Panasonic VT30 (TX-P50VT30) 3D Plasma Review
Phil Hinton gets stuck into the new Flagship 3D Plasma from Panasonic...but will he be impressed?
The model we are testing is the 50inch TX-P50VT30B. Other model sizes available include the TX-P42VT30B, TX-P55VT30B and the TX-P65VT30B. The 'B' denotes the models are for the UK market.
With our review team covering nearly every new plasma screen from Panasonic this year on AVForums, it is now time to settle down and start our testing of the company’s flagship model, the TX-P50VT30. It was interesting during my recent trip to the Panasonic facilities in Japan that the company said quite categorically that they would not make a TV for the enthusiasts market. Their reasoning was that to produce such a TV (like the now defunct Fujitsu and Pioneer’s) was not cost effective in the current market conditions, and indeed, look what happened to those who tried.
Instead Panasonic want to offer the wider market a top-line TV that does more for the end user with image quality that gets close to those who took the enthusiast and professional route. This is clear to see in the features that the VT30 brings to the market with full HD 3D playback, two pairs of 3D glasses in the box, Viera Connect and DLNA networking as well as full THX and ISF certification. Also new and differing from the GT30 and ST30 is a darker ‘Infinite pro’ filter on the front of the panel which the company claim provides deeper blacks and less wash out from ambient lighting. Plus for this year the Panasonic models all have short stroke phosphor and a differing cell structure that directs more light from the panel and towards the viewer. And although power consumption is always a hot topic for the company, in our recent meeting in Japan the engineers confirmed that with the newer filter attached to the VT30, they have had to up the power slightly to make sure image brightness is not overly affected.
We have no doubt that readers will have questions about this new technology as well as looking for answers to some of the issues we have seen on the lower specified panels we have already covered here at AVForums. So let’s get stuck into fully testing the VT30. You can read the full review after the summary and scores below.
To see slides explaining the technology discussed above, please refer to our Japan report located here
The VT30 is Panasonic’s new flagship model for 2011 and introduces a new sleek design with one piece of glass across the front of the panel. Added to this is a new louvre filter - that is darker than the other 3D panels from the company this year - and also offers effective ambient light rejection. As it is a glass front to the panel (like every other plasma out there) it is reflective when placed in a brightly lit room or opposite a window, it will act like a mirror. So we suggest owners take some time to make sure that the VT30 is placed in the best possible surroundings to get the absolute best from the TV. The remote control this year has also been given a design update with backlit number keys and a black and silver finish. It is still a plastic affair but fits with the panel design and is easy to use. Connections are also generous with 4 HDMI inputs as well as DLNA networking and the new Viera Connect services.
In terms of picture quality we can confidently state that we are unlikely to see a competing TV that offers the same level of image quality this year. That is not to say that the VT30 is a reference screen, but rather as a consumer model it does everything exceptionally well with the best black level response we have seen since the 9G Pioneers. Calibration control is first class and allows us to fully exploit the VT30’s image quality to produce strong, punchy images with good gradation in the shadows and a strong black level. Colours are also exceptionally natural and accurate, once calibrated correctly, with strong skin tones and image depth where required. Motion resolution for the most part is strong with only the occasional instance of the old 50Hz issues with fast pans, but even then, the effect is subtle and will go unseen by the majority of users. There are the occasional instances of brightness fluctuations seen on the VT30 but these are again few in number and certainly not as annoying as uniformity issues we might see with a competing LED backlit LCD. So, if our review sample is representative of other VT30 models out there - and we see no reason why that wouldn’t be the case, we don’t see these fluctuations as a major issue, and certainly not as noticeable as last years ‘floating blacks’. As always there is no such thing as a perfect TV and the VT30 does at times suffer from drawbacks of the technology such as some posterisation and banding with strong single coloured backgrounds. Again, this is to be expected and taken into account against other competing screens' plus and minus points. There is nothing here that wasn’t also seen on the legendary Pioneers, just so we are being balanced in our assessment here. If you are interested in the VT30 we would recommend you go and see one for yourself and weigh up the plus points and negatives for yourself.
3D performance is a strong point for the VT30 and offers images that are almost entirely free from crosstalk or other artefacts. In THX 3D mode the image offers a decent stab at colour accuracy and balance. It should be possible to also fine tune the VT30 3D images with the provided calibration controls, but few end users (or even professionals at this point) will have the kind of equipment to take advantage of this flexibility at this time. However, it is reassuring that if you are so inclined, you can improve the 3D images further. Overall, the 3D performance and the advantage of the 50 inch screen does add in some immersive viewing with the available content and we have yet to see any other make of TV offer the same all-round performance with 3D material.
The VT30 is an exceptionally good plasma TV that offers the best black levels and image quality we have seen so far this year. Yes, it is not perfect, there is no such thing as a perfect TV, but as a consumer model it certainly offers excellent image quality in both 2D and 3D. It won’t be for everyone and the price may be a barrier for some, but we are struggling to think of a TV already available or coming soon that will better the VT30 in every area where it excels, so I guess you can’t get a higher recommendation that that to go and see one.
Styling and Connections
It is nice to see that Panasonic has taken feedback regarding the design of their TVs and have hired an outside design team to help with this year’s models. Gone are the bland black gloss rectangles from previous years, replaced with some nice touches of design. With the VT30 we are probably looking at the model which has been given the most in terms of design flair. What is surprising is the fact that we now have a one sheet of glass design, something that has been an LG trademark plasma design for a few years now. This means that the bezel edges are hidden under a sheet of glass across the front of the panel finished with a slim silver strip to the outside. The bezel is still quite thick from the panel edge to the outer edge, this is no Samsung D8000 tiny bezel design, but this doesn’t hinder the lines in my opinion and, of course, design is a very personal thing.
The VT30 furthers the design with straight edges towards the bottom of the set with speakers hidden in small recesses left and right. The Panasonic logo hides under the glass with a slightly thicker silver strip immediately below. Thankfully there are no silver strips anywhere near the panel edge, like the GT30. I think it is fair to say the VT30 certainly looks the part for a flagship model with an excellent quality of build to round things off. The chassis is thinner than last year’s VT20 model which measured just under 4 inches at the thickest part, with a cabinet that is now under 2 inches in depth. This should help with wall mounting the TV and the new layout for the connections also helps this approach in most regards. In terms of audio, (something that is normally forgotten when manufacturers design thin panels), the VT30 has two woofers built flat into the rear panel. This layout helps the audio soundstage from the very small front speaker enclosures and provides a fuller sound than you would usually expect from such a thin cabinet. It’s not the type of sound system that will ever replace an external home cinema set up, but if you intend to just use the VT30 on its own, it is certainly more than capable of producing a nice, rich and full sound compared to some other thin panels out there.
As mentioned, the build quality of the VT30 is very good with a metal chassis and back panel. Cooling is provided by fans positioned to the rear plate which may be of concern to some users. In a normal living room environment, where we tested the VT30, I wasn’t aware of any noise from the fans at normal seating positions and even close up to the panel; I was more aware of the noise from my Sky+HD box than the VT30. One issue I will mention was an obvious buzz from the panel when it was switched on for the first time (this was a brand new out of the box panel). This, however, didn’t last long and had disappeared after a few hours of use. We have to remember that all plasma displays will buzz or hum to some degree and whether you hear it or not will come down to the room acoustics and the pitch of the buzz. I am confident that this will pass the vast majority of users by as it is very subtle and in my experience here; it had gone after a few hours of use on the panel.
Moving to the rear of the panel we have the connections and the power lead. Looking at the power supply first, the most surprising thing here is that the power cord is now hard wired to the chassis. This has obviously been added as a safety feature, but will also cause some problems for users. The lead is not very long and if you are going to wall mount the VT30 you will need to take this into account. Most installers will run a power supply box and fuse to the mount position, but if you are taking the DIY approach please bare in mind.
The connections available for sources have been repositioned in comparison to the VT20 from last year. They are now side mounted and positioned 4 inches from the left hand-side of the panel (looking from the front). This allows flat connections of HDMI cables but there is not much room if you use high quality well-built cables, and they may stick out past the panel. The solution here would be to use right angled HDMI adaptors, but perhaps Panasonic could look at moving the connections further back from the panel edge on future models to get past this issue? The Freesat and Freeview HD aerial sockets are downward facing at the bottom of the connections block, joined by a LAN connection for calibration and internet use. There are also special connectors for SCART, composite video, component video and analogue audio (which all use provided break-out adaptor cables) as well as a digital audio out and a headphone socket. Also at the back, in a recess, there are two USB sockets which can be used for recharging Panasonic's new 3D glasses. The four HDMI inputs are positioned to the side of the connections block with HDMI 2 set up for use with the audio return channel on suitably equipped AVRs. Sadly I haven’t been able to test how this works in practice due to a lack of a suitable AVR. Also on the side are a third USB slot, for use with a HDD for the recording features, as well as a CI (common interface) and SD Card slot. We would be surprised if the generous number of source connections were not enough for the vast majority of users.
The remote control provided with the VT30 has had a slight facelift with backlit number and volume keys. It is nice to see that Panasonic has seen fit to try and update its rather basic and plastic remote control units provided with their TVs and that the flagship gets a nicer looking unit. However, it is still a plastic affair and not quite the luxury item you would expect with a top end TV, (like the cast metal and heavy units that were par for the course with other manufacturers’ high-end models). But the provided remote does the job just fine and the keys are well laid out and logical to use. Plus the remote sits in the hand comfortably and after a few minutes the most used options become second nature.
The TX-P50VT30B comes with two pairs of 3D Glasses in the box along with a wireless dongle. Surprisingly, with the competition of Passive TV looming large - with its biggest selling point being cheap eye wear, Panasonic are only providing free active glasses with this top end TV. Is this short sighted or are Panasonic feeling confident enough that punters will spend upwards of £100 for each extra new pair of glasses? If you take into account that the average family in the UK has four members (two adults and two children) you will still need to buy two extra pairs of glasses, so add another £200+ to your purchase price. Plus, with active glasses being quite sensitive to hard use and easy to damage, we have no doubt that Panasonic (and other active manufacturers) are going to have a hard fight to win over users, when the competition uses glasses that cost a few pence. Obviously this is a subject for more detailed discussion in a separate blog, but it is something to bear in mind when looking at a 3D TV. And, to be fair, we haven’t even covered the other issues regarding picture quality. We would be surprised, however, if Panasonic and others don’t rethink their strategy over the pricing of the active glasses in the near future. It is certainly a good bargaining tool for consumers to use when it comes to buying a 3D TV.
The glasses provided this year are the latest design from Panasonic which finally does away with the open sides that let in light reflections and marred the experience. These new glasses are available in three sizes (Large, Medium and Small) and are certainly more comfortable than last year’s models. In terms of sync signals, with the TV, they still use IR and not Bluetooth like the latest Samsung models, but we never experienced any issues with sync loss unless we looked well away from the TV transmitter for more than a few seconds. Build quality is also pretty good for a set of plastic glasses and weight is improved over last year’s models. I also found the glasses provided to be far more comfortable and was happy to wear them for extended periods - which is a change from living with the VT20 and its old style glasses for the last 6 months. Are they perfect? No, they are still quite heavy for a set of glasses, even with the improvements made and when used in daylight circumstances the flicker produced is still quite distracting and will be an issue for a few potential owners. In terms of battery life, the new glasses are rechargeable via USB and a nice touch with the VT30 is the provision of a USB extender with a charging station, which means you don’t have to keep accessing the USB connections on the rear of the TV.
The WiFi dongle provided takes only a few minutes to set up and connect to your network and I wasn’t aware of any lack of speed when using the internet functions compared to a wired LAN connection (which we also tested).
The biggest update in terms of features in this year’s line of Plasma TVs from Panasonic is the introduction of Viera Connect. This replaces the Viera Cast system and opens up the platform to developers so they can add in new applications over the life of the service. The fact that Panasonic has opened up their cloud based network to the development community is a nice touch and hopefully we will start to see some excellent application added soon. At the moment the Viera Connect platform is a little lacking in terms of overall content but we have been assured that as the year goes on we will see plenty of new functionality and applications being added.
That’s not to say that the service is not without some highlights available now, such as the BBC iPlayer which is formatted to work perfectly well with the VT30. Picture quality and speed is of high enough quality (make sure you select HQ under picture controls) to be pleasing enough to watch catch up TV programs. Other services include Facebook (you need to connect your account via the Panasonic website to get your sign in details), Skype video calling if you have purchased the required camera, ACE TRAX video on demand services (subscription service), YouTube, Twitter, Screen rush, Euro news, Ustream (coming soon), Picasa, Daily Motion, Weather, Bloomberg and Euro Sport. With IPTV becoming a larger part of the TV world, we wouldn’t be surprised if the services grow further and offer more to end users. As it is now, with the addition of Viera Market to choose even more applications (some are subscription services) you may just find yourself using the service far more than the outgoing Viera Cast system that lacked any really interesting content. Previous Panasonic TVs are not upgradable to receive this new Connect system, which is a shame.
The VT30 is also DLNA compliant for streaming content and files from your home network as well as video and photos from SD Cards or USB keys. Most file types are supported including DIVX HD and 3D video files.
The other major feature we have on the VT30 (and surprisingly it is also now available on the GT and G series 2011 Viera’s in Europe) is the SpectraCAL auto calibration feature. This is a dealer only option and at this present time not available to end users. However, a professional calibrator or dealer who offers the service can hook up their CalMAN 4.2 calibration software via RS232 or LAN to the VT30 along with their meter and perform an automatic calibration of the TV. Don’t worry if you don’t have a local dealer or calibrator suitably equipped as the advanced controls available on the VT30 allow full manual calibration.
Some may be wondering what the differences are between the GT series and the VT30 in performance and feature terms. Well, the VT30 uses a new blacker Louvre filter on the screen surface which is darker than that available on the GT. This helps prevent ambient light washing out the image in a bright room and increases the black level. Added to the new cell structure in the new Panels this year, with short stroke phosphor, directed light output and increased voltage, the VT30 should be capable of better black level performance without suffering to much from images appearing dull in calibrated modes. As mentioned, the set up features and calibration controls have been expanded on the VT30 along with the one sheet design. Plus the VT30 comes with two pairs of 3D Glasses and a WiFi dongle.
Menus and set up
Switching on the VT30 straight from the box presents you with automatic Freesat and Freeview tuning and selection of the Home/Shop mode. This all takes no more than a few minutes along with selection of your network set up via the WiFi dongle or wired connection.
The menu system for 2011 has thankfully been redesigned which makes navigation and set up easier than previous generations. To fine tune the VT30 you must enter the set up menu and select the ISFccc mode. This opens up two further professional picture presets which have the advanced calibration controls for greyscale, colour and gamma set up.
Starting with the picture menu first we have selection options for the main picture presets – which Panasonic call ‘Viewing Modes’. Having tested the available options from ‘Dynamic, Normal, Cinema, THX, Games, Photo and Two Professional modes’, we found that ‘THX’ and ‘Professional’ were the most accurate towards the industry standards with ‘Cinema’ also looking better than other selections and a little brighter than ‘THX’ (depending on the use of the CATs control, which we advise is left off). ‘Dynamic’ clips whites and is overly bright, which highlights artefacts in broadcast material to a distracting level. ‘Normal’ is not far behind with blue looking whites and again can clip detail in the higher reaches of the image (again CATs will affect things here). It is true that THX and the two Pro modes are slightly darker but they also don’t crush detail and provide a good level of accuracy for colour and white level. If you are not concerned about that much image accuracy you could use the Cinema mode which adds a little more brightness and is not as garish as the other modes. We also have the main front panel controls as expected (Contrast, Brightness etc.) as well as selections for other features that vary depending on the picture mode you have selected. For example, you have options for colour balance and vivid colour in the majority of modes, but not in the Professional or THX selections. So depending on your picture mode selection will determine the controls you have to adjust the image. We would recommend using the THX or Pro modes and as such those are what we will look at in more detail.
In professional mode we can enter the advanced menu and the top three selections are White Balance, Colour Management and Gamma. The excellent point here is that we now have a full Colour Management System (CMS) that offers full access to luminance, Hue and Saturation for the primary colours. Then by selecting the more detailed adjustment option in the menu we then have the same control over the secondary colours. This is excellent and works as it should. The White Balance controls also offer more than the usual two point adjustment points (e.g. 80,30 IRE). Again by selecting the more detailed adjustment option we now have a full ten point Greyscale correction option that allows excellent fine control with adjustments made. Not to be outdone, Gamma is also given the same ten point adjustment again in a further detailed menu. I have no idea why the VT30 is the only screen this year to have these options and can only guess that it is probably a memory issue with the lower line TVs. The amount of adjustment available should mean that we can calibrate the VT30 to reference levels where errors are completely invisible to the naked eye. We will find out below in the measurement area of the review.
You may have noticed that the main menu image above shows the viewing mode as ‘isf day’ and this is a feature where we can lock down the two professional modes so the hard work with your calibration settings are not accidently wiped. This requires a code to lock the menu and change the name to ISF.
What is welcome, this year, is that the picture control options such as ‘3D settings’ are not hidden away in the set up menu, but rather now appear in the main picture menu where they should be. This is also true for the Intelligent Frame Creation Pro settings, overscan and clear cinema to name a few. We did feed this back last year and it is nice to see that every option that affects the picture is now under the picture menu. Good stuff!
As always in this section of the review we look for the best possible settings out of the box that are close to the industry standards for colour accuracy and Greyscale. We measured all possible picture set up options using CalMAN 4.2 calibration software and a Klein K-10 and settled on the THX mode as the most accurate out of the box setting. The VT30 had been allowed to run in for over 150 hours before we started any measurements and tests.
The important area to look at with all these charts are the DeltaE error numbers. Basically anything under 4 should be unseen by the human eye and differences would only ever be noticed when doing a side by side comparison with a reference monitor. Many forum members look for perfect looking charts but it should be pointed out that the secret to correct calibration is to never rely just on nice looking charts. What is on-screen will always dictate if the results are accurate and with that is a required level of experience with image accuracy and calibration. I make this point because we have read some comments recently where far too much emphasis has been put on how a graph looks, without taking into account what will and won’t be seen on screen.
We start with the THX preset on the VT30 and its Greyscale and gamma results. We have to bear in mind that the THX preset is a catch all attempt at pre-calibrating the TV to industry standards and it will measure slightly differently from VT30 to VT30, as is the nature of Plasma TVs. However, the results here can act as a guide to the kind of accuracy we might expect to see with this model. Looking at the Greyscale first we can see that it tracks in a relatively uniform manner with errors in the RGB Balance. Blue tracks slightly high by 5% and Red low by the same amount until around the 70% stimulus point, where they then track slightly better towards our 100% target. This results in DeltaE errors that are under 4 and should not be overly visible in actual viewing. This is a good result for a pre-calibrated preset on a Plasma TV. Gamma is however a little disappointing as it follows the Panasonic trend of being too low and therefore too bright. It is tracking at around 1.9/2.0, for the majority, and we would ideally like to see this closer to a 2.2 curve. In fact it is surprising how the gamma almost tracks straight in terms of luminance. What this results in is a slightly washed out image that may well suit a bright room environment, but which will produce washed out results in a dimly lit environment. This is not quite ideal and in the THX mode there is no way to correct the gamma curve (there are no options for gamma settings). It has to be said that the THX standards usually insist on a 2.2 gamma curve for certification, so we are surprised that the VT30 gamma is so low in THX mode.
Moving onto the colour gamut we can see that the VT30 in THX mode is pretty accurate but not perfect. The largest error is with Red which is off hue by some margin and a little too bright in terms of luminance. However, the rest of the gamut (including white) is within acceptable errors and will not display any obvious on screen errors for the vast majority of viewers. So as you can see the THX mode is a very nice feature to have which should provide many owners with excellent images without the expense of a full calibration. However, when spending this much on a TV of the VT30s quality we would always recommend a pro calibration. So just how much better can we get things given that we have full calibration controls on the VT30?
Calibrated Results & Contrast
With the VT30 we have two methods to fully calibrate the TV. The first is our chosen route for this review and that is a fully manual calibration using the extended tools afforded to us on the VT30. The second possible route would be with the CalMAN 4.2 automatic interface however, up until now, I haven’t been able to get the TV to talk to the software via the LAN connection. I will of course update the review once my contacts at SpectraCAL advise on how to get around the issues I am having at the moment.
So as you can see we have an almost perfect chart above for the greyscale and gamma results and I am happy to say that after 3 resets and visual checks and tests, they are accurate results. Thanks to the ten point white balance controls I was able to get the RGB Balance as flat as you could possibly want too with no visible errors in the colour of grey. Gamma also tracked a lot better by setting it to 2.4 in the options menu and then applying some manual tweaks with the 10 point gamma controls. Obviously when you start messing with the gamma in a manual manner on most displays that allow the adjustment, you can get some strange looking images on screen as the adjustments are not positive to how the panel interprets the gamma curve. Indeed I found that aiming for a super flat result on the charts, introduced a few subtle errors in actual viewing material, especially in the lower reaches of the image luminance. However, my results here were extremely effective for our viewing environment and added a nice pop to images without clipping detail in the lower end or overly affecting shadow detail. With DeltaE errors well under 1, this is reference level.
Next we move onto the colour gamut and again with the full Colour Management System (CMS) available on the VT30 we were able to dial in reference level results. One area that the CalMAN software doesn’t cover, but is important for checking, is the actual linearity of the colours at various stimulus points. This is something we have got used to checking in detail after our experiences with the JVC CMS systems on their projectors of the last two years. Happily there are no major errors, which would result in over or under-saturation errors or luminance clipping. The use of the CMS is also pretty easy thanks to no substantial cross interference when adjusting the colour points i.e. when adjusting one area it didn’t move the opposite colour points by any large degree. We were extremely happy with the results here.
There has always been a large dependence by some forum members and enthusiasts on cd/m2 black level figures within reviews and trying to compare these on forums, where the measuring equipment, method and surroundings have always made these types of measurements useless in any kind of comparable manner. The results really are based on certain factors that for us are never as repeatable or properly measurable to make them a useful tool for readers to use. You cannot take measurements we make here with a K-10 meter and then compare them to readings taken by say a Spyder III in a different country. There are just too many factors that make that approach bad practice in terms of imaging science and that’s before we take into account that doing these measurements on, say, an LCD that switches it’s backlight off at 0IRE, makes the measurements pointless. Mind you that hasn’t stopped a few from complaining about the lack of such measurements in our reviews and while we will start to mention our results, they will not be used for marking purposes or any other evaluation process. We do not recommend trying to compare black level readings with any other source, be that another review elsewhere or measures taken by forum members. The only real comparable difference you could take as being minimally accurate is by the same reviewer using the same equipment, method and conditions.
So, with that important disclaimer out of the way, the VT30 measured with our Klein K-10 in dark surroundings and calibrated mode we got 0.02 cd/m2 at 0IRE and 79.35 cd/m2 at 100IRE (approx. 3,967:1 on/off) using standard window patterns from our Sencore VP401. Our 8 month old VT20 measured 0.04 cd/m2 at 0IRE and 75.12 cd/m2 at 100IRE calibrated (1878:1 approx on/off). Our 2 year old Pioneer LX5090 Kuro measured 0.03 cd/m2 at 0IRE and 110.1 cd/m2 at 100IRE calibrated (3,670:1 approx). Ansi-contrast measurements on the Pioneer were 0.04 cd/m2 black and 85.4 cd/m2 white averaged results, with the VT30 managing 0.03 cd/m2 black and 72.4 cd/m2 white averaged results.
As we have said take what you will from those measurements for the three TVs we have set up here side by side and calibrated in the same room. Looking at those results there should be a big difference between the VT20 and VT30 by almost double the on/off contrast figures but in actual content viewing (watching the same Blu-ray clip on all three screens together at the same time), it is very difficult to put those numbers into definite visual differences with moving content. The VT30 is blacker than the VT20 by a small margin in real-life viewing (and in ideal conditions) with not a lot to separate the VT30 and LX5090, not just in terms of black level, but with general calibrated image quality. Some will ask why we haven’t pushed the brightness of the sets to higher levels (some claim 120 cd/m2 as a standard), but another important point that is always forgotten with calibrated results is that the image has to be easy on the eye for long term viewing and complimentary to the viewing room conditions. We have gone for what we determine the ideal viewing circumstances based on industry standards and as close to perfect as you can get on a consumer TV. This means a dimly lit viewing room with suitable placement of ambient lighting. These conditions won’t match some reader’s environments and we recommend that you take this in to account when making your purchasing decision. We have tested the VT30 in brighter conditions below in the picture section, however.
With our full set of tests at hand the VT30 did a very admirable job when it comes to video processing. Starting with SD material the VT30 does an excellent job of scaling the image to the panels native resolution without adding any unwanted haloing or ringing to edges. De-interlacing performance was also excellent with no obvious signs of jaggies. We found that SD source material, depending on the quality of the feed, was nice and sharp with no issues that would overly concern us. Cadence detection has been something of a sore point for Panasonic TVs for as long as I can remember, but with Clear Cinema switched on the set managed to correctly detect 3:2 sources and likely wise it would detect and then lose 2:2 material. Every time there was an edit or change of material on screen the VT30 would take at least 3 seconds before locking on again.
With HD material the VT30 really shines and produces nice and sharp images with no behind the scenes processing or sharpening going on. 24P material (without 24P Smooth Film switched on) is reproduced with no induced judder by the TV and looks very good indeed. Obviously adding in frame interpolation smoothed this motion and with film material we would recommend it is switched off. IFC (Intelligent Frame Creation) has been updated for 2011 and now introduces a ‘Mid’ setting which perhaps should have been renamed ‘Mild’ as that is certainly the effect of switching it on. We would imagine that this mode will suit sports fans who want to improve motion with video based material.
50Hz, brightness fluctuations and flicker
With obvious MLL rises now seemingly a thing of the past, we still have the thorny subject of 50Hz issues which was a problem for lots of forum members in 2010 and it has been well documented on the forums in general by users. This is a real issue which I had the opportunity to show to Panasonic in person when I visited their Japanese facilities in early March. There has been some confusion not only with our feedback to the company but also with other interpretations of the issue. The problem has always been a motion resolution issue with fast moving pans on screen and could best be described as a triple or quadruple line breakup, mixed with edge deformation of solid lines. This is most obvious with football material (SD and HD) where lines and players suffered from fast pans. Checking other Plasma TVs this issue is not present with the same material (we have a Pioneer and LG we tested fully next to the VT20 and now the VT30). We are pretty confident that it is a side effect of the panel driving and some adaptive dithering of some kind. The issue was still quite obvious on the G30 and GT30 when Steve and Mark reviewed them, so what about the VT30?
Well, it is still present, but it is extremely subtle. In fact it took quite a few minutes of viewing the VT30 to see it and even then (watching HD football) it was so subtle that it really surprised me (given my long term use of the VT20). It is noticeable on other viewing material such as the audience on the 10 o’clock Live show where the camera sweeps by, and was present in a documentary of the RAF when planes were fast moving against blue backgrounds. However, I was looking for the issue and again it was very, very subtle, especially when compared to our VT20 where the issue is more visible (and well documented). In fact, I would say that only in exceptional circumstances would the viewer’s ever find this an issue on the VT30 (that assumes that our review sample is representative – and we see no reason why that wouldn’t be the case). As always we would encourage readers to fully demo the TV for themselves and check out the feedback of owners on the forums. But I am pleased to report that while it is still there and ultimately we would like it gone completely, it is a far more subtle phenomenon on the VT30. We should treat the issue in context and image resolution is excellent on the VT30 compared to its competition in the consumer market place.
Some confusion with the 50Hz issue was viewers seeing posterisation or colour bands around edges (like gradients on faces) and this is a side effect of how plasma technology works and will be seen by some users, it is not a motion resolution problem where the image breaks up. Much like the rainbow effect seen on single chip DLP projectors and flicker, it is more of an issue for some users than others, depending on their visual perception. Again it is difficult to give definitive answers as to how well the VT30 performs in this department. I am quite susceptible to these issues and I didn’t see any obvious instances that would make me mark down the VT30 personally. Again it is something that we recommend users look at closely for themselves.
Panel flicker is a Plasma trait and seeing it is very much an individual thing. Everyone has a slightly differing visual perception and that means that a TV that flickers for one person, will not for another. So, it is very difficult, if not impossible to give any definitive answer as to whether you as an individual will see flicker on the VT30. Again the only advice we can give here is to go and see the TV in question to check if it will be an issue for you. For me, I found that the panel did flicker quite a bit when it was first installed, especially in bright areas of the picture. However with running the TV in I found that this flicker disappeared completely with direct viewing and was only noticeable in my peripheral vision when not looking directly at the screen. As I don’t watch TV like that, it wasn’t an issue in my opinion.
There have been reports (and indeed review results here on AVForums) where there are some instances of brightness fluctuations on some Panasonic models. There seems to be some variance in the reports from excessive changes in image brightness between scenes, to the occasion flicker of luminance shifting slightly. In my two week viewing period with the VT30 I have noticed this happen on the odd occasion and even then it has been quite subtle. There have been no instances of ‘Floating Blacks’ on the VT30, so this new issue seems to be the reverse. I was made aware early in the testing process that Mark had seen this with the G30 and that it had started with lots of instances and then calmed down to be almost non-existent. With our review sample of the VT30 here, I have to report that it is subtle and there was quite a time between each instance. If our review sample is representative of the issue, then I don’t see it as a major issue or one that would annoy me as much as poor uniformity on an LED LCD for example. I cannot offer any conclusive evidence that it will be the same on other models so would suggest that if this issue is likely to be worrying for you, you check out the owners thread in the forums.
Finally I wanted to quickly discuss the one piece of glass design and the effect of ambient light on the screen. For a start the louvre filter rejects ambient light from above and the side of the screen from washing out the image on screen. This is not to be confused with reflections of light on the glass front from windows for example. As the VT30 is a plasma screen and is made from glass it is obvious that when placed in a bright room or opposite a window where sunlight streams into the room, you will see reflections on the screen. Indeed, the VT30 is quite reflective and when I placed it opposite one of my living room windows all I could see during daylight viewing was the window and me sitting on the seat opposite. This has to be expected from such a screen and potential buyers should be aware that correct placement within the room is important. The louvre filter is designed to reject lights above the set from hitting the screen and washing out the image. If you look down on the screen from above you will see this effect in reverse as the image dims. As the VT30 in calibrated picture modes is quite dim we would probably advise against putting the TV in a room where for the majority of the day there is strong daylight. It is certainly a screen (like most good plasmas) that rewards the user when placed correctly within a room to avoid these issues.
Picture Quality – 2D
There is no getting around the fact that even with a couple of niggles, the VT30 offers one of the best 2D images we have seen for a while. Black levels are fluid and deep when viewed in ideal conditions, yet there is no crushing of shadow detail. Gradations in the shadows are strong with good detail levels adding a nice depth to the image without any signs of problems. As stated above there are no signs of ‘floating blacks’ and the image is stable with good uniformity. SD quality with good source material is excellent with nice sharpness to the image and no signs of ringing. But it is with HD material that the VT30 really sings with excellent detail and colour balance. Blu-ray playback is superb with no need for the frame interpolation technology on-board as 24p material is displayed with no induced judder. When watching 2.35:1 material in dimmed surroundings the bezel and black bars do meld together as you would expect with a screen with excellent black levels. Skin tones look natural and motion is strong, within the frame, with no signs of any image break-up.
Moving to sports in HD the VT30 is again a strong performer with fast moving material, only occasionally does the old 50Hz break-up rear its head and as stated already in the review, this effect is far more subtle than on last year’s VT20. Only with very fast pans do we see the issue and it is so subtle here that I don’t think it will be an issue for the vast majority of viewers, but as always do try and see the TV for yourself to see if it will be a problem for you personally.
In terms of image retention we didn’t see any significant issues with the VT30 and any logos that did appear as retention were gone within a few minutes. I had left the VT30 tuned to Sky News HD by accident one afternoon and it must have been like that for at least four hours, yet when I checked for retention (with the bright logos and test bar) it was light and gone within a few minutes. I am confident with this review sample that owners shouldn’t see any major issues with retention, unless the screen is abused.
Picture Quality – 3D
Yet again Panasonic manage to produce a 3D TV that presents material with minimal crosstalk and strong image quality. With the new calibration controls it is also possible to calibrate the VT30 using an expensive non-contact meter, so we may see some UK professionals adding this service in the near future. I did play about with the calibration of the VT30 in 3D mode and the results were very promising. However, for the vast majority of users this kind of calibration will never be possible, or cost effective, so it is important to look at what end users will be given in terms of image quality here.
Thankfully the VT30 is THX certified for 3D playback and in this mode the image colour balance holds up quite well with only a slight reduction in image brightness compared to the other picture modes in 3D. During daytime viewing, with ambient light in the room, the THX mode was a little too dull for 3D playback and we resorted to Normal mode, which provided more brightness but a little less in terms of colour balance. We would imagine that most users will resort to Normal or dynamic, even, in dimly lit rooms and we can understand the reasons for that as image brightness with 3D material is important. The only downside to this approach is the loss of colour balance and bringing in odd looking skin tones and hues from time to time.
In terms of image quality the picture in 3D mode is sharp with no obvious signs of image artefacts or crosstalk. Indeed, the Panasonic VT30 is one of the best 3D TVs we have ever experienced at home and the 50 inch screen size is about the smallest we would recommend for immersive three dimensional viewing. We saw nothing that would be an issue for end users in terms of image artefacts or image quality. Yes, we would like to see better colour balance on screen in the brighter modes, and the THX preset does its best to try and give end users an as accurate as possible end result.
Overall, we just couldn’t fault the 3D experience on the VT30 and if this is something that interests you as a feature on a TV, we doubt anything else will come close to bettering the Full HD 3D experience that the VT30 offers.
The VT30 offers an excellent gaming experience and an approximate lag time of around 22ms. Again we wouldn’t worry about image retention as long as users don’t abuse the panel by gaming in super bright picture modes and 24 hours a day. Sensible gaming periods of a few hours a day should be a very rewarding experience with no permanent retention or burn-in risks.
As a self-illuminating technology, Plasma does tend to use a little more power than competing LCD screens, but I would certainly put up with a little more power use for the exceptional images the VT30 can show. And let’s face it once you switch on your AV AMP it will make your TV look like an Eco master. We measured static patterns at 0, 50 and 100IRE in calibrated mode and the results were 101w, 143w and 201w respectively.
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8,281 word review viewed 199,095 times.
Flagship Plasma TV
Size: 50 inch television
Suggested price: £2,500
Reviewed 1st May, 2011 by Phil Hinton
To get the best out of your TV or projector, consider getting it calibrated.