Panasonic TX-P50VT30B Plasma 3D TV Review

So, here it is: the 50-inch version of the Panasonic VT30, the Japanese manufacturer’s top-end 3D Plasma TV series for 2011. The TX-P50VT30B features a Full HD panel (of course), 4 HDMI inputs, a reflection-killing screen filter (part of the “Infinite Black Pro” branding), the THX Certification seal of approval for both 2D and 3D modes, and basically all the ISF-approved calibration controls you could hope for, including full 10-point Greyscale and Gamma correction, and a fully-fledged three-axis colour management system (CMS).

The UK model (reviewed here) features connectivity for the Freesat service as well as digital terrestrial HDTV (Freeview). Furthermore, in all European countries, the Panasonic Viera VT30 3DTVs ship with two pairs of active-shutter glasses 3D in the box (many other territories around the world receive only one pair). Let’s see if all of this adds up to make the Panasonic TX-P50VT30B a must have 3D television.

Jump To: OperationCalibrationPicture PerformanceConclusion

Design

To those of us who aren’t users of Apple’s tablet device, the similarity will probably have passed us by, but after it’s pointed out, it’s hard to deny that with its rounded edges, shiny glass surface and silver outer trim, the Panasonic TX-P50VT30B resembles a giant iPad. We don’t imagine anyone will find fault with the design: it’s sleek enough to appeal to most users and understated enough to be inoffensive. Our usual complaint – the usage of gloss black material – isn’t really an issue here because the entire panel is covered in a sheet of glass, making it difficult to scratch (something that can’t be said for the gloss black plastic used on many HDTVs). However, a reflection-free bezel is recommended for use with 3D TV to avoid drawing attention to the edges of the frame.

Panasonic TX-P50VT30B

The 50VT30 is only a few centimetres thin (although it extends out at its base to allow for larger speakers), and sits securely on top of its supplied tabletop stand.

The remote control supplied with the UK (and other European) models is fairly sleek, and feels heavier than the more basic remote control supplied with other Panasonic Plasma TVs. We like both remotes very much, although the Viera VT30′s has the advantage of having some of its buttons back-lit in red. In case you’re wondering, the remotes are interchangeable (at least in terms of basic functionality – we haven’t tested every single button).

Connections

The Panasonic TX-P50VT30 features 4 HDMI inputs, connections for the satellite and terrestrial tuners, and inputs for older analogue interfaces, which require break-out adapter cables (included in the box). There is no VGA (“PC”) input on the European models, something we don’t think will be missed given that the HDMI connections are up to this task. Gamers expecting to hook their Sega Dreamcasts (which, as a pre-HDTV console, relies on VGA for its highest quality output) may be the only group who mourns the loss of this input (myself included).

Rear connections
Rear: 4 x HDMI, Component, SCART, aerial, Freesat, USB, SD card, LAN, etc.

Operation

The [Picture] menu on the TX-P50VT30B houses all of the image-altering controls (they’re no longer scattered between different menus as they were on last year’s Panasonic displays). The top level adjustment is called [Viewing Mode], with “Dynamic”, “Normal”, “Cinema” and “THX” being the default options (out of these, “THX” gives the most accurate, true-to-intent images). A one-time alteration in the [Setup] menu is required to unlock two additional modes, “Professional1″ and “Professional2″ (the appropriate setting is [Advance(isfccc)]).

[Picture] menu [Picture] menu
[Picture] menus

The three accurate picture quality modes are “THX”, “Professional1″ and “Professional2″. The remaining three – “Dynamic”, “Normal” and “Cinema” either impose a slightly oversaturated colour gamut, contrast stretching, or both. The basic picture controls (Contrast, Brightness, Colour and Sharpness) act largely as expected (although raising the [Contrast] control doesn’t actually bring about a substantial increase in picture brightness; it only really serves to clip highlight details), and there is a [P-NR] noise reduction system which works at both the spatial (single-frame) and temporal (multi-frame) levels to reduce noise. Given the large size of the TX-P50VT30, we ended up turning this on for some standard definition Digital TV broadcasts. The two combined noise filtering modes that this control features do a decent job of reducing compression artefacts (don’t expect miracles, though, because there’s little that can be done with such overcompressed material).

The [Advanced Settings] are present in the two [Professional] viewing modes. These menus grant access to [White Balance] (Greyscale tracking) controls in both 2-point and 10-point varieties, as well as full control over the TV’s colour reproduction ([Colour Management]). There’s also a basic [Gamma] curve selection as well as more precise 10-point adjustment, as well as the [Intelligent Frame Creation] system (we’ll investigate this during the Motion Resolution section of the review).

2D Calibration

Note: Our Panasonic TX-P50VT30B review sample was calibrated using Calman Professional, the industry-leading video calibration software.

The Viera TX-P50VT30 we received for assessment had actually already been reviewed by another magazine, so had 130 hours of usage on it already – allowing us to skip the “break-in” process and get straight on with measurements. We selected the plasma’s [THX] mode, which exists to give the best picture quality possible without the need for specialised calibration instruments, and measured its Greyscale tracking, to see how well the Panasonic VT30 was producing neutral Grey shades.

2D Mode Greyscale

Pre-calibration RGB Tracking
Pre-calibration RGB tracking and delta errors (dEs)

The THX certified display mode did a good job of producing accurate Greyscale shades, remembering of course that its job is not to reproduce the specific corrections made for each individual TV during display calibration, but to provide a next-best alternative that doesn’t cost any extra money. The image contained a slightly visible excess of blue throughout, although interestingly, the 20% stimulus position contained a higher than average level of accuracy.

Post-calibration RGB Tracking in [Professional1] mode
Post-calibration RGB tracking and dEs in [Professional1] mode

Using our Klein Instruments K-10 meter, we were able to use the pre-calibration measurements together with the TX-P50VT30B’s [White Balance] menu to offset and remove any errors, resulting in perceptibly perfect greyscale shades. However, during this process, we noticed something strange. If we stepped through all stimulus levels – 0, 10, 20, etc. – we would sometimes get a perfect measurement in the 10% position, but at other times, the 10% measurement would be overly tinted – strange behaviour which we confirmed by eye. The culprit turned out to be the low-brightness shifting we’ve noticed with other 2011 Panasonic Plasmas. It turns out that, if the user brings up the TV’s menu (which is necessary to adjust the [White Balance] settings, unless the calibrator is using CalMan Professional to directly alter the television’s settings via a PC), a small luminance shift occurs, which also alters the Greyscale tracking in dark shades. Our first work-around was to bring up the menu, make the necessary adjustment, clear the menu, display a fully black screen, then return to the 10% grey patch and make the measurement again. Of course, while this results in linear Greyscale measurements on the above chart, it’s a good demonstration of the fact that real-world performance will be prone to this sort of unpredictability, which may result in some mild errors still creeping in. However, we don’t think some Greyscale shifting in shadowed areas will trouble anyone too much.

As a result, we switched to APL (Average Picture Level) test patterns to carry out the calibration. Although the behaviour of the TX-P50VT30 is somewhat unpredictable in this regard, APL patterns will surely approximate real-world programme material better than the traditional windowed patterns we normally use to calibrate Plasma televisions.

Gamma curve in [Professional1] mode Gamma tracking in [Professional1] mode
Gamma curve in [Professional1] mode Corresponding gamma tracking

To calibrate Gamma (which, in this context, means the amount of light put out by the Plasma panel relative to the input video signal), we first tried out the different preset settings to find out which got us closest to our desired Gamma of 2.2 (which is recommended for usage in most environments which aren’t light-controlled, such as an average living room). The default menu setting is “2.2″, but we found that the “2.4″ setting actually got us closer to 2.2. Afterwards, we made gentle adjustments to even out peaks and dips in the tracking, originally using windowed patterns as we had done in our initial greyscale calibration.

When we then returned to real-life content, we saw that this resulted in quite obvious static contouring: for example, newsreaders would have reflections from overhead studio lights on their foreheads exaggerated and made to look like large sweat patches. We then re-calibrated using the APL (Average Picture Level) patterns on the AVSHD test disc, which, again, cured the problem, and brought about smoother transitions and greater highlight detail when compared to calibrating with windowed patterns. As always, careful checks are in order before “signing off” on the calibration.

We’ve known for a while now that many consumer Plasma TVs have unpredictable performance in terms of their light output (the only ones we can remember which didn’t were produced by a company that no longer makes Plasma displays – guess who). While they can be calibrated to line up perfectly in static test charts, both Greyscale and Gamma tracking can vary with actual material depending on the average picture level (APL) of the scene. So, we decided to perform a small experiment to find out just how much the light output would deviate during normal usage. We cut together a short disc of film clips featuring both dim, standard and bright scenes, and rendered a 50% grey patch onto the centre of the video to see how much it would deviate from 50% grey as the film clips underneath it played back. The change in light output on the Panasonic TX-P50VT30B isn’t nearly as dramatic as the charts would suggest, but this is food for thought all the same:

Variation in light output

2D Mode Colour

Post-calibration CIE chart in [Professional1] mode
Post-calibration CIE chart with reference to HD Rec.709

The colour performance in both the uncalibrated, out-of-the-box THX mode, and the final calibrated Professional modes, were both very good indeed on the TX-P50VT30. The THX mode measured as containing only mild inaccuracies (red was slightly pushed towards orange, and magenta was just a tiny bit more purple than would be ideal). The comprehensive controls allowed us to obtain essentially perfect hue, saturation and luminance for all of the primary and secondary colours (at least when the light output is stable).

Post-calibration Luminance levels in [Professional1] mode
Post-calibration colour luminance (coloured bars = targets; black bars = measured values)

3D Calibration

For 3D calibration, we used one of the pairs of active-shutter glasses supplied in the box, and attached it to the end of our Klein K-10 meter. This is relevant because individual pairs of tri-dimensional eyewear impose their own colour tint on the image, which has to be compensated for during the 3D calibration process for the best possible results. In fact, the tint sometimes even differs between the left and right eyes (something that THX take into account as part of their 3D Certification process, making it unlikely to pose a problem on any of Panasonic’s THX Certified 3D displays).

We first checked the [Brightness] control in the THX mode, and found that shades above black were only really discernible from level 22 and above (ideally, 17 and above should be the above black shades, since video black is defined at level 16). Raising Brightness by 2 clicks remedied this issue and netted us a little extra shadow detail with 3D content.

3D Mode Greyscale

3D Pre-calibration RGB Tracking
3D Pre-calibration RGB tracking and delta errors (dEs)

When we reviewed the 42″ version of the VT30 Plasma-based 3DTV, we noticed that in the [THX] 3D mode, 20% grey appeared obviously blue-tinted, with Greyscale tracking flattening out and become more neutral from 30% and onwards. On this 50″ model, the story was much the same, with two differences: first, 10% grey also appeared visibly blue; and second, the pre-calibrated colour of grey was much more neutral than on the smaller model outside of shadowed areas of the picture. Do keep in mind that unlike the previous 2011 Panasonic Plasmas we’ve reviewed, which have been brand new units which we aged prior to calibration, our Panasonic TX-P50VT30B sample is the same one as previously reviewed by another AV site, meaning it’s been used for longer. Of course, the differences could also be down to unit-to-unit variation or even the different pair of 3D eyewear used. It’s a shame we can’t perform long-term testing on a THX-Certified 3D display: perhaps, given sufficient time, the TX-P50VT30′s Greyscale neutrality will get even closer to accuracy by itself?

3D Post-calibration RGB Tracking in [Professional1] mode
3D Post-calibration RGB tracking and dEs in [Professional1] mode

Unfortunately, we don’t have that length of time to spare, so we switched over to the fully adjustable [Professional1] mode and began by using the standard 2-point Greyscale controls with the glasses sitting in front of our meter’s lens. This gave us highly accurate 3D Greyscale tracking, with a slight peak of red at 50% stimulus and some blue tinting at 100% white being the only just-noticeable errors. We then used the 10-point White Balance correction controls that Panasonic has granted to VT30 users in order to gain near perfection.

3D Mode Colour

For 3D colour calibration, we first used the standard window patterns which we typically use to adjust Plasma TV displays. However, this resulted in unusually dimmed colours with actual material. Once again, we recalibrated using the AVSHD test disc’s APL (Average Picture Level) colour patterns, which solved the issue. It’s a little hard to say if the end result is entirely accurate or not in real world usage, given the dearth of actual 3D content at the moment, but we did jump back and forth between the 3D and 2D display modes when playing a 3D film and were satisfied that there were no obvious shifts between the two modes… other than the entire image being considerably darker in 3-dimensional viewing, of course.

3D Post-calibration CIE chart in [Professional1] mode
3D Post-calibration CIE chart with reference to HD Rec.709
3D Post-calibration Luminance levels in [Professional1] mode
3D Post-calibration colour luminance (coloured bars = targets; black bars = measured values)

In these conditions, we could adjust the Hue, Saturation and Luminance of all colours to perfection (except for Blue, which we could never fully saturate when the glasses were part of the equation). As the aforementioned luminance discrepancy indicates, though, the TX-P50VT30B’s results with actual 3D material might not be so consistent.

Benchmark Test Results

Dead pixels One sometimes flashing red pixel in top left
Screen uniformity Excellent, neutral tint across screen surface
Overscanning on HDMI 0% with [16:9 Overscan] set to “Off
Blacker than black Passed
Calibrated black level (black screen) 0.02 cd/m2
Calibrated black level (ANSI checkerboard) 0.02 cd/m2
Black level retention Some low-level brightness fluctuation
Primary chromaticity Excellent
Scaling Excellent
Video mode deinterlacing Very effective jaggies reduction
Film mode deinterlacing Passed 2-2 PAL and 3-2 NTSC tests in SD and HD
Viewing angle Excellent, but screen filter lessens vertical viewing angle
Motion resolution 1080, but with noisy edges unless [Intelligent Frame Creation] used
Digital noise reduction [P-NR] is a spatial + temporal filter, optional
Sharpness Defeatable edge enhancement
Luma/Chroma bandwidth (2D Blu-ray) Full Luma, Full Chroma
Image retention Very little
Posterization Mild, though worse with poor source
Phosphor trails Very mild
1080p/24 capability No judder in 2D or 3D
Input lag 24ms compared to lag-free CRT
Full 4:4:4 reproduction (PC) No, 4:4:4 input subsampled

Power Consumption

Default [Normal] mode (2D) 193 watts
Default [Normal] mode (3D) 263 watts
Calibrated [Professional1] mode (2D) 183 watts
Calibrated [Professional1] mode (3D) 248 watts
Standby 1 watt

Note: Measurements taken with full 50% grey screen.

Picture Performance

Black Level

During viewing in a dim (but not fully dark) environment, we had no complaints about the minimum luminance level the Panasonic TX-P50VT30 was capable of outputting. In a fully dark room it’s of course still possible to pick the television out from absolute darkness – especially if you’ve been sitting in it for long enough to your eyes to adjust to the surroundings – but Plasma TVs which can manage zero black levels are probably many, many years away.

We measured the P50VT30B’s black level as being 0.02 cd/m2, which is minutely higher than last year’s TX-P50VT20 (which measured a hairline under 0.01 cd/m2). Truthfully, we were expecting the same result from the VT30, but let’s not get hung up over a single nit of brightness. We’re also a little surprised to see that the black level is higher than the 42″ VT30 version we reviewed previously, since previous Panasonic Plasma ranges have actually gotten darker with the larger screen sizes. Whether the difference is down to how many hours of usage our review unit has had on it, or simple variation from unit to unit, is unknown. In any case, the 50VT30 produced a very deep shade of black which we found to be entirely sufficient, with any complaints being confined to the realm of comparing minute differences in numbers.

As with the other 2011 Panasonic PDPs, the ANSI black level measurement was the same, meaning the TX-P50VT30B held on to these deep blacks even in scenes with mixed contrast.

We’ll investigate how stable the light output is during dark scenes in the “High Definition” section of the review.

Motion Resolution

As with all of the other 2011 Panasonic consumer Plasma TVs we’ve looked at, the TX-P50VT30 can resolve all 1080 discrete lines from the scrolling motion resolution test chart on the FPD Benchmark Software disc. LCD-based HDTVs with premium pricing (like Samsung’s D7000 and D8000 series of LED-lit LCD televisions) can deliver the same result from this test (in fact, the LCDs can do so with less dithering artefacts around the fine edges in the chart). However, the Plasma image still appears sharper in motion, which we think is due to the differences in how the screen is refreshed between the two technologies. Very fast motion on LCD displays still tends to appear blurred at times, whereas the same fast motion on the TX-P50VT30B can appear contoured and slightly noisy. Both display technologies have their own ways of breaking down when faced with especially stressful content, and it’s safe to say that the VT30 is one of the clearest flat panel TVs on the market today.

We kept an eye out for any other types of motion artefacts, specifically with regard to 50hz (European) sources. Some dynamic false contouring (posterisation) was visible with certain colour/brightness combinations, and these areas had the tendency to pick up red and green edges at times. The [Intelligent Frame Creation] system set to “Mid” (its lowest setting) reduced, but did not eliminate the phenomenon. Using the “High” setting (which causes any input signals to be converted to 60hz) greatly reduced the contouring and eliminated nearly all of the coloured edges. Of course, the IFC systems add motion interpolation and its associated glitches (like you’d see on a 100hz/200hz LCD TV), and the “Max” setting causes some mild motion judder on fast camera pans due to the frame rate conversion from 50 to 60hz. Without knowing precisely how Panasonic Plasmas are driven – something probably outside of both A) the public domain and B) our understanding as non-engineers – we can only assume that the slight increase in motion artefacts is related to the higher panel refresh rate (50hz video is output by the panel at 100hz, whereas 60hz signals – and 50hz signals converted to 60hz by the IFC “Max” setting – are output at 60hz). We feel this is more visible on the 50″ VT30 than on the smaller sizes we previously reviewed. Whether this is because they use different screen driving mechanisms, or a direct result of the larger size, is unknown. In any case, we didn’t feel the issue is worth getting overly stressed about, and mention it only for completeness.

3D Material

Based on our observations of previous Panasonic 3D Plasmas, we were expecting the Viera TX-P50VT30B to be able to display every last drop of vertical resolution from a 3D source. In fact, we were surprised to see our 3D resolution test pattern revealing the same slight resolution loss as the 2011 42-inch 3DTVs. The vertical resolution check in the test pattern (which is made up of alternating black/white lines) appeared on the 50VT30 as a grey box, just as it did on the TX-P42VT30 (although fortunately, it didn’t appear as a flashing black/white box as it did on last year’s 46″ and smaller 3D televisions, and this year’s TX-P42ST30).

With real-world content, a resolution loss this small won’t really be visible. You won’t, for example, look at a 3D Blu-ray movie and find the image obviously blurred or lacking in resolution (though switching back and forth between 2D and 3D may be a little more telling). However, the fact that not every last drop of resolution is reaching the screen does mean that some slight jaggedness can become visible on highly textured areas and diagonal edges.

Last year’s 50″ VT20 had the distinction of being the first 3D TV we ever reviewed, and as such, we can’t say with 100% certainty whether it could display all 1080 lines clearly in 3D or not. Our hunch is that it did, for a few reasons. First, we’d almost certainly have noticed the small jaggies in 3D had there been any, and second, we only felt compelled to actually make a 3D resolution test pattern when we reviewed our second 3D-capable television, which clearly had problems in this area. The Samsung PS50C6900 Plasma 3DTV we reviewed in November 2010 certainly passed full resolution in 3D to the viewer’s eyes, but it had numerous other issues with crosstalk and gradation which the 2011 Panasonics don’t feature. Has resolution really taken a subtle step back? It seems that in 2011, Panasonic has homogenised its 3D plasma panel driving and there are no more performance differences across screen sizes, with most screen sizes being superior to the 2010 models and the 50-inch (and larger?) models taking a small step backwards.

Fortunately, the trade-off is worth it, because the 2011 models have considerably superior Greyscale tracking – both before and after calibration. 2010 3D Plasma displays that we calibrated (or attempted to calibrate) didn’t do well in this category at all, with both Panasonic’s and Samsung’s attempts producing fairly tinted images. As we saw during the 3D Calibration section, the TX-P50VT30B’s 3D pictures (as measured through the bundled active-shutter glasses) fare pretty well in terms of Greyscale tracking quality before any calibration and are measurably perfect in this regard afterwards. The P50VT30 therefore produces sufficient resolution and sufficiently high quality Greyscale linearity – and of course, near-total freedom from crosstalk – and all of this adds up to some very enjoyable 3D images. Our only remaining criticism – and arguably the most important one – is the loss of brightness that results from the 3D display mode and 3D glasses.

With these pre-flight checks out of the way, we sat down, dimmed the lights, slipped on the 3D eyewear, and ran some of our usual test 3D BD check discs on the TX-P50VT30. We were pleased with what we saw. Especially after reviewing some LCD-based 3DTV displays, the Panasonic’s ability to show any type of 3D material we threw at it without any sort of motion judder was a breath of fresh air. 24 fps 3D movies on Blu-ray, those sped up to 25fps for transmission on European TV, and native 3D video camera content in both 50hz and 60hz all displayed with absolutely no stutter or judder. There were no obvious signs of Greyscale issues, with the image appearing free of colour tints at all points. Crosstalk is almost non-existent, being visible only in some extreme cases (white objects on black backgrounds). The 50″ screen size also allowed us to become enveloped in the 3D images to a greater extent than on smaller 3DTVs. All in all, the Panasonic TX-P50VT30B’s output is one of the best attempts at 3D we’ve seen, although we’ve highlighted the areas where it still lags behind 2D images in terms of measurable picture quality. All things considered, the 2011 displays are doing better than 2010 models in overall 3D picture quality, and we look forward to seeing future improvements.

Standard Definition

Like the rest of the 2011 Panasonic Plasma lineup, the TX-P50VT30 does a good job with SD to HD conversion. The 2010 offerings got most things in this department right, with high quality diagonal interpolation (for concealing jaggies during the deinterlacing of interlaced material), and sharp, crisp scaling with low ringing around edges. The same is true for the 2011 NeoPlasma models, which also add an attempt at film cadence detection to the mix, bringing Panasonic’s SD performance up to the same (or better) level as most other manufacturers.

As we discovered with previous 2011 Panasonic HDTVs, the P50VT30 will successfully lock on and compensate for the 2-2 PAL film cadence, avoiding unnecessary jaggedness with Film-to-PAL video transfers and other material which shares the same motion characteristics. There is a bug, though, where Film Mode detection will stop working if the user enters then leaves 3D mode (we can’t imagine many people will engage 2D to 3D conversion with SD content, though). In other words, the film cadence detection is not quite as robust as the best systems.

High Definition

As usual, we looked forward to sitting with a stack of our favourite Blu-ray Disc movies to see how they looked on the 50VT30. And as usual, we were very happy with the job this HDTV was doing. The VT30′s deep blacks, glossy screen coating, judder-free motion and suitably accurate Greyscale and Colour reproduction all meant that films looked deep, involving and accurate. Last but not least, the TX-P50VT30 does not partake in any sort of film grain blurring or reduction (unless the user chooses to enable the [P-NR] function), so everything you watch appears with full detail. HD on the Panasonic TX-P50VT30B is one of the best home cinema experiences we can think of outside of dedicated projection setups.

Body of Lies

Of course, there is still the issue of low-level gamma fluctuation, which is certainly the cloud hanging over the 2011 Panasonic Plasma range. Watch some dark scenes in a darkened viewing environment, and you might notice the TX-P50VT30 make a quick adjustment to Gamma a few seconds into a scene (the image may get slightly darker or brighter overall). We actually ran into this during Greyscale calibration, and in this case the shift was triggered by simply displaying the TV’s own picture adjustment menu. All online evidence (analysis of patents filed by companies developing Plasma technology) points to this being a side-effect of Panasonic’s Plasma driving method – in other words, a by-product of how the panel displays images, rather than a misguided attempt to sell TVs at the expense of image accuracy. It would appear that, at the time of writing, the only alternatives to this would be to produce a Plasma TV with a considerably brighter black level or to produce one with a very short lifespan – meaning that these small brightness shifts are very much the lesser of other potential evils.

One thing we’re not totally sure of, however, is why the television isn’t buffering frames and “looking ahead” to pick the most appropriate screen drawing mode ahead of time. In many cases, the TX-P50VT30B would shift gamma just after a scene change. Given that instantaneous response isn’t necessary outside of video game usage, wouldn’t it be possible to align most of the shifts to correspond with scene cuts and hide them from the viewer? We’re sure Panasonic has thought of this, of course.

Panasonic TX-P50VT30 screen shot

Console Gaming

As with the rest of the 2011 Panasonic Plasmas, gaming is excellent on the TX-P50VT30B. We measured its video processing adding just 24 ms of lag. We measured this figure in the “Game” picture mode, although the other modes felt just as fast, provided we hadn’t enabled the [Intelligent Frame Creation] system, which by its very nature adds some noticeable delay. Having only 24 ms of input lag means that we can recommend the Panasonic TX-P50VT30 to just about anyone who’s into gaming; only some CRT die-hards who’ve mastered every single combo move in beat-em-up games would be able to sense any sort of delay. Gaming felt fluid, fast and enjoyable on this HDTV.

Conclusion

Based on our analysis of last year’s Panasonic displays, we were expecting the 50-inch version of the VT30 to offer some slight improvements with 3D picture quality compared to the smaller 42″ version we reviewed previously. Well, we expected wrong: the Panasonic TX-P50VT30B behaves basically the same as its smaller sibling, and carries all its strengths and weaknesses over to the 50″ screen size, indicating that some homogenisation has occurred within the lineup. In short, 3D on the TX-P50VT30 gives users the most crosstalk-free experience we’ve seen at this screen size, with fairly good Greyscale tracking in its uncalibrated state. It’s not as bright as some competing 3D LED LCD sets, though, and doesn’t display every last drop of vertical detail from a 3D 1080p HD source.

In terms of 2D, it’s business as usual when compared to the rest of the Panasonic 2011 Plasma range. Pre-calibrated performance is good, and there are menu options galore for fine-tuning the panel’s output. Motion is excellent on the whole, although users in pursuit of perfection and a keen eye will be able to notice some mild contouring in some instances. And of course, as a Plasma television, there are no viewing angle restrictions worth mentioning.

People are bound to ask why the TX-P50VT30B has been rated “Highly Recommended”, when we rated last year’s equivalent model “Reference Level”. This doesn’t necessarily mean that the TX-P50VT20 is a better display than the VT30; in fact the VT30 is demonstrably superior in terms of 3D greyscale tracking. The reality is that the extra-dimensional waters have been muddied since May 2010, with other manufacturers’ attempts at 3D showing both ups and downs compared to Panasonic’s. Additionally, we’re more intimately familiar with the strengths and weaknesses of Panasonic Plasmas than we were a year ago.

Overall, the Panasonic TX-P50VT30 is the best performing 50-inch HDTV we’ve reviewed so far this year in any dimension. There is no comparable flat-screen television that gives the same rich blacks, excellent screen uniformity, freedom from input lag, and lack of 3D crosstalk.

Highly Recommended