Panasonic Professional BT300 (TH-50BT300) 3D Plasma TV Review
How does Panasonic Professional's BT300 measure up as a domestic display?
IntroductionAs good as modern consumer displays are, they are still mass produced panels that can only deliver performance commensurate with their price point. However for the enthusiast, looking for that higher level of performance and better build quality, there is the option of choosing a display aimed at the professional market. We've reviewed two of Panasonic Professional's panels in the last year, the impressive but decidedly expensive VX200 and the remarkable VX300. In fact the VX300 was so good that it became the first display since the venerable Kuro to be awarded a Reference badge but that performance came at a price.
Although the VX300 is cheaper than the VX200 it is still nearly £8,000, so what options are there for the enthusiast who perhaps wants the high level of performance but without the high level of price. Well one possible option is Panasonic Professional's BT300 which is a 50" broadcast monitor that retails at around the same price as Panasonic's P65VT50. Of course being a professional monitor, you have to expect certain features to be missing and indeed there are no built-in tuners or speakers and, for that matter, no internet or streaming capability. In fact despite being 3D capable, the BT300 doesn't even have a built-in 3D emitter or come with any 3D glasses included. So the question is, does the performance warrant the lack of features and additional cost? Well, let's find out...
Styling and DesignIt is the nature of professional monitors that they tend to end up in darkened editing suites or clumped together to create 'video villages' in the corner of a studio or out on location. For this reason looks aren't high up the agenda and practicality and robustness are far more important - the BT300 is a good example of this philosophy. To put it bluntly, the BT300 is no looker and you will need to keep this in mind if you're thinking of buying one. Clearly it was never designed to take pride of place in someone's lounge and with its chunky design and carrying handles it isn't going to. If you don't live alone and the BT300 isn't going into a dedicated home cinema, then a period of discussion with your significant other might be a good idea - unless of course you're planning on breaking up anyway.
The chassis of the BT300 is made of toughened black plastic with a 5cm wide bezel all the way around the screen and the rear of the panel is made of black metal. The chassis isn't exactly thin, measuring 8cm deep but the entire construction has a solid and well constructed feel to it. The front of the screen is obviously glass and as is often the case with Panasonic Professional's monitors, there appears to be no additional filter, but sensible placement should reduce the incidence of unwanted reflections. The provided stand is made of the same toughened black plastic as the rest of the display and shares the same utilitarian design but it provides solid support without drawing attention to itself.
As was mentioned earlier, it is important that a professional monitor is both robust and practical and to help with this, there are carry handles in the top left and right hand corners. They aren't attractive but they can be removed and on the plus side, they make moving the BT300 around a lot easier, which is just as well because it isn't light. The BT300 weighs about the same as our reference 50" Kuro, which means that any attempt at wall mounting is going to require some really big screws. Since this is a professional monitor, there is no built-in TV tuner, nor are there any built-in speakers. Clearly since the BT300 is meant for use in a studio or post-production facility, there is no need for a built-in TV tuner, so if you want to watch TV you will need an outboard PVR or STB. The same is true on the audio side, if you're working on video post-production you don't need speakers and anyone buying a display like this for the home will hopefully be using outboard amplification as part of a full home cinema setup. However, if for some reason, you need to add speakers there are speaker terminals at the rear which would allow you to connect a pair of small speakers and use the built-in amplification.
Since the BT300 is designed for the broadcast market, the rear connections reflect this with BNC connectors for the composite and component video inputs. These inputs also have stereo analogue audio in using RCA connectors. There is a single HDMI input, as well as a VGA input and a DVI input. There is a LAN port and a RS232 serial connector for system control and a sync connector and 8V output for use with the external 3D emitter. The connectors are downward facing and sit within a recessed area that allows for easier wall mounting and better cable management. Clearly the deeper chassis allows for this but it's a shame that Panasonic doesn't take a similar approach for their consumer plasmas. As with all of Panasonic Professional's displays, the BT300 utilises their unique Slot system of input boards, which means that additional inputs can added.
The provided remote control is the standard black plastic Panasonic style remote control but it is very basic in terms of the available buttons. There are buttons to gain quick access to different inputs and the menus but obviously there is no volume control so if you want to use the internal amplification you need to access the Sound menu. Some people might find the remote control a bit disappointing on a display at this price point but since the BT300 is aimed at the professional broadcast market, Panasonic don't expect anyone will care what the remote control looks like or even have need of it that often.
As mentioned earlier, whilst the BT300 is 3D capable it does not have a 3D emitter built-in, so in order to watch 3D content you will need to buy an optional external emitter, one of which was provided for the purposes of this review. The emitter itself is about 19cm wide and can sit on top of the display, although you can position it elsewhere if you like. It uses infrared, so you will need to position it within line of sight but the emitter appears to send a strong signal so you shouldn't have any problems with losing sync. The emitter is connected to the display via two cables, one of which is the sync and the other provides power and there is also an on/off switch at the back.
The BT300 does not ship with any 3D glasses either but for the purposes of this review, we were provided with a pair of Panasonic's excellent new active shutter 3D glasses (TY-EW3D3ME). These glasses are incredibly light - at 26g - and so comfortable to wear that you quickly forget you have them on. The glasses themselves have quite large lenses that provide a reasonably wide field of view and are suitably neutral. There is a switch at the top of the frame above the bridge where you turn on the glasses and, if you need to, you can also switch the glasses to 2D mode. The glasses sync automatically with the external emitter once they are turned on and we never experienced any problems with losing sync, nor was there any noticeable flicker. The glasses are rechargeable and there is a mini USB connector beneath the bridge for this purpose.
Menus and Set UpAs we have already mentioned the BT300 is a professional broadcast monitor, so not only is there no built-in TV tuner and no on-board speakers, there is also no internet capability. The LAN socket to the rear is for including the BT300 as part of a network or for use with an external web browser. This lack of features makes setting up the BT300 a fairly straightforward process, in fact the biggest issue will be physically installing the display but once you’ve positioned it and connected the video sources all the other areas of setup are related to optimising the picture.
The menus, themselves, reflect the professional nature of the BT300 and are functional, comprehensive and straightforward. There are five menu pages, consisting of Picture, Setup, Pos./Size, Sound and Options. The Setup menu includes all the controls for setting up the display, including controls relating to the 3D Settings, RGB/MONO settings (for turning red, green and blue off individually), Screensaver settings, Extended Life Settings (including the controls for the Nanodrift feature), Input Labels, Function Button Settings, On/Off Timer, Day/Time Setup, Power Consumption and the OSD. There are also some functions aimed more at the professional market such as Marker Settings which puts frame markers on the screen to show safe areas and Scope ratios or the Waveform Monitor. These latter functions are only available if the Studio Mode is selected in the Options menu. There is also a control for selecting an external scaler which means that, if you so wish, you can bypass the internal scaling and send a 1080p signal to the BT300 from an external video processor. Finally there is a sub-menu called Signal which includes information on the type of signal the BT300 is receiving. Unfortunately Panasonic haven't quite managed to break their habit of hiding key controls away in sub-menus and it is in Signal that you will find the controls for the Frame Creation (frame interpolation) feature. We feel that this control should really sit in the Picture menu along with all the other image related controls.
The second menu is Pos./Size and, as the name suggests, this controls the vertical and horizontal position and size of the image. As with the previous menu, Panasonic have included another key control in an area which we feel is inappropriate because this is where you will find the 1:1 Pixel Mode. This control is important for ensuring that you are watching the full high definition image and we really feel it should also be included in the Picture menu along with all the other image related controls.
The third menu is Sound and here you will find all the controls for the built-in amplification. There are a number of Sound Modes, as well as controls for Bass, Mid, Treble, Balance and Surround. As mentioned previously, should you wish to attach speakers and use the built-in amplification, it is in this menu that you will find the Volume control.
The Options menu is where you will find additional controls for functions like the Onscreen Display, Studio Mode, Display Size, All Aspect, Auto Setup, Advanced Motion Resolution, Power On Message and the 3D Safety Precautions. To access the Options menu, you need to hold down the OK button for more than three seconds.
The Picture menu obviously includes most, although as we've already mentioned not all, the key controls for correctly setting the image. There are a number of pre-set Picture Modes including Normal, Dynamic, Cinema and Monitor. The Monitor mode is designed for use in a post-production facility creating broadcast or movie content. With this mode, even if the overall picture level (APL) changes, the brightness of areas with the same signal level does not change. There are also all the standard picture controls such as Contrast, Brightness, Colour, Hue, Sharpness and white balance. It is certainly refreshing to see a picture menu that is free of all the useless special features that plague most modern consumer televisions.
In the Advanced Settings there are controls for the Black Extension and Input Level as well as the Cinema Reality (cadence detection) function and Noise Reduction features. There is also a Studio Gain feature, which is only available if the Studio Mode is selected in the Options menu. This feature sharpens the contrast for a better view when a part of the image is too light to see. There is a gamma setting which gives options from 2.2 to 2.6 and a Two Point White Balance control for calibrating the greyscale by adjusting the amounts of red, green and blue.The final menu is the colour gamut control which offers a choice of a number of preset including the Native colour gamut of the display as well as a series of industry standards such as Digital Cinema Colour, EBU, SEMPTE-C (NTSC) and BT.709. The final choice is Rec.709 which is the industry standard used in high definition television and Blu-ray and is very close to the standard for PAL. There is also a choice called Custom which gives the user access to the CMS.
Measured Results Out-of-the-BoxWe had seen reports on the internet of incredibly accurate out-of-the-box measurements from the BT300, so we were very curious to see how it would perform in this area. First we turned on the studio mode, which defaults to the most accurate presets and then we checked all the settings. We confirmed that the Cinema picture mode was selected and ensured that 1:1 Pixel Mode was on. We found that a gamma of 2.4, a colour gamut of BT709 and a colour temperature of Warm offered the best initial measurements. We also checked that the Brightness and Contrast controls were set correctly for our viewing environment. We left the Colour and Hue controls at zero and checked the Sharpness control, which should also be left at zero to ensure there is no ringing or softening of the image.
Calibrated ResultsFor these measurements we kept all the previous settings but used the two point White Balance control to calibrate the greyscale by adjusting the levels of red, blue and green at 80IRE and 30IRE. We also calibrated the colour gamut by choosing the Custom option which gave us access to the Colour Management System (CMS).
Video ProcessingAs we would expect from a Panasonic display, the performance of the BT300 in the video processing tests was excellent, so although you can use an external processor there is no reason not to use the processing built in to the BT300. Using both the PAL and NTSC HQV benchmark discs the SMPTE colour bar test was reproduced correctly with the BT300 scaling the full 576i and 480i images without any loss of detail or unwanted ringing and showing a beautifully smooth gradation in colours with no banding. The BT300 also scored very highly in the jaggies tests on both discs as well as performing very well on the diagonal interpolation test, with two of the three moving bars appearing smooth and only the bottom most extreme bar showing very slight jaggies. The BT300 also had no problems in resolving all the fine brickwork in the detail tests on both the PAL and NTSC discs, as well as correctly displaying the waving flag footage. This is important because with a screen this size you need excellent video processing to make standard definition images look acceptable.
The BT300 managed to correctly detect 2:2 (PAL - European) cadence, as well as 2:3 (NTSC - USA/Japan) cadence and it correctly locked onto film based material in the film detail test (as long as the Cinema Reality function is on). The BT300 performed extremely well in all of the tests on the HQV Blu-ray using high definition content. With the player set to 1080i the display correctly de-interlaced and displayed both the video and film resolution tests (provided the 16:9 mode is correctly set to 1:1 Pixel Mode) and showed very good scaling and filtering performance as well as excellent resolution enhancement. The BT300 also had no problems in showing video text overlaid on film based material. It is important to ensure that the Frame Creation function is left off, unless you want film based material to look like video and for the same reason you need to ensure that the 24p Smooth Film function is also turned off when watching 24p material. Once the 24p Smooth Function has been turned off, the BT300 reproduces 24p material superbly with no motion artefacts or judder.
Using the Spears and Munsil test disc, we checked the high and low dynamic range performance of the BT300. The headroom performance of the BT300 was initially clipped with no detail above video level 235. However, if you change the HDMI Range setting from Auto or Video (16-235) to Full (0-255) then the BT300 reproduces from reference white (video level 235) up to peak white (video level 255). Whilst technically video is supposed to be between video levels 16-235 in actual fact there will be information between video levels 253 and 255 so it is important that a display doesn’t clip all the way up to video level 255. In addition, the BT300 showed picture information down to reference black (video level 17) which is good because we want to see detail down to video level 17 but not below it.
Gaming PerformanceGiven that the BT300 is aimed at the professional market, there's no Game mode and we suspect that Panasonic didn't design the display with the gaming community in mind. However if you are considering using the BT300 for gaming the good news is that the input lag is pretty low. We measured it at 30ms, which isn't quite as good as the 25ms we measured the VT30 but should be low enough for most people. In terms of actual gaming the BT300 performed very well, thanks to the accurate images and fast response time, resulting in an enjoyable gaming experience. However, we did notice occasional instances of image retention but in all fairness that is just a weakness of plasma technology.
Energy ConsumptionThe power consumption of the BT300 was very good considering its size and the fact that since it's aimed at the professional market, it isn't being sold on its energy efficiency. As is always the case with plasmas, the brighter and bigger the image, the greater the amount of energy the plasma uses to drive the phosphors. In the case of the BT300, a window raster at 0IRE measured 54 watts, at 50IRE it measured 72 watts and at 100IRE it measured 127 watts. These are actually very good measurements for a display of this size and with normal viewing material the measurement averaged around 200 watts depending on the brightness of the image on the screen. In standby mode the BT300 measured less than 0.5 watts.
2D Picture QualityAs soon as we turned the BT300 on we could see that it was an accomplished performer in the image department. Even in its out-of-the-box settings the colours looked reasonably accurate and the level of detail and motion handling was impressive. Once we had spent some time setting the BT300 up and calibrating the image properly, the results were very impressive. As with any image, an accurate greyscale delivers a solid bedrock on which everything else is built but the addition of an accurate colour gamut resulted in images that, regardless of their source, looked natural. The impressive video processing on the BT300 meant that, when combined with the image accuracy, standard definition content looked excellent.
Once we moved up to high definition content, things became even more impressive, with the natural images also delivering an incredible level of detail. Watching Blu-rays in particular, the images were just stunning and with 24p content the BT300 delivers smooth judder-free motion and a wonderful film-like quality to movies that sets the it apart from many other panels. In general the motion handling was good and no matter what type of content the BT300 reproduced it accurately and without artefacts. As with any Panasonic plasma there is the occasional instance of flicker but the level of PWM noise was minimal, resulting in a very clean image.
It is reasonable to assume that the BT300 uses the same panel as the VT30 and certainly based upon having seen both displays, the images produced do seem very similar. This assumption is reinforced by the very occasional and very subtle appearance of the 50Hz bug. It was barely noticeable most of the time, just as it was barely noticeable on the VT30 but it was still there if you knew what to look for. There was some very minor posterisation as well but overall this was an excellent image with incredibly fine gradations and artefact free reproduction. The BT300 uses 10-bit processing, so whilst it is very good it can't be thought of as an alternative to the VX300. That display incorporates 30-bit processing and the performance, especially with motion, is a quantum leap above anything else we have seen.
The black levels on the BT300 appeared to be identical to those seen on the VT30 and the VX300 and it delivered similar measurements. At present Panasonic deliver the best blacks available and as such they remain the reference point for other manufacturers. Certainly the deep blacks on the BT300 result in an impressive dynamic range but, as with all current Panasonic plasmas, the calibrated brightness is a bit limited. That's not to say that the images are dim because they certainly aren't but they can occasionally lack some punch with brighter scenes. Whilst we didn't experience any problems with image retention during actual viewing content, we did see the occasional instance when using static test screens. This might well be the result of us turning the Nanodrift off, so if you're planning on doing a lot of gaming you might want to consider keeping it on.
There have been a number of problems reported by owners of Panasonic plasmas over the last two years, including floating blacks, brightness pops, green 'blobs' and uneven or 'dirty' screens. The problem of floating blacks appeared to have been corrected in Panasonic's 2011 plasmas and we certainly didn't experience the problem with the BT300. Unfortunately despite eliminating one problem, another reared its head last year in the form of brightness 'pops'. These were more evident on the ST30 and GT30 but they were also occasionally seen on the VT30. however we didn't see any such 'pops' in brightness during the two weeks of extensive viewing we conducted on the BT300. Since the release of the VT30 this time last year, some owners have reported issues with patches of green discolouration or 'blobs' on their screens but we didn't experience this issues during our time with the BT300. It is possible that this problem will only manifest after a prolonged period of use but we had the BT300 for two weeks and it had been used at ISE prior to that, so the panel was well run in. The panel also didn't suffer from any unevenness or 'dirty' screen effect when we used uniform test screens or on camera pans across skies and pitches. In fact, aside from the subtle presence of the 50Hz bug, we didn't experience any other problems and all we saw was a fantastic image that certainly warrants its professional monicker.
3D Picture QualityAs we would expect from a Panasonic plasma, the 3D performance was superb with wonderfully immersive and detailed 3D images. We used a number of different 3D sources for these tests, including frame sequential 3D from Blu-rays and side-by-side 3D from TV broadcasts and the BT300 handled them all with ease. It might not shout about its 3D capability and you might have to buy the emitter and glasses separately but there's no denying that once it's all set up, the BT300 is a class act. The level of detail from 3D Blu-rays in particular was spectacular thanks to Panasonic's active shutter 3D which delivers full resolution 1080p to each eye. The 3D motion handling on the BT300 was also excellent, resulting in images that had a natural appearance and no artefacts on camera pans or objects moving across the frame. Most importantly, there was no noticeable crosstalk, even on discs that have proved problematic in the past. The result of this was that there was nothing to act as a barrier to the 3D experience or to shatter the illusion, leaving just an engrossing and immersive experience that delivered a real sense of depth and solidity to the objects in the frame.
This sense immersion was certainly helped by Panasonic's new glasses, which are so light that you quickly forget that you're wearing them. The lenses of the glasses are also reasonably neutral so that the colour still appeared natural. There is also the option to calibrate the greyscale and colour gamut for 3D which means the BT300 can deliver reasonably accurate 3D images, despite the absence of any agreed 3D standards. The only real downsides to watching 3D on the BT300 were that occasionally you could see flicker out of the corner of your eye and that the panel's lack of brightness meant that the 3D images lacked a little punch. Having said that, the 3D image was still bright enough and the BT300 was able to deliver 3D that had genuine impact. The only other issue is that with a screen size of 50", the BT300 is at the bottom limit in terms of the 3D filling your field of view enough to be genuinely immersive.
- Dynamic range and black levels are excellent
- Very clean image with little PWM noise
- Reference 3D performance
- Almost no crosstalk
- Excellent greyscale and colour gamut out-of-the-box
- Reference greyscale and colour gamut after calibration
- Excellent video processing with the option to use an external processor
- Professional menu system and features
- Reasonably low input lag
- Excellent energy consumption for a plasma
- Expensive compared to a consumer display
- Subtle instances of 50Hz break-up with fast pans
- Some users may suffer from image flicker
- No built-in TV tuner or speakers
- Calibration controls are a little limited
- No built-in 3D emitter
- Important functions are hidden in sub-menus
- No internet platform or streaming capability
- Design is rather unattractive
- Remote control is a bit of a disappointment
- No 3D glasses included
Panasonic Professional BT300 (TH-50BT300) 3D Plasma TV Review
Well if its absolute performance that you're looking for then the BT100 certainly won't disappoint. The panel is capable of an excellent image right out-of-the-box and a reference performance after calibration. Regardless of whether the content is standard or high definition, the BT300's image accuracy will deliver beautiful pictures. The excellent video processing means that lower resolution material can be scaled effectively but the BT300 really shines with high definition content, delivering images that are breathtaking in their detail. The motion handling is also superb and with 24p content the reproduction is smooth and judder free, resulting in a very film-like image. The deep blacks result in an impressive dynamic range but the calibrated brightness of the BT300 could be better, robbing the image of some of its impact. Aside from that there really is very little to complain about, with only occasional instances of image retention and flicker worth mentioning. The 50Hz bug is still there but it is so subtle that many won't even notice it and it certainly shouldn't deter from your enjoyment of the image.
The BT300 doesn't come with a 3D emitter or any 3D glasses, so if you want to take advantage of the BT300's 3D capabilities, you'll have to buy these accessories separately. However if you do splash out on the necessary 3D equipment you certainly won't be disappointed because the BT300 and can deliver an excellent 3D experience. The active shutter 3D results in high resolution images and plenty of detail, whilst motion handling was also excellent, delivering images that had a natural appearance. Most importantly, there was no noticeable crosstalk, even on discs that have proved problematic in the past, resulting in a pleasing 3D experience.
The question is whether this image performance is enough to offset the inherent disadvantages of buying a professional monitor? Well for a start, the design is fairly utilitarian and whilst the build quality is solid and robust, the BT300 probably won't be winning any admiring glances when on display in the middle of your lounge. The remote control is equally utilitarian and whilst the menu system is comprehensive, it is also rather spartan. There is no tuner, so you'll need to use it in conjunction with a PVR and there are no speakers so you'll also need to use it with speakers, a soundbar or AV receiver. There's no built-in WiFi and of course there is no internet platform or streaming video capability, so you'll need to add those using an outboard device like a Blu-ray player.
Based upon pure image performance the BT300 would be an easy winner of a Highly Recommended badge but as an overall package you have to wonder if a professional broadcast monitor offers good value. For the same price you could buy a 65" VT30 which not only includes all the features listed above but also has a built-in 3D emitter and comes with two pairs of glasses. The larger screen size would give the 3D more impact and the VT30 actually has a ten point white balance control and a more flexible CMS. If you're looking for a display to be used in a dedicated home cinema then we certainly recommend you consider the BT300, however if you want a display that can deliver both a great picture and all the bells and whistles of a modern TV, then you might be better off looking at one of Panasonic's consumer models.
There's no question that the BT300 is capable of superb 2D and 3D images but the advantages might not be enough to outweigh the disadvantages and for the same price you could buy a much larger 65" VT50, still enjoy excellent images but also have a feature packed TV that can be the centrepiece of a modern home.
Suggested retail price when reviewed: £3,540.00
Contrast/Dynamic Range/Black Level9
3D Picture Quality9
Ease Of Use8
Value for Money7
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