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Panasonic TC-P54S2 calibration report/review
I had a chance to get together with with Chris from Cleveland Plasma and take a good look at the new Panasonic S2 plasma. I've worked with some of last year's S1 model, and was eager to see how the S2 compares, given the generally fast and steady improvements in plasma picture quality in the last few years.
While the S2 is not one of the super thin displays, it does run cooler than I have come to expect of a plasma; and it does that without the aid of fans. When I arrived, the white room was fairly bright with sunlight, and the S2's screen looked somewhat milky-gray with no image displayed. It picked up what I considered to be an average amount of glare for a plasma; it was easy to see my reflection looking back at me, though it was softer and more diffuse than on untreated glass. It suffered from the same "double image" at off axis angles as the V10, though I find that more of a curiosity than a flaw in normal everyday viewing.
Chris had run the break in DVD the week before my arrival, and I began by hooking up my calibration equipment and checking the S2's measured performance in different picture modes as it comes from the factory. Measurements sensitive to ambient light were performed either after sunset or with a black blanket covering the screen. Attachments 1 and 2 show out of the box performance in custom and cinema modes. I was surprised to see a distracting amount of graininess and video noise in standard mode, but fortunately it seemed to be limited to that mode. Standard also suffered from severe pumping and instability, so it was unusable in my opinion. Custom had it's own share of problems, which included less severe but still noticeable pumping, white crush, extremely poor gamma, and overly hot color. I tried several experiments and advanced adjustments while in custom mode; unfortunately, nothing could alleviate the poor gamma. Cinema mode brought relief; the image was rock solid, smooth, and bright. Cinema was the best (correction- the only) choice for an accurate picture.
In cinema mode, the S2 behaved somewhat like the S1 models I have calibrated, but with more light output capability. With the S1, cinema mode usually had modest light output capability, and in order to have a bright day mode I would have to use the less accurate standard or custom mode. However, with the S2's increased light output, custom can be made to be an acceptably bright mode for watching in brighter rooms if desired. I ended up calibrating to around 55 fL, though I could have gone higher or lower depending on the lighting conditions of the viewing room. I appreciate that flexibility, and it can be a significant step forward in picture quality if you like to watch with the drapes and blinds open.
Like the S1, the S2's color decoding is not perfect and requires some judgment calls when calibrating. Setting color to 43 brought the red to the correct level and was a good compromise on the other color's intensities. However, setting tint was more of a challenge. Each secondary color required a dramatically different tint setting, so I took the ideal tint setting for cyan, magenta, and yellow and averaged them together for a setting of +11. This technique resulted in a very pleasant but not quite perfect skin tone color. During the final viewing, I felt the skin tones were not quite ruddy enough; so I settled on a setting of +10. However, anything in the range of +8 to +11 would be an acceptable compromise.
The S2's gamma, or brightness ratio as it transitions from dark to bright images, was not quite as accurate as on the S1. This gamma behavior tended to emphasize the brightness of low and middle intensity images. There was also a bit of edge enhancement even with the sharpness turned all the way down. The S2 had perfect, strong resolution in 720P, 1080i, and 1080P. As with a few other Panasonic plasmas, especially older models, there was slightly more green in the white balance in full fields than in small windows. While I use small windows for nearly all my plasma calibrations, I do like to test for color shift with full fields, which showed this up. The issue was not nearly as pronounced as on older Panasonic plasmas like the 700u.
I measured the ANSI contrast ratio at 1203:1, which combined with the high light output, packs a pretty good amount of punch. Blacks measured .009 fL with my profiled Trichromat-1 meter, which I used only for contrast and black measurements due to it's rock solid performance at low light levels.
After the calibration was complete (attachment 3), I settled down for some 1080P/24 Blu Ray goodness. I had two powerful first impressions, which I'll explain below.
Dark images were very easy to see on the S2; too much so. When we hear talk about shadow detail and how one display is so much better than another, generally the set whose shadow detail is more visible is superior. However, there is a such thing as too much shadow detail, where things like dark suits look a little too gray. This can cause the image too look a little washed out and flat, but it is generally only an issue when viewing in a dark room. In a brighter room, the emphasis can be a welcome thing, making the image more palatable. Such was the case with the S2. This is a byproduct of the S2's measured gamma. I found that things which would ordinarily be a very dark shade were much more visible than normal.
My other impression was that skin tones looked very, very nice. That took me by surprise, because I knew how many inaccuracies and resultant judgment calls were involved in the S2's color. Color wasn't quite as rich as it is on a reference grade display, but the overall color was very pleasant. No unseemly yellowish "antique" casts or sunburnt flesh tones were visible.
The image has lots of pop, with bright whites and deep blacks. The image was smooth, with no trace of graininess or false contouring.
There really wasn't that much to complain about with the S2's overall presentation; it's flaws (shadow detail, color) are in the pleasantly inaccurate direction.
Since I also calibrated and reviewed a Panasonic G25 series the same day, I was able to make comparisons between the two. Though I couldn't have them both on at the same time, I was able to switch from one to the other quickly. Room lighting was dark, and I used demo material from DVE and The Dark Knight Blu Rays. Both displays were calibrated to the same light output with a 100% white window.
With both sets turned off and the lights on, the G25's screen looked significantly darker. The G25 picked up less visible reflection as a result. It was much harder to see my reflection in the G25 than in the S2.
Image quality was good on both, but had two very different perspectives. The S2's color was pleasing but less rich; the G25's colors looked more like how I know that material to look on reference grade displays.
The G25 looked more "contrasty", slightly richer, and slightly sharper. The S2, in comparison, looked very good but perhaps a little less exciting. There were a few occasions where I thought I detected some flashlighting or pumping in the G25, but not the S2. My overall impression was that the G25 is much more the Videophile's TV; it's accurate, and if that accuracy shows up flaws in the picture chain, that's the price you pay for having such a revealing display. On the other hand, the S2 is much more Everyman's TV; it's pleasant, looks very good, and never fails to impress your friends and family, but it's not quite being truly faithful to the image. If you are not a super picky videophile, the S2 may well be your dream come true. I would recommend it in a heartbeat to anyone who loves to watch TV but doesn't care to get caught up in the subtle nuances of being a picky video purist.
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