Panasonic Japanese Factory tours and 2011 TV Tech conference

AVForums Editor Phil Hinton takes a trip to Osaka to see Panasonic's production facilities and learn about the future of Plasma.

by Phil Hinton Mar 5, 2011 at 1:07 PM

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    Panasonic Japanese Factory tours and 2011 TV Tech conference
    Last week I was on a press trip at the invitation of Panasonic to witness the company’s factories, Eco plants and to see for myself what drives the biggest manufacturer of Plasma Displays.
    These types of press events are usually a tightly scheduled affair with power point presentations at every opportunity and little time to ask meaningful questions and receive detailed replies. Well, most of that is true for this particular trip, but as soon as I realised the assembled press were supposedly the most technical publications and websites in Europe, and the number of journalists was small (very small for such a trip), there was a distinctly different feel to this event from the start.

    As the schedule got underway it was clear that this was about to be the most open and relaxed press tour I have been on so far, with every question, no matter how silly or out there from the Euro press being answered. You will have to believe me when I say that getting questions answered has never been as painless or open as it has been this week. Of course the flip of the coin here is that we are going to be given the Panasonic agenda and opinions to the questions answered and that is always going to be the case no matter how open a manufacturer tries to be.

    So, some of the answers and claims should be taken with the right amount of admiration for being as open and honest as possible, along with slight scepticism in some cases until the products can be fully tested independently. You wouldn't expect anything less from us here at AVForums would you?

    Tuesday 1st March 2011 - Himeji LCD Panel plant.

    So, our first port of call on this Panasonic Japanese tour is the IPS Alpha panel plant at Himeji. This is a brand new purpose built facility, which began operations in April 2010. The plant currently manufactures 32 and 42-inch IPS-a panels, producing 405,000 panels per month (building to 810,000 this month) and shipping them to Panasonic’s flat panel TV assembly sites around the world.

    The panel production here at Himeji is just for the IPS-a panel on 7 production lines that are highly automated and extremely efficient. Once the panel has been made and cut, they are shipped to assembly plants in Malaysia and the Czech republic to be fitted with the drive board and backlight before final assembly into the finished flat panel TV. In this case the LED LCD sets for the UK these are finally assembled in the Czech republic, and this may surprise some readers who perhaps assume that the TVs are fully built in Japan and then shipped worldwide.

    Let's take a close look at the plant and the production process...

    The plant is huge and sits on grounds that offer the capability to build at least another two factories of the same size should Panasonic need to increase production to meet its goal of providing 30% of all LCD panels in the market. It is a joint venture with Hitachi and others holding an 8% stake of the production facilities. What makes this plant so special is its green credentials, built from the ground up to be as efficient as possible. To the rear of the main building is its own power plant and separate colour filter production line.

    As you can see in the slides above the IPS-a panels once produced are sent to assembly plants around the world to have their backlight and drive units added for the local markets where the sets will be sold. This makes product development for different regions easier to achieve at reduced costs of scale for those markets. Efficiency is certainly a major driver here and a subject we will come back to frequently on this tour.

    To highlight the scale of the operation is the fact that Panasonic can get eighteen 32-inch panels from just one sheet of motherglass. This allows a 20% reduction in the processing time of the panels as well as reducing the production energy cost per panel by another 20% when compared with the company’s Mobara LCD Plant. The water used in the production process is also reduced within the Himeji plant by around 35% with the adoption of a process to recover 100% of the used water to be recycled on site and reused.

    When it comes to CO2 emissions this new plant is already 33% more efficient than previous LCD plants because of the streamlining of the production process, reducing the manufacturing lead times and then reusing the heat released from manufacturing equipment to power the air conditioners. It doesn’t stop at just the manufacturing of the LCD panels, with CO2 reduction helped by adopting photo-catalyst coated exterior walls, with signage using LED lights and solar panels to supplement the electrical power used during the water retrieval. As the plant progresses with its production of LCD panels Panasonic says that it will continue to vigorously work to further reduce the CO2 impact of the site to achieve Panasonic’s goal of being the No.1 Green innovation company by their 100th Anniversary in 2018.

    I was amazed at the efficiency of the panel production line, which requires minimal supervision by an operator and works around the clock. Each stage has been carefully timed and the custom robots make sure that there are never any hold ups in the line. By developing the production line in this manner and working out the most efficient way of cutting the master glass means that the plant has made significant savings in water and power use, with no waste of master glass. This is a highly impressive sight to see. All of the press had to stand behind windows to view the production line. It is clear that Panasonic has invested a lot of time, effort and money into making this IPS-a facility as efficient and productive as they can.

    It is also clear that Panasonic intend to keep producing LCD TVs even though they are a well-established Plasma manufacturer. The new IPS-a equipped LED LCD range for 2011 boast some pretty unique features and it is claimed they get close to PDP picture quality, "Close, but we still prefer plasma!", says Panasonic's Mitch Mitsuda (central in photo below).

    After the tour of the factory we were taken to a small demo room and given a chance to look at the DT30 in 3D, lined up next to competing models from other manufacturers. We promised we wouldn’t reveal exactly what these competing models were but one had an extra yellow pixel, a marketing feature Panasonic were clear to state they wouldn’t be adding anytime soon. In 3D mode the DT30 is very good indeed with minimal instances of crosstalk present and a nice wide viewing angle. The use of Edge LED backlighting is also pretty stable and quite uniform in a bright room, with only some slight instances of clouding in lower lighting conditions. When it comes to motion resolution the DT30 was also adept at producing good horizontal detail with no signs of black trailing or colour fringing, something that was very evident in the competitors set sitting next to it.

    Panasonic are keen to point out that their IPS-a technology and panel driving is designed for 3D playback that is as crosstalk free as possible for an LCD TV and also allows higher light transmission rates, higher motion resolution, deeper blacks, energy efficiency and the widest viewing angle of any LCD panel.

    There was a short question and answer session following the tour and demo room, where the assembled press could ask questions relating to the IPS-a panel and the TVs. One of the most interesting answers we received concerned the use of full LED backlighting with local dimming. Panasonic claim they have investigated this technology (we were given a demo of something similar to this back in 2009 at the conference in Amsterdam) and have found that in terms of cost versus performance gains that it was not worthwhile pursuing this approach with their LCD TVs. Instead they have gone with Edge LED backlighting which they say is more energy efficient and cost effective in mass production terms, plus when compared with VA panels using Full LED backlighting, they stated that the performance gains were negligible between the two with IPS-a offering better overall performance with Edge Lighting, at a reduced cost and more energy efficient. So don’t expect to see a Full LED backlight with Viera LED LCDs any time soon.

    1st March 2011 - Konosuke Matsushita Museum, Kadoma City, Osaka.

    The Konosuke Matsushita Museum was opened in 1968 to commemorate the company’s 50th anniversary, and it is where we spent the afternoon of our first day of the press tour. The exterior of the building is an exact replica of the original head office building that was constructed on the site in 1933. Matsushita established a management philosophy based upon the notion that, “a company is a public entity,” and devoted himself to the development of society through business. It is clear that Panasonic very much still live by the mantras laid down by their founder and that all the company’s employees actively follow many of the business philosophies he developed and nurtured during his life-time.

    It is perhaps strange that in a modern business world where some companies change their image and identity overnight, Panasonic has retained most of the values that Matsushita wanted his company to stand for. Even 22 years after his passing his words are clearly etched on large posters throughout the museum where we are told that employees often come to think through problems and look for solutions.

    There is a large statue of the founder as you approach the building, holding his hand out to shake yours, with a smile on his face. The more you start to understand this gentleman the more you wish that you could have had the opportunity to have met him, such is the high regard in which he is held by the company employees. So what is Mr Matsushita’s story? The afternoon spent in the museum certainly filled in most of the details of how he grew his small start-up business into one of the world’s largest consumer electronics companies.

    The company certainly grew from very humble beginnings, set up by Matsushita, his wife and her 15 year old brother, who incidentally went on to start Sanyo. Their first product initially looks very strange. It is a light fitting that allows the electricity from the lamp socket to be used to power other Electrical items in the home. This may sound odd, but back then there were no wall sockets in the majority of Japanese homes, so they had to use the light sockets for power. In 1920 the design was further developed into a double socket outlet and that began the slow journey to world domination… well one of the largest CE companies anyway.

    From these humble beginnings the first factory was completed in 1922 and from there the next product was a bullet shaped bicycle lamp which was the first product to have the company name ‘National’. In 1927 Konosuke decided to develop the super electric iron, a device until that point which had been the preserve of the wealthy. His idea was to release this product at 30% less than competing models by using an innovative mass production system which produced 10,000 high quality but low priced units a month.

    In 1931 it was the turn of the radio set to be revolutionised in both price to the consumers and in reliability. Up until this point it was common for radios to be troubled with breakdowns so Konosuke set out to create a trouble free solution. After being entered into a competition held by the Tokyo Broadcasting Station (NHK today) it won first prize and raised the company profile further.

    Many other products followed with the first affordable mass market TV appearing in 1953 with a 14inch screen and a price tag that the ordinary consumer could afford. Up until that point, most TV sets cost 20 times the average salary of a civil servant. His determination to produce quality goods at affordable prices is still one of the core business strategies of Panasonic today.

    When you compare the humble beginnings of this company against the massive scale of the TV production plants we are visiting this week, it is pretty mind-blowing stuff. But regardless of this huge growth the founder and his words are still held in absolute high regard by everyone employed by the company.

    To sum it all up I find a very interesting quote from Konosuke which seems particularly apt given our tour here and the fact we are reviewers and some of us are also representing the views of members of social networking sites like AVForums. It reads…

    Listen to what your customers tell you. People will sometimes criticise us, and I regard this as a rare opportunity for improvement. On other occasions customers will accept products as they are and encourage us. This too is fine. We should be grateful for both.
    On the one hand, criticism will cause one to take another look at what one is doing, and this will lead to improvements being made. On the other hand, words of comfort will sometimes give strength to one who has lost his nerve.
    No matter what happens, we should interpret the situation in a positive spirit, because we can derive inspiration and courage from both.”

    Given the openness of the press tour and our hosts in answering questions and listening to feedback, it is clear that this company mantra is certainly being followed this week.

    2nd March 2011 - Panasonic Eco Technology Center (PETEC) Kato City.

    Our first stop of the day is Panasonic’s Eco Technology Centre (PETEC) where the company recycle products such as CRT and flat panel TVs,, air conditioning units, washing machines and fridge freezers.

    The centre was set up in 2001 in response to tightening Government legislation on recycling and the facility has its own research and development unit to find the best way to dismantle and reuse what they can from old products. As it is also law in Japan for companies to do this, they also dismantle not only Panasonic goods, but are obliged to do so with competitor’s items.

    PETEC describes its recycling operations as ‘Treasure Hunting’, looking for the valuable and reusable materials in the electronic items we throw away at the end of their useful life. Because we have shortages of valuable materials Panasonic see recycling as a way of extracting those from used goods, at the same time as being environmentally responsible.

    At the PETEC facility they have a number of dismantling lines for products such as CRT TVs, Flat Panels, Air conditioning units, washing machines and fridge freezers. Each line starts with careful dismantling of the products into component parts before these are sent forward to sorting and recycling lines.

    For example CRT glass comes in two forms, the front glass and the funnel glass. The first step is to separate these items using a laser cutter, and then both sections are separately ground down into cullets. These are then sent to Far East manufacturers and turned back into CRT glass for TVs still on sale in those areas.

    For other items they go through similar processes where the component parts are crushed and cut into fine particles, which the machines sort out into separate component parts. For example different plastics are sorted out so they can be reused, metals are separated using magnetic sorting and compressors are cut down and dangerous gasses captured and recycled. As far as they can, the R&D unit at the plant is constantly looking at new ways of dismantling and recycling so efficient processes are used to recycle as much as possible of the items sent along the lines here.

    It is fascinating to see such a process working in the real world and the vast majority of the materials can be reused in new products after being recovered. Obviously such an enterprise has its costs and it is not down to just Panasonic to stump up the money for this, indeed the plant is effectively a non-profit operation. When a consumer buys a product in Japan a small charge is added to the item cost for future disposal. When the product ends its life the manufacturers or retailers cover the cost of collection and transportation and recycling with the consumer paying a disposal fee.

    By taking such an approach the responsibility of correct disposal falls on all parties to do their part in making sure that limited resources are recycled in the correct way. I was extremely impressed with the facility here and I am sure if something similar is not already about to start in the UK, it won’t be far away as it just makes perfect sense for saving the environment from the dumping of toxic materials and means that materials like metals and plastics can be safely recycled into new products.

    There will be those who are still extremely cynical to the whole saving the environment issue, but it is clear that Japan has got its act together and companies like Panasonic have a responsibility along with the public which they are fulfilling.

    The PETEC centre is used on a regular basis as an education venue for schools to teach responsible behaviours to the next generation. Plus, everywhere around the plant here is a rice field, we are deep in rural Japan at PETEC and they take their community responsibilities very seriously with an active relationship with the local people.

    2nd March 2011 - Panasonic Plasma Display Factory Amagasaki.

    Just take a second and look at the scale of the photograph above. Yes, that is a motorway running between the two factory complexes. This was probably the most mind-blowing aspect of the trip for me, to actually fully appreciate the full scale of the plasma manufacturing operations. You feel very small getting out of the tour bus and taking in the sheer size of the buildings which hide the largest plasma panel manufacturing lines in the world. The small building in the background of the photo above is Factory P3 which is our reception area. Next door is P4 a factory for 42 and 50-inch panel production. The final large building at the very front is P5, the newest factory that started operations in November 2009 and is still to get to full production. It is in this building that they make the 152-inch 4K screen by hand. Believe it or not they have sold just over 30 of these monster screens, with one wealthy individual buying 4 for his luxury yacht! Remember, these screens depending on installation can cost north of £500k, each! (I wonder if he got a discount for buying 4 at the same time?)

    On entering the building there are 5 pieces of motherglass which highlight the output from each factory. Based on a 42-inch panel each new factory was capable of adding larger motherglass sheets and therefore being able to cut more panels from the master. P1 was the original factory and used just one cut of glass, P2 increased this to 3 cuts from the master, P3 increased the motherglass to get 6 cuts, P4 gets 8 cuts and P5 a massive 16 cuts. By increasing the motherglass size and the capabilities of the production lines in the newer factories the processing time for a 42-inch panel in the newest factory P5 is 67% better than P1.

    The sheer scale of production carried out at the Plasma facilities is a real eye opener. You suddenly realise just how Panasonic has to manufacture at this kind of scale to have any hope of meeting market demands and to turn a profit to its business. By steadily increasing the amount of panels per factory they have been able to keep that scale of mass production moving each time a new factory is added and comes online. Sadly we were not permitted to take photographs of the actual factory floor, for obvious reasons. So just how do they produce the Plasma panel?

    For a start it is not just one piece of glass per panel, there are two sheets used which are then bonded together. The front glass has material coating added, as well as the etched lines (1080) and the Dielectric layer. In the 2011 models this is called the Fish Bone ITO. A plasma display has an array of discharge electrodes along the front glass surface. This year these electrodes have been reduced in size to enable the discharge to use less electricity. This structure ensures a sufficient charge and increases the electrical field. The rear glass contains a material coating and this year slimmer ribs to the cell structures.

    This allows a more efficient pixel opening ratio for a more efficient utilisation of the light that is emitted. Plus all the 2011 HD panels use the same short stroke Phosphor (only the 3D models had it last year) which again means a more efficient production process as only one type of phosphor is used. Once each front and rear glass is finished they are then bonded together at 400 degrees C and the air is evacuated between the two panels and filled with noble gas, before being tested fully. That completes the panel manufacture and they are sent out to be finished into TV models overseas. In the case of UK sets that is done in the Czech Republic.

    It was fascinating being able to see both parts of the panel under a magnifying glass and a shame I couldn’t take photos to share with you. You could see the lines on the front panel and indeed one German attendee started trying to count to check there were 1080 of them. We moved from this area of the factory to see the production line itself and to hunt for White Ninjas!.

    The first area we saw was the glass being entered into the production line as one large sheet. The racks holding the glass also had sheets of paper between the glass, which the robot removed before lifting the motherglass onto the production line. It was almost like the Robot had its own personality in the way it went about its work. These huge sheets of glass were lifted with such ease and in a delicate manner which then contrasted with the speed the robot would then get the nest one ready. It was actually quite hypnotic to watch. Next we moved to a room with windows covered in yellow film (as the dust free rooms also have photographic stages of printing etc.) to watch the front and rear panels being bonded together. This highly automated line runs 24/7 with about 30 staff in total working 12 hour shifts. It takes about 2 hours to change from 42-inch production to 50-inch sizes. Panasonic's Shinji Inoue who is hosting our tour through the factory explains that the workers in the dust free rooms all wear white suits, gloves and head coverings with just small slots for their eyes, he calls them White Ninja’s! Sadly, I didn’t see any.

    Finally we had a demo with the 152-inch 4K 3D Plasma model with an excerpt of AVATAR (well it wasn’t going to be anything else was it?). It was certainly an impressive sight that had the journalists voicing their approval, but even at £500k a go I could notice a few things I would want to sort with the remote control in my hand, but I bit my lip instead.

    And that rounded off a very impressive tour that suddenly brought home the sheer economy of scale that Panasonic is employing with its plasma panel manufacturing.
    3rd March 2011 - Panasonic AVC Centre, Panasonic HQ Osaka.

    The last day of our Japanese tour was to be spent in one room with demos of the 2011 TV range and a chance to ask questions of the engineers and R&D staff. The room was set out with the Journalists on one side, country flags in front of each group (the UK were at the front!), with the Japanese staff on the opposite side, and our tour orgainsers sitting to the rear and central. To the other side of the room was a large projection screen, to be used for, you guessed it, power points! It was almost like a United Nations meeting in layout and I feared it was not going to be very open but rather formal. I needn't have worried as after the introductions things became very laid back with a free flow of dialogue between both sides of the room. I have given you some of the most important points covered at this meeting already in my blog, but here I will be a little more detailed.

    The morning session was kicked off by Mr Hirotoshi Uehara looking at the Viera Strategy for 2011.

    The most interesting parts of his presentation were the numbers for 3DTV sales and how the company projected Growth. They claim that by 2014 the 3DTV models will account for 32% of all flat panel TVs. This might seem like a bold claim to make, but when you factor in that Samsung has stopped their 2D production lines already this year, it is clear that when buying a TV in 2014 it will more than likely be 3D ready if you want it or not.

    For Viera in 2011 the company has set their goals at being the no.1 brand for picture quality, eco features and full HD 3D playback. As well as these goals they have set out that they want their TVs to be smart and feature the new Viera Connect cloud based IPTV platform.

    When looking at the NeoPlasma line up Panasonic has made some major changes with the way the panels are produced. First they have added the short stroke phosphor to all HD panels this year as well as developing more efficient FBI electrodes. This is said to increase further the efficiency and responsiveness of the panels.

    Also new for the 2011 NeoPlasmas are new louvre shaped filters which reject more ambient light falling on the panel, meaning that picture wash out in bright rooms is reduced. Plus the new filters also direct more light from the panel towards the viewer, giving a higher brightness and contrast performance. There are slight differences in the darkness of the filters as you go up the model line with the VT30 possessing the darkest for 2011. Asked if these panels will affect overall brightness between models the reply was Yes, but the darker filter sets used a slightly increased voltage to compensate.

    Motion resolution is also another area Panasonic has been working hard to improve and they claim that the 2011 models now surpass previous models for this. They have come up with a new way of measuring the panels, so instead of looking at resolution in lines, they now measure in pixels per second. Of course this is one area that European consumers will be interested in after last year’s issues with 50Hz playback. I asked the question and was told that they would set up an impromptu demo of two TVs and some 50Hz material to show us the improvements.

    We moved on to look at the new IPS-a LED LCD TVs for 2011 and in particular the DT30 for its 3D playback capabilities. Panasonic claim that with their new high speed scan APD technology, along with improvements to the IPS-a panel construction their LED LCD 3D playback was better than other LCD technologies for 3D with reduced crosstalk.

    By adding high speed scan technology Panasonic claim that the scan time for 3D images is reduced to just 2ms leaving more time for the panel to respond and then display the images with very little crosstalk, i.e. there should be a massive cut down in right eye images affect left eye and so on, so less instances of double image crosstalk seen.

    So after brief introductions to the 2011 range it was time to get more detailed about the technology and to demonstrate the models which were positioned around the outside of the room.

    Absolutely Stunning is the concept for the 2011 Viera TV line-up and Panasonic claim that their new models offer the best picture quality for both 2D and 3D viewing as well as the most advanced IPTV service available in Viera Connect.

    Panasonic set out how their new 2011 Plasma and LCD models had improved over last year’s models. First was the fact that the panels were better designed for efficiency of power use and that all HD models have faster switching phosphor technology. Added to this is the Louvre filter for improved ambient light rejection and better black levels. Finally this all combines to make the NeoPlasma, in their words, the most capable 3D display on the market for almost no instances of crosstalk. Likewise the LCD TVs were also improved in both panel construction and speed to improve black levels, wide viewing angles and of course the best 3D images for an LCD display. The company were quick to point out that improvements were for 2D image quality as well as watching 3D.

    Looking at the NeoPlasma TVs in more detail we went back to the changes that have been made to the panel and the addition of better designed filters. The addition of the new louver filter is pretty significant (if it works) in reducing ambient light washing out the image and at the same time increasing the black level response of the new 2011 TVs. Panasonic claim that with the improvements made the black level response in the new PDPs rivals that of previous high-end panels whose name began with K. Plus the other advantage is a panel bright scene contrast performance that is 40% up on last year’s models. Panasonic also went through the fast switching phosphor benefits which should translate in crisper images for both 2D and 3D motion resolution without any blur. Finally, we were told about the new driving of the panel subpixels which are reversed over the traditional Plasma design. So instead of going from black to white in a cycle the new drive sees them going from white to black which Panasonic claims reduces the phosphor afterglow rate again improving black performance and the response timing helps with 3D playback.

    We took some time out at this stage for some questions. I asked about the black performance and in particular if it was now near the level where Pioneer demonstrated absolute contrast at CES in 2008. Rather than being nostalgic I wanted to see if Panasonic were serious about trying to improve their black levels and panel contrast performance to that same level seen in the ‘now legendary’ screens called Kuro. Some questions had been asked earlier in the tour referring to the Pioneer approach and I got the feeling that perhaps our hosts were getting a little miffed at why the journalists were referring to a screen that was now dead for over two years and that had failed due to its high cost. I am sure they would have much preferred the assembled press to be asking about Panasonic and not the Kuro, but as almost all reviewers worth their salt still have the Kuro as their reference screen, there is no getting away from such questions at this moment in time.

    An interesting comment was made on the factory tour at Amagasaki by Panasonic's Mitch Mitsuda who said that to build a Kuro type screen the company would have to shut down some of its factories due to the cost of doing so. Well I have been mulling this over since last week and certainly given the economy of scale the company uses for panel production I could see why they wouldn’t go for a specialist screen production line. But then again, this is the company who are producing a 152-inch PDP that no AV Enthusiast is ever going to be able to purchase and which is, specialised and hand built. Yes, it will no doubt pay for itself given that half million price tag, but at the same time something else was bothering me.

    All the panels for the 2011 range are the same and built at the same plants. To get differences in the final TV it comes down to how they are driven, the filter used and the video processing. So given that is the production process and it is done on a massive scale, what would stop the company from adding a high-end model with the best processing, filter and drivers? I mean the company did that last year with the Z1 model; although I think they used the wrong approach of design over performance. So, although these are my thoughts it is clear Panasonic don’t have the will to release such a TV to the market and even the Z1 looks like it was the last such attempt at a high-end screen from them for the time being. So, it’s clear that the VT30 model will be the top end Panasonic consumer screen for 2011 and as the company don’t seem to think it is commercially viable to try and release a Kuro like screen, they perhaps shouldn't be surprised that this question will come back again in the future?

    So anyway, back to that question at hand, have they now got black levels that Pioneer showed at CES back in 2008 and indeed the level of black seen in the 9G panels that were for sale until recently? The resounding answer is ‘Yes’, says Mitch, “In a completely dark room”, which knocks me back a little. “With the same technology?” I asked in reply. Mitch confers with the R&D team and engineers who he then points out as ex-pioneer employees. ‘Similar, but better’, is the reply. Again, I am taken back a little by the confidence of the reply and I take a look at the VT30 sitting next to me showing flowers against a black background. Sure it does look very black in the surroundings, but infinite in black, like that demo I saw twice at CES? I guess I need to get it in a completely dark room. Maybe the talk of Kuro is starting to grate a little now and they want to move things on? We will be testing the VT30 in full very soon, so I hope that Mitch and the engineers are right and we get even half way close!

    Next is a question regarding the glossy appearance of the screens from one of the Euro journalists. He says that they are too glossy and would Panasonic consider a matte finish. This raises a few smiles and then an impromptu vote between the journalists. There is no surprise when the results are a dead heat 50:50 split. Mitch goes on to explain that obviously the panels are glass and that reflections and a glossy look are part and parcel of that. He points out they could add a matte filter, something they did a few series back on the plasma range, but this affects the light dispersion of the plasma panel and they feel it is too much of performance issue to see any matte finishes in the near future. I guess the simple answer here, after the Journo goes on about how it looks terrible if placed opposite a window, is to carefully select the positioning in your room. Then funnily enough the next question, from the same guy, is about whether Panasonic would design a Plasma that when switched off would become a mirror. I guess that would be a matte finished mirror?

    While we are still on the subject of the Plasma screens we get that side by side demo of a 2010 G20 and a 2011 VT30 in the same room showing 50Hz material to answer the question I asked earlier. There seems to have been a breakdown in communications of the issue with Japan because the demo we are shown (using terrible compressed football footage from an England game) is to highlight the ball movement using the new mid IFC setting. This is completely the wrong area of the screen where the problems exist, so I politely go and stand with one of the German technical managers and an engineer and again politely point out the exact problem, switching off IFC to highlight it.

    I pointed out the pitch line and player outline break up seen on the fast moving pan, a problem seen on all such material, whether HD or SD at 50Hz. Indeed, we went to great lengths in the 65-inch VT20 review to highlight and examine the issue which only appears this bad with 50Hz material and I have been living with a VT20 for the last 7 months and have looked at it carefully on all different types of material. Having pointed out what the issue was I was extremely encouraged that after a few discussions in Japanese between the team I am approached again and told it will be investigated. I also politely pointed out that it is not an issue with competitors plasma screens and also pointed out our research so far. I don’t know if it will get fixed, if it’s a hardware or software issue and if any fix will be done quickly. But I now know that they are fully aware of what it is.

    Did the 2011 VT30 have the issue? Yes it did and while it was slightly improved in looks over the G20 next to it; it will still be noticeable to viewers. Even IFC mid did not get rid of the effect in any effective way so I wait to see the production models when we get them for review to see if it is there. I also keep my fingers crossed that they do find a solution to the problem, because if they did fix these small issues we could very well be looking at the new reference TV.(thats providing the usual testing was ok).

    The other issues that forum members wanted answers too were the floating blacks issue. This seems to affect quite a few Panasonic panels in 2010 and when asked if the issue had been solved we were told that it had. However, bear in mind that we were told the 50Hz issue was solved so let’s wait until we test them before giving any definitive answers, but Panasonic seem confident it has gone so that is a start.

    Also mentioned was the black level rising which was highlighted in the 2009 sets and some smaller claims of issues with 2010 models. This is basically an issue where the black levels of the panel get lighter as it ages. It is a feature that all plasma manufacturers use to increase the panel drive as it ages to try and keep the same image quality. It would appear, but was not confirmed by any engineers, that the 2009 sets rose too early and as such the issue was very visible. Panasonic stated that this is now not an issue with the 2011 models and while they didn’t say any more than that, I am presuming that the change happens much later in the panels life and at a degree that will not be visible to owners.

    For what seems like an eternity of posting the same feedback on loads of Panasnic TV reviews, Panasonic have stated that finally their TVs this year will have 2:2 cadence detection for both Pal film and video playback. Yay!

    Finally issues such as panel flicker and posturisation effects are certainly down to personal visual perception, i.e. some users will notice it more than others, but Panasonic were asked if these issues could be subdued. We didn't get a definitive answer to this question, so I will follow this up soon to see if we can get an answer.

    The question and answer session was very helpful and I want to personally thank Panasonic and our tour organisers for such an open and frank discussion process.

    Active 3D Glasses compared to passive and glasses free.

    The final discussion of the day surrounded the whole 3D approach that Panasonic are taking as well as looking at the competing technologies. Of course this was entirely from the view point of Panasonic and their own research, but it made for an interesting discussion.

    Keisuke Seutsugi is our host for the next half hour as we go through the standardisation approach to 3D.

    Keisuke explains that Panasonic worked closely with the entire CE industry in developing a standard for 3D playback from Blu-ray and the whole frame sequential active shutter glasses approach. They got industry approval and through the BDA (Blu-ray disc association) the standards for playback were established. Panasonic also had the Hollywood backing and their own production facility at PHL which helped develop the encoding system to be used for the Blu-ray content.

    Panasonic claim that active shutter technology offers the best 3D performance as it is full HD and the same as you would see at the Cinema. The health effects of this approach have also been fully researched and Panasonic claim there is no health risk associated by using the active shutter system.

    The presentation also covered passive 3D technology which as you would guess Panasonic claims is a poorer system that only offers SD quality images and compromised 2D performance. This claim stems from the use of the polorising filter used on the front of the LCD screen which affects the ability of the panel to produce the best possible 2D images. Plus they go on to say that passive manufacturers use cheaper LCD panels for these sets, further compromising the 2D picture quality on offer. Plus with such a filter brightness is affected along with the viewing angles for 3D, as the head has to remain in the correct place to get the 3D effect. The advantage of passive is the low cost of the glasses but Panasonic also claim that the price of active glasses will come down eventually to around the same price point.

    Next was glasses free TV which Panasonic see as a non-starter for home viewing. Because of the way the technology works a feature film would need to have at least 9 separate camera angles of the same scene for the autosteroscopic image to hold up and show you exactly the same type of image depth and detail as an active screen. The way around this is to use interpolation of a stereo 3D image to create the views needed to present the image clearly, which again Panasonic claimed would be inferior. There were other downside explained such as viewers needing to sit in exact places to get the 3D effect and questionable health issues surrounding the technology.

    So it was no surprise that Panasonic were promoting the active shutter approach and explaining what they see as the downsides to the other technology.

    At this point I asked the question regarding LG’s latest push of passive technology as ‘Cinema 3D’. At this I got a laugh and was told they had been waiting for this question before trying to find a slide to demonstrate how active is more like the cinema approach than what LG are claiming. And here is that slide.

    As you can see from this slide Panasonic are claiming that only active TV technology gives you superior, cinema like, images in 3D without compromising the 2D image in anyway.

    I then asked what they thought of LG’s about turn in the market and moving from mostly active TVs to passive. They said they were concerned as it was promoting what they see as an inferior technology with inferior picture quality in both 2D and 3D and they were as surprised as everyone else with the CES promotion of passive technology. Panasonic stated that to get the best possible 2D and 3D image active technology wins every time and they were confident that consumers would see that is the case.

    As we were given a traditional Japanese farewell - that wrapped up our press tour of the Panasonic facilities. I want to thank the company for being so open and honest with their question taking as well as offering a fantastic atmosphere and hospitality to the entire tour. I also hope forum members got some of the questions they had answered and that the information given has been useful.

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