Panasonic VT30 (TX-P42VT30) 3D Plasma Review
Mark examines the 'baby' of Panasonic's flagship range.
IntroductionWe've had just about every other panel size of the VT30 in for testing so, in the interests of completeness, we're subjecting the smallest in the range to our usual battery of testing to see how it stacks up against the larger sizes for what has been our favourite TV of the year, so far.
As the VT30's have been out in the wild for some time now, we've been able to closely monitor feedback from owners that have lived with these televisions and we'll do our best to answer questions on fluctuating brightness, buzzing, fan noise, flicker and 'green blobs'. Much of what was written in our reviews of the larger panels will still hold true with the 42VT30 - particularly in terms of design, connections, menus and features so we will place less emphasis on those sections and instead refer you to our earlier thoughts on the 50 inch and the 65" behemoth VT30. That said, it wouldn't be unusual for there to be some performance differences in differing panel sizes so let's dive in and take a look.
Design and FeaturesIt's always nice when the AVForums review team reach a total consensus of opinion - it makes the regular team meetings run more smoothly - and that is just the case when it comes to the design of the VT30. We like it. A lot! The sleek one sheet of glass design framed by the titanium strip really does look the part as a premier product. The design is not unlike Sony's monolithic design Bravia's and that's no bad thing, in our opinion. A word of advice here, when unpacking the TV you may want to consider wearing a pair of white cotton gloves as you'll otherwise inevitably find the glass will be covered in unsightly hand and finger marks that will take a while to clean off, thus preventing you from getting straight in to enjoy the pictures. We'd also suggest that you don't attempt getting it assembled, and in to place, on your own as these are heavy televisions and we wouldn't want your first meaningful interaction with your lovely, shiny new TV to be a call to your insurance company.
A couple of design choices we've criticised Panasonic for on the larger sizes remain in the 42VT30. First and foremost, the 4 side-facing HDMI ports are positioned too close to the edge of the TV. In fact, this is even more of an issue at the smaller size with the inputs less than 9cm from the edge; meaning even fairly modest HDMI cables can protrude beyond the bezel, spoiling the otherwise sleek appearance. The problem can be overcome with angled adaptors or by using some cable tidy but we'd ask Panasonic to consider moving them further to the middle next year or, better still, have them facing downwards. The second problem we have is with the mains cable being hard-wired to the chassis. The lead is not long at all so those considering wall mounting may need to run a power supply box and fuse to the mount position.
We have read quite a few complaints from VT30 owners regarding intrusive buzzing coming from their TVs but the review unit supplied was inaudible, in this respect, without literally pressing our ears to the rear plate. We could, however, hear the faint whoosh of fans during quiet scenes but it never proved an issue although individual tolerances will vary here. An issue with green patches being visible on white backgrounds was in evidence with this particular sample but was rarely seen with real world material. The unit arrived with a rather spooky 50 hours, dead, use and is currently somewhere around the 130 hour mark and the patches have diminished somewhat. We would hope that, in time, they will disappear altogether but it's not something we could guarantee but, as we said, in 80 hours use it was seen only once and then only fleetingly. A word on flicker - it's there as it's part of the driving of a PDP but there's a very easy way to find out if it's something you'll be bothered by - go out and demo, we'd expect you'd know if this is going to be a problem to you very quickly indeed!
We really like the complementarity of the design in the supplied remote control. It not only matches the titanium stripped frame of the television, it's also satisfyingly weighty to handle, adding to the feel of this being a flagship product. The red backlighting is rather curious in that only the numbers and volume/channel up and down buttons are illuminated, and you'll need to be fairly quick with your selections, too, since the light doesn't stay on for very long. It perhaps would have been better for the LIGHT button to be an on/off affair rather than a timed event but it's better than not having the option at all.
Supplied with the TX-P42VT30 are two pairs of the active shutter, TY-EW3D2ME, glasses (and we've only just noticed the significance of the product code) that, whilst an improvement over last year's still leave a little to be desired. We'd like to see the size of the lenses increased to prevent light getting in and causing reflections and they are still fairly heavy, meaning that extended viewing may just leave your nose feeling a little pinched, especially if it's larger than average - as per this reviewer! We understand that Panasonic will soon be unveiling a 3rd generation of specs, at lower than ever prices, so we'll watch the developments with interest.
Phil and Steve covered the feature-set of the VT30 in some detail in the reviews linked in the introduction so we'll just give a brief synopsis here. Panasonic's new Vierra Connect service is showing some great promise with its selection of Apps - there's 14 downloadable free games alone - and there's video streaming services from the likes of BBC iPlayer, YouTube and Acetrax. There's a Skype App too that allows for HD video chat when the required camera/mic peripheral is purchased. It's not quite up to the standards of Samsung's Smart Hub offering, yet, but the fact Panasonic have just opened up the API to 3rd party developers should mean that content will be added on a regular basis.
We're pleased to see Panasonic retaining the hard drive PVR functionalities they introduced last year even if it's somewhat lacking when compared to a dedicated solution. As we've mentioned in our 2011 reviews, media playback file compatibility has been beefed up a little this year but there's still a long way to go before it could be considered as a replacement for a bona fide media streamer. Neither Phil nor Steve had any joy in attempting to use the auto-calibration feature 'available' through Calman 4.2 software and, unfortunately, yours truly had no success either, despite the fact I bought a job lot of lucky heather and learned a couple of advanced calibration incantations prior to receiving the unit!
Menus and Set-UpThe new look Panasonic menus have proved a hit with us here although we would suggest that the options, when calibrating, should stay at the bottom of screen rather than the menu overlay popping back up after a few seconds of inactivity. We managed to fairly effectively negate the issue by making a few 'false' button depressions but even the occasional instance of green and blue measurements shooting up, when the menu appears, during a greyscale run was enough to irritate. We'd suggest that Pansonic take a look at Samsung's implementation for further guidance, or should that be a further look given the similarities the Panasonic 2011 GUI layout bears to Samsung's 2010 menus? We know Panasonic take on board our feedback so we're hopeful for next year.
To save you clicking back and forth between our other VT30 reviews, we'll quickly cover the main options in the PICTURE menu and then let you follow the links should you wish to learn about the further areas. Thankfully, bar the enabling of the Advanced ISF in the Setup Menu, all options having an effect on the picture are placed appropriately, unlike previous years.
The Picture menu offers the usual variety of pre-set viewing modes including THX that, by eye, looked to be providing a good deal of accuracy to industry standards right from the box. Unfortunately without delving in to the service menu advanced calibration of THX isn't possible and, frankly, why would you want to go through that torturous process when the ISF Professional1 and Professional2 pre-sets give us exactly the controls we want in the much more friendly user Menus. As well as 2 and 10 point whitebalance sliders, there's a 10 point Gamma control and a full 3D CMS. We could be picky and ask that Panasonic introduce a 10 point RGB Gamma control in to next years units but surely that's never going to happen, is it? As well as all the usual 'Front Panel' Contrast,Brightness and Colour controls there's a Sharpness slider that's best left at zero for HD material. Scrolling down and we find the C.A.T.S. (Contrast Automatic Tracking System) that works by dynamically altering gamma according to the room environment and we'd only ever consider using C.A.T.S. in very bright conditions. We also have a P-NR (Noise Reduction) function that is designed to reduce compression artefacts that we found no practical use for.
Under the Advanced Settings there are options to set 16:9 Overscan on or off; Panasonic's motion interpolating Intelligent Frame Creation or 24p Smooth Film, for Blu-ray, are represented here also and can be set to Off/Mid/Max. We'd strongly recommend that you never even consider the 24p Smooth Film option and if you're going to dabble with IFC, only try Mid and then only with fast moving video based content. Even set at Mid we could notice some artefacting we left it deactivated. Panasonic have managed to include some cadence detection capabilities in the 2011 sets and we'd certainly urge you to switch Clear Cinema to on whilst leaving off the rather unnecessary Resolution Enhancer. Also in the advanced options there are two image retention fighting tools in the Pixel Orbiter and Scrolling Bar functions, with the first being preventative and the latter restorative.
Once a 3D signal is detected by the TX-P42VT30 further options appear to augment the basic 3D Detection option in the 3D menu. With detection set to Auto, the TV will switch in to the correct format be that frame sequential, side-by-side or top and bottom. There's also 2D to 3D Depth that allows control over Panasonic's 2D>3D conversion efforts. We have to say we've yet to be impressed with any Manufacturer's offering in this department so the setting was of little to no consequence for us. For native 3D content, the equivalent 3D adjustment exists for controlling the depth of the image but we never felt the need to alter the default setting. Additionally, there's Picture Sequence that reverses frame sequencing for those that suffer eye-strain from the traditional order and, finally, there's an Edge Smoother function that we never found a good use for.
As this section has Set-up in the title, we'll say a brief word on the matter. Setting up the VT30 from out of the box was exactly the painless affair it should be. After a few simple questions, the TV will scan for channels from the internal HD satellite and DVB tuners and you're good to go. It's not often we have to comment on set up being an issue, these days, and we're happy to report that's the case here too.
Out of the Box MeasurementsWe've seen good to excellent out of the box greyscale performance from Panasonic TVs this year and the 42VT30 definitely fulfils the criteria for the latter award as you will see from the results. We first optimised our Brightness and Contrast options - we'd recommend sliding contrast to maximum in both THX and Pro Modes, by the way, as light output is more limited in these presets to prevent accidental clipping.
Apart from our gamma numbers being too low, i.e. too bright for our test room, greyscale performance really is very good from black to white. The slight excess of red and deficit of blue, higher up, makes the image just a tad - and we mean a tad - too warm but really, gamma aside, this makes for a more than acceptable result. As we have no control over gamma in THX - nor any advanced calibration controls- which is both baffling and frustrating in equal measures, our calibration efforts will centre on the Professional modes from which we took the following unadjusted measurements:
Whilst greyscale readings are as near as damnit identical to the THX mode, gamma is tracking much more ideally to our 2.2 target and with both 10 point white balance and gamma controls provided, we should be able to iron things out further.
Other than a little more excess in luminance, colour gamut performance was again comparable between the Pro and THX modes.
As we can see from the graphs, we only have noticeable errors in luminance and saturation and a couple of clicks down on the global Colour slider will probably be enough to get overall errors below the perceivable level of 3 but where's the fun in that when Panasonic have given us a further 18 controls to hit the Rec.709 standard?
Calibrated ResultsFirst using the 2 point white balance sliders and then the 10 point controls, to fine tune, we were able to obtain the following results without much fuss:
Quite simply put, we'd challenge anyone to notice any issues with greyscale tracking. Errors are all below 0.5 and we now have our canvas suitably neutral on which to overlay the chroma signal. It would have probably have been possible to get even more outstanding results but that would have been playing graph wars for no end benefit. Whilst the white balance sliders were a joy to use, the 10 point gamma control needed more care. Indeed, we were able to produce a ruler flat response, on paper, that in reality produced an image with noticeable colour banding. The problem in using the control was at lower stimuli so we left it alone below 60% grey instead using the white balance controls, in unison, to attempt to raise or lower the line to our desired target. They certainly didn't prove as effective as the equivalent controls found on Samsung TVs, in particular. We were, however, delighted with the resultant images even if just a little more shadow detail was revealed than intended but you would need to stand it back to back to a true reference screen to even notice. All in all, it's hats off to Panasonic in their first implementation of 10 point white balance controls!
As we said of the pre-calibrated colour reproduction, a couple of clicks on the colour decoder would probably get us where we wanted in bringing overall errors down below the perceptible level of 3 and, indeed, this was more or less the case but as Panasonic were good enough to provide a fully featured 3D CMS, it would be rude not to check out what could be achieved through its use and, more importantly, if its use would introduce any other issues as we've seen on displays from other manufacturers.
It's a reference performance from the VT30 here and we are happy to report use of the CMS caused no unexpected problems with real world material. We've read that use of the CMS in US VT30s was beset with issues but we certainly didn't find any problems here in PAL land. So with the VT30 all tuned and ready to roll, let's see how the calibrated image stands up to some viewing.
Video ProcessingWe weren't expecting any differences from the two larger VT30s we've covered, in this area, and there wasn't. That is to say, scaling of SD signals was as crisp and detailed as the source material allowed with no obliteration of fine details and nothing in the way of ringing artefacts to speak of. Diagonal interpolation was excellent with just the minimum of jaggies visible and then only if we were really looking.
The only notable flaw in the VT30s processing comes with it's inability to effectively lock on to the PAL 2:2 film cadences, taking around 3 seconds, by which time it's likely between edits. In this increasingly HD world, it's not going to be a huge issue for the vast majority but still something we'd like to see improved.
As the Professional modes are limited to 100 cd/m2 peak light output, to prevent clipping, the 42VT30 wasn't able to go much above the video white level of 235 and failed to reach the peak white level of 255. As there's rarely information in the picture sent at these levels we didn't consider ourselves as missing out.
Gaming PerformanceThe TX-P42VT30 performed very well in lag testing which is typical for Panasonic PDPs. Tested against a CRT referenced laptop display, the VT30 showed a latency of 1-2 frames (16-32 milliseconds) which will likely be unnoticeable for all but the tournament gamer. Panasonic's have typically struggled with native 30 frames per second games showing up double imaging on panning - a form of low motion artefacting - but they do seem to have improved matters with the VT30. It's still there but not as noticeable and it's likely something that will bother very few gamers out there. If console gaming is a big priority, we'd advise you to take yours to a local dealer to plug in and test out your own tolerances.
Energy ConsumptionIn the calibrated Professional Mode, the 42VT30 was drawing an average of 240w in 2D with 3D processing asking a little more in consuming an averaged 255w. In standby it was drawing 0.5w.
Picture Quality - 2DExcellent Black Levels? Check; Superb Contrast Performance? Check; Reference Level Greyscale and Colour Reproduction? Check; Excellent Video Processing? Check. On the face of it, everything is in place but, of course, it's not always that simple and there are a couple of issues with the Panasonic plasmas that are oft discussed.
Firstly we'll deal with the issue of break up of edges on fast/medium fast panning shots, with 50Hz material, that we uncovered last year and was still just as prevalent on all the 2011 models we'd seen prior to receiving the VT30. It's not gone with the VTs, unfortunately, but it is certainly diminished to the point where we'd expect only the tiniest of the tiny minority will be able to pick out and it's a big bonus to sports fans, in particular. We were able to quite happily watch a couple of the recent games from the Copa America tournament without being distracted by the halfway line breaking up in to multiple versions of itself and the edges of players blurring and multiplying. If we really went looking, it is still slightly there but it's ceased to be so 'in yer face'. We'd still ask Panasonic to refine their engine further but it's progress, without doubt.
The second talking point is new for 2011 and that's with the phenomena of fluctuating brightness in mid to low level luminance scenes. With the G30, in particular, it was a fairly noticeable effect (I should know as I tested that one!) that did slightly blight the otherwise excellent images. With the VT30, we only saw it occur once during around 100 hours of viewing. We can induce it with test patterns but that's hardly the greatest test and even with the notorious 'The Apprentice' boardroom scenes, it failed to materialise. We suspect there's going to be variances in this department, panel to panel, but on this particular VT30 it can be marked as virtual non-issue. If word coming across from European users on the their latest firmware all but eliminating the problem proves to be true, we'd be hopeful of the 'fix' making its way in to UK firmware soon enough.
So the on-paper results are borne out with viewing material as the reference black levels and contrast performance lend images that almost 3D appearance. Motion resolution is excellent and the 'filmic' look to our pictures gives Blu-ray disc material, especially, real credence. If there's a consumer TV been released this year that throws out a better picture, we've yet to see it.
That I managed to get through that last paragraph without once mentioning the Pioneer Kuro's is a source of personal pride but - let's get real folks - you're only chance of picking a Kuro up is 2nd hand and the numbers of those available in the UK can be counted on one hand, at the time of writing.
Picture Quality - 3DWe've already declared the Panasonics' Plasmas to be the standard by which others are judged against when it comes to 3D presentation and nothing changes here in the TX-P42VT30. Simply put, when it comes to a minimal crosstalk experience with real picture integrity and a lack of non-source induced artefacting, this is as good as it gets in 2011!
One difference we found in this unit, when compared to the 50" and 65" VT30, was that the Normal picture mode, combined with Warm colour temperature gave the best colour balance when viewed through the rather brown tinged 3D eyewear. With the 50 and 65 inchers, we found the THX preset to afford best images but there's always the likelihood that panel set up at the factory is the cause of differences. A few clicks up on the Brightness slider and we were immediately immersed in the believable 3D pictures. We don't always get chance to sit down and watch through every benchmark movie we use as visual references - instead concentrating on a few key scenes that are committed to memory - but with the VT30 we found ourselves sitting through entire presentations and we can't think of a finer compliment to pay.
- Superb black levels
- Effective filtering of overhead light reflections
- Dynamic range and contrast
- Excellent out of box accuracy in Pro Mode
- Reference Greyscale/Colour Accuracy following Calibration
- 3D Performance
- Excellent Scaling and Video Processing
- Improved Menus/GUI
- Calibration controls
- Improved 50Hz Motion Peforrmance
- Although 50Hz improved, still some image break-up
- 'Green Blobs' visible on full white screens
- Ineffective 2:2 Cadence Detection
- Non-Detachable Mains Lead
- HDMI Ports Too Close to Edge
- 3D Glasses Lenses are too Small
Panasonic VT30 (TX-P42VT30) 3D Plasma Review
Panasonic are edging ever closer to having a television attain AVForums 'Reference' status but as it is they'll just have to settle for the Highly Recommended award this time. Slight issues with 50Hz material are still there and the sometimes unstable luminance performance prevent the bestowing of our top gong. We do believe, however, that this is, so far, the best consumer grade display we've seen this year and they're now on the coat tails of the now no-more Pioneer Kuros. With a few tweaks here and there, we think Panasonic have a good chance of reaching our top status next year and their plasma screens are most definitely the reference for 3D presentation as things stand.
Deep, convincing black levels combined with excellent contrast performance make the VT30 stand out from the crowd. Marry those to the sleek, stylish chassis, superb calibrated image, reference 3D performance and a host of features and you have quite the force to be reckoned with. If you're in the market for a quality television this year, the VT30 should probably sit atop your go-see list.
Suggested retail price when reviewed: £1,770.00
Contrast/Dynamic Range/Black Level9
3D Picture Quality9
Ease Of Use8
Value for Money8
Our Review Ethos
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