Panasonic TX-P65VT30B 3D Plasma TV Review

Black Level

Panasonic’s Plasma TVs have been the market leaders for black level for some time now, and the TX-P65VT30 continues this trend. The 50″ VT30 display measured at 0.02 cd/m2, which surprised us, since it was actually brighter than some of the cheaper 2011 models, although not blatantly so. Fortunately, the Panasonic TX-P65VT30B didn’t disappoint at all with a deep 0.011 cd/m2 black. When surrounded by white patches on screen during the more gruelling ANSI contrast measurement, we were glad to see that like the rest of the 2011 lineup, this black level didn’t visibly shift, staying inky black.

The 2011 lineup brought a new quirk to the table, though: floating gamma. This is a side-effect of the panel driving algorithm which meant that during dark portions of a film, the overall gamma of a scene could change just after a scene-cut, causing a visible jump in overall picture brightness. Fortunately, Panasonic listened to the findings of professional reviewers and calibrators and issued a firmware update which removes the issue. After doing a full calibration of the TX-P65VT30, we checked scenes which triggered the problem before, and were pleased to see that it was no longer present. However, we did find that the floating gamma issue was visible in other scenes – a good example being the start of Chapter 5 on the Blu-ray Disc of Wall Street. The shot of Charlie Sheen getting out of bed caused a large gamma shift just after the scene transition, which we later found did not happen if the uncalibrated picture settings were used on the “Professional” mode (the “THX” mode did feature the problem, albeit subtly). We experimented, and found that the fairly hefty gamma correction we’d keyed in at 10% stimulus was the cause of the problem. We’d reduced this control to the “-18″ setting for maximum gamma accuracy, and found that “-9″ removed the problem. Winning! This leads us to wonder if the 2011 Panasonic Plasma displays’ tendency to “rise out of black” too quickly is a deliberately programmed inaccuracy designed to avoid floating gamma. Calibrators beware – in our quest for maximum picture accuracy, it’s possible to end up with a worse problem than slightly exaggerated shadows! We’re glad to see that it’s possible to avoid the floating gamma on the Panasonic TX-P65VT30B, and that it produces very deep blacks.

Motion Resolution

The motion driving algorithm on the Panasonic TX-P65VT30 appears to be slightly cleaner than that used on other recently reviewed Panasonic plasmas. For example, during the “Scrolling Japanese characters” and “Scrolling map” tests on the FPD Benchmark Software disc, we often remark that ever since the introduction of 3D (where Panasonic tinkered with the light emission sequence on their Plasma TVs), we’ve been able to spot fuzzy ghost images of the letters on-screen during the scrolling. This is barely visible on the TX-P65VT30, which is just as well, because it could be more troublesome at this screen size (not to mention price point).

This was rarely an issue with most real-world film content, because most textures in the footage would conceal the fuzzy edges, anyway. It was more of an issue with synthetic content, for example, some video games, and obviously, the aforementioned test patterns.

We experimented with the [Intelligent Frame Creation] system, which has two levels of processing. The lowest option provides minimal motion interpolation between frames, and, when used with 50hz (European TV) content, keeps the same 100hz output refresh rate as the “Off” setting does. Selecting the higher setting causes signals to be output at 60hz, meaning that a frame rate conversion occurs inside the TV (which causes judder with extreme camera pans). Both of these settings cause some motion estimation errors – for example, if there’s an on-screen logo such as a score counter during a football game, parts of it can appear to shred during particularly fast camera movements. In other words, although the IFC system reduces some of the Plasma panel’s dithering noise, which is seen during motion, it introduces digital motion estimation errors, like we tend to see on 100hz/200hz LCD TVs, which isn’t a good trade in our opinion. Also, with films, the fact that the system relies on motion interpolation causes the “soap opera effect”, where the low frame rate of 24/25fps film material is artificially raised, which can look quite strange (although we hear some people enjoy the video-like effect it gives). As a result, we didn’t use the system, but welcome the option.

Even without any processing, the inherently high motion resolution of the Plasma television didn’t leave us wanting. During the scrolling motion resolution test chart, the Panasonic TX-P65VT30B returned all 1080 lines clearly when the measurement bars were in light-grey and mid-grey. The dark black bar appeared a little more smudged, but not greatly so. The motion resolution appears to be somewhere in the region of 900-1080 lines. Of course, it’s fairly easy for a Plasma display to render simple lines on an opaque background clearly; a better real-world test is to assess how smooth gradations are during fast movement. There is some posterisation (meaning that tones which should blend smoothly into one another appear as distinct steps). It’s not blatant by any means, but we do think that Samsung’s Plasma HDTVs have slightly cleaner motion with less visible contouring/posterisation.

3D Material

Disappointingly, the 65VT30 features the same 3D resolution limitation that we spotted on the rest of the 2011 Panasonic PDP lineup, with the 3D display mode of the panel failing to resolve every finely detailed area in our test chart. The resulting picture is by no means blurry, but it’s slightly less crisp than the full resolution 2D display, and some jaggedness can be seen on diagonals during motion (a good example being during the Columbia Pictures logo at the start of many Hollywood films). Interestingly, some of the new 2012 3DTV models that Panasonic announced this week at CES in Las Vegas are being marketed as “Progressive Full HD 3D”, suggesting that some sort of interlaced trickery has been going on these older models.

Other than this, it’s good news. As usual, the Panasonic TX-P65VT30B had no problems with motion during 3D at all, displaying 50hz, 60hz and 24hz 3D content without any judder whatsoever. The user can select “100hz” under [3D Refresh Rate], which we assume has been included to prevent issues where some home lighting will appear to strobe when the glasses are in front of the viewer’s eyes. This will introduce motion judder with 24hz (Blu-ray 3D) and 60hz (games consoles and US video footage), though, so we recommend darkening the viewing room to avoid such issues instead.

Tri-dimensional content from Blu-ray still manages to bring a smile to our faces, and the Panasonic TX-P65VT30 is certainly one of the better 3D performers we’ve seen. Crosstalk (glowing double images) is as low as ever, although we should point out that this characteristic is no longer exclusive to Panasonic’s Plasma TVs, like it was in 2010. However, the penalties for gaining access to the third dimension are high, as they are with all current 3D TVs – the TX-P65VT30B’s biggest crime being the loss of brightness that results from the 3D panel driving mode and the active-shutter glasses. Especially at this screen size, 3D images are arguably more enveloping than 2D, given the right content – but 2D images still look much better.

Standard Definition

Like the rest of the 2011 Panasonic Plasma lineup, the TX-P65VT30 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 almost no 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 VT30 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, it’s 2D HD content from Blu-ray Disc that really made us smile during the review process. There is almost nothing to criticise in this area on the Panasonic TX-P65VT30B. After calibration, we were delighted by how tint-free and neutral its images were, and how natural skin-tones and other “memory colours” appeared as a result. The TX-P65VT30 performs no additional noise reduction or motion interpolation processing, unless the user specifically requests it, and there’s no sharpening hijinks either. 24p film content is output at a smooth and flicker-free 96hz, without any motion judder. All the positives and the few negatives of Panasonic’s Plasma technology are present: motion handling with 24fps film content is excellent, screen uniformity is visibly perfect for the most part, deep black levels allow for high contrast and colour that’s both accurate as well as vivid, and there are no viewing angle restrictions worth mentioning: the colour, black level, brightness, greyscale tracking, and gamma, all appear the same when the HDTV is viewed from the sides (off-axis) compared to a face-on position (on-axis).

Babel screenshot

With the proviso that the 10% stimulus gamma control isn’t taken to extremes (see the Black Level section), we didn’t notice any fluctuating brightness on the TX-P65VT30, indicating that Panasonic has indeed fixed the problem. Our only lingering complaint is with the light output from the panel: in the [Professional] modes, a 100% white window test pattern measured at just 70 cd/m2, which is fairly dim. Panasonic would likely counter any complaints about light output by reminding users that the mode is called “Professional”, and professional studio monitors, installed in purpose-built dark conditions, are also typically set up to produce fairly low light output. We imagine that much of the inclusion of a peak brightness cap on this consumer panel has more to do with power consumption legislation, of course. The [THX] picture mode is brighter, but it lacks all of the calibration controls present in the Professional modes.

Babel screenshot 2

Console Gaming

As usual for Panasonic Plasma displays, the TX-P65VT30B performed brilliantly with games consoles and other interactive devices, with images being output by the Plasma panel with a lag of just 23ms being added by the TV’s video processor. Out of all the current manufacturers, it is Panasonic who appear to understand this issue (and the annoyances it can cause hardcore gamers) the best, based on our discussions with them. Thanks to the low processing lag, games felt buttery-smooth and involving. The fact that they looked excellent due to the Plasma panel’s high performance didn’t hurt, either!

Conclusion

If you’re interested mainly in 2D viewing and want the biggest, and by most people’s estimation, the best consumer Plasma TV available at the time of writing, then this is it. Running the newest system software (firmware), the Panasonic TX-P65VT30 is a slightly refined, jumbo-sized version of the 50″ VT30 model we reviewed previously. It features the usual Panasonic Plasma strengths: class-leading black levels which act as a canvas for rich, vibrant video images, freedom from any sort of viewing angle restrictions (the picture looks as good from the sides as it does face-on), a motion rendering method that’s very crisp (although not entirely trouble-free), and very low video processing delay, which is excellent news for gamers. It also features excellent colour accuracy, and, if calibrated, excellent Greyscale accuracy, too (although we think the out-of-the-box Greyscale accuracy could be improved, because like most of the 2011 models, pictures have a slight green cast to them before calibration).

Where the Panasonic TX-P65VT30B falls slightly (and we do mean very slightly) short is with 3D and overall value for money. There are many, many positive aspects of its 3-dimensional performance (for example, consistently judder-free motion, and almost-total lack of crosstalk artefacts), but a slight resolution limitation leads to some subtle jaggies being visible in 3D content. This is a little disappointing to see, seeing as Samsung’s cheapest 3D Plasma televisions don’t feature any such limitation, and the Korean company’s competitor to the 65VT30 costs considerably less (although can’t fully match its incredibly deep blacks).

Deciding on a final rating for the Panasonic TX-P65VT30 was difficult. There’s no doubting that it’s an incredibly high-performing display – again, due to its class-leading black level, it’s arguably the best. Whether we Recommend or Highly Recommend it to you depends on two factors: one, do you care about 3D and can you accept buying an expensive display with a slight handicap in this area, and two, can your home cinema setup and budget fit a projector and a screen, which will offer an even more immersive experience for a similar price? If you can’t accommodate (or don’t want to) accommodate a projector and are happy to pay quite a bit more than a comparable Samsung model in order to get access to Panasonic’s superior black level, then we highly recommend the TX-P65VT30B – it’s the best 2D HDTV around at the time of writing and its 3D support is excellent, albeit imperfect, too.

Highly Recommended

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