensive than the TC-P54V10 with internal tuner and inputs.
The TC-P54Z1Ã¢â‚¬â„¢s thin profile, outstanding color, contrast and deep black levels coupled with its perfect motion resolution without associated artifacts seen with 120Hz/240Hz LCDs, combined with plasmaÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s inherent ability to provide superior off-axis images, place the TC-P54Z1 at the top of the HDTV market. While pricey, if your viewing environmentÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s construction prevents you from wall mounting a flat panel, the additional cost may be justified.Ã‚Â The HD Guru awards the Panasonic TC-P54Z1 Ã¢â„¢Â¥Ã¢â„¢Â¥Ã¢â„¢Â¥Ã¢â„¢Â¥Ã¢â„¢Â¥ our highest rating.
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