Panasonic TX-P65VT50B Plasma 3D TV Review

Benchmark Test Results

Dead pixels None
Screen uniformity Excellent overall, but full grey screen reveals slight greenness at right of panel
Calibrated black level (black screen) 0.016 cd/m2 (Professional), 0.005 cd/m2 (THX Cinema)
Calibrated black level (ANSI checkerboard) 0.018 cd/m2
Black level retention Stable
Primary chromaticity Very Good
Scaling Excellent
Video mode deinterlacing Very effective jaggies reduction
Film mode deinterlacing Passed 2-2 PAL and 3-2 NTSC tests
Viewing angle Excellent, but screen filter lessens vertical viewing angle
Motion resolution 1080 natively
Digital noise reduction Defeatable
Sharpness Non-defeatable edge enhancement, affects highest frequencies only (almost invisible except with fine text from computer input)
Luma/Chroma bandwidth (2D Blu-ray) Full Luma, Full Chroma
Image retention A few instances, which are quickly cleared
Posterization Mild, though worse with poor source
Phosphor trails Very mild
1080p/24 capability No judder in 2D nor 3D
Input lag 29ms compared to lag-free CRT
Full 4:4:4 reproduction (PC) Yes, with YCbCr signal input (not RGB) and [1080p Pure Direct] on

Power Consumption

Default [Normal] mode (2D) 304 watts
Default [Normal] mode (3D) 236 watts
[THX Cinema] mode (2D) 304 watts
[THX3D Cinema] mode (3D) 338 watts
Calibrated [Professional1] mode (2D) 265 watts
Calibrated [Professional1] mode (3D) 338 watts
Standby 1 watt

Black Level and Contrast Performance

The Panasonic TX-P65VT50′s best contrast performance is reserved for the [THX Cinema] mode. This mode achieves startlingly deep black levels which measure at an incredibly deep 0.005 cd/m2, combined with whites that reach around 90 cd/m2 (we say “around” because it depends on the average picture level of the content). The only flat-screen HDTVs to better these results are the last KURO plasma televisions produced before Pioneer exited the TV business (not surprisingly, most owners of those displays are unwilling to part with them). Our review of the Pioneer PDP-LX5090 back in 2008 found black levels of 0.003 cd/m2, making the Panasonic TX-P65VT50′s 0.005 cd/m2 a very close match (it will be impossible to see the difference of 0.002 cd/m2 without scrutinising both screens, side by side, in a pitch black room). It’s taken a while for Panasonic to (more or less) match the absolute black depth of Pioneer’s long-gone displays, but they’ve achieved it at the 65″ size – in one of the picture modes. The overall contrast performance is still not as high, though, because the KURO plasmas could produce searingly bright whites as well.

However, the THX mode cannot be fully calibrated, since the 10-point White Balance, 10-point Gamma, and full Colour Management System controls have not been added to the menu in this mode. In practice, this wasn’t a huge problem with our review unit, although as we mentioned during the greyscale calibration section, 10% stimulus grey was output with a red tint, which we would have liked to correct.

In the [Professional] modes, which do unlock the full range of calibration options, contrast performance takes a hit. Black rises to 0.016 cd/m2, which is still excellent, but is no longer in KURO territory. More worryingly, peak light output is significantly dimmed, with a full 100% white window measuring just 65 cd/m2 after calibration (down from an already dim-ish 70 cd/m2 before). Although sufficient for pitch-black environments, this light output will probably be too dim for most users. The American equivalent model of the 65VT50 features some degree of control over panel light output, sadly, the European version is locked into producing a dim image in its most configurable picture mode.

However, the [Professional] modes do bring an improvement, in the form of higher gradation. What this means in practice is more defined shadow details with less panel-generated noise (red, green and blue “fizzing” pixels) in dark areas. It’s easily seen by inputting a 5% (or even lower) grey test window and changing between the THX Cinema and Professional modes; the VT50 can produce a more solid native near-black grey shade without having to resort to as much dither in the latter. Panasonic’s promotional materials allude to the fact that the heightened gradation is only available in the “Cinema” picture mode, although close-up inspection of low-intensity test patterns, as well as plain observation of how a full black screen looks, reveals that the same higher quality gradation is also present in the Professional modes, too.

Interestingly, if we looked closely at the black areas, we noticed that the darkness appeared with a very subtle “scan-line” effect; where very slightly darker lines would appear to scroll up the screen (not surprisingly, this behaviour is present on the ST50 series as well, which has basically the same contrast and gradation performance). That disappeared in the Professional mode, and perhaps as a result, image retention was slightly more prominent. We chose to stick with the THX mode, because the Professional modes are just too dim on the European version. We imagine that, when given full control over the various image parameters allowed by Panasonic’s engineers and asked to pick and choose, THX has come to the same conclusion we have: that nearly all consumers would rather have excellent contrast performance at the expense of more solid-looking dark areas.

Motion Resolution

Panasonic’s current plasma TVs reproduce incredibly clean motion. The company revamped the panel-driving algorithm for 2012, and in the process reduced artefacts further. All that’s really left is some contouring during fast motion, which is inherent to the way Panasonic’s plasmas draw images, and even this is subtle.

We found the differences between the “2000hz” panel found on the European version of the mid-range ST50, and the “2500hz” panel found here on all versions of the VT50, very difficult to see. Worded differently: the motion quality on the “2000hz” ST50 series is already oustanding, so the same goes for the higher-specced VT50. Both televisions cleanly draw 1080 lines from the FPD Benchmark Disc test.

3D Material

The Panasonic TX-P65VT50B produces a good extra-dimensional viewing experience, although not surprisingly for a 3D plasma TV, the image is at its best in a darkened room. The ultimate levels of brightness that reach the eyes after the high refresh rate image is dimmed by the active-shutter glasses is not too high, however, so the experience is at its best in a dimmed environment.

In terms of motion, Panasonic’s plasma range gets nearly everything right in 3D. 24hz, 50hz and 60hz input are all reproduced without stutter (setup permitting). The only motion artefact of note relates to the 3D subfield drive. As it happens, Panasonic’s plasma displays in 3D mode are arguably not “Full HD” because not all of the panel light emission stages are completed at full resolution. That means that the TX-P65VT50 does not resolve full vertical resolution with 3D content throughout the entire dynamic range. While the plasma panel can output two rows of vertically adjacent single-pixel black and lines at full resolution without difficulty, it can’t render more subtle shade variations (for example, dark grey and light grey) with full precision, instead blurring them into a single grey tone. We imagine that the thinking of Panasonic’s marketing division is that, since some of the panel’s light emitting stages are full resolution, and that the panel still has higher resolution than a passive 3D LCD TV, the “Full HD 3D” claim is justifiable from a marketing standpoint, seeing as the technical specifics of plasma panel subfield driving are not commonly understood among consumers (again, this is our assumption, Panasonic has never commented on the subject).

This does lead to some jaggies with tri-dimensional content, most visible during video that contains a lot of diagonal slopes – the opening sweep through Paris in Hugo, for example. As far as we can ascertain, the jaggedness is owed to the fact that the 3D resolution is not consistent across time, meaning that the panel is effectively switching between full vertical resolution and lessened vertical resolution during the duration of a single video frame. Combine that resolution limitation with movement in the video content, and you have aliasing.

Beyond that, the 3-D performance is very good, with very little crosstalk being visible. The THX 3D Cinema mode (which is the next best thing to rare 3D calibration) was neutrally-coloured enough with our review unit and 3D glasses to result in lifelike, believable (if slightly dim) images.

2D

We were delighted with the picture quality of the TX-P65VT50B in our tested and chosen “THX Cinema” picture mode. As we described at length previously, it’s in this mode that the best combination of plentiful strengths, and few weaknesses, are apparent. Images are naturally coloured thanks to the fact that the plasma panel is outputting grey shades which are largely free of contamination from other colours (slightly reddish shadow details excepted), and also is displaying colours which are a visibly perfect match for those of the studio equipment used to create all professional film and TV material.

Bourne Legacy

Static resolution (in the 2D mode) is excellent, with the TX-P65VT50, unsurprisingly, being able to draw all of the tiniest details found in a 1080p image. In fact, Panasonic have seen fit to add some non-optional sharpening of these tiny details, the reason for which escapes us: the sharpening effect is so subtle (it can just about be seen at ridiculously close range if you have a very sharp eye and another HDTV to use as a comparison) that no users will ever notice or admire it; the only time it will rear its head is with computer content, where it can distort the fine pixel-thin details in operating system menus, for example – and also with test patterns specifically designed to sniff this sort of processing out.

Motion resolution is excellent, as you’d expect from a plasma display, with Panasonic’s new 2012 panel driving mode resulting in very low amounts of dither around moving edges, and just a little bit of posterisation (the breakup of fine gradations into visible “tone jumps”) visible with high motion video content (sports being the most obvious example). We still think this is preferable to the more uniform smearing of an LCD (and LED LCD) TV, though.

Bourne Legacy screenshot 2

Moving on through the list of features contributing to excellent picture quality, and as usual, Panasonic leave the full detail, texture and overall appearance of film content alone, without any non-optional motion interpolation or film grain reduction to detract from that look. For all of these reasons, the best-looking Blu-ray Discs really shine on this HDTV. Movies shot on 35mm, or on grainier 16mm stock, look like films. Meanwhile, the best examples of digitally shot movies (in our view, that usually means those shot on the Arri Alexa camera) retained their different, but equally appealing look, without any fine details being blurred out on movement.

If you want to recreate a big-screen cinematic experience, nothing beats a projector; and if you’re watching in an incredibly bright room then LCD is the way to go – but no other display matches the same deep, vibrant, lucid appearance of a high quality plasma.

BBC

Standard-definition content is handled very sympathetically by the Panasonic TX-P65VT50B. Scaling is very crisp, which is nice for the few SD sources that haven’t had their fine details lowpass filtered out at the encoding stage, and deinterlacing performance is basically as good as we could expect: the plasma correctly identified the PAL 2-2 film cadence in SD and HD, and only occasionally slipped up and fell into video mode (which is better than jumping into film mode with video material, like Pioneer’s last plasmas often did). For video-mode deinterlacing, jaggies were effectively concealed, too.

Console Gaming

The Panasonic TX-P65VT50 lagged by about 29ms in the “Game” picture preset, which incidentally, does allow totally configurable panel light output via the [Contrast] control, but enforces a slightly oversaturated colour gamut. That last point isn’t hugely devastating for us, because for gaming, our first priority is responsiveness rather than complete picture quality and accuracy. Gaming was great fun thanks to the low input lag and naturally high motion resolution (and the long list of other favourable picture quality attributes), although lag isn’t as low as on the cheaper, more basic Panasonic TVs such as the UT50 and ST50 series, which may be discernible for the most hardcore beat-em-up fans who have the intricate timing of special moves mastered.

Conclusion

Unsurprisingly for a product from the highest-priced and highest-specced range, value for money is not the VT50 series’ priority. From our point of view as video enthusiasts, the would-be strongest selling point of the VT50 – the in-depth picture setup controls – are compromised by only being available in a viewing mode that results in unrealistically dim light output (on this 65-inch model, that is). That behaviour differs from VT50s sold in the North American market, which don’t require the same tough decisions to be made during setup.

With that said, in the [THX Cinema] mode, the Panasonic TX-P65VT50B produces some of the most pleasing contrast performance we’ve ever seen from a flat panel display. The 0.005 cd/m2 black levels measured in this mode are beaten only by the now-discontinued (2D only) Pioneer KURO plasmas, and not by any visible amount. Competing LCD panels can only manage such a feat if they turn the screen more or less off, which is useless for actually watching the TV.

The saviour of the Panasonic TX-P65VT50 turns out to be its THX-certified picture mode. Were we limited to the unrealistically dim 65 – 70 cd/m2 brightness of the [Professional] picture modes, we would have dropped the final rating down a notch – it just isn’t enough light output to give the “wow” factor we’re looking for from a top-end plasma television (at least not in a normally lit room). The midrange ST50 model, while lower-specced in various ways, does not have any major omissions and can easily manage deep blacks and bright whites for considerably less money. With that said, the VT50 has better-specced internet features, a satellite tuner, a better ambient light filter, and a subjectively more extravagant design, which will win it fans.

Ultimately, the European and UK-specific versions of the VT50 send a bit of a mixed message when placed in the context of the wider 2012 Panasonic plasma lineup. However, the fact remains that the TX-P65VT50 can produce the deepest blacks we’ve seen from a flat-screen TV since Pioneer pulled out of the market in 2008, and of course brings to the table the signature Panasonic plasma qualities of accurate colour, crisp motion, and natural, mostly unadulterated images.

Highly Recommended

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