Now that the Pioneer Kuro is out of production, Panasonic is the undisputed leader in plasma television. The five lines on offer in 2010 touch all the bases for any consumer looking for a smoother, sharper picture than anything that LCD has to offer, usually for a lower price.
Before we get started, it's worth
noting that Panasonic caught some flack recently because last year's G10 and V10 models were subject to an automatic increase in background brightness after so many hours of use. That is, blacks start to look a little gray after several months of regular use. This is an
automatic process triggered by the TV software to "achieve the optimal picture performance
throughout the life of the set," Panasonic says, but it's left some viewers pretty
perturbed. Panasonic apparently heard those complaints, and promises
that this year's models will get brighter more gradually. Onward:
C2 Series: Bigger and Cheaper
You'd be hard pressed to find any TV
larger than 40 inches in just 720p these days. You'd also be hard
pressed to find any 50-inch television for under $1,000. Thus is the
paradox of the Panasonic C2 series: huge plasma displays, low
resolution, bargain basement prices. If you absolutely must have a
large TV for a small amount of money, these will get the trick done.
And honestly, since it's plasma, it probably looks better than some of
the bush-league 1080p LCDs at the same size.
U2 Series: Skip It
the U2 series is better than that band from Ireland, but we're aiming
low. Even my Irish grandma thinks Bono is a clown and his music is
pretentious dreck. Anyhow, this series claims to be a 1080p model, but
it only has 900 moving lines on its screen. Huh? I'm a man of letters,
but I don't need a physics degree to do this math. Most of the specs
are identical to the S2 series (below), but it's missing a few
features, like about 180 vertical lines and a bright NeoPDP panel
compared to the model below (and costs about the same). This is a
no-brainer: skip it. It seems the U2 name is cursed.
S2 Series: That's More Like It
lowest-cost "full" 1080p set in Panasonic's 2010 lineup looks to be a
steal. The S2 sets come in the widest range of sizes of any Panasonic
plasma line, from 42 inches up to a burly 65 inches. The 50-incher is
currently (late April) available for just a shade over $1,000 at Amazon
-- about the same price as the inferior U2 series, with better
performance. Those looking for a smooth picture and deep blacks at a
reasonable price, can stand to live without some bells and whistles
like Web connectivity, and don't mind paying an extra couple of bucks
on your power bill, would do well to take a hard look at the S2.
G25 Series: The Best Value In Plasma
relatively affordable as far as big-screen TVs go, the Panasonic G25
tacks on a handful of luxury features like the inky Infinite Black
panel and Viera Cast service (Netflix, Skype, Twitter, Pandora, Fox
Sports, so on and so forth). What else can we say? This looks to be a
phenomenal TV from the leader in plasma, better than any LCD and cheaper than most. Go wild.
VT25 Series: 3D For The Masses...With Lots of Money
VT25 is regarded as the best 3D TV on the market. It's pricey -- well
over $2,000, not including the 3D Blu-ray player and stereoscopic
glasses -- but that extra dimension costs more. And when you look at it
compared to some similar 2D-only sets from just a few years ago, it's
actually cheaper. Unfortunately, Panasonic has decided to sell this
series exclusively through brick-and-mortar retailers for the time
being, so you'll have to get out and go buy it at a Best Buy. Enjoy the
sun on that trip, because you won't be leaving the house for a while
when you have this beauty.