Panasonic Professional VX300 (TH-65VX300) 65 Inch 3D Plasma TV Review
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Is the Panasonic VX300 the TV that enthusiasts have been waiting for?
It has been a long time since we've awarded a reference badge to a television, in fact the last display to receive one was the Pioneer Kuro over three years ago. There have been good televisions since then, of course, but they always seem to have minor issues that prevent them from achieving that elusive Reference status.
Since the demise of the Kuro, enthusiasts have been looking for a manufacturer to replace Pioneer and the majority of the attention has centred on Panasonic. This is understandable, as no other manufacturer has invested as much money in plasma development, from the construction of purpose built factories, in Japan, to the purchase of Pioneer technology and the hiring of some of their engineers. This has perhaps resulted in some unrealistic expectations over the last two years, with many enthusiasts assuming that Panasonic would immediately produce a display that was the equal of the Kuro. Panasonic have certainly produced some excellent plasmas, over the last two years, and they remain the industry leader in terms of black levels and 3D performance. However they have struggled in terms of motion handling, especially with regards to 50Hz material and also had issues with floating blacks and brightness fluctuations. These issues have prevented Panasonic's recent plasmas from achieving a Reference status, although they have still been some of the best displays on the market.
The irony is that Panasonic are essentially a victim of their own success and thus some enthusiasts expect perfection from them. Of course, in the realm of mass produced consumer products, such perfection just isn't achievable at an economically realistic price point. The cost of producing an exceptional product like the Kuro, for the mass market, was ultimately unsustainable for Pioneer and the same would be true for Panasonic, if they were to take that approach. The one area where such a no-compromise approach is possible is within Panasonic's professional monitor division. Here, freed from the constraints of the mass marketplace, Panasonic's engineers are able to produce displays that can potentially deliver a reference performance.
We reviewed the Panasonic Professional VX200 at the beginning of the year and we discovered a plasma that was capable of an exceptional performance. Unfortunately the VX200 still suffered from some minor problems, especially when it came to 50Hz material and at £42,000 it was outside most people's price bracket. However it did give an insight into the technology that would filter down to this year's VT30 and it gave a glimpse of what an enthusiast display could look like.
Now we have the VX300 - which with a screen size of 65" and a price tag of £7,999 - is clearly designed to fit into the gap in the market between the consumer VT30 and the professional VX200. This new display shares much of the pedigree of the far more expensive VX200 whilst also including Panasonic's latest technological developments which will hopefully feed into Panasonic's 2012 consumer displays. So is the VX300 the TV that enthusiasts have been waiting for? Let's take a look and find out... The full in-depth review follows after the summary and scoring. Test Results are under the tab above.
We have reviewed a number of Panasonic plasmas over the last couple of years and whilst they have often been excellent there has always been something that has prevented us from awarding a reference status. In fact, the same is true of all the other manufacturer's plasmas and we were beginning to wonder if anything was ever going to topple the almighty Kuro. Well the wait is over, as Panasonic have finally produced a display that delivers on the promise of all their investment and development. Whilst it is true, that at £7,999 the VX300 is not cheap, it is probably a fair reflection of just how much it costs to produce an enthusiast display that is free of compromise. It also shows just how unrealistic Pioneer's business plan was when it came to pricing the Kuro a few years ago.
Of course, whilst TV enthusiasts here at AVForums will no doubt be interested in getting their hands on the VX300, it is worth remembering that it is primarily aimed at the professional market (hence the 'professional' price tag). As such it doesn't have a built-in tuner or any built-in speakers and the remote control is a bit of a disappointment. Naturally, anyone using the VX300 at home will almost certainly be feeding it a TV signal from an outboard source, using it in conjunction with an AV amplifier and controlling it via an integrated control system, so these are all minor issues. There is also no internet or Smart TV platform, which once again can be added externally and thankfully the professional menus are free of any unwanted picture features. Frankly we wish more TVs were like this.
Thanks to the VX300's professional status, its build quality is superb with an understated but beautiful chassis. The whole display is quite deep at 9cm and at 60kg it is genuinely heavy so bear that in mind if considering a wall mount. The connectors are sensibly downward facing and the added depth allows for them to be recessed which makes mounting the VX300 flush with a wall much easier. Whilst the basic combination of connectors is minimal, the assumption is that all your sources will be going through a receiver or processor first and if you need additional inputs they can be expanded using the modular slot system.
Whilst it is unlikely that anyone buying the VX300 will be using it exclusively for gaming we measured the input lag at a reasonable 30ms, which should keep all but the most demanding gamer happy. It is also unlikely that anyone buying the VX300 will be too concerned about energy efficiency but here the VX300 was also quite good, especially considering the nature of plasma and the screen size. In its calibrated mode we measured the energy consumption at between 250 and 350 watts with normal viewing material.
All of the areas we've covered so far are just window dressing because if you're a TV enthusiast what you're really interested in is image performance and here the VX300 will blow you away. As soon as we turned on the VX300 we could see that it was capable of an impressive performance with an accurate greyscale, natural colours, fantastic motion handling and a staggering amount of detail. The built-in video processing was excellent which meant that even standard definition material looked good on the 65" screen, and with high definition content the images were breath-taking. After calibration, the greyscale and colour gamut were capable of a reference performance that provided the perfect base on which to build the rest of the image.
And what an image it was, thanks to the 30-bit image engine the gradations in colour and the motion handling were flawless with no banding, artefacts, fringing or posterisation. There was just a smooth, clean image that was bursting with detail. Whether the content was 50Hz, 60Hz or 24p the images had smooth and judder free motion that was a joy to behold. The VX300 also delivered reference black levels that were easily the equal of the Kuro and the VT30 and the resulting images had a beautiful sense of depth to them. The shadow detail was equally as impressive with plenty of gradation in the greyscale. The overall dynamic range was also impressive and whilst the VX300 isn't as bright as some other displays, we found the image to have an excellent contrast ratio and plenty of punch.
The 2D performance, alone, would be enough to deserve a reference status but let's not forget that the VX300 is also capable of delivering full HD 3D, using the active shutter system. Whilst the VX300 doesn't come with active shutter glasses, as standard, we were able to test it with a pair of Panasonic's latest glasses. The results were spectacular with the VX300 rendering 3D images that were breath-taking in their detail and depth. The superb motion handling and clean image resulted in a highly immersive experience that was almost completely free of crosstalk. As with its 2D performance, the VX300 was capable of a reference 3D performance that can be considered a benchmark.
The 2D and 3D performance of the VX300 is quite simply the best that we have seen from a display and whilst it may have taken three years, we finally have a replacement for the Kuro. If you have the budget, and are looking for no-compromise performance, then we suggest you give the VX300 a demo. Of course if the VX300 is out of your price range, and to be fair that would be the case for most of us, then at least take some comfort in the knowledge that this performance should be reflected in Panasonic's 2012 range of plasmas. In conclusion, the Panasonic Professional VX300 is an exceptional display that deservedly wins our Reference Badge and as such must now be considered the benchmark against which all other televisions will be measured.
Styling and Design
The VX300, like all Panasonic Professional plasmas, follows a specific design ethos that is based around a minimalist and rather industrial look. This approach makes a bold statement, in terms of the display's intended use, but it is also quite beautiful in a classic and understated way. The VX300 might have the same screen size as the 65VT30 but it is considerably bigger in terms of its chassis which is 9cm deep. The whole display has a solid and machined feel to it with an all-metal construction that weighs in at an impressive 60kg, so if you're thinking of wall mounting this baby you're going to need a big bracket. Despite its overall size, the VX300 still oozes sophistication and the build quality is exemplary, with every join and screw having an almost hand built feel to it.
This is an incredibly well constructed display and the matt black brushed metal bezel really sets the VX300 apart from the usual gloss black bezels and single sheets of glass that adorn many modern televisions. This bezel is quite wide - at 6cm - but it suits the size of the screen and provides the perfect border for the screen itself. The panel sits behind a protective sheet of glass which once again adds to the display's robust and industrial feel but we didn't find reflections to be a problem, even during daytime viewing. In keeping with the minimalist approach, the front is elegantly clean with no lights or glowing logos but there are some basic controls at the bottom right hand side of the screen.
Since the VX300 is designed for the professional installers market, the rear connections utilise Panasonicís unique Slot system of input boards that can be customised to the end userís needs. The VX300 ships with a basic configuration that consists of 2 HDMI inputs, a component video input using RCA connectors, a LAN port, a VGA socket and of course a RS232 control port. The RS232 and LAN connectors can be used for system control and should you need to you can add more HDMI inputs - or SDI connectors - using the additional slot space, you can. The connectors are downward facing and sit within a recessed area that allows for easier wall mounting and better cable management. Clearly the deeper chassis allows for this but it's a shame that Panasonic doesn't take a similar approach for their consumer plasmas.
Like all the other Panasonic Professional displays, the VX300 is designed as a monitor and as such there is no built-in TV tuner, nor are there any built-in speakers. Clearly the VX300 is meant for use in a studio or post-production facility and thus there would be no need for a built-in TV tuner and if you want to watch TV it is just a case of using an outboard PVR or STB. The same is true on the audio side, if you're working on video post-production you don't need speakers and anyone buying a display like this for the home will obviously be using outboard amplification as part of a full home cinema setup. However, if for some reason, you need to add speakers there are speaker terminals at the rear which would allow you to connect a pair of small speakers and use the built-in amplification.
The provided remote control is a major disappointment and is essentially a standard black plastic Panasonic style remote control but with some different buttons and a few obvious ones missing. For example, there is no volume control so if you want to use the internal amplification you need to access the Sound menu. Obviously the fact that the VX300 is aimed at the custom installer market means that Panasonic expect any installation to be integrated into a dedicated control system using a high end device such as a Crestron. Likewise, if the VX300 is being used in a post-production facility ,or a studio, it is unlikely that anyone will care what the remote control looks like or even have need of it that often. Still it is a shame that given the VX300's beautifully engineered chassis, the remote control is so mediocre in terms of design and construction.
The VX300 does not ship with any 3D glasses, as standard, primarily because the display is made by the professional division of Panasonic and the glasses are made by the consumer division. However, for the purposes of this review, we were able to test out a pair of Panasonic's latest active shutter 3D glasses (TY-EW3D3ME), which have only just been released. These new glasses are incredibly light - at 26g - and so comfortable to wear that you quickly forgot you had them on. Whilst this is often the case with passive 3D's lighter glasses, this is the first time that we have experienced this sensation whilst wearing active shutter 3D glasses. The glasses themselves have quite large lenses that provided a suitably wide field of view and don't add excessive discolouration. The glasses sync with the emitter built into the VX300 using infra-red and we never experienced any problems with losing sync, nor was there any noticeable flicker. There is a switch at the top of the frame above the bridge where you turn on the glasses and, if you need to, you can also switch the glasses to 2D mode. This setting will display just one eye view to both eyes thus allowing you to watch 3D content in 2D if you need to for some reason. The glasses sync automatically once turned on and they will switch off if they don't receive a sync signal for 5 minutes. You can fully charge the glasses in a couple of hours but a 3 minute charge should give you enough battery life to get through a film.
Menus and Set Up
As we have already mentioned the VX300 is a monitor aimed at the professional market, so not only is there no built-in TV tuner and no on-board speakers, there is also no internet capability. The LAN socket to the rear is for including the VX300 as part of a network or for use with an external web browser. This lack of features makes setting up the VX300 a fairly straightforward process, in fact the biggest issue will be physically installing the display but once youíve positioned it and connected the video sources all the other areas of setup are related to optimising the picture.
The menus, themselves, reflect the Professional nature of the VX300 and are functional, comprehensive and straightforward. There are five menu pages, consisting of Picture, Setup, Pos./Size, Sound and Options. The Setup menu includes all the controls for setting up the display, including controls relating to the 3D Setup, Screensaver, Extended Life Settings (including the controls for the Nanodrift feature), Input Labels, Function Button Settings, On/Off Timer, Day/Time Setup, Power Consumption and the OSD. There are also some functions aimed more at the professional market such as Marker Settings which put frame markers on the screen to show safe areas and Scope ratios or the Waveform Monitor. These latter functions are only available if the Studio Mode is selected in the Options menu. There is also a control for selecting an external scaler which means that, if you so wish, you can bypass the internal scaling and send a 1080p signal to the VX300 from an external video processor. Finally there is a sub-menu called Signal which includes information on the type of signal the VX300 is receiving. Unfortunately Panasonic haven't quite managed to break their habit of hiding key controls away in sub-menus and it is in Signal that you will find the controls for the Frame Interpolation feature. We feel that this control should really sit in the Picture menu along with all the other image related controls.
The second menu is Pos./Size and, as the name suggests, this controls the vertical and horizontal position and size of the image. As with the previous menu, Panasonic have included another key control in an area which we feel is inappropriate because this is where you will find the 1:1 Pixel Mode. This control is important for ensuring that you are watching the full high definition image and we really feel it should also be included in the Picture menu along with all the other image related controls.
The third menu is Sound and here you will find all the controls for the built-in amplification. There are a number of Sound Modes, as well as controls for Bass, Mid, Treble, Balance and Surround. As mentioned previously, should you wish to attach speakers and use the built-in amplification, it is in this menu that you will find the Volume control.
The Options menu is where you will find additional controls for functions like the Onscreen Display, Studio Mode, Internal 3D Emitter, Display Size, All Aspect, Auto Setup, Advanced Motion Resolution, Power On Message and the 3D Safety Precautions. To access the Options menu, you need to hold down the OK button for more than three seconds.
The Picture menu obviously includes most, although as we've already mentioned not all, the key controls for correctly setting the image. There are a number of pre-set Picture Modes including Normal, Dynamic (ISF Day), Cinema (ISF Night) and Monitor. The Monitor mode is designed for use in a post-production facility creating broadcast or movie content. With this mode, even if the overall picture level (APL) changes, the brightness of areas with the same signal level does not change. There are also all the standard picture controls such as Contrast, Brightness, Colour, Hue, Sharpness and White Balance. It is refreshing to see a picture menu that is free of all the useless special features that plague most modern consumer televisions. If you make any adjustments you can save them in the memory and also select the ISF settings to allow a trained calibrator to lock their settings.
In the Advanced Settings there are controls for the Black Extension and Input Level as well as the Cinema Reality (cadence detection) function and Noise Reduction features. There is also a Studio Gain feature, which is only available if the Studio Mode is selected in the Options menu. This feature sharpens the contrast for a better view when a part of the image is too light to see. There is a Gamma setting which gives options from 2.2 to 2.6 and a Two Point White Balance control for calibrating the Greyscale by adjusting the amounts of red, green and blue.
The final menu is the Colour Gamut control which offers a choice of a number of preset including the Native colour gamut of the display as well as a series of industry standards such as Digital Cinema Colour, EBU, SEMPTE-C (NTSC) and BT.709. The final choice is Rec.709 which is the industry standard used in high definition television and Blu-ray and is very close to the standard for PAL. There is also a choice called Custom which gives the user access to the Colour Management System (CMS).
2D Picture Quality
The 2D performance of the VX300 was quite exceptional and the superior imaging was immediately obvious as soon as we switched it on. Before we had even started to select any settings or calibrate the image, we were instantly impressed by the natural, detailed and beautifully rendered images on the screen. As we often mention, a displayís picture quality is based on a number of elements Ė such as, the greyscale, the colour gamut and the video processing - if the display gets these elements right the resulting images can be spectacular. Since the VX300 gets these essential basics right, especially after calibration, the resulting images are some of the best weíve seen from a display. The VX300 reproduced the reference demo footage on the Spears & Munsil Blu-ray disc superbly with sharp images composed of natural colours, excellent shadow detail, incredibly smooth gradations and an abundance of fine detail. This fine detail was all the more obvious because there was no banding and very little PWM noise which is a real plus for a plasma of this size.
Perhaps the area where the VX300 really excelled was in contrast ratio and black levels. The dynamic range was very impressive and the displayís ability to show dark and light images in the same frame or move from shadow to daylight with ease gave the picture a real sense of dimensionality, even in 2D. However it was the black levels that really impressed and were as good, if not better, than those of either our reference Kuro or the VT30. We measured 0IRE at 0.016 cd/m2, which was superb and resulted in deep blacks that really added to the already excellent picture and created images that were stunning in their clarity, accuracy and dynamism. We also did not experience any of the brightness fluctuations or floating blacks that have plagued previous Panasonic plasmas.
Using reference film material, the VX300 excelled, producing a beautiful film-like image, with a natural appearance, amazing shadow detail, contrast and blacks that were free of judder and artefacts. Overall motion handling was superb, regardless of whether the content was 50Hz, 60Hz or 24p and there was none of the fringing that has accompanied 50Hz material in the past. There was also none of the posterisation that has been seen on Panasonic plasmas in the past, just a beautifully clean and detailed image. Whatever the 2D content you are watching, the VX300 can deliver wonderfully detailed, accurate and natural images to create an incredibly dynamic experience.
3D Picture Quality
Based on our experiences to date, Panasonic have been at the forefront of 3D development, producing some of the best 3D displays we have seen. Given the amount of innovation and development that Panasonic has put into 3D we expected the VX300 to perform well and we weren't disappointed, no doubt due to the combination of Panasonicís technology, the bigger screen size and an almost complete lack of crosstalk.
When it comes to full HD 3D we have found that Panasonicís displays have the edge over the competition - in terms of both handling motion and crosstalk - and the VX300 represents the zenith of their current capabilities. The use of their 30-bit image engine, high speed drive technology, high speed illumination and fast decay phosphors has clearly paid dividends and resulted in a reference 3D performance. The newly designed glasses also seem to add to the performance and we didnít find ourselves being distracted by flicker as we had on other Panasonic displays. Since the VX300 uses Full HD 3D we were also amazed by the level of detail in the 3D images, which were wonderfully rendered by the display's beautiful clean image.
As we have mentioned in previous reviews, when it comes to 3D size does matter and the VX300 proves it. Watching 3D content on its 65Ē screen was extremely immersive and the almost complete lack of crosstalk meant that we never found ourselves being drawn out of the experience. There were occasional instances of crosstalk but we really had to look for them and they were never distracting. The display was able to handle fast movement without ghosting or other artefacts, which was especially obvious when playing fast moving 3D games. The image was also suitably bright even in the calibrated mode which personally we preferred due to its more natural looking colours.
Whilst we doubt that anyone buying the VX300 will be using it primarily for gaming, we did measure the input lag at a reasonably low 30ms. We measured a slightly better 25ms on the VT30 but frankly a lag of 30ms should keep all but the most hardcore gamers happy. Of course if you do decide to use the VX300 for gaming the results are spectacular with the large screen size, accurate image and fast response time all combining to produce an exciting gaming experience. When you add 3D into the equation the increased screen size really comes into play and the lack of crosstalk and bright image resulted in an incredibly immersive experience.
Considering the size of the VX300, it's energy efficiency was actually quite good. Whilst even very large LCD displays can use surprisingly little energy due to the nature of plasma technology, it will always use more power than an LCD. The brighter and bigger the image, the greater the amount of energy the plasma uses to drive the phosphors. In the case of the VX300 a window raster at 0IRE measured 60 watts, at 50IRE it measured 90 watts and at 100IRE it measured 180 watts. These are actually very good measurements for a display of this size and with normal viewing material the measurement averaged between 250 and 350 watts depending on the brightness of the image on the screen. As with all modern displays the VX300 used less than 1 watt in standby mode.
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The range of different colours that a device can accurately capture. The more colours, the wider the colour gamut.
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Imaging Science Foundation
The organistion which created standards for calibrating displays
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Professional 3D Plasma display for the custom installation market
Panasonic Professional TH-65VX300
Size: 65 inch television
Suggested price: £7,999
Reviewed 25th November, 2011 by Stephen Withers
Supplied for review by
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