Panasonic DT30 (TX-L37DT30B) 3D LED LCD Review
Mark Hodgkinson examines Panasonic's first 3D LCD
IntroductionThe TX-L37DT30B marks Panasonic's first attempt at a 3D LCD and the Japanese manufacturer is making much of the 'industry leading' 2ms response times together with 'plasma-like' viewing angles as a feature of their new IPS-Alpha panels. With motion blur and off-axis loss of contrast traditionally being two of the weakest areas for LCD televisions, it will certainly be interesting to see if the claims can be backed up by performance. Panasonic are also keen to point out that, in the DT30, 3D crosstalk performance will be best in class, again owing to the super-fast panel response. The 37inch DT30 is also joined by a smaller 32inch sibling in the TX-L32DT30B.
The DT30B's represent some of the smallest 3D TV's on the market right now, with the 37 inch version occuyping broadly the same price bracket as Samsung's LEC750 and UEC7000; Sony's HX803, NX713 and EX723 and LG's LD950 and LE5900. It's also competes against its own stablemate plasmas in the GT20 and upcoming GT30 and ST30.
With many more 3D televisions to hit the market in 2011, can the DT30B do enough to justify its price and is 37 inches large enough to convey an immersive and convincing 3D experience? There's only one way to find out...
Styling and ConnectionsDesign is not an area where Panasonic have garnered much praise in recent times so the appearance of the TX-L37DT30B comes as an extremely pleasant surprise. The whole thing just oozes class. The bezel is certainly on the slender side, measuring just 2.5cm in width across top and sides and 3.5cm across the bottom. There's a further 1cm housing, running across the centre of the bottom strip, that is home to the on/off switch and IR sensor. It's also likely where the 3D emitter is located also. The outside of the frame is encased in a very thin metal strip, with nicely rounded edges that helps add to the feeling of good engineering and attention to detail.
At its deepest, the entire chassis is no more than 8cm deep. The supplied stand is rectangular and gun metal, in colour, in contrast to the gloss black frame - it also swivels through 30 degrees. The supplied remote control shows little departure from last years iterations, although it's sprayed silver - rather than black - and, of course, there's a 3D button in evidence. If anything, it's a little more lightweight than in years gone by but remains comfortable to use with the two IR transmitters, at angles, providing a wide angle of directionality
The rear of the televsion plays home to 3xHDMI inputs with HDMI2 being ARC compliant. There's also a Component connection; legacy RCA and RGB SCART in; stereo out as well as a SPDIF(Optical) out to take audio to a receiver/amp. There's also a D-SUB PC terminal and hook ups for your aerial and satellite dish. Two of the three USB inputs (my laptop doesn't have that many) are located to the rear - with one designated for hooking up an external drive to utilise the PVR functionalilty. The other USB input is at the side together with a fourth HDMI connection, a headphone jack, SD card slot and the CI(Common Interface) slot - which can be used to enable premium services through free-to-air platforms, i.e. Freeview/Freesat. The only real complaint here is the lack of downward facing connections making wall mounting a slightly more stand out affair.
The active shutter glasses, that are obviously necessary for viewing 3D content, are not included in the box for retail units but I found them to be reasonably lightweight and not too distracting, even as someone that isn't bespectacled in everyday life. They feature a mini usb connection for recharging purposes and a tiny on/off slider. In use, I found they didn't let in too much light and the nose rests allow some flexibilty in positioning without digging in unduly and I have a big nose - or so my wife informs me. All in all they were a big improvement over the first generation of Panasonic 'tech-specs' and in another league to the Sony pair I tested recently
Menus and Set UpThe DT30 was certainly very much a plug and play affair, on initial set up, after selecting if the TV was to be in a shop or home environment it proceeded to scan for services through the connected tuners - it's worth noting that the DT30 auto-sensed which tuner had a connection and omitted scans for Freesat and analogue TV, as I have neither available. That's an improvement over 2009/10 models where Panasonic's would scan regardless. After the services were all duly tuned, I was asked if I would like to set up an internet connection, following which, I was free to channel surf.
The Electronic Program Guide(EPG) was, like the last few years, something of a disappointment. The EPG is provided by Gemstar and carries adverts, which can grate a little. The guide also cuts the audio and video feed from what ever you happen to be viewing, on access, and this I find more annoying than the ad's. The upside of using the Gemstar EPG is the interaction it provides with the PVR functionailty present in the DT30.
Analagous to the outward design, I was in for another nice surprise, with the menus, as Panasonic have also peformed a dramatic makeover in this area. Gone is the blocky two tone, blue and yellow, to be replaced by an overlaid transparent pale charcoal with clear white text. The trademark blue and yellow is still there but is leant a far more classy appearance by the virtue of being displayed in gradients. The splash of colour looks good and reminded me I wasn't looking at a Samsung. I'm not suggesting that Panasonic have borrowed any ideas from their Korean rivals but the explanation of the function of menu options - at the rear of the screen - did bear an uncanny resemblance. In any case, the new menus are a triumph and, for all the calibrators out there, the annoying propensity for the menu to pop up exactly where your meter would be, whilst making adjustments, is now banished. The DT30B even remembers your last menu selection and takes you back there on re-entry. All in all, these are excellent improvements and it proves, if proof were needed, that Panasonic do listen to us!
Not only has the appearance changed for the better but there are also improvements in the placement of important options having great bearing on image quality. Alongside the standard Brightness, Contrast, Colour and Sharpness controls - in the Picture Menu - you can find the Overscan and Intelligent Frame Creation(IFC)/24p Smooth Film settings, under the Advanced tab. Panasonic had previsouly buried these important options in the 2nd page of the Setup Menu, when they really ought to have been more apparent. I'll deal with IFC in the Video Processing section, later on. Also, under the Advanced options - with isfccc enabled - lie the White Balance, Colour Management and Gamma settings we'll need for a full calibration. To enable isfccc, you will need to visit the second page of the Setup Menu. Finally, in the Advanced menu, there are the 3D options and an all new Clear Cinema setting that testing found to engage cadence detection on the DT30. Something of note, because I missed it intially - users have to activate the 3D depth control options by activating the 'Enable 3D Adjustment' option under the 3D options.
Below the Picture Menu there are three further main menus. The Sound Menu has your usual Bass, Treble and Balance Options and a slider for the Headphone output. There are three sound modes available - Music, Speech and User - with the latter offfering a rudimentary equaliser. To be frank, if you were bothered about audio enough to be playing with an equaliser, you wouldn't be using the onboard speakers to listen to it. Which is another way of saying, they're distinctly average. Somehow, the third main menu is the Timer, that only contains three options - an off timer, an auto stanby option and a scheduler for recording programs, using the PVR functionailty, or just to set a reminder. The final menu is Setup`which deals with everything else you could possibly need and will be better explained in the instruction manual rather than in the confines of a review.
FeaturesThe TX-L37DT30B is not short of features, as one would expect for a television at this pricepoint. There's the now obligatory support for playback of media files through USB and also SD cards, DLNA compliance for home networking and Panasonic's Vierra Connect internet portal. Panasonic have actually majorly revamped their internet services and things will undoubtedly improve in this area but, for now, it gives you the likes of YouTube, iPlayer, Acetrax (movie streaming) and Picassa. There's also a Skype application allowing you to video chat to other Vierra owners provided you have a supported camera attached. In the past you needed a proprietary Panasonic camera but it's believed they're now opening that up to third party devices.
The DT30B gives you connectivity to both Freesat and Freeview HD as well as analogue services - if you're still switched on in your area. You're able to record from the internal tuners, to a hard drive, but there's the restriction that means the tuner recording can not be disengaged meaning if you're recording from say the Freeview tuner, and you want to view something else, it will have to be from an externally connceted device. It's a nice feature to have but no substitute for a dedicated PVR.
Panasonic have been making plenty of pre-launch noise about the ultra fast response time of the new IPS-Alpha panel and 400Hz scanning which should hopefully mean less of the traditional LCD motion blur. I'll deal with this later in the review together with Panasonic's motion interpolation system - Intelligent Frame Creation(IFC) or 24p Smooth Film as it's known for 24p Blu-ray content.
The DT30B also marks Panasonic's first foray in to 3D LCD territory and includes LED sidelighting. In actual fact, the TX-L37DT30B features the LED array along the bottom and top.
Measured Results Out of the BoxThe DT30B has quite a number of picture presets available, the two most accurate being the True Cinema/Pro(isfccc) modes. The True Cinema mode doesn't have colour management options so I chose the isf Day preset. Having optimally set Brightness and Contrast, we're presented with the following results for greyscale and gamma.
Getting red, green and blue to track as evenly as possible from black to white will ensure we're working with as neutral a canvas as possible. Getting the greyscale tracking well forms the backbone of a good calibration and the out of box results are certainly reasonable in this area although the lack of blue, at the higher end, does mean the relative excess of green and red tinges skintones slightly yellow. We're on the green but the ball isn't in the hole. With the controls available we should be able to even out matters.
Matching gamma to the lighting conditions of the room is vital in ensuring we're not obliterating detail by being either too dark or bright. For the room the DT30B was situated in, for testing, a target of 2.2 was pretty much ideal so I set Calman to reflect this. As it was, gamma tracked fairly well across the scale but, as the gamma control is global - rather than being able to be set at multiple points across the greyscale, we're relying on improvements in greyscale to help.
Again, for an uncalibrated display, results are impressive. To understand the CIE chart, think of the entire thing as the full range of colours visible to the human eye. Within the full spectrum, the points of the triangle represent the levels of hue and saturation for the primary (red/green/blue) colours we're hoping to hit as defined by the HD Rec.709 standard. The squares inbetween the primary colours represent the points for the secondary (cyan/magenta/blue) colours. What we can't see from the CIE Diagram is the third, and most crucial, axis of luminance. As our eyes are hardwired to detect errors in luminance, over either saturation or hue, the Delta L graph is our primary concern and the results here are already excellent. With DeltaEs all under 3 - at which point they should be indistinguishable to the eye. Given these results, it's almost ironic that Panasonic have this year added an individual luminance control over the primary colours but we do have a fairly large saturation error for blue together with a hue error in green to attend to.
Calibrated ResultsHaving had the chance to utilise the 2 point white balance controls to see if we were able to further improve the already decent greyscale performance, the following results were obtained:
Having been given full control of the primaries, it was just ever so slightly disappointing to be left with such a large saturation error for blue - whatever strategy I attempted. To be fair, you would need a reference display to see the error in real world material and, overall, with luminance errors measuring next to nothing, all secondaries bang on hue and green's hue error all but eradicated, results were absolutely excellent.
Video ProcessingAgain this is an area where, in the past, Panasonic haven't covered themselves in glory but the 2010 range were a marked improvement to what went before. Steve's review of the crazily expensive, flagship VX200 revealed Panasonic had managed to implement cadence detection of 2:3 NTSC material and the DT30B followed suit - provided Clear Cinema is set to on. Unfortunately PAL based material, requiring 2:2 detection, didn't fare as well - with the DT30B failing to lock on, in the process throwing away half the vertical resolution and introducing some artefacting. In reality, as we move toward more and more HD content, the need for SD cadence detection is diminishing but it would still be nice if Panasonic could crack it further for 2012.
Scaling of 576i SD images was very good with no apparent loss of detail, undue softness or unwanted ringing. Deinterlacing of 576i, and for that matter 1080i, was reasonable but could struggle under movement.
Panasonic's attempt at frame interpolation - labelled Intelligent Frame Creation/24p Smooth film for Blu-ray, now has two tiers - Mid and High. Both, unfortunately, brought about an objectionable about of artefacting and caused more harm to motion performance, than good, whatever the mostion resolution tests would tell you.
It seems unthinkable any modern display should get 24p Blu-ray material wrong and that proves reasonable thinking with the DT30B, with no hint of (telecine) judder.
Gaming PerformanceSpeaking of game performance and the TX-L37DT30B positively excelled in this area. Bringing up my trusty Everybody's Golf power bar to get an initial feel for input lag revealed the DT30B to be a very responsive display indeed - I literally could not detect even the merest hint of latency between controller input to on-screen response and it felt very satisfying.
The DT30B was so reponsive, in fact, it's causing me to revisit my input lag testing methodologies. What I can tell you is that the lag is under one frame at 60fps, i.e. less than 16ms and probably closer to 10ms. I will update this review with an actual averaged figure but the reality is, all but the absolute hardcore tournament gamer will be very well catered for in the DT30B and it comes very highly recommended in this area.
Energy ConsumptionYet another area where the DT30B scores well is in its modest power consumtion. Following calibration the following numbers were observed:
- Standby: 1W
- Average: 82W
2D Picture QualityWith their new IPS-Alpha panels, Panasonic are looking to address two major area's of weakness in LCD technology - namely viewing angles and panel reponse time and, to a large extent, they've succeeded. Viewing angles are very generous and the only way I could seriously catch out the DT30B was by taking myself fairly substantially off the vertical axis, i.e. if my eyes were about 2ft above the display, and off-centre, there was some considerable loss of contrast. The effect of the LED array being most visible at the bottom of the panel did lead to some evidence of uneven lighting at the bottom corners but this was only realy noticeable displaying very dark material. Interestingly, as you shift off centre, one way, the uneveness was more apparent toward the other side, i.e. if you shifted left - it became more apparent at the bottom right and vice versa. The photograph to the right gives a good impression of the mild uneveness of the lighting in a completely darkened room, from centre.
In terms of the improved panel response times and its effect on motion resolution, the IPS-Alpha panel certainly impressed. Motion handling wasn't up to some plasmas' standards but it was more than a match for the 2010 Panasonic plasma range, with no sign of the 50Hz bug in evidence. The motion performance was a major plus particulalry as, for me, IFC/24p Smooth Film were pretty much unusable.
There's no doubt Panasonic have improved black levels over previous IPS panels but they still don't quite match up to some other LCD displays, particularly those with S-PVA/MVA panels. That said, the viewing angles may more than make up for this, dependent on situation of the television. Shadow detailing was pretty respectable and the DT30B cetainly held its own in fairly bright viewing conditions.
3D Picture QualityWhilst there's no doubt of the positive effect on crosstalk the new panel brings, I did find it difficult to become immersed in 3D content with a screen of these dimensions. The DT30B could certainly go bright enough and the glasses did an excellent job of keeping out light but I had to sit uncomfortably close before any real sense of greater depth could be perceived. I didn't measure but that uncomfortable distance was somewhere around 1 metre. As a comparison, the Sony KDL-40HX803, I recently tested, was usable for 3D at around 1.5M. It's a shame that the 3D is somewhat throttled by the screen size as the presentation was very clean, with the promise of minimal crosstalk pretty much upheld.
- Superb Design
- Excellent Panel Response
- Very Little Crosstalk in 3D
- Much Improved Menus
- Freeview HD/Freesat Built In
- Great Viewing Angles for LCD
- Some Backlight Uniformity Issues
- Still no 2:2 Cadence Detection
- Too Small for 3D in Most Environments
- EPG Carries Adverts but not Video
- Black Level Still Inferior to Many Competitors
Panasonic DT30 (TX-L37DT30B) 3D LED LCD Review
The Panasonic DT30B and its new IPS-Alpha panel are pretty much a great success. The pre-launch promises of almost plasma like viewing angles and panel response have been made good. The DT30B performed extremely well in almost all areas of testing and the only thing stopping it gaining the Highly Recommended award is the fact the maximum size is 37inches and I don't believe that's enough for the average viewer to gain benefit from 3D images - a functionality for which there's undoubtedly a price premum attached to the DT30B.
Panasonic have gone back to the drawing board in terms of the design of the television, itself, and the menus contained therein. Again, the changes are very welcomed and they've produced what is, for me, one of the best looking TVs on the market with clearly presented and well ordered GUI's with no important options hidden in illogical places. The addition of an individual luminance control, to the calibration suite, is another plus and we hope they continue the improvements by adding controls for the secondary colours next year.
The DT30B certainly has no lack of features and ticks all the boxes one expects from a display in 2011 - in terms of networking and internet functions and with the fully fledged launch of Vierra Connect due in May, we can expect further improvements to the service.
The inclusion of both a satellite and DVB-T2 (Freeview HD) connections gives users flexibility and, of course, access to broadcast HD services with no subscription charges to pay. The IFC/24p Smooth Film interpolation systems are, again, not my cup of tea but some may find merits for their inclusion with fast moving sports material. The ability to hook up a hard drive to bring PVR functionality is a nice feature, even if those functionalities are somewhat limited. Given the very low cost of storage these days, it may well prove a useful third tuner for those that already own a digital recorder.
Out-of-box greyscale and colour performance was impressive in the True Cinema/Pro modes and the calibration controls generous enough to obtain excellent results. Video processing was good, with excellent scaling and reasonable deinterlacing performance. The addition of 2:3 cadence detection, to the consumer ranges, is nice to see and we'll be issuing full plaudits, hopefully next year, when Panasonic have cracked the 2:2 cadence.
Images impressed in both 2 and 3D, even if 37inches is going to be too small for most to gain the benefits of 3D. Black levels, whilst an improvement over last-gen IPS panels, are still a little behind some of the competition but respectable nontheless. Given the unaided motion peformance, and relative lack of motion blur, are ahead of the rest then the reduction in dynamic range may well be a worthwhile trade-off.
Gaming was an absolute treat on the DT30B with what is ubdoubtedly the most responsive LCD I've tried and I would recommend it as a 3D gaming display unreservedly
Overall, the TX-L37DT30B had very little in the way of weaknesses with much to recommend it for. Taken as a 2D display the pricetag isn't inexpensive but, if you can sit close enough, the 3D picture quality will impress and would justify the premium. The DT30B is certainly one of the best LCD's I've ever seen and if they made them in bigger sizes - I'd gladly own one.
Suggested retail price when reviewed: £1,099.00
Contrast/Dynamic Range/Black Level8
3D Picture Quality8
Ease Of Use8
Value for Money8
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