Reviewed: 12 September 2011
3D ability, Colour reproduction, black levels
Could be better in brightly lit environments
With continued development of the technology in the face of huge investment by all of the big manufacturers in LCD, Panasonic have done much to keep Plasma technology alive.
The arrival of 3D has given Plasma an extra boost in that many commentators consider the technology to be at least as good as its LCD rival when it comes to displaying the extra dimensional format.
With their 2011 flagship VT30, Panasonic are hoping to maintain their position as the producer of what many believe are the finest TVs that money can buy. So lets take a look at what the TX-P50VT30 has to offer ....
While Panasonic have consistently relied on the technical ability of their TVs to generate sales, they are also beginning to recognize that 'Style' is also a significant factor when it comes to the buying decision. Although their VT30 Plasma screens are not as slim and stylish as some of the more chic offerings from rival manufacturers; they are starting to look like items which would not look out of place even the most stylish of living areas.
A single sheet of glass covering the front of the screen may not get everyone's pulses racing, but for Panasonic its a bold move. Although some may find the VT30's design still too conservative, a fine level of build quality along a reasonably slim screen gives it that understated appeal that may very well find widespread popularity.
Panasonic's generic NeoPDP technology has now evolved into 'NeoPlasma', the introduction of fast switching phosphors and a narrower rib structure between cells warranting the new moniker. The technology has been designed to increase operating efficiency, while providing a general improvement in picture performance with faster response time and enhanced colour control.
Infinite Black Pro & High Contrast Filter Pro have been designed to enhance contrast and black levels, especially in bright surroundings. Panasonic have indicated that enhancements to the panel and cells help reproduce images with smoother, and more natural gradation of deeper, rich blacks than the outgoing VT20.
Screen: 50in 16:9 Tuner: Digital Sound System: Nicam Resolution: 1920 x 1080 Contrast Ratio: 8,000,000:1 Other Features: Freeview HD, Freesat HD, Infinite Black Pro, High Contrast Filter Pro, NeoPlasma. Sockets: 4 HDMI (v1.4), SCART (RGB), 3 USB, Component Video, Composite Video, PC input, Ethernet.
Panasonic are also claiming an improved 3D performance for their VT30. New phosphor technology has been designed to reduce the impact of 'Crosstalk' (which was not a huge problem on the previous model) whereby images intended for one eye slightly overlap those images intended for the other eye.
Taking full advantage of the available subscription free High Definition channels, the VT30 gets both a Freeview HD (be sure to check that the Freeview HD service is available in your area) and Freesat HD tuner.
With an improved version of their 600Hz Sub-field drive Pro technology, Panasonic say that the VT30 delivers even smoother images. Intelligent Frame Creation (IFC) system electronically interpolates extra frames of image data to reduce the effect of judder. 24p Smooth Film kicks in when watching film based material.
THX certification is a guarantee that movie images are reproduced exactly as the film's creators intended them. The overall aim was in the words of Panasonic "to improve the experience of cinema-goers and faithfully recreate the audio and visual ambience that filmmakers intended". To receive THX certification, TVs undergo stringent tests to determine whether the exact same brightness and colour are displayed at all screen locations, and whether black levels satisfy standard criteria. Note: Panasonic have added THX certification in 3D as well as 2D mode for the VT30.
You also get the option of fine tuning the VT30's picture to a more advanced level than ever before via the isfcc interface (designed and licensed from the Imaging Science Foundation). The function allows a trained, certified calibrator to finely adjust contrast, tint, sharpness and colour levels for both day and night time viewing.
VIERA Connect allows viewers to enjoy video and music, sports, games, and a variety of other content delivered over the web (via Ethernet or the included wi-fi dongle). Familiar highlights include the BBC iPlayer, YouTube, Twitter and Skype.
Panasonic have cottoned on to the value of using the latest marketing buzz words. Their 'Cloud' based services refer largely to the development of an on line application store which has limited choice at present, but will grow over time.
Panasonic have bundled in a pair of Active Shutter 3D glasses and elsewhere the VT30 gets a useful 4 HDMI inputs, 3 USBs and an SD card slot. Also worth a mention is Panasonic's vastly improved on screen menu system. Along with the 50in screen reviewed here, Panasonic also offer 42in, 55in and 65in VT30 models in the UK.
Panasonic's high end Plasmas have consistently set the bar of late for Black Level ability. The VT30 maintains this tradition with a performance in this area which is not only better than any LCD we have come across but also more accomplished than any of its Plasma rivals.
The TX-P50VT30 produces a higher level of contrast than the outgoing VT20. It is a measure of the expectation placed on the shoulders of Panasonic Plasmas that we were a little disappointed that the improvement was a slight one.
Whatever our expectations, we are still in awe of a level of contrast that produces pin sharp detail across subtle graduations of even the darkest of scenes. While 'true' black is some way off, the VT30 gets as close as any TV on sale in the UK.
Plasma technology has consistently maintained an advantage over its LCD rivals in terms of Motion Resolution. Although the gap has narrowed between the competing camps, the TX-P50VT30 yet again confirms that sharper fast action sequences are available with the better Plasma TVs.
Intelligent Frame Creation (IFC) technology actually does its job and reduces on screen judder. We say reduces, as the effect has not been completely eradicated. We are however, being a little picky as you have to look hard to notice the effect.
In terms of Standard Definition performance, the VT30 does pretty much everything we expected it to.
While those who prefer the pin sharp detailing you get with LCD may feel the SD pictures displayed by the TX-P50VT30 to be a little 'soft'; what is not in doubt is the VT30's ability to produce of the most accurate 'noise' free SD pictures available in the home entertainment world today.
Much of the enjoyment (when viewing either standard or high definition pictures) comes from the supreme colour performance of this screen. Deep rich hues are readily on tap with both formats - colours which are dramatically offset with the supreme black levels afforded by the TV.
Panasonic do High Definition just about as well as any other TV manufacturer and to witness HD on Panasonic's TX-P50VT30 is to experience home entertainment at its best.
We expected HD pictures to be pretty good. In fact, they are a lot better than good with a level of pin sharp detail and overall realism that compels you to reach out and touch the screen.
A Full HD (1920 x 1080) configuration makes a big difference to performance and along with Panasonic's Vreal picture processing wizardry produces one of the most startlingly realistic HD pictures you are likely to come across.
The 3D performance of Panasonic's first extra dimensional screens was a revelation and we are intrigued to discover how their latest high end screens perform in this respect.
With the introduction of Passive 3D enabled LCD TVs from the likes of LG, Panasonic suddenly faced a real challenge to their 3D supremacy. So have they done enough with the VT30 to stay ahead of the competition?
To begin with, 'Crosstalk' (the phenomenon whereby an image intended for one eye slightly overlaps the image intended for the other) is not really an issue. The VT30 has not improved in this respect over the outgoing VT20, but there was a negligible amount of crosstalk on Panasonic's first 3D enabled TV anyway.
The big improvement has been realised with the accuracy of the VT30 in terms of its 'Greyscale' performance; its ability to display blacks or whites and anything in-between pretty much as intended with out any colour 'tinting' problems to speak of.
More significantly, and the factor which enables the VT30 to maintain its pre-eminent position as the most accomplished 3D TV performer around is the almost total absence of any on screen 'Judder'. This is enough to keep Panasonic's flagship TV a step ahead of the competition.
As with last years VT20 model, we were pleasantly surprised to find an Acoustic set up which goes some way to doing justice to the rest of the screen. The reluctance of Panasonic to go for an ultra slim screen (and with it the inclusion of decent speakers) gives the VT30 a soundstage which in terms of high end 'Bass' leaves some of its rivals in its its wake.
With small rather than revolutionary improvements in virtually every aspect of its performance, Panasonic's flagship TX-P50VT30 deserves to be recognized as one of the best TVs money can buy.
3D ability, Colour reproduction, black levels
Could be better in brightly lit environments