Panasonic TX-P50VT50B Plasma 3D TV Review

Black Level

Once night time was upon us, we turned off any sources of light to make our test room pitch black, performed a fresh black level calibration of the Klein K-10 meter, and measured the very best minimum luminance level (MLL) that the Panasonic TX-P50VT50B is capable of producing, with the meter pressed right up against the screen to block out any remaining external light. Because of our black level calibration and our use of a highly accurate measuring device, there were no issues with obtaining a reliable measurement.

Panasonic Plasma TVs do not use auto-dimming tricks with black screens, and keep the panel running when a fully black source is input. Many LED LCD televisions turn the lighting off in these circumstances, returning a measurement of pure black (0 cd/m2), a trick which is obviously of no use at all for actually watching the TV. Under these conditions, the TX-P50VT50B returned a measurement of 0.009 cd/m2 – the exact same breathtakingly dark black that we saw on the ST50 series we measured weeks ago.

For total thoroughness, we should mention that, after displaying a brighter screen and jumping back to the fully black screen, blacks would initially measure at around 0.012 cd/m2. After a couple of seconds, the measurement would stabilise at 0.009 cd/m2. Our best guess is that this is caused by phosphor afterglow. The difference of 0.003 is unnoticeable to the eye, but we mention this given how contested black level measurements can become.

With the ANSI checkerboard test pattern, which places a central black patch in the middle of the screen surrounded by full-white boxes (and therefore gives a much better indication of real world performance), the TX-P50VT50B returned a black of 0.012 cd/m2, which is not visibly higher than the full black screen measurement. Once again, this was the exact same result we saw from the TX-P42ST50.

This means that the Panasonic TX-P50VT50 produces some of the deepest blacks currently on the market, although doesn’t improve on the outstanding performance of the cheaper model. Unlike locally dimmed LED LCD HDTVs, this black is produced naturally, without shutting off sections of the panel. Accordingly, there are no “halo” artefacts, loss of colour saturation, or any other side-effects. The black level on the 2012 Panasonic plasmas is just naturally this good.

One other improvement pitched by Panasonic has been that of gradation, especially in dark areas. This is a subtle, but very welcome improvement. Compared to older Panasonic plasma displays, dark areas of the picture appear with better defined gradations and less dithering noise. Areas that would appear more contoured and coated in red, green and blue fuzz if viewed up close on older models appeared more defined on the Viera VT50.

As we already mentioned, the possibility of “floating gamma” does exist on the Panasonic VT50, but it is incredibly rare and also incredibly subtle. It’s also possible to avoid it. We used the same content that highlighted issues on previous Panasonic plasma TVs, and saw no problem here at first, although we did see incredibly subtle gamma shifting with some content in our calibrated mode. Sure enough, easing off on the 10 IRE gamma adjustment cured the problem. Our 10% stimulus adjustment originally was “-15″, we had to pull it back to “-3″, which caused shadow details to be slightly brightened, to avoid the subtle shifting.

Peak White Output

As we briefly mentioned during our crawl through the TX-P50VT50B’s user menus, we were disappointed to see that the brightest white the VT50 can produce in its most useful (that is, most adjustable) picture modes is capped. The [THX Cinema] mode isn’t adjustable, but puts out a brighter image, and the [THX Bright Room] mode both pumps up the panel light output and uses a gamma setting which exaggerates shadow details to make them more visible in a sun-drenched environment. The [Game] mode has no limitation on light output and its [Contrast] control is fully adjustable to suit brighter rooms, but it features a non-standard colour gamut, and its panel driving mode uses some (barely visible) shortcuts to decrease input lag.

The [Professional] modes are the only ones which can be fully calibrated, and these are unfortunately capped to a fairly low light output setting which is certainly enough for a darkened cinema environment, but can look a little dim in brighter viewing conditions. We measured a fully white patch with standard windowed test patterns, and found that the [THX Cinema] mode reached up to 105 cd/m2, compared to just 80 cd/m2 in the [Professional] modes. For that reason, we can’t recommend the Panasonic Viera VT50 for very bright rooms, which is a shame. With the ST50 we recently reviewed, we managed to squeeze 130 cd/m2 out of the panel without damaging white details – and we could probably have pushed it a little higher. In fact, one of the reasons we were so enthusiastic about the ST50 was that it could produce a brighter white at the same time as an incredibly deep black. The TX-P50VT50′s images have less “pop” as a result of its brightness limitations, even though black is at the same (excellent) depth as on the ST50 model.

Panasonic actually promised that this year’s Plasma televisions would be brighter than last year’s, claiming that improvements in efficiency had been used to provide a brighter image instead of reducing power consumption. It seems that this doesn’t apply to the [Professional] modes, which are actually no brighter than last year’s. We dug into our archive of calibration reports and pulled out the file for last year’s 50″ VT30, and sure enough, the peak light output of 80 cd/m2 in the [Professional] modes is exactly the same as on its 2012 successor. We really think this is something Panasonic should address. The North American Panasonic plasmas have featured a “Panel Brightness” control for some time now, although calibrators from across the Atlantic have mentioned that it decreases accuracy. Is this why Panasonic has limited the light output? In any case, the fact that the cheaper ST50 series is nearly as accurate, but cheaper and considerably brighter is a fact that likely won’t be lost on buyers.

Motion Resolution

Panasonic completely revamped its plasma panel driving this year, with the Viera VT50 series featuring a “2500hz Focused Field Drive”. The lesser “2000hz” version found on the cheaper ST50 model produced a visible improvement compared to previous displays. Although they have been able to resolve a full 1080 lines of detail during motion for some time now, the gradation quality and freedom from “fuzzy double images” has been much improved. In other words, although the motion is as clear as ever, the quality in fast moving areas has been improved.

Truth be told, we couldn’t see a huge difference when compared to the already outstanding motion clarity shown by the ST50 model, although if we’d been able to do a side-by-side test, we might have come up with some more interesting observations. Synthetic test patterns and real-world content were all displayed brilliantly by the Panasonic TX-P50VT50B, with dither noise in the image being distributed evenly without building up around the edges of moving objects, or forming visible patterns.

As we found on the ST50, using the [Intelligent Frame Creation] system on its “Min” setting only very rarely produced “shredding” motion interpolation artefacts (like you often see on a 200hz LCD TV). It did, however, help reduce double imaging with 50hz material, and did bring about a very small reduction in coloured phosphor trails being visible with fast motion. We didn’t see any real reason to turn it on with most content, but the “Min” setting will work well with high-motion video material if any users encounter double-image effects.

At the higher panel refresh rates – such as the 100hz output rate used for 50hz European TV material – there is the increased tendency for fast motion to produce visible false contours, an example of which would be flesh tones picking up spurious ridges of colour during fast camera pans. This is more of a risk with television material, because although 24p film material is output by the panel at 96hz, the frame rate of film content is too low to reveal many motion limitations in the display. There are still some instances of coloured false contours visible with 50hz material, but we don’t consider this to be a huge issue given how rarely it occurs.

Screen Uniformity

We noticed absolutely no discrepancies in screen uniformity on our TX-P50VT50 review sample, including on patterns which highlighted “green splats” on a Panasonic G30 we have in one of our test rooms, and a more subtle but still present yellow tint on the ST50 we reviewed recently. That’s great news, and while this is obviously a Panasonic-sourced review sample (obviously, they’ll send us one of the best ones if visible performance differences do exist in manufactured product), it bodes well for our hope that the VT50s that end up with users perform to the same high standard.

The new 1080p Pure Direct mode

Upon hearing of a “Pure Direct” mode, videophiles’ ears will prick up, since any mode which bypasses unwanted processing usually results in higher image quality. We scoured test patterns and high quality video material at length, and we found that the only difference with this mode is the one which Panasonic advertised: with the 1080p Pure Direct mode turned on, the full chroma bandwidth of the video was preserved, meaning that tiny coloured details were not blurred out by the TV. Of course, to see tiny coloured details, they need to exist in the source to start with. There are a couple of prerequisites regarding this control that we’ll mention at the end of this section.

Higher chroma bandwidth is going to be of most benefit to material with small coloured details and edges, such as high quality, HD-sourced, saturated 2D animation. A Chief Engineer from Panasonic made a well-observed point a couple of years ago in a tech paper on a related subject, when he mentioned that higher chroma resolution also causes film grain to appear more natural and, in their words, less “sticky”. However, on a television-sized display, we feel that the differences, while welcome, are subtle.

One misconception we’ve come across online is that higher chroma resolution results in more saturated colours, but this is determined by the display’s colour gamut, not by signal bandwidth (current Plasma TVs have absolutely no problem meeting the colour requirements of HDTV, and exceeding them isn’t even a good idea). High chroma bandwidth simply means that tiny coloured details will not be blurred out by the television.

All video sources available to consumers – with the exception of PCs and HD video game consoles – use chroma subsampling as a form of compression, that is, to reduce the storage requirements. Chroma subsampling is where the coloured data in an image is stored at a lower resolution than the black and white luminance data. In the current 1920×1080 HDTV system most commonly used on Blu-ray Disc, only the black and white luminance portion of the video is actually 1920×1080. The resolution of the coloured “layer” which is composited on top of that black and white image is effectively 960×540, although attempts at enhancing chroma resolution can increase the clarity of these fine details. The thinking goes that because our eyes are much better at detecting fine details in brightness, but not in colour, that every second colour pixel can be thrown away and guessed from its neighbours (or, with more advanced processing, more intelligently reconstructed). Panasonic sells Blu-ray players with “Reference Chroma Processing”, which promise to better reconstruct the details lost to chroma sub-sampling, and then output the chroma-upscaled image as a full-bandwidth 4:4:4 signal over HDMI. Ironically, the effects of these players will have mostly been lost on previous Panasonic plasmas due to their inability to display full chroma bandwidth! We assume that the “1080p Pure Direct” feature has been added to address this irony, and that it is intended for use with these advanced BD players, meaning that customers now have an entirely Panasonic-branded solution for enhanced chroma detail from Blu-ray.

Because of the fact that nearly all video sources have been compromised in this way, preserving full chroma bandwidth does not seem to be a priority for TV manufacturers. We also understand that using lower resolution chroma processing in a video processor chip allows the complexity and cost to be reduced, and manufacturers like to route all signals through these chips to provide essential features like deinterlacing, scaling, and other video “enhancements” like noise reduction. However, a 1080p signal being displayed on a 1080p panel doesn’t need deinterlaced, doesn’t need scaled, and because we just want to see the video as-is without any revisions, we don’t want noise reduction either. So, although it barely makes a difference to image quality, there’s no reason for us not to turn on the 1080p Pure Direct mode.

We found that the option to turn the feature on could be a little bit elusive. The [1080p Pure Direct] menu option should appear in the [Advanced Settings] menu underneath “Gamma”. But, it only appears with certain types of signal. It does not appear with any type of RGB input over HDMI, which is strange, because all digital RGB signals are 4:4:4. And, the option does not appear with 24p 4:2:2 signals, such as those sent by most Blu-ray players – although when we tested this signal type, we found that there was no need for the choice to appear because the chroma bandwidth was not being compromised, anyway. Strangely, 50p and 60p 4:2:2 signals did cause the option to appear. With the HDMI output of a source set to 4:4:4 mode, the control was selectable in all cases, and we advise turning it on. If you’re interested in getting the last drop of performance out of your setup, we recommend grabbing a copy of the Spears & Munsil test disc and checking out the Chroma patterns on it under various player configurations. On a TV-sized display, don’t expect to see any huge difference, though.

Resolution and Frequency Response

Like every 1080p HDTV we’ve ever tested, the Panasonic TX-P50VT50B has no problem resolving tiny high-frequency details in 1080p HD content when input over its digital HDMI input. There are also no unwanted noise reduction processing systems that the user can’t disable, meaning that full motion detail from the source reaches the screen.

So why have we created a new sub-heading called “Resolution”? Because the VT50 actually over-emphasises parts of high-def images. When we reviewed the ST50 Plasma and also the ET50 LED LCD, we remarked that a “four-leaf clover” shape was visible in the middle of the Luma Zone Plate pattern that we use to assess one area of a TV’s image processing. In that ST50 review, we mentioned the [1080p Pure Direct] mode present on the GT50 and VT50, and expected the artefact to disappear with this mode enabled.

As it happens, the luma zone plate pattern on the TX-P50VT50 actually shows more artefacts than on the cheaper ST50 plasma and ET50 LCD – and, they don’t go away when [1080p Pure Direct] is turned on! (We’re talking about when [Sharpness] is set to 0 on the TV; naturally, turning it up makes the artefacts higher in number and visibility). On the Panasonic VT50, the “four-leaf clover” shape is still apparent in the middle, which suggests that the video processing chip is programmed to process lines of a certain steepness in some way. However, there are many moire patterns (which look like ghost images of the centre of the pattern) repeated towards the edges of the zone plate pattern, which weren’t present on the ST50 or ET50 TVs – or, to this extent, on any previous 1080p Panasonic plasma we’ve reviewed.

What does that actually mean in practice for real-world images, though? Fortunately, not much. It reveals that Panasonic is applying some sort of micro-sharpening to the tiniest details in an HD picture. Because no 1080p TV on the market has any difficulty in showing a Full HD 1080p image at its most sharp, perhaps Panasonic has decided to apply extra processing in an attempt to make the VT50 look apparently “sharper” than the competition. In fact, Panasonic talks about an “Edge Ultra Resolution” function and also an “Intelligent Sharpness” feature on the VT50 and GT50 plasma televisions, one of which is probably the culprit. The artefacts even appear in the “Game” mode, but that’s not surprising, since its purpose is to cut down input lag, and nonlinear edge sharpening is not especially processing-heavy.

We went back to the Luma Multiburst pattern and observed that, sure enough, there were very, very subtle horizontal and vertical halos at the edges of the test boxes. You literally have to be right beside the screen to spot them, though: the processing is subtle and does not create large halos around objects (like having the [Sharpness] control up too high would do). This prompted us to go back to both 2011 and 2010 Panasonic Plasmas and examine the same patterns. There has always been some slight artefacts (sometimes flickering) on the luma zone plate patterns, but not to the same extent as on the VT50.

Let’s get two things straight. First of all, from our point of view, there’s no reason why the VT50 should be doing this to 1080p HD images – especially not when two modes called “Professional” and “1080p Pure Direct” have been selected. The artefacts seen on the luma zone plate are not an inevitable limitation of the plasma panel, but instead the result of deliberately programmed image processing. Secondly, the good news is that this does not have a visibly detrimental effect on video images – but by the same token, no positive effect, either. In the High Definition section we’ll talk at length about how the image looks with real-world content rather than test patterns, and not surprisingly for a top-end Panasonic Plasma, the news is overwhelmingly positive.

Notice how we stressed “video”. Although we couldn’t spot the effects of this processing with video content – not even the best, most finely detailed Blu-ray Disc transfers – it was visible when we connected a computer to the TX-P50VT50B. Because we are used to staring at the Windows operating system on a PC monitor (which leaves the signal as-is) on a daily basis, image tampering is very easy to spot in this environment. The crisp pixel details of Windows’ small fonts became slightly ragged due to the micro-sharpening feature (although the effect is less visible if the font smoothing feature in the OS is turned on). It appears to have been designed specifically to avoid the overshoot (halo) errors that we commonly associate with image sharpening, so you won’t see text with huge glowing around it: the distortion is thankfully much more subtle, but it is there.

Needless to say given the length we’re discussing this subtlety at, we feel that this image “enhancement” is fundamentally misguided, especially on a flagship product operating with “Professional” and “1080p Pure Direct” modes turned on. This is doubly so when there is a very similar, cheaper offering (the ST50) from the same manufacturer that is less affected. Even although the picture quality is still excellent, we feel Panasonic should be admonished for even flirting with this, because we worry that it could be the start of a slippery slope – we’ve seen otherwise capable panels spoiled by undefeatable image processing in the past, and we hope that Panasonic don’t ever get to that level. Perhaps they’ll consider our suggestion of having the “1080p Pure Direct” mode turn this feature off with a later firmware version.

3D Material

The Viera VT50 continues Panasonic’s tradition of excelling with 3D by producing images which feature exceptionally low crosstalk, resulting in very few double-image artefacts. However, we were recently more happy with the 3-dimensional images being put out by one of Panasonic’s IPS LED LCDs when it comes to 3D. Although those LED LCD TVs produce a weaker black level than the Plasma range, they produce a brighter image overall, with no panel-generated noise in the image, and no limitation on smooth gradations.

Plasma’s 3D picture quality is not at the same level as 2D (neither are most LCD televisions, for that matter). On Panasonic’s plasma-based 3D TVs, it appears that some of the light emission stages from the plasma panel are being completed with lessened precision, which results in a resolution limitation. In test patterns, resolution checks with 100% white and 100% black lines are drawn cleanly by the panel, which is probably why Panasonic still markets the product as “Full HD 3D”. However, if the difference between the lines is less, say if they are dark grey and light grey, the panel may not resolve all of the fine details and instead smudge the two greys into a single tone. We assume that this is being done to speed up the panel display process and produce a sufficiently bright 3D image – although power consumption may also be a factor.

It’s important to clarify the impact this will have on real-world 3D images. 3D resolution limitation does not – in our experience – increase crosstalk (which is caused by temporal limitations in the display, not spatial limitations), but does introduce slight jaggedness that will be revealed with movement and certain brightness combinations within the source. The only Panasonic Plasma 3D TV we reviewed that didn’t feature this was their very first tri-dimensional model, the TX-P50VT20. There is also a higher amount of dithering in the image when compared to 2D, presumably used to disguise less graceful transitions between shades (lessened gradation) when compared to 2D.

Real-world 3D content does look excellent on the 3DTV, though, even if it’s not at the jaw-dropping level of 2D quality. One of its biggest strengths is its ability to reproduce all 3D frame rates (50hz, 60hz and 24hz input) without any judder. The fast action shots in 3D Blu-ray Discs such as Tron: Legacy and How to Train Your Dragon had a real cinematic quality thanks to this.

High Definition

2D Blu-ray material (played back in 2D!) represents the best quality viewing scenario on nearly any flat-panel HDTV. The same is true of the Panasonic TX-P50VT50B. The years where home video versions of films had to be considerably compromised abstractions of their original selves are well and truly over, thanks to advancements in telecine (film scanning) technology, and the advanced video compression and optical disc storage that together comprise the Blu-ray format. A high-quality display outputting accurate video is the final step in the quality chain, and as with the ST50 plasma, the Viera VT50 is a wonderful example of a consumer-grade display that holds up that all important final step in the delivery process. The accurate greyscale, colour and gamma, high levels of gradation, outstanding black level and acceptably bright whites, came together to present a very artefact-free, accurate, almost “glossy” image.

Gladiator screenshot 1

After looking at the moire-inflicted luma zone plate pattern, we were concerned about what real-world HD material was going to look like. Fortunately, it looks absolutely wonderful, with no sign of tampering being present. Remember that it only takes a bit of picture tampering to make the Luma Zone plate chart look like a mess, and this has to be taken in context when assessing the overall performance (we still think Panasonic should just let the user bypass it, though, and worry that the sharpening will get more and more with later models in years to come).

The newer Blu-ray version of Gladiator (that’s the re-release, not the cut-rate first edition which used a reheated master made years ago) looked absolutely mesmerising on the TX-P50VT50. Motion was rendered cleanly, and aside from the basically invisible sharpening we mentioned earlier, there was no other apparent tampering with the image such as film grain blurring or motion smoothing – unless the user wanted to turn these options on.

Gladiator screenshot 2

The NeoPlasma panel’s natural performance characteristics really allowed high quality material to shine. Blacks are rich and deep, and because Plasma TVs don’t work with polarised light, there is no uneveness or inconsistency of brightness across the panel, which makes watching a uniform Plasma television such as the VT50 compared to a lesser LED LCD with uniformity problems much more satisfying. It’s like the difference between watching through a clean window compared to a dirty one. Colours are not oversaturated or skewed; there is no “neon grass” or other oversaturation effects. We didn’t feel that there were any visible Greyscale or Gamma problems with real-life content (other than the aforementioned “floating gamma” that needs to be avoided if the calibration options are used).

Our only slight disappointment related to the limited light output of the [Professional] modes that we mentioned earlier. Although the picture is bright enough for a decent selection of viewing environments during the day, it’s only just, and the fact that the top-end VT50 model has a dimmer image than the more affordable ST50 just makes no sense to us. Although the TX-P50VT50B’s images are mesmerising, the cheaper ST50′s actually had more “pop” thanks to the fact that we could raise the [Contrast] control to increase panel light output. We really do think that Panasonic should consider revising the [Contrast] control on the Professional picture modes on the VT50 (and presumably also GT50).

Gladiator screenshot 3

One last note regarding Panasonic’s promotional materials. The company promised increased gradation, but with the footnote that this was “When using Cinema mode”. “Cinema” mode actually exaggerates colours slightly, leading to video enthusiasts worrying that this improvement would go wasted in the best picture modes on the VT50. Fortunately, jumping between the different picture modes with dark source material lets us see that the THX Cinema, THX Bright Room, Professional1 and Professional2 modes all take advantage of the superior panel driving mode.

Standard Definition

Panasonic promotes the VT50 (and GT50) plasmas as featuring “Pure Image Creation”, a name it uses to describe two features that will be especially (but not necessarily solely) useful for standard def material: “Diagonal Correction” and “New Compression Noise Reduction”. The meaning of the latter is obvious, and “Diagonal Correction” is pitched as superior diagonal interpolation for disguising jaggedness in interlaced material (like standard-def TV broadcasts) – something we always test for.

We hadn’t actually noticed any real issues with jaggies in SD material on any of the company’s recent HDTVs, but sure enough, there does seem to be a small improvement on the VT50, with all three bars in the familiar Silicon Optix test sequence appearing smooth: only the most extreme edges of the third bar showed misplaced pixels. That carried across to real-world TV material, too, which was as jaggy-free as always. The improvement is probably going to be wasted on most SD content, though, which is typically excessively low-pass filtered to remove fine details – although it’s still a sign of great design on Panasonic’s part.

France 24

Film mode detection is enabled with the [Clear Cinema] option (the same setting goes by the more direct name of [Film Cadence Detection] on the continental European models). Unfortunately, we couldn’t get the Panasonic TX-P50VT50 to properly lock onto the 2-2 transfer cadence that is used to adapt film material to the European PAL TV system used here. That’s ironic given that the cheaper ST50 series (which seems to use different video processing circuitry) did manage it, although we should point out that this isn’t the first time that a company has changed the internals of a TV range and broken this feature (Samsung did it last year on its high-end models). This means that films played back from UK Freeview digital TV broadcasts, from a standard-definition satellite or cable box, or from a non-upscaling DVD player, will show with some slight jaggedness. Hopefully Panasonic can address this with a firmware update, although it’s not a devastating loss by any means, given how many of us now own Blu-ray players which correctly upscale PAL film DVDs, bypassing the TV’s limitation. (The US-centric 3-2 NTSC test does pass, which isn’t surprising, since detection for this is easier to programme).

Lastly, the scaling (resizing) of SD material to fit the panel was performed to Panasonic’s usual high standard, with the tiniest details being crisply represented in the image, and almost no ringing being present.

Console Gaming & Chroma Bandwidth (4:4:4)

Gaming was wonderfully responsive on the TX-P50VT50B, as we’ve come to expect from Panasonic plasmas. In the [Game] picture mode (which allows for higher light output, faster response time, and only very subtle degradation to panel drive quality), we measured input lag at just 24ms. That’s what we expected, although as usual, the level of lag is not quite as low as on the cheaper models, presumably because of the extra processing that the higher-end panels are loaded with.

When we test input lag and 4:4:4 chroma reproduction, we hook up a laptop or PC graphics card using a DVI-to-HDMI cable, which by nature causes computer-style RGB signals to be fed to the TV (DVI does not support the more video-centric YCbCr digital component format). When we were feeding the Panasonic VT50 with video in this way, the [1080p Pure Direct] mode was not selectable in the menus, and the TV did not resolve full 4:4:4 chroma bandwidth.

We found a newer laptop, with an HDMI output, and connected this to the TX-P50VT50. This did allow the [1080p Pure Direct] mode to be turned on, and the chroma resolution did increase to allow tiny coloured details to be visible. However, when we looked at the tiny pixel-thin details on our 4:4:4 test chart, we saw that the transitions were not entirely clean and suffered from subtle edge enhancement artefacts, suggesting that the chroma channels are subject to the same “micro-sharpening” we noted at length earlier. So, “1080p Pure Direct” is not 100% pure. We did also try the tricks we normally use on Samsung HDTV sets (naming the input “PC” in the [Input Label] screen), but this doesn’t unlock any subtle picture differences on the Panasonic TX-P50VT50B.

Online & Multimedia Features

Panasonic has expanded the VIERA Connect online service, which is accessed by pressing a large “Internet” button on the remote. Pre-installed apps include BBC News, Euronews, Netflix, FetchTV, Skype, Facebook and Twitter, and more (including a web browser) are downloadable.

Viera Connect

The USB and SD Card slots on the TX-P50VT50 can also be used to play back and record video material. It’s possible to hook up a USB hard drive and use the TV as a sort of “lite” PVR, grabbing video from the terrestrial and satellite tuners, and storing it to disk in its original quality. The VT50 can also re-encode the video to squash it onto a smaller storage device.

Conclusion

The Panasonic TX-P50VT50B is another outstanding Plasma television from the company’s 2012 lineup. It features the killer combination of outstandingly deep black levels, excellent screen uniformity, freedom from meaningful viewing angle limitations, natural colour, crisp, blur-free motion, and ultra-fast video gaming responsiveness. It also has a brilliant design that almost matches the thinness of poorer-performing LED-based LCD TVs, and a great lineup of internet connectivity and multimedia features. We’re glad to see that, as with the updated version of the VT30, Panasonic has avoided the “floating gamma” issue that we found on the first versions of the 2011 models (although calibrators should take care, because a much milder version of the same thing can be introduced with one of the calibration controls). Watching the best 2D Blu-ray Disc transfers on this Plasma HDTV was just breathtaking due to the nearly flawless image characteristics of the NeoPlasma panel. It does not present rock-solid accuracy, but the deficiencies are mostly at the level of being statistical rather than imposing an unwanted look on the picture.

However, there is one spectre looming over the VT50 series. Happily for Panasonic, the competition is internal. In our view, the VT50 faces stiff competition from the ST50 range (available in a large 65″ model too for the first time in Europe) which features every single one of the best parts of the VT50 series – although the design is subjectively less extravagant. It’s inevitable that a top-end model won’t rank as highly in terms of value for money, because unless they offer something radically better than the less expensive ones, it’s bound to be a case of diminishing returns. But, Panasonic don’t put forward as strong a case for upgrading to this flagship display as they could have done, because the VT50 series can’t produce as bright an image as the cheaper ST50, when set to its best picture modes – something we really think that the company should address for VT50 owners. Finally, although the 3D experience presented by the TX-P50VT50 is excellent, we couldn’t see any improvement on last year’s VT30 3D performance, and it’s still some way behind the outstanding 2D quality (that comment goes for 3D TV in general though, not just the VT50).

One major strength we saw with our TX-P50VT50B review sample, though, was its out-of-the-box picture accuracy. We spent hours calibrating the HDTV with the full suite of setup controls, but after comparing the results of our labours to the quality attainable out-of-the-box in the [THX Cinema] mode, we had to admit that the difference, for once, was tiny. This was in contrast to the ST50 series and most of last year’s Panasonic Plasmas, which had a more noticeable greenish tint to their images before calibration.

While most of the industry is scrambling to produce thinner and thinner fashion-conscious LED-lit LCD TVs with precious little improvement to picture quality, it’s reassuring and refreshing to see Panasonic – and more recently, Samsung – making incremental picture quality improvements to their Plasma products as well as improving the aesthetics and internet connectivity features. Largely thanks to the excellent image characteristics afforded by the NeoPlasma panel, the Panasonic TX-P50VT50 receives one of our highest possible recommendations, although the best value is to be had slightly lower down the range.

Highly Recommended

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