Panasonic GT50 (TX-P42GT50B) 3D Plasma TV Review
The last great hope for the videophile in smaller screen sizes? Mark Hodgkinson investigates.
IntroductionThe model we have for review is the Panasonic P42GT50B 42 inch Full HD 3D Plasma TV with a Freeview HD tuner and full UK specifications. Also available is the Panasonic P50GT50B 50 inch Full HD 3D Plasma TV which has not been reviewed here but should offer the same features and a similar performance.
For many the announcement at CES, and later confirmation at the Panasonic European Convention, that their top-tier VT50 plasma wouldn’t be making an appearance in a screen size below 50inches came as a bit of a blow. Not all homes have space for a display of that size or, if they do, not everyone/everyone’s other half wants such an imposing TV but still demand the upmost quality. Step forward the slightly curious Panasonic TX-P42GT50 only available through authorised Panasonic dealerships or direct from their own eShop.
On paper the GT50 offers almost everything the VT50 does in terms of picture quality, including 2,500Hz Focused Field Drive, dual core processing and 24,576 shades of gradation and only lacks the Infinite Black Ultra filter of the Flagship product. Of course you won’t get the accessories the Flagship TV comes with but then you may not want or need the Touch Pad Remote Control or 3D eyewear so it’s not likely many will be put off by that. What really counts is what happens on-screen and given the excellence of the 2012 Panasonic Plasmas so far, we’ve high expectations once again. Can the Panasonic 42GT50 appease the videophiles that can’t go truly large screen? Step right up…
Styling, Connections and MenusWhilst the Panasonic GT50 doesn’t share quite the grandeur of the VT50 in the looks department, it’s certainly no eyesore. It’s form factor is pretty much ‘as was’ from the preceding GT30 with cut-off corners at the bottom of the jet black bezel but Panasonic have seen sense and moved the silver trim away from the insides – and therefore next to the screen – to the outside, where it refracts light away rather than to the glass. The swivel base stand has been drafted in from the designers’ VT50 sketchbook and is the exact same charcoal grey fade to silver design found in the box of the top-tier product, and we’re not sorry for that as it looks excellent. Also duplicated from almost every other 2012 Panasonic is the new, and shinier, remote control which is conveniently backlit as well as being sensibly designed with most of the ‘important’ buttons ergonomically placed for one-handed operation.
The 42GT50 is equipped with the usual 4 HDMI connections that all run down the side connections panel, just a little too close for guaranteed concealment of the cables behind the bezel. Above the HDMI inputs are 3 USB ports, the headphone jack and SD Card slot. Recessed slightly further back is the CAM interface for premium digital services. Along the bottom, and down facing, are legacy Scart and Component connections (via adapters); a LAN port, D-SUB PC (+ audio) as well as terminals for the aerial (Freeview HD) and satellite (Freesat HD) feeds. Completing the connections is the S/PDIF digital audio out.
Unlike the VT50 the P50GT50B does not ship with any 3D eyewear, as standard, however, for the purposes of this review we were supplied with a pair of Panasonic's USB rechargeable TY-ER3D4MU glasses. As we’ve said previously we’re big fans of the new specs which, with them weighing in at just 26g, mean you can easily forget you've got them on. The glasses themselves have quite large lenses that (Steve Withers tells me) fit over regular glasses and are very neutral in tint. There is a switch at the top of the frames above the bridge of the nose where you turn on the glasses, they sync automatically and will switch off if they don't receive a sync signal for 5 minutes. You can fully charge the glasses in a couple of hours but a 3 minute charge should give you enough battery life to get through a film.
We’ll make no apologies for the brevity of attention we pay to the menus contained in the Panasonic GT50 here, they are identical to those in the VT50 and we gave those in-depth coverage in that particular review, so if you’re of that persuasion, please follow the link.
As a very brief rundown, the Menus are broken down in to five categories - Picture, Sound, Network, Timer and Setup and are swift to navigate around with options located where they should be. The Picture Menu is fully replete with Panasonic’s excellent new calibration suite (Full CMS , 2 and 10 point whitebalance controls and multi-point gamma adjustment) which should make fine tuning a breeze. There’s also the new 1080p Pure Direct mode here which is capable of taking a YCbCr 4:4:4 signal and presenting it in all its full chromatic glory; quite how effective it is we ‘ll look at later but readers of the VT50 review will already know. As well as these rather esoteric settings we, of course, have sliders for Brightness, Contrast, Colour and Sharpness and a choice of Viewing Modes including Dynamic, Normal, Cinema, THX Cinema, THX Bright Room, Game, Professional1 and Professional2. Next up, there’s the unnecessary is Vivid Colour which boosts the luminance of the colours and C.A.T.S. (Contrast Automatic Tracking System) which is designed to adjust the gamma on the fly, according to ambient viewing conditions. There is also a P-NR (Noise Reductionfunction that is designed to reduce compression artefacts and finally there is a Colour Gamut option that gives the user the choice of Remaster (a wider colour gamut) or three industry standards - Rec.709, SMPTE-C and EBU. We’ll look at the notable items in the Advanced Picture Menu later, i.e. Clear Cinema and IFC/24p Smooth Film but you’ll want to turn off 16:9 overscan when watching quality HD content. We’ll also cover the 3D elements in the relevant section.
FeaturesAs we suspected in the LED WT50 Review, Panasonic has either listened to our advice or seen the error of their ways and now their new, HTLM5 capable, Web Browser comes pre-loaded, from the off, through the cloud based VIERA Connect platform. One of the problems we find with Connect is that it’s limited to 7 services per page, meaning if you have a lot of apps or services downloaded, you’ll need to flip through several pages to get to some of it. By way of solace, it is possible to customise the pages and bring content forward and back but we’d like the option of more windows in the first place. The VIERA app store is rapidly filling up with games, ‘lifetstyle’ apps and assorted tat but, as usual, it’s the video on demand services that steal the show and include Ace Trax, BBC iPlayer and Netflix. Also available is Panasonic’s VIERA 3D World and whilst the content on offer is very limited at the moment, there’s some exclusives in there including NASA Space Shuttle footage and a 2012 Olympics preview. We’d imagine following the Olympics, it will be jam packed with sporting content.
The aforementioned Browser works with reasonable speed although embedded video continues to be hit or miss as to whether it will play properly. We thought we might miss the speed of the touch pad for page navigation but the accuracy of using the standard remote for finer movements means it’s probably just as quick, in a hare and tortoise kind of way. Another notable feature is the pretty robust media player, although some have reported issues getting audio to play on video files, via USB, when connected to an AV Receiver. Thanks to DLNA certification, media can also be played over your home network and a variety of media servers we tried worked nicely, whether we were connected with or without wires. Further features include Skype video calling, provided the TY-CC20W or TY-CC10W HD camera/mic attachment is purchased, and Personal Video Recording (PVR) like capabilities from the internal tuner, where recordings can be set either manually or from the Electronic Program Guide (EPG).
Out of Box PerformanceThe performance of the VT50 here was simply staggering and probably had many a calibrator shaking in their boots. Fortunately, for them, the Panasonic GT50B wasn’t quite so impressive and thanks to the excess of green, in the RGB Balance chart below, even though Delta Errors are at a near tolerable level, we would expect to see a worthwhile improvement post calibration. Green is the most noticeable of colours to the human eye and therefore any problems with it are more readily perceived.
Calibrated ResultsWith a couple of iterations of the 2 point white balance controls and a fine tune with the 10 point controls, we were able to bring the GT50 to absolute reference standards in fairly swift order. We’ll say it again, the new controls equipped in the dual core plasma’s are truly excellent and way beyond the capabilities of the Panasonic’s of years gone by. Most importantly, on screen it was easy to see the reduction of the green tint in virtually all material.
Picture ProcessingAs with the menus, this area of evaluation provided very little in the way of surprises. Scaling of standard definition signals was crisp and clear, video deinteralcing of SD was also excellent, and the same applied to 1080i signals as well. In actual fact, the GT50 did perform a little better than the VT50 in picking up the PAL 2:2 cadence, at least with test patterns and well used test footage, but it’s not totally infallible and slips off the lock from time to time. Hardly likely to be deal-breaker for most. Motion adaptive deinterlacing was also very good with only slight jaggies appearing on the bottom bar of the three moving bars on the test from the HQV disc.
Like the VT50, Blu-ray material at 1080p24 was handled near flawlessly and the wedge test from the Spears and Munsil disc ran incredibly smoothly. Semi-interestingly, we noted that the usual 4:4 pull down resulting in a 96Hz screen refresh sometimes dropped down to 48Hz in Blu-ray menus. The Panasonic GT50 displayed absolutely excellent dynamic range in being able to produce the brightest whites with the deepest shades of grey, and the same applied to the full range of colours. Panasonic’s 1080p Pure Direct mode hasn’t proved to be exactly what some PC owners were hoping for and only accepts the full 4:4:4 chromatic resolution for video sources, where its merits are questionable given the best source material it will get will be encoded as 4:2:0. We’ll look at the merits of Intelligent Frame Creation (IFC) in the Picture Quality Section but, please for the love of all that is good, make sure 24p Smooth Film is deactivated when playing your Blu-rays!
Gaming PerformanceIn most of our recent TV reviews we’ve been using our new LagTest device to get you gamers a more accurate handle on input lag figures and here it threw up its first surprise result. We found the GT50 to lag by around 45 milliseconds, which is higher than previously thought, and just goes to show the inconsistencies and pitfalls of using the camera method. In this reviewers eyes (or should that be hands) a number like this is fairly easy to adjust to for most single player games but competitive gamers might well not be satisfied and, again, we’d urge a demo if gaming use is of major importance to you.
Energy ConsumptionIn out-of-the-box Normal mode, we measured the Panasonic TX-P42GT50 to draw an average of 163W compared to 172W in calibrated Professional Mode. It’s a reflection of how the manufacturers are being pushed to be more eco-friendly out of the box and, in contrast to years gone by, provides a rather dull, washed out image that is worth changing for the miniscule added electricity costs the calibrated picture gives. In the THX 3D mode, we noted an average of 202W.
Picture Quality – 2DBoth the ST50 and VT50 we’ve seen so far have managed to deliver pictures with exceptional contrast performance and, thanks to the deep, cavernous blacks the Panasonic GT50 can deliver the same. For those interested we measured the GT50 at 0.01 cd/m2/ 0.0029 fL but please remember that although the reading was taken with a Klein K-10, it’s still not a definitive number and shouldn’t be treated as such. Our eyes are the best judge of what’s black and what isn’t and the GT50 certainly delivers on that front. If were forced to choose between the Panasonic’s, in this regard, we’d still give the edge to the VT50 although that’s perhaps as a result of the superior filter in the VT giving the impression of better black levels in more situations than simply ‘lights out’. Where the GT scores, slightly, over the top-tier product is in its ability to put out a bit more luminance in the Professional Picture Mode, that offers a peak light output of around 120cd/m2 compared to around 90cd/m2 in the VT50. It’s not that we think the Professional modes really need any more in the VT but it does give the GT just a bit more flexibility.
Even if it isn’t quite as ‘contrast blessed’ as the VT, the TX-P42GT50 still produces superb pictures as the impressive dynamic range blends with the stunning colour reproduction to produce staggering life-like images. Like the VT50, the GT is also equipped with a one-touch solution for coping with brighter viewing environments in the THX Bright Room Viewing Mode. As any calibrator worth their salt will tell you, setting up a display for challenging environments is as much about the art as the science and it’s not a case of simply upping the contrast to give more light; at a minimum to get anything like a good set up alterations to colour saturation and luminance, the gamma curve, as well as contrast, would be needed from the calibrated settings for a more ideal viewing environment. It’s an area where the more budget (but still excellent) ST50 is more hampered as has only one mode we’d regards as an accurate starting point, True Cinema, which means an awful lot of toing and froing with settings to get them right for different ambient conditions.
The one real thorn in the side of the GT50, and it also relates to the other Panasonic plasmas, is in the continued issues in handling motion with 50Hz content. Under certain circumstances, some may notice the edges of objects breaking up and multiplying under panning. It would see that 2500 FFD (Focused Field Drive) has improved matters from previous generations of NeoPlasma (NeoPDP) but it is still there. In the situations if does occur, some relief can be found by engaging IFC (Intelligent Frame Creation) at Min but only the Max setting will eradicate it totally, and that’s not a configuration we like, or recommend, owing to the awful cheap soap opera look it gives. The same can be said about the Panasonic’s tendency to show up the traditional plasma Dynamic False Contouring (DFC) issues. In fact we’d say that the Generation 15 Panasonic’s have seen a big leap forward here and we only saw one instance of the green and red striped faces (an easy way to spot DFC) in all our time with the GT50. Again, engaging the Max setting of IFC did get rid of it as the panel switches to operate in 60Hz mode where more subfield processing is available. Looking through our Owners Thread’s on the Forum, it would seem next to nobody has actually picked up on either of these slight issues and it’s probably as a result of us being so tuned in to it, plus watching for evaluation rather than sheer pleasure, that we saw them. Let’s make no bones about it, the Panasonic GT50 produces absolutely gorgeous pictures for almost all of the time.
Picture Quality – 3DPanasonic have again been delivering the 3D goods this year, both with Plasma and LED, and the GT50 maintains the current form. For the most part, 3D pictures are deep, standout (when required) and crosstalk free. Under high contrast scenes, the resolution seems to dip a little bit with a resulting increase in crosstalk but in real world terms it bothered us very little and the bright panel, almost tint free glasses and smooth motion more than made up for it. We (I) wont lie and will say that I’m bothered by flicker on just about every active shutter system 3D display and the GT50 was the same to my eyes, so please do check this aspect out before committing to buy – it should easily be possible with the Panasonic’s, for most people, as they are commonly set up to do so at a number of retailers nationwide.
- Fantastic black Levels
- Excellent dynamic range
- Very good out-of-the-box colour gamut
- Reference calibrated colour gamut
- Reference calibrated greyscale
- Superb 3D
- Comprehensive and highly effective calibration controls
- THX Bright Room does what it says on the tin
- Built-in WiFi, Freesat HD and Freeview HD
- Still some 50Hz niggles
- Gaming lag is a touch higher than we'd like
- HDMI ports too close to the edge for comfort
Panasonic GT50 (TX-P42GT50B) 3D Plasma TV Review
In its class the Panasonic TX-P42GT50 provides a peerless combination of outstanding black levels, flexible options and downright excellent picture quality, in both two and three dimensions. Added to those qualities we have a pleasing contemporary design and a whole host of features that typify the Smart TV experience. In the 40-42inch category there’s currently only Panasonic’s own ST50 to give it a run for its money but having run the two side by side we would give a very slight edge to the GT50 in terms of clarity of image in darker scenes where its better gamma response and (perhaps) added levels of gradation do the trick. There is still a persisting problem with 50Hz material under panning and although it can be remedied, to an extent, using the IFC controls, we expect that other than the flicker some suffer with Panasonic PDP’s this is likely the only potential deal breaker on the table.
Design wise, the GT50 is contemporary enough and we’re pleased the metallic trim has been moved to the outside of the bezel. The new remote controls is a lot more shiny than previous incarnations but button layout remains sensible and it’s easy to operate with one hand. Menus remain easy to navigate, although you could get rid of the Timer Menu, as far as we’re concerned. It’s very pleasing that the slightly less heralded GT range features the same excellent suite of calibration controls as the Flagship VT50 and through it we were able to nail absolutely reference performance. When we combined the calibrated picture with the already stunning black levels and dynamic range images were truly staggering, at times, and save for the occasional problem with 50Hz content, utterly engaging. We might recommend hardcore gamers to look away from the Panasonic plasma’s this year as they are exhibiting more latency than in years gone by, with the 42GT50 measuring around 45milliseconds but we’d imagine the average single player gamer will be able to re-adjust.
For the serious videophile looking for a TV under 50 inches, the Panasonic TX-P42GT50 is currently the hottest ticket in town.
Suggested retail price when reviewed: £1,200.00
Contrast/Dynamic Range/Black Level9
3D Picture Quality9
Ease Of Use8
Value for Money8
Our Review Ethos
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