Panasonic TX-P50VT65B (VT65) Plasma TV Review
Nobody does it better...
What is the Panasonic TX-P50VT65B?Having only just been treated to an audience with the 55-inch VT65, maybe we’re being a little greedy in getting the 50-inch version in for review so soon after. You can never have too much of a good thing is what we say and, besides which, we expect a few small variances in the raw performance figures owing to power use restrictions and panel size. With the 55VT65 scooping another rare AVForums Reference Status we’d be surprised if the smaller form doesn’t do the same but one thing’s for sure, it’s going to be a blast finding out. Time to get the costume on for the double dip.
Design and ConnectionsTo buck the modern trend for putting flagship TVs on starvation diets, Panasonic has actually bulked out the VT65, a touch, over last year’s series. It’s actually more a move based on practicalities than a conscious design-led decision in order that the VT65 is able to accommodate front-firing, side-mounted speakers to give the audio performance a welcome push in the right direction; most TVs these days feature downward-facing speakers that do little to convey a convincing soundstage so it’s great to see Panasonic having the courage to stand up for their convictions.
The speaker performance was greatly helped along by the addition of a small subwoofer, secreted somewhere within the confines of the chassis, which helped deliver genuinely defined voice tones and more clout than you would expect, with special effects benefitting significantly from the added low frequency. We generally treat manufacturer’s claims for improved sound quality with a pinch of salt, but Panasonic has actually managed to make good on theirs this time, and the VT65 produces a very pleasing audio performance with enough dynamism to make you think twice about that soundbar purchase.
We’ve always been fans of the one-sheet-of glass design we’ve seen deployed in various top-end TVs and the VT65’s is no disappointment with its integrated bezel which is 3cm wide, to the sides, and extended out by the speaker grilles and a silver trim wraps the whole thing up in stylish fashion. One particular touch we like, this year, is that Panasonic has put the IR sensor a little higher and wider than in previous generations and they’ve also designed the bottom of the screen to have a little more clearance from the base, meaning most soundbars and smaller centre speakers should fit underneath without too many problems. For those that need to know exactly, there’s 129mm to play with. One thing that the 50-inch VT65 holds over the 55” model is the ability for the chassis to swivel on the V-Shaped connector which holds it to the heavy duty brushed metal base stand in attractive fashion.
All 3 HDMI connections are sideways facing, which makes wall mounting easier, but are less than 11cm from the edge of the bezel.
Along with the HDMI ports, also side-pointing are three USB ports, a headphone socket, a SD card slot, a Common Interface (CI) slot and an optical digital audio output. Facing downwards there is an Ethernet port and the AV1 and AV2 inputs for legacy connections.
The AV2 connection doubles up for component and composite video and the AV selection menu lets you manually select which type of signal is being sent, whilst the AV1 input is exclusively for SCART sources. There’s two satellite antennae inputs (for dual tuner recording), a single DTV aerial terminal – internally it’s also dual for Freeview HD recording - and the VT65 also features a service port which we assume can be used in place of the absent RS232 port for the custom install market. It’s also probably worth noting that Panasonic has dropped D-SUB VGA connections for PC’s in 2013, so it’s DVI/HDMI only from here on in.
Panasonic’s slightly redesigned remote control features new and prominent buttons for Home and Apps, which ties in well with Panasonic’s newly designed interface. The remote has a gloss black finish and feels very comfortable to hold and has well planned button placement which, in combination, with the backlight makes it easy to late at night. If you fancy a simpler way to navigate around menus and assume general control of the VT65, the new Touch Pad controller might suit your tastes. It’s very similar to last years, which we liked, but now includes a ‘trigger’ to the rear, so it’s even better! As the name would suggest, the Smart controller has a touchpad that allows for some rudimentary TV controls, such as volume or channel selection but it really comes in to its own when used to scroll the internet functions and apps. New for 2013 is a built-in microphone offering its own command interface which actually works very well and comes in to its own more with the likes of content and web searches than it does for day-to-day duties
Also new this year to the Panasonic plasmas, is the inclusion of an electronic Touchpen, which Panasonic have ported over from some of their professional panels. The Touchpen pairs with your TV via Bluetooth and then uses the light from each pixel to provide positioning data which, thanks to the fast response time of the panel, allows for free drawing on the screen. There is a protective layer on the screen that you touch the pen against, although Panasonic do stress that you don’t push too hard. You can use the Touchpen for drawing pictures, adding messages or playing games and, although it does work very well, the novelty ran out quickly and probably those most impressed by its capabilities (children), are the very ones it needs to be kept furthest from.
The TX-P50VT65 ships with two sets of Panasonic’s latest active shutter 3D glasses (TY-ER3D5MA), which seem to have had a slight makeover since last year. The new glasses share the same general design as the earlier ones, so they’re still relatively featherweight and comfortable to wear and they’re also pleasingly tint-free so wont discolour 3D images in any meaningful way. The glasses utilise the new RF standard so you should never have any problem with syncing and they run from watch style batteries so are not rechargeable but in our experience they do last for a long time so if you keep a spare handy, you’re unlikely to get caught out mid movie.
MenusAfter first tuning and setting up the VT65, new owners will be greeted by Panasonic’s new My Home Screen which comes with 4 default views – Full Screen TV, TV Home Screen, Lifestyle Screen & Info Screen – with a further option to create customised screens as one sees fit.
Moving in to the Menus ‘proper’ and the basic look of the Graphical User Interface (GUI) is familiar from last year’s ranges with a two-tone blue and gold colour scheme and sharp, easy to read text in sharp white. The Menus are split in to six sub-menus, Picture, Sound, Network, Timer, Set and a new Help section which, amongst other things, includes an ‘eHELP’ interactive menu, which like similar iManuals we’ve seen from other manufacturers, provides excellent assistance to more novice users, although we’d imagine the user-friendly nature of most of the menus shouldn’t require much in the way of explanation.
The Picture Menu has seen some dramatic extension work since the 2012 system with many of the new ‘enhancements’ being the first things you should be looking to switch off. It’s good to see that Panasonic has finally managed to add numbers to the control sliders in all the modes, which makes life much easier. They have also included of a new Viewing Mode - Custom - to accompany the existing Dynamic, Normal, Cinema, THX and Professional ISF options. The Custom and Professional modes both offer the same calibration features but you can only adjust the Custom mode using the Smart Calibration feature in the remote app. Otherwise the first page includes the standard picture controls, plus the Colour Temperature setting which has a choice of Cool, Warm and Normal. In addition there are the Vivid Colour, Colour Remaster and Reversal Film Effect controls, which you can turn off.
Moving on to the second page there are controls for the Ambient Sensor, Noise Reduction, MPEG Remaster, Resolution Remaster, Caption Smoother, Brilliance Enhancer and Intelligent Frame Creation - all of which should be turned off if image fidelity is important to you. Don’t forget that Intelligent Frame Creation becomes 24p Smooth Film when you’re watching 24p content and in some of the modes it defaults to maximum, so make sure that is off as well. Also on this page you can access the Advanced Settings, Option Settings, Screen Settings and 3D Settings sub-menus.
The Advanced Settings sub-menu includes some new features and the most important is the Panel Luminance Settings which offers a choice of Low, Medium or High. One of our few complaints about last year’s model was its lack of brightness, so this new feature is a huge plus. There is also an Adaptive Gamma Control and a Black Expander feature, both of which we zeroed and the Colour Gamut, with the option to select Rec.709 best suited for HDTV content. Then we have all the conventional calibration controls in the form of a two- and ten-point White Balance, preset Gamma values with a 10 point adjustment feature and a Colour Management System for detailed adjustment of the primary and secondary colours.
The Option Settings sub-menu allows for selecting the Game Mode and the 1080p Pure Direct mode, as well as engaging the Film Cadence Mode. Here is also where you’ll find the setting for HDMI RGB Range, which, unless you’re hooking up a PC, will be best set at Normal range but it’s good to see that it’s assignable per input. Finally, should you so wish, the HDMI inputs can be set to be expecting Graphics or Photos with some automatic picture adjustments then applied, but unless this a professional requirement, we’d advise leaving at the default Auto setting.
The next sub-menu is Screen Settings, where you can turn 16:9 Overscan off - although make sure you have also selected the 16:9 Aspect Ratio. If you have the aspect ratio set to Auto, Panasonic TVs will still scale the picture up even with 16:9 Overscan set to off. Other controls include H-Size, Zoom Adjustments, Screen Display, Side Panel, Pixel Orbiter and the Scrolling Bar, with the latter two designed to prevent and reduce the effects of image retention, respectively.
The last sub-menu is 3D Settings and here you can make adjustments to the 3D performance, although generally you shouldn’t need to make any changes when watching 3D content. However should you need to the options include 3D Detection, 3D Signal Message, 3D Refresh Rate, 2D to 3D Depth, 3D Adjustment, L/R Picture Swap, Edge Smoother and Safety Precautions.
FeaturesThe P50VT65B includes Panasonic’s new Hexa-Processing chip, which delivers a very nippy Smart TV experience, loading web pages with almost PC speed. There’s two ways in to Panasonic’s smart experience this time around; one can either go straight in to the Apps screen where the full suite can be uncovered or opt to go via the more personalised My Home Screen interface. The Apps screen is very reminiscent of a tidied-up version of Samsung’s Smart Hub and none the worse for it. We like it a lot, especially as it provides a unified location for the full bag of goodies: including access to the Web Browser, Media Player and Server, the Main Menu and TV Guide as well as the installed apps.
As well as the new content and interface, Panasonic has also launched their new VIERA Remote 2 app. This latest version of their remote app is available for both iOS and Android and includes a redesigned interface and some new features such as access to the apps page. There is also Swipe & Share 2.0 which allows for easier sharing of content between devices, with just a flick of the finger (or thumb). The new Smart Calibration interface Panasonic’s allows full access to the necessary adjustments for a full picture calibration and has the great benefit of not calling up the user menus, which is an annoying trait of the Panasonic’s on two fronts: a) the menus time out too quickly and you’re often left measuring them and b) even their presence at the bottom of the screen affect measurements, albeit only slightly. The only slight drawback is that the Smart Calibration feature only works in conjunction with the ‘Custom’ Viewing Mode; ideally we would have like to have seen it interact with the professional modes too. We’re also very pleased to report that the updated Android version of the new app is now as steady as the iOS version.
As mentioned in the introduction, the VT65 includes a built-in camera for video calling through the Skype app; it can used in conjunction with the face recognition technology on-board to bring up personalised My Home Screens and it can also be utilised to create video messages. The Camera automatically pops up when a relevant application is detected but needs to be eased down, by hand, in order that it can be hidden within the confines of the bezel – another reason why it’s more thickset than your average 2013 high-end TV. We found the camera worked reasonably well when the room was bright but struggled when the lights were down low, so make sure you illuminate suitably if you want to be seen clearly during that Skype call or when leaving a video message for others in the house.
The Media Player and Media Server also worked near flawlessly, connecting easily with our home network and a number of devices and providing extensive file support. Overall we found the 2013 version of Panasonic's Smart TV System to be hugely successful in its ambitions of uniting and simplifying the experience and offering bags of content, to boot. We’re increasingly finding ourselves using the apps built-in to TVs, instead of turning to external devices, as they increase in effectiveness to rival them and the VT65 was certainly excellent for our diet of streamed on-demand content. The inclusion of a fully-fledged dual tuner PVR for both Freesat and Freeview HD services is further testament to the TV becoming an all-in-one solution but you need to make sure the external Hard Drive used is USB 3.0 compliant.
Basic SetupThe 50VT65 displayed very similar out of box characteristics to the 55-inch version we tested in the Professional ISFccc viewing modes with Red being excessive in the Greyscale, near white, and Green being mildly dominant in the darker shades. Neither was a particularly troubling tint but having seen the transformation even only fairly minor alterations can make, we knew that the VT65 had lots more to give. As we can see from the CIE to the left, colours were lining up very well to the Rec.709 standard already but red was both under-saturated and too bright whilst the magenta secondary inherited the over-luminance of Red. With a very good CMS and multi-point Gamma and White Balance controls, on board, we shouldn’t have any difficulty in ironing out the kinks.
Despite the similarity in both the pre-calibrated states and end results, we actually had to employ a different calibration strategy to get the 50VT65 to the standard of the 55-inch. We couldn’t get the gamma of the individual RGB channels following each other by going down the normal route of using the 2 point White Balance Sliders and then the 10pt Gamma and White Balance to fine tune. We only show the ‘accumulated’ gamma of all three channels in the Point Graph (to save confusion) and red was clipping badly from 80% stim. We could actually flatten it with the Contrast control, somewhat, but at the expense of light output so we ended up by using the 10pt controls only; to great effect as the charts above demonstrate. We have a literally ruler-flat greyscale and gamma and we’re ready to tickle the colours.
The results for the Gamut calibration were similarly fantastic although, to be fair, there wasn’t really much that needed doing. The main thing to note is that it’s far better to get Red fully saturating at 100% stimulation by concentrating on the Hue and Luminance controls than it is using the actual Saturation slider. Whilst you can make the CIE shown above look pretty that way, it would make a mess of the one below – showing colour performance at lower (and just as important) saturation levels. By following that method, we were able to line up both primary and secondary colours perfectly in their targets coming out of white, save for a very mild over-saturation of red at 75% intensity.
Contrast, Black Levels and Screen UniformityOf course we already knew that the 50VT65B would score in absolutely stellar fashion in this department, without really the need to whip out the Klein K-10 to take measures. Still, we know some of you love the numbers, even if, at these very low levels, minor variances in lighting can slightly affect the readings so take them with that caveat. On a full screen black pattern, our readings varied between 0.004 cd/m2 and 0.005 cd/m2, with the lower figure more prevalent. Either way, that’s very black and effectively means you’ll be at the mercy of your room’s lighting as to how well you can realise the VT65’s incredible dynamic range. In terms of showing mixed content contrast performance, the ANSI checkerboard test is better, if not perfect. Here we found the 50-inch VT out-performing the 55-inch tested in terms of peak light output but (very) marginally behind with its averaged black level. In fact, the 50VT65 was hugely consistent with the black portions all measuring 0.007 cd/m2. So, number-lovers, that’s an On/Off Contrast ratio of about 30,000:1 and an ANSI figure of 13,000:1. We’d fully expect that the brighter whites of the 50VT65 under ANSI conditions are owing to a more aggressive implementation of ABL (Automatic Brightness Limiter) circuitry in the larger panel sizes. In real world terms, we could discern no real practical difference between the two so don’t get hung up on those numbers.One thing we picked up on much more during our time with the 50VT65 was the plasma only phenomena of line bleed, whereby shadow-like extensions of objects will trail across the screen. It’s generally easiest to spot in the menus or with TV/Movie credits where the text will create faint lines running horizontally to either side but Panasonic seems to be handling it a little differently this year; for both good and bad. The reason we saw it more with this sample is foremost because of timing. At the time of writing, The World Snooker Championships are underway and we’ve seen many instances of the cue extending way beyond the tip, right across the baize and beyond. Even the shadows of the player’s arms will cause a flash across the table but Panasonic looks like it has some detection system running which quickly rids it. Sounds good but with the Snooker it isn’t and you can literally see horizontal pulsing bands that travel up and down the table. Now snooker is a particularly unusual test and line bleed hasn’t troubled otherwise, but for big fans of this particular sport, the VT65 might not be the best choice. As a softener, it’s difficult to see when the lights are on but low light is another story.
One final word on screen uniformity – the review sample, supplied by a retailer, was free of any banding, green blobs, purple patches or any other unwanted blemishes and the only way we could really spoil it was by doodling with the TouchPen.
Video ProcessingPanasonic’s new Hexa-Processing Engine is seriously good and with a few twiddles of the, otherwise unnecessary, added controls such as MPEG Remaster and Resolution Remaster and Noise Reduction settings, it’s possible to get even low quality content looking relatively good. We hate to admit that’s an important concern but in the days of Smart TV, the internet and YouTube et al, it is a concern for many.
The VT65 passed all the resolution tests with it scaling the images without any loss of detail or unwanted ringing. The Panasonic 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 P50VT65B had no problems correctly detecting both 3:2 (NTSC - USA/Japan) and 2:2 (PAL - European) film cadence, as long as the Film Cadence Mode is turned on.
When it came to 1080i material the 5 correctly deinterlaced and displayed both the video and film resolution tests provided 16:9 Overscan was set to off in the Screen settings. As per last year’s VTs, when it came to 1080p24 content it was able to produce superbly smooth movement and even on the torturous moving wedge tests on the Spears and Munsil disc. The P50VT65 was comfortably capable of hitting reference white and, even more impressively, was able to show 1% black simultaneously, giving a staggering dynamic range.
Panasonic’s latest 3000Hz Focused Field Drive meant it was able to ace the FPD Benchmark disc, where the full 1080 lines of resolution were clearly visible on the moving tests. The VT65 includes an Intelligent Frame Creation setting for 50 and 60Hz content, which is a frame interpolation feature that offers a choice of Off/Min/Mid/Max. As Steve found with the GT60, the Min setting does very little with motion perhaps appearing just ever so slightly clearer but we honestly never felt a pressing need to engage it, at all. That goes double (maybe 24x) for the 24p Smooth Film function which makes film appear as video shot on a (not very good) handheld camera.
Gaming Performance & Power ConsumptionThe 50VT65 performed identically to its bigger bro in this area of testing, returning a lowest reading of 39 milliseconds. That was achieved in the Dynamic Picture Mode so a bit of a turn-off for the eyes. The calibrated Pro mode was slightly less responsive with a 42 ms latency but not to play Okami HD on a calibrated screen, given the opportunity, would be a crime.
...lowest reading of 39 milliseconds.
- Standby: 0W
- Out-of-the-Box – Normal Mode: 340W
- Calibrated – Professional Mode: 167W
- Calibrated - 3D Mode: 366W
Panasonic TX-P50VT65B Picture Quality 2DWhat’s not to like really? Well we’ll get to that in a moment but let’s start off with the good news, because there’s plenty of it. You’d have to go a long way to beat the dynamic range of the VT65, in fact you’d need to be a time traveller such are the richness of the black levels that don’t really slip, even when mixed with plenty of bright content. Colours are also resplendent in their accuracy and the VT65 possesses such a rich cinematic feel, it’s difficult to describe. We realise it must take an awful lot of processing in the digital domain to produce video that looks so filmic but the ends results speak for themselves with images sure to please even the most demanding. The VT65’s light rejecting filter is also outstanding, maintaining a very strong contrast output, even in challenging rooms. Who needs LED when plasma can do this?
The answer to the question above will be those that can’t live with some of the natural idiosyncrasies of plasma technology and the VT65 is subject to some of those. Probably chief amongst those weaknesses is a tendency to show up a spot of dynamic false contouring (DFC). It’s most easily seen on subjects’ faces where green and magenta fringing might suddenly appear on cheek or jawbones but it does happen in other situations. We have to say that having spent a good amount of time with two VT65’s, instances really are very rare. We’ve numerous test clips and items on the TiVo hard-drive we’ve been using to check for DFC on the Panasonic plasma TVs for years, and by checking those, we’d say they’ve improved it by about 50 percent. We don’t wish to highlight it as a major flaw, most won’t notice, and few will care, but we know how discerning our readership can be. The only other thing worth checking for is your susceptibility to PDP flicker, because that will be there for some. Only a demo will answer that one for you!
And we’ve not even mentioned the motion handling, which is particularly improved with 50Hz content this year. The Panasonic’s have always been buttery smooth with 60Hz and 24p signals so it’s great to see them finally conquer the format used in our broadcasting and optical disc media; the VT65 is a thing of beauty when action is flying around the screen, maintaining fine detail and resolution, even with the most demanding of action movies or sports. OK, if you stick your face close to the screen, you might be able to see a teensy weensy bit of double edging, here and there, but we’d hope there’s no one out there watching like that. Simply put the Panasonic TX-P50VT65 delivers on all fronts with unbelievable dynamic range, flowing and fluid motion handling and a colour palette so natural, you could swear you were in amongst the on-screen action.
Picture Quality 3DReaders of the 55VT65B review will need to forgive a spot of repetition here. There’s only so much quality 3D content coming out and, frankly, there’s been none to take our fancy since it was here.
Not only has Panasonic improved upon the 2D to great effect, there’s a nice boost in 3D performance too. We again popped our copy of The Hobbit in to the player and returned to Lonely Mountain where the VT65 unearthed a treasure chest of 3D thrills. The use of positive parallax (depth) in the 3D version is truly outstanding and the VT65 delivered it with total assurance, creating a tremendously enveloping landscape with totally believable distant horizons and towering trolls that truly intimidated. The VT65 is not short of brightness in 3D either and the THX Cinema 3D provides a very decent starting point for those not watching a calibrated 3D display. Motion handling, as with the 2D images, was also mostly fantastic and crosstalk was at a minimum.
Turning away from frame packed 1080p24 Blu-ray, we put the VT65 through its paces with side-by-side content at 50Hz, i.e. what we see from our broadcasters, and there’s no better test than the Wimbledon footage shot by the BBC. Again, the VT65 came up smelling of roses with just the faintest hint of crosstalk on the tramlines as balls travelled with fierce velocity at diagonal angles across the net. Motion was similarly excellent to the Blu-ray presentations and the detail packed in with either format, was utterly spellbinding, at times. As a personal note, with anything but a single lamp on in the room, I was able to detect a fair bit of flicker but you really shouldn’t be watching 3D in a well-lit room.
- Superb analogue looking images
- Reference black levels
- Fantastic contrast ratio and dynamic range
- Very good out-of-the-box greyscale
- Reference greyscale after calibration
- Excellent out-of-the-box colour gamut
- Reference color gamut after calibration
- Reference level 3D performance
- Comprehensive calibration controls
- Wonderful motion handling
- Excellent video processing
- Built-in WiFi, Freesat HD and Freeview HD
- Excellent Smart TV platform
- Highly effective remote app
- Well designed menus and remote control
- Attractive design and excellent build quality
- Some DFC
- Fans quite loud in quieter scenes
- Some weird line bleed goings-on with the snooker
Panasonic TX-P50VT65B (VT65) Plasma TV Review
Panasonic’s new approach to making its suite of Smart features more accessible is immediately apparent when first setting up the VT65, with the My Home Screen proving a duly simple and clean interface that gets the balance just about spot-on. In fact Panasonic’s GUI now feels very streamlined and it’s all the better for that. The outward appearance of the VT65 matches what goes in with a sleek and chic one-sheet of glass design wrapped in a silver trim. It’s a touch wider than your average flagship TV coming out in 2013, but that’s thanks to a pair of slender front-firing speakers that deliver the goods in fine style, instead of proving an embarrassment so many flat panel TVs prove to be on the audio front.
Although the general interface is pleasingly de-cluttered, the new Picture Menu holds a huge array of controls – some necessary and useful, others not – but the all-important advanced calibration controls are both plentiful and excellent, allowing us to extract supremely accurate images from the VT65. Not only were colours sublimely natural, the Panasonic 2013 Plasma TV range is absolutely setting the current bar for black levels, dynamic range and motion handling, producing such beautifully filmic images you could be forgiven for thinking you’d be transported to a cinema of yesteryear. Not that the 50VT65 can’t hold its own in more illuminated surroundings; the combination of an incredibly effective light filter and new panel brightness settings meant we could have both accuracy and brightness. Take that LED. There’s almost nothing to spoil the party bar the occasional spot of false contouring but we’re getting very close to the limits of what plasma technology can feasibly achieve.
The Panasonic TX-P50VT65B is about all you could ever want from a TV. It has looks and pictures to die for, lots of useful apps and features and it’s incredibly easy to use thanks to a well-designed interface and control schemes. To break it down even further – the Panasonic VT65B is the best consumer grade TV currently available so we’ve no choice but to award it a thoroughly deserved AVForums Reference Status. Bring it on OLED!
Suggested retail price when reviewed: £1,849.00
Contrast/Dynamic Range/Black Level10
3D Picture Quality10
Ease Of Use9
Value for Money9
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