The front of the LC-P42S1 has a clean, straightforward design. The controls on the bottom of the bezel do stand out somewhat, though.
On the back of the LC-P42S1 are the ports and the rather hefty power connector. This has a locking system that holds it securely in place. For information about the ports on the back of the Panasonic TC-P42S1 see our Connectivity section.
On the left side of the display body are a small selection of ports. For information about the ports on the back of the Panasonic TC-P42S1 see our Connectivity section.
The stand of the LC-P42S1 is rather large, and is secured to the display body with 4 screws. Setting it up is a 2-person job, but it is not particularly difficult.
The only controls on the front of the display are a large power button. The other controls are located on the side of the screen in a recessed panel.
The remote control of the LC-P42S1has large buttons and is mostly easy to use. Our only major complaint was that some of the buttons are too close together.
In The Box*(8.0)*
As well as the display, you get the remote, a screen cleaning cloth and batteries. You do not get a HDMI cable or a screwdriver to help put the stand and screen together; you have to bring your own.
The LC-P42S1 isn't going to win any beauty contests, but it is a smart display that won't stand out too much in most living rooms. Some manufacturers (such as Samsung) are experimenting with designs that are more interesting, but Panasonic is keeping it simple.
We measured the Panasonic TC-P42S1's black level at 0.05 candelas per meter squared (cd/m2). This is an excellent black level, which means you can expect to get a lot of detail in dark areas of scenes on the TC-P42S1. It compares favorably with other televisions, as you an see below. Both the Panasonic TC-P42X1 and Sony KDL-40S5100 did similarly well, but it's far better than the LG 32LH55. This isn't too surprising as Plasma televisions are known for their deep blacks as unlike LCD's they don't have to have their backlight on all the time.
Unfortunately the Panasonic TC-P42S1's excellent black level comes with a serious caveat, in that it's not consistent. As we'll discuss in the tunnel contrast section below the black level rises quickly as the percentage of black on the screen goes down. This is a serious problem because it means you won't get those great deep blacks with mixed content, which let's be frank, is most of what you'll be watching.
The Panasonic TC-P42S1's peak brightness was 170.14 cd/m2. This is significantly lower than our average peak brightness, and is typical of Plasma televisions which generally aren't nearly as bright as LCD televisions. Below you can see that the TC-P42S1 has far lower peak brightness than the two LCD models, the LG and Sony. It could be much worse, however, as the Panasonic TC-P42X1 shows. As it is the brightness should be sufficient for most viewing situations, but you probably want to keep the lights down a bit.
This is the ratio of black level to peak brightness. On the Panasonic TC-P42S1 the contrast ratio was a very good 3402:1. Unfortunately the problem with the black level not staying constant can have a significant impact on contrast ratio. As we'll discuss in our tunnel contrast section below the black level rises significantly when black makes up a small percentage of the screen. Since this is most of your viewing situations this means you will rarely get the contrast ratio we quote here. In fact we found the contrast ratio can fall as low as 83:1 in some situations, which is just about as terrible as we've ever seen.
Here you can see a serious problem with the Panasonic TC-P42S1. In this test we look at how well the black level holds up as we decrease the percentage of black on the display. What we're looking for is consistency, which means that you can expect the same contrast ratio regardless of the mix of light and dark on the screen. Unfortunately the only thing we found with the Panasonic TC-P42S1 is that it's consistently bad. Below you can see a graph of the tunnel contrast results. You can see that the black level rises from a low of 0.03 when most of the screen is black to a high of 1.06 when most of it is white. That's a huge increase in the black level which will be clearly visible in everyday use.
In this test we look at the oppposite of the test above, that is we look at what happens to the peak brightness as we decrease the amount of white on the display. Here we get a typical effect for a plasma television with the peak brightness going up significantly as the percentage of white decreases. This is because plasma televisions generate a lot of heat when there is a lot of white on the screen and simply can't get to their maximum brightness without melting down. So, the display decreases the brightness. We use the 20% white screen as the standard for our peak brightness, so that's the number we discussed above. In most cases this won't bother you because white usually doesn't make up a huge percentage of the scene. But if you're watching a documentary on polar bears, for example, you'll notice the screen get significantly dimmer due to the large amount of white in the scene. Throw a black fox into the mix and you'll get a terrible contrast ratio as the white falloff effect mixes with the tunnel contrast effect to create a dim, muddy mess.
Here we look at how uniform the Panasonic TC-P42S1's display is when looking at an all black and all white screen. The TC-P42S1 did well in this test, we saw very little dimming or brightening at the corners or sides, and no blotches in the center of the screen that would harm your viewing experience.
Gamma is the curve along which a television makes adjustments from light to dark. We measured the Panasonic TC-P42S1's gamma at 2.53, which is a bit higher than our ideal of 2.2. This means the television is a bit more aggressive when moving from light to dark, or vis versa. This can cause some loss of detail at the extreme ends of the greyscale, but the effect shouldn't be too bad on the TC-P42S1.
The Panasonic TC-P42S1 is a full 1080p television, which means it can natively handle the highest quality of HD content out there. Unfortunatley this quality is usually only available from Blu-ray discs. In most cases you'll be viewing content at different resolutions and formats, and in this section we look at how well the TC-P42S1 does when dealing with this content.
This is standard definition content that is generally found on DVDs. This content needs to be upscaled by the television to fit it's larger resolution. We saw some problems with about 2% of the display being cut off at the edges, which is pretty standard. There were only minor problems with complex patterns, text was clearly legible and there were no problems with resolution.
This is officially high definition content, albeit at a lower resolution than full HD. This standard is often used by websites for high definition video and is also sometimes used by sports broadcasts. The Panasonic TC-P42S1 cut off about 3% of the display on all sides with 720p content. Unfortunately it also showed some serious processing problems when dealing with complex patterns. In particular we saw cross-hatch patterns appearing in what should have been patterns of alternating black and white lines. Thankfully there were no problems with resolution and legibility.
This format is the same resolution as 1080p, but the 'i' on the end indicates that instead of displaying all 1080 lines at once it interlaces two sets of 540 lines. 1080i is used for most broadcast HD content. The Panasonic TC-P42S1 had some serious problems with complex patterns in this format, with some patterns appearing with a strong greenish cast and others turning into white blocks. We also noted that small text was not legible and that some fine detail ran together.
The color of whites on a HDTV screen is described by a measurement called the color temperature: if this varies as the intensity of the shite changes, you'll see a color cast to the shades of whites. In this test we look at how consistent the Panasonic TC-P42S1's was as the whites go from the peak (the brightest white) down to close to black. You can see that it is rock solid, with no major visible deviations(the green line on the graph below shows the minimum difference that would be visible by most users). This means you won't have to worry about getting a color cast in the whites on the content you watch on the TC-P42S1.
All the colors that your television produces are created by mixing three colors: red, green and blue. Here we look at the accuracy of thos three colors. Below you can see the resonse of all three colors as they go from dark to bright. You can see that all of the colors rise constantly, which is important, but there is more bumpiness in the curves than we'd like to see. This means that in some cases you won't get the exact color you might expect; subtle color changes in the signal won't be visible on the screen.
Below you can see the three colors compared to an ideal and three comparison televisions. The first color strip is an ideal response; if this looks bumpy, then there may be an issue with the device that you are reading this review on.
In order to ensure that you get the same colors on every television all HDTVs are supposed to adhere to an international standard for color gamut known as Rec.709. Below you can see the color gamut of the Panasonic TC-P42S1 graphed against this standard. You can see that there are some serious problems here, with the TC-P42S1 innacurate in all colors. Specifically the colors of the television are all oversaturated compared to what they should be, particularly with the greens and reds. This means that the colors you see on the Panasonic TC-P42S1 will be slightly different than the colors the producer of the content wants you to see.
For those who like to see the numbers in the table below you can see the exact color coordinates we measured for the Panasonic TC-P42S1 compared to the standard.
As is typical of plasma televisions the Panasonic TC-P42S1 did a good job keeping motion smooth. We saw only minor loss of detail in moving faces and very little motion blur behind moving objects. The motion smoothness was a bit better with 1080p content compared to 1080i, but this is to be expected due to the effects of interlacing.
Artifacts are things that appear on the display that should not be there. With motion this is often a problem and we saw several problems with the Panasonic TC-P42S1. The most serious is a common problem with plasmas in that there was a trailing green light behind some moving objects. We also saw a significant rolling shutter effect, which makes white and black objects look like their opening and shutting quickly like shutters. Once again the effects were more significant with 1080i versus 1080p.
3:2 Pulldown & 24fps*(5.5)*
The 3:2 pulldown process is used to convert content that comes in at 60 frames per second (fps) and give it a film-like look. This is generally used with broadcast movies. The Panasonic TC-P42S1 had some problems with 3:2 pulldown. In particular we noticed significant glitches in our test pattern that indicate problems with processing. We also look at a scene of a camera panning across stadium seats. Here we saw a significant crawling effect along the seats that also indicates processing problems. If you have content that is natively 24fps, as you can find on DVDs and Blu-ray discs the Panasonic TC-P42S1 can handle this content natively.
Most plasma TVs have a very wide viewing angle, and the TC-P42S1 was no exception. Even out to 80º from dead center, you'll still have about 50% contrast ratio. Plasma HDTVs typically have better performance than LCD ones (as you can see from the numbers below), but this is one of the widest viewing angles we've seen on a plasma.
The Panasonic TC-P42S1's display isn't too reflective, but we did notice that lights we shined on the screen could be very annoying. There was very little diffusion of the light, so with the LED array we use for this test we were able to make out every individual light. We also noticed significant streaking on the screen. You probaby want to keep bright lights from shining on the Panasonic TC-P42S1 if you have it in your house.
The Panasonic TC-P42S1 has a few video processing modes, none of which have a particular impressive effect. The two dedicated noise features do, in fact, reduce noise, but we couldn't see any effect from the cross-color minimizer. The C.A.T.S. feature seems to perform as advertised, but we only saw it boost the brightness, not knock it down.
Televisions rarely come out of the box with optimal picture quality. To make sure that we are getting the best possible performance from the TC-P42S1 we first calibrated it. To do this, we use the calibration procedure in DisplayMate, as well as taking measurements with a CS-200 ChromaMeter.
Below is a chart that outlines the changes we've made. If a setting isn't listed below, we left it at the default settings. Feel free to use these settings as the basis for your own calibration, but remember that these settings aren't optimized for your own personal viewing environment, so your best settings may vary. In particular, we test LCD TVs with the backlight at maximum, which is not an ideal setting if you watch in a dark environment. If you really want the best quality, we recommend you either use DisplayMate or pay a professional to calibrate the TV for you.
These calibration tweaks were minor; we reduced both the contrast and brightness to avoid peaking, and we also reduced the color setting to reduce an issue with some greys turning green.
The TC-P42S1 has 5 preset picture modes:
That's a decent selection that covers most situations. The display also remembers the changes that the user makes, so each of the modes can be customized. If you manage to wrect the settings, they can also be easily reset to the factory settings.
Ergonomics & Durability*(6.25)*
The Panasonic TC-P42S1's remote is an average size, and the buttons are large and laid out well, making it easy to pick up and use the remote. Each button has a nice big label on it, which makes it easier for someone with poor eyesight to see and use. The buttons themselves have a slightly soft feel, so it isn't always obvious if you have pressed it in far enough. The cover for the battery compartment pops off a little too easily, especially when dropped.
Button Layout & Use*(6.25)*
The combination of a small remote and large buttons means that some of the buttons are a little closely packed; the number keys are a little too close to navigate by touch, and we found that we sometomes hit the - button when we meant to hit the 0 one. But the remote is generally good and comfortable to use, with the volume and channel buttons falling under the thumb.
Programming & Flexibility*(1.5)*
The prescence of a number of buttons for controlling devices like DVD players at the bottom of the remote might lead you to think that the remote can control other devices, but that's not the case. It can only control devices made by Panasonic though their VieraLink system; it cannot control devices made by other manufacturers or non-VieraLink devices. Boo!
The TC-P42S1 is not blessed with a huge number of input ports. There are only three HDMI imputs, and no VGA or DVI input. A side panel is the home of the sole composite video input, although there are two component video inputs on the back panel. The only real upside is that there are 4 separate analog audio inputs, which are associated with one of the HDMI ports, the two component video inputs and the composite input. The lack of HDMI ports is a particular concern: if you have more than two devices with HDMI ports, you'll need to buy a separate HDMI switcher. The lack of a VGA port is also a problem if you want to connect a computer: although a DVI to HDMI adapter costs about $10, there is no easy way to connect a computer that has only a VGA output.
The TC-P42S1 is likewise not over blessed with output ports: the only output port is a single optical digital output. There are no video outputs or analog audio outputs.
There are no other connections on the TC-P42S1.
A single SD card slot is the only connection to the big wide world of media for the TC-P42S1. This can be used to play back photos and music, but cannot handle video.
The side ports of the TC-P42S1 are poorly placed: they are deeply recessed from the lip of the bezel, so you have to lean around the bezel lip to read the labels and to reach the ports themselves. The back ports are also rather deeply set, and as the screen does not rotate on its stand, plugging in or removing a cable from either the side or rear ports involves moving the entire screen.
The audio quality of the two 10 watt speakers built into the body of the TC-P42S1 were adequate, but unspectacular. Although the sound had decent bass and mid-range, we found that high frequencies got rather lost in the mix. This mean that voices were mostly clear, but other high-frequency sounds were mostly drowned out by the bass. A pesudo-surround sound feature is included, but we found that this did not produce any sort of real surround sound effect; it simply seemed to boost the bass even further.
The on-screen menu of the TC-P42S1 is straightforward and simple to use. Pressing the menu button brings up the menu, which is divided into 8 sections: VieraLink, Picture, Audio, Timer, Lock, SD Card, Closed Captions and Setup. Each one of these options contains either a screen full of options, or links to sub-menus with further options. Our main issue with this is that it puts an option that you are not likely to use much right at the top; because the VieraLink feature only works with other Panasonic devices, most users will never need to use it.
One additional approach is to use the Viera Tools button, which brings up a smaller menu with just four options: Viera Link, Slideshow, Sleep and Game Mode. Again, it is a pity that Panasonic decided to put a feature that most people will never use as the first option; it would ahve been more useful to perhaps put the contrast and brightness controls here.
A printed manual is supplied with the TC-P42S1, which is adequate. It is not well written (pidgin English such as 'Unlike a conventional menu, you can enjoy using, playing or setting a function quickly.' abounds in this), but it is well illustrated and shows the basics of connecting and controlling the display. You can find the Panasonic TC-P42S1's manual online here.
The TC-P42S1 is a Full HD, 1080p display, which means that it can handle all of the current formats of HD signal that are in use.
Basic is probably the best way to describe the photo playback features of the TC-P42S1. Inserting an SD Card will automatically launch the photo viewer, which has a very basic, utilitarian interface. The left side of the screen contains the number of pictures, name of the highlighted picture, date the picture was taken, and the picture's resolution. The rest of the screen is populated with a 4x3 grid of thumbnails from the photos.
You can start a slide show by pressing the R button, or by pressing the Viera Tools button and selecting slideshow. The only control you get is the ability to vary the time it lingers on one image: there are no transitions, effects or background music. We also found that it sometimes chokes on larger images, taking 10 seconds or so to switch photos even when the delay is set to a shorter increment.
Music & Video Playback*(0.0)*
The TC-P42S1 can't play back music or videos. Given Panasonic's widespread use of SD cards as the strorage medium for many of their camcorders, this is a pity.
As there is no form of Internet connection on this display, there is no support for streaming media from the Internet or over a home network.
There are no other media features on offer on this display.
Our usual power test involves setting the display so that the measured luminance of the screen is around 200 cd/m2, but this wasn't possible with this display: the closest we could get was about 170 cd/m2. At this setting, we found that the TC-P42S1 consumed an average of about 161.2 watts of electricity, which means that when used for an average of 5 hours a day, this display would cost about $31.47 a year to run. That's a little on the high side, but Plasmas do tend to cost a bit more to run than their LCD cousins.
Value Comparison Summary
The Panasonic out-performed the LG on many of our tests. It had a deeper black level, higher contrast ratio, a much more solid color temperature, and better RGB representation. Even though it lacks the LG's 240Hz mode, it still had comparable scores on our motion tests. The screen is larger as well, and for less money.
Blacks & Whites
The Panasonic has a much deeper black level than the LG, but is significantly less bright. The Panasonic has a much higher contrast ratio.
The Panasonic has a much more solid color temperature than the LG. Both TVs performed about as well on our RGB tests. The Panasonic's color gamut was pretty far off compared to the LG's.
Both TVs mitigated the effects of blurring well, but the LG had fewer artifacting issues than the Panasonic.
The LG has a very small viewing angle. The Panasonic looks great almost out to a straight-on side view.
The Panasonic has fewer ports than the LG. Notably absent are S-Video, VGA, and analog audio out ports.
Neither TV has any additional media capabilities, online connectivity, or any other feature not discussed above.
Value Comparison Summary
The Sony KDL-40S5100 is a 40-inch LCD with a price that's slightly more budget-friendly than the Panasonic TC-P42S1's. The Panasonic has a deeper black and higher contrast ratio, but the Sony does better with colors. Neither TV has a great viewing angle or any bonus features. If you want better contrast and a slightly bigger screen, the Panasonic is the better choice. If you're looking to save a few bucks and won't mind a minor hit to contrast for some better color emulation, the Sony is for you.
Blacks & Whites
The Sony was brighter than the Panasonic, but its black level wasn't quite as deep. The Panasonic had the better overall contrast ratio.
Neither TV had issues with color temperature and both had similar RGB response curves. The Panasonic had a less accurate color gamut.
The Panasonic did a much better job handling blur and artifacting.
The Panasonic's viewing angle is really impressive. The Sony's is very, very narrow.
The Panasonic is lacking in connectivity options. It doesn't have any S-Video, VGA or Analog audio output ports.
Neither TV has any additional features not discussed above.
Value Comparison Summary
The main difference between these two TVs is their format. The TC-P42S1 runs 1080p, while the TC-P42X1 runs 720p. The X1 also has a photo viewer, but the lower price is more likely to seduce a purchase. If you have a Blu-ray player or want to 'future-proof' yourself, the S1 is the better option.
Blacks & Whites**
Both TVs had deep black levels, but the S1 had a much higher peak white. Because of its high white, the S1 ended up with a significantly higher contrast ratio.
Both TVs had roughly the same results on our color accuracy tests. They both had solid color temperatures, roughly equivalent RGB curves, and similarly flawed color gamuts.
Both TVs had roughly the same level of blurriness and artifacting.
The S1 had a shockingly shallow viewing angle for a plasma TV. The X1 had a much wider angle, which is typical of plastmas.
The big difference in connectivity is the presence of an SD card slot on the X1. Toss an SD card into this slot and you can view pictures.
The SD card slot is the main difference between the two TVs. The X1 utilizes this slot to offer additional media playback options.
Panasonic offers a wide range of sizes in the S1 series, from the 42-inch model that we reviewed up to the garganutan 65 inch TC-P65S1. The pries range from about $840 for the 42' model up to about $3600 for the 65'.
Meet the tester
Alfredo Padilla is a valued contributor to the Reviewed.com family of sites.
Checking our work.
We use standardized and scientific testing methods to scrutinize every product and provide you with objectively accurate results. If you’ve found different results in your own research, email us and we’ll compare notes. If it looks substantial, we’ll gladly re-test a product to try and reproduce these results. After all, peer reviews are a critical part of any scientific process.Shoot us an email