Panasonic is in a unique position. They've long been the prime manufacturer of consumer-friendly plasma televisions. Their plasmas were of high-quality and had reasonable price tags. Their only competition in this space was Pioneer, whose KURO plasmas were considered the absolute pinnacle of high-definition quality but were exclusively owned by passionate videophiles owing to their exorbitant price tags.
Pioneer is out of the game now; they've abandoned HDTV and ceded the plasma market to Panasonic. Panasonic, while still slowly moving into the LCD space, is determined to make plasma televisions relevant again, as well they should. Plasma is still a viable, appealing technology for high-definition television, and a diversity of options for consumers is always a good thing. With their deep, dark black colors and cinematic qualities, plasma TVs are absolutely worth considering.
Plasma has acquired a reputation as a technology on the decline, as LCD has captured the public consciousness in recent years. Panasonic disagrees, and hopes to disabuse consumers of that misconception by creating plasma flat-panels with modern or forward-thinking features. The latest batch of "high-end" plasmas from Panasonic feature remarkably thin bodies, updated imaging technology, and Internet connectivity, which is quickly shaping up to be the killer feature for televisions this year. These plasmas comprise the G10, V10, and Z1 series Panasonic televisions.
The Lay of the Land
There are nine televisions all together in the G10, V10, and Z1 lines; four G10 models, four V10 models, and a single Z1 model, intended to be a flagship for Panasonic's push into the plasma future.
The G10 series consists of four plasma televisions at sizes of 42, 46, 50, and 54 inches. The G10 plasmas will cost between $1,400 and $2,400 dollars, price points that are in line with what one would expect from a new plasma television at this stage in the game. They are available beginning in April 2009.
The V10 series also consists of four plasmas, at sizes of 50, 54, 58, and 65 inches. These gargantuan televisions are slightly more advanced. The 50-inch model has an MSRP of $2,300 and the 54-inch model has an MSRP of 2,700. The two largest models have yet to have prices announced, though it's safe to assume they will be well over $3,000. These plasmas will be released in May of 2009.
The lone Z1 model, the 54-inch Panasonic TC-P54Z1 plasma, is slated to cost over $6000, and will be released into the wild in June of 2009.
The feature-sets of these three lines are roughly similar. All offer full 1080p HD resolution and intense contrast ratios of 40:000:1. They all have four HDMI inputs (though there's a twist with the Z1 that we'll discuss later). They also also use the "NeoPDP" technology which Panasonic claims produces more accurate, vivid images on plasma televisions while also using far less power, something plasmas are often criticized for when compared to LCD TVs. The major difference between the G10, V10, and Z1 lines is their thickness. The G10 series is around 4" deep, the V10 is 2" deep, and the Z1 is a startling 1" deep. The Z1 accomplishes this by shifting some of its internal components to a separate box that communicates with the panel wirelessly.
Panasonic Viera Cast
All three models feature Panasonic Viera Cast, which allows viewers to access streaming Internet content. Previous versions of Viera Cast only allowed for a bare minimum of content, such as accessing YouTube videos and getting updated news or weather headlines. Viera Cast now supports streaming video from Amazon's On Demand video service. Movies can be rented, or purchased outright, directly from the television and watched immediately. Unlike LG and Vizio's internet connected televisions, the Panasonic Veira Cast sets do not offer support for Netflix streaming. This does not mean it will never come, however; Viera Cast is not a static piece of software. It doesn't exist on the TV, but rather on the Internet, so Panasonic can make updates at will. That means older Viera Cast TVs will also be able to get Amazon VOD, and that these models would get Netflix should it be added to the service later.
The Z1: An Advanced HDTV Experience
Panasonic's Z1 plasma, the TC-P54Z1, is 54-inches of display at only one inch depth. This effect is achieved, as previously mentioned, by removing much of the TV's innards and relegating them to a separate box that communicates with the main display wirelessly. The wireless box accepts HDMI inputs and shoots the video over to the TV in full 1080p. This means that the only cord connected to the actual display panel is the power cord.
It's a premium, luxury television, and the $6,000 price tag will surely put it out of reach for most consumers. If you're an early adopter with money to burn, however, the TC-P54Z1 is definitely the most exciting, eye-catching television of 2009.
Conclusion: Play It Safe
For consumers who want high-end quality but need to watch their budget, the Panasonic G10 series is the safest bet. All indications are that they uphold the high standards of Panasonic's much praised plasmas and serve as a decent successor to the discontinued Pioneer KURO televisions. Though they aren't the thinnest models, they're still quite attractive. Thinness, while nice, is not the be-all and end-all of high-definition television, and certainly not a reason to drop between $3,000 and $6,000 when you could have the same basic feature-set for as low as $1,400.