Panasonic VX200 (TH-85VX200E) 85 Inch 3D TV Review
Steve Withers goes Pro and enters the world of mega sized 3D...from a plasma!
IntroductionWhen it comes to Panasonic’s Professional TH85VX200 plasma display there is only one goal; state of the art performance achieved without compromise. Of course such single minded ambition comes at a price, £42,000 to be precise and that doesn’t even include the stand. Should you wish to purchase the custom stand you’ll have to fork out an additional £5,200 but believe me you would be best advised to do so because this 85” behemoth would crush any normal display stand. Of course you can pick up a custom wall mount for a mere £2,500 but you might want to consider reinforcing your house. At this point I suspect the question you’re asking yourself is “what kind of performance do you get from a display that costs more than a luxury car and doesn’t even come with speakers and a tuner?” Well let’s take a look and find out...
Styling and DesignThere’s no denying that VX200 is designed to make a statement and it achieves that with ease. This display is huge but it still oozes sophistication with a classic look and exemplary build quality. This is hands down the most solidly constructed display I have ever seen and the matt black brush metal bezel really sets the VX200 apart from the usual gloss black bezels and single sheets of glass beloved of TV designers at the moment. Despite the 85” screen being bigger than some projector screens the chassis is only 10cm deep which is surprisingly slim for a display of these dimensions. Seriously, this beast is big and although Panasonic include lifting handles you would be better off enlisting the aid of a forklift truck. The front is beautifully clean with no lights or glowing logos and there are some basic controls at the bottom right hand side of the screen. The screen itself is non-reflective which also makes a nice change and is clearly designed so that people can effectively use the VX200 in brighter environments.
The only good thing I can say about the remote is that it has a back light but otherwise it is a major disappointment. It is essentially a standard black plastic Panasonic remote but with some different buttons and a few obvious ones missing; there’s no volume control for example. Obviously the fact that the VX200 is aimed at the custom installation market means that Panasonic expect the VX200 to be included as part of a integrated system using a high end controller such as a Crestron. Still it is surprising that a display at this price point should have such a disappointing remote, the Kuro for example came with an attractive brushed metal remote that complemented the display.
The 3D glasses are the latest version of the Panasonic active shutter eyewear that was launched towards the end of last year. The newer design is a vast improvement over Panasonic’s original specs which had a tendency to make you look like a Star Trek extra. The new design sensibly blocks out light at the sides and they are reasonably comfortable to wear but as with all active shutter glasses they're still quite heavy which results in you being more aware of their presence than with light passive glasses. What is a surprise is that despite the £42,000 price tag, the VX200 only comes with one pair! I know that anyone who can stump up for a display like this will no doubt be able to afford plenty of additional glasses but it still seems incredibly stingy.
The VX200 is designed as a professional monitor and as such there is no built-in TV tuner or speakers. Clearly the intention is to use external sources for the video signals and this is sensible, certainly I never use the internal tuner on my Kuro at home. The same is true on the audio side, anyone buying a display like this will obviously be using outboard amplification as part of a full home cinema setup; once again my Kuro doesn’t have built-in speakers and I use an AV receiver for the audio.
Since the VX200 is designed for the professional installers market, the rear connections utilise Panasonic’s unique input boards that can be customised to the end user’s needs. In the case of the display that I reviewed it was configured with 4 HDMI inputs, a LAN port, a VGA socket and of course a RS232 control port. This really is all you need for a modern professional monitor and in fact in a full home cinema setup you would probably only use one HDMI input as all video would go through a video processor or receiver first.
Menus and Set UpGiven there is no TV tuner, audio capability or internet platform the setup process is fairly straight forward. In fact the main problems arise from physically moving 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. Although the VX200 does have a LAN port this is not for use with Panasonic’s Viera Connect internet platform, or in fact Panasonic’s old Viera Cast platform; the VX200 has neither. The LAN socket is for including the VX200 as part of a network or for use with an external web browser. Once again this makes sense as the use of a external web browser will provide far better internet connectivity than even Panasonic’s latest Viera platform.
The menu themselves reflect the Professional nature of the VX200 and are functional, comprehensive and straight forward. They are also an improvement over Panasonic’s consumer menus in two areas, firstly they have numbers on the scales and secondly the menu doesn’t appear over the centre of the screen when calibrating which makes my life a lot easier.
Unfortunately even this professional menu still suffers from Panasonic’s annoying habit of hiding important functions in unrelated sub-menus. As always the first thing I did was select a multiburst signal on my video generator and as I expected I could see loss of resolution from scaling. The selected aspect ratio was set to 16:9 but in order to turn off the over-scanning you had to go into the Pos./Size menu and select 1:1 Pixel Mode. Once I had done that the VX200 was displaying a full 1080p image but why not include 1:1 Pixel Mode as a choice under aspect ratios?
Another hidden feature is in the Options menu, where you can turn off the annoying 3D warning which appears every time you play 3D content; once again, why not include it in the 3D sub-menu? Also hiding away in the Options menu is the Memory Lock which includes the option to turn on or off the ISF mode. This doesn’t actually add any additional controls, it just renames the Cinema picture mode as ISF Mode Night and the Dynamic picture mode as ISF Mode Day. I’m not quite sure why Panasonic didn’t just include the modes from the beginning but they are there, buried below three sub-menus.
Within the Setup menu there is a sub-menu called Signal that includes various controls for the input signal but also includes the Frame Creation on/off control. This control becomes 24p Smooth Film when the signal is at 24 frames per a second but in both cases it seems more sensible to include these controls in the Picture menu. There is also a control for selecting 60Hz or 48Hz when viewing 3D material and if you are watching a movie, I would use the 48Hz option to maintain the film-like experience.
These idiosyncrasies aside the majority of the menu layout is very sensible with most of the other picture controls residing in the Picture menu, including Contrast, Brightness, Sharpness and White Balance. The White Balance controls the colour temperature and the options are Warm, Studio, Normal and Cool. As a general rule of thumb Warm is a good starting point before manually calibrating the greyscale. There is also an Advanced sub-menu that includes the Gamma control which provides a choice of S-Curve, 1.0, 2.0, 2.2 and 2.6; as always we use a gamma of 2.2 for our reviews. In addition to the Gamma there is the two point White Balance controls for calibrating the greyscale, as well as the Colour Management System (CMS) for calibrating the colour gamut. Finally within the Advanced menu is a control called Cinema Reality which responsible for the 3:2 pull down of film based material with interlaced material. I’d recommend leaving this on, especially if you watch a lot of NTSC DVDs.
The Setup menu includes the previously mentioned Signal controls as well as the 3D settings and the more general setup controls, including the option to bypass the internal scaler if the VX200 is being used with an outboard video processor. The 3D Settings menu includes controls for turning 3D on or off as well as selecting the type of 3D format, including Side by Side, Top and Bottom or Frame Sequential.
FeaturesDespite the hefty price tag the VX200 is still a professional monitor and as such it is devoid of a lot of the features that one would expect on a consumer display. In fact as I previously mentioned the VX200 doesn’t have a TV tuner, built in speakers or an internet TV platform. The features of this display all relate to video performance, which speaking as something of a purist is a good thing. When you take a look at the listed features in the marketing literature they are largely free of the useless functions and hype that sadly are all too common on consumer sets these days.
Among the performance related features are the inclusion of a new Professional-quality processing engine that raises the color processing of each pixel from the conventional 20-bit level to a 30-bit level. In addition the display can render the Digital Cinema colour gamut as well as the HDTV standard (Rec.709) for faithful color reproduction. Of course no out-of-the-box preset will be exact but for the first time Panasonic has included a CMS on one of their Professional displays which will hopefully allow for more accurate calibration.
Obviously 3D remains a priority at Panasonic and VX200 includes all the latest refinements to their active shutter system. One of the areas that Panasonic has been especially successful in is minimising instances of crosstalk and the VX200 includes enhancements to improve this further. These enhancements include newly developed Fast-Decay Phosphors for the Red and Green Phosphors which reduce the afterimage time to 1/3 that of conventional plasma displays; as a result, brighter, sharper images are produced for 3D content. The VX200 also features the world's first high-precision Motion Vector Prediction function. This provides precise luminous control that predict front/back movement as well as left/right and diagonal movement to increase the drive speed and produce clear 3D images even on a large screen.
Finally the VX200 adds ultra-high speed drive technology, which shortens the luminous time to 1/4 compared to previous models and thus minimises crosstalk even on large screens to produce clear and detailed 3D images. The highly precise timing control for the opening and closing of the shutters minimises unwanted light leakage to enable clear 3D viewing. These new performance features are all interesting from a review perspective because they will undoubtedly filter down to Panasonic’s consumer displays throughout the rest of 2011.
Measured Results Out of the BoxPrior to taking any out-of-the-box measurements I made sure that all the picture settings were correctly set up, including the previously mentioned 1:1 Pixel Mode and I ensured that any Frame Creation function was switched off. I chose the Cinema (ISF Night) mode and I also selected a Gamma of 2.2 and a White Balance of Warm. The Colour Gamut control provides a number of choices including Native, Digital Cinema Colour, Custom and HDTV. Custom gives you access to the CMS and HDTV is meant to approximate Rec709 so for the purposes of the initial measurements I chose HDTV. I set the Brightness and Contrast controls correctly using my video signal generator and I left the Colour and Hue controls at zero. I also checked that the Sharpness control was best left at zero, at this setting there was no ringing or softening of the image.
As you can see from the graph the gamma performance of the VX200 was excellent with the gamma itself measuring exactly 2.2 and the luminance also measuring precisely. The greyscale performance wasn’t as good but was still reasonable for an out-of-the-box measurement. As the graph shows, blue is tracking about 10% over the target and red was about 10% below which resulted in some discolouration on the stair step greyscale test screen. The good news is that all three colours are tracking in a straight line which should mean I can calibrate the greyscale easily with the two point white balance control.
The colour performance was also impressive for an out-of-the-box measurement with most colours measuring a DeltaE of below 3. The Luminance measurements are very good and some of the other errors will be reduced once the greyscale has been correctly calibrated. Clearly the biggest errors are in cyan but there are also errors in red which could be seen in viewing and hopefully I can reduce these using the CMS. However overall the colour gamut is at least close to Rec709 and reflects Panasonic’s attempts to create a colour space that is close to that used for HDTV.
Calibrated ResultsIn order to calibrate the VX200 I selected the Custom option in Colour Gamut which gave me access to the CMS. Usually with a CMS you have controls on at least colour and hue but the best will allow you to adjust colour, hue and luminance. In addition you want a CMS to provide independent control over the three primary colours (red, green and blue) and ideally also the three secondary colours (cyan, magenta and yellow). The approach that Panasonic has take on the VX200 is to allow you to adjust the amounts of the three rimary colours within each primary colour. This allows you to adjust the position of each primary colour on the CIE chart and since the secondary colours are made up of combinations of two of the primary colours you can adjust those as well to a degree. This approach takes a bit of getting used to and personally I would prefer a more traditional approach but it works and it is a step up on previous Professional displays from Panasonic that had no CMS at all. I also used the two point White Balance control to calibrate the levels of red, blue and green at 80IRE and 30IRE.
It only took a couple of iterations to calibrate the greyscale and as you can see from the graph, once calibrated the greyscale is capable of reference performance. Now not only is the gamma measuring at 2.2 but all three colours are tracking at the target of 100 and the DeltaEs are all less than 1.0 which is essentially perfect. Given that there are ten point (and even 20 point) greyscale controls on displays that cost a fraction of the VX200 I’m surprised that it only has a two point control but given the reference result that I achieved the addition of ten point control wouldn’t actually be able to improve it any further.
One of the reasons that an accurate greyscale is so important is that it provides the base on which the rest of the image is built. The best analogy is that the greyscale is the canvas and the colour gamut is the colour that the artist paints onto that canvas. If the canvas isn’t completely white which in video terms is called D65 then any discolouration will affect the colours the artist adds. This effect can be easily seen once you have correctly calibrated the greyscale because a lot of the errors in the colour gamut will be reduced once the canvas is accurate. This was true of the VX200, once white was calibrated to the reference level of D65 the colour gamut was much more accurate.
However the addition of a CMS meant that I should be able to improve the colour accuracy even further and with careful adjustments to the ratios of red, green and blue that proved to be the case. As the graph shows green is now perfect and blue very close to perfect. In the case of green this is important because green forms the largest part of the visible spectrum and as such our eyes are most sensitive to errors in green. There are still some minor errors in red and the three secondary colours but all the colours have DeltaEs of less than 3 which is essentially indistinguishable to the human eye. This is an excellent performance and is essentially reference although I would have liked greater control over the secondary colours.
Video ProcessingThe performance of the VX200 in the video processing tests was excellent overall, with just a couple of minor issues. Using both the PAL and NTSC HQV benchmark discs the SMPTE colour bar test was reproduced correctly with the VX200 scaling the full 576i and 480i images without any loss of detail or unwanted ringing. The VX200 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 VX200 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.
Much to my surprise the VX200 managed to correctly detect 2:3 (NTSC - USA/Japan) cadence as well as correctly lock onto film based material in the film detail test (as long as the Cinema Reality function is on). This is the first time I’ve seen a Panasonic display do this but sadly it still couldn’t correctly detect 2:2 (PAL - European) cadence. However it is a step in the right direction and hopefully this will filter down to Panasonic’s consumer displays. The VX200 also performed well when displaying film material with scrolling video text and correctly displayed the words without blurring or shredding.
The VX200 also performed extremely well in most of the tests on the HQV Blu-ray using high definition content. With the player set to 1080i the display correctly deinterlaced 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 VX200 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 VX200 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 VX200. The headroom performance of the VX200 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 VX200 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 peak 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 VX200 showed picture information down to reference black (video level 17) which is good because we want to see detail below to video level 17 but nothing below it.
There was a lot of controversy last year relating to the processing of 50Hz material on Panasonic’s plasma range. After initially denying there was a problem, Panasonic finally admitted that the optimisation of their plasmas for 3D playback had resulted in some issues with 50Hz material. When we asked them about this problem in relation to their 2011 lineup Panasonic’s answer was a rather cryptic “we are always trying to improve our performance”. With the VX200 I used the moving zone plate test at 50Hz, 60Hz and 24p to look for any processing issues and whilst the problem was still there it was much less obvious than on previous displays.
This is especially significant when you consider this is an 85” screen and it would seem that whilst not completely eradicating problem, Panasonic have indeed made improvements. This certainly bodes well for their 2011 lineup and we are looking forward to reviewing them in the near future.
Overall this is an excellent set of results and the video processing of the VX200 is very good with the notable exception of 2:2 cadence detection which Panasonic really needs to correct and some minor issues with images encoded at 50Hz.
Gaming PerformanceWhilst I doubt the VX200 will be used predominantly as a display for gaming the input lag was reasonably low at 30ms which should keep even the hardcore gamers happy. Of course if you are lucky enough to use the VX200 for gaming the results are spectacular with the large screen size, accurate image and fast response time all combining to produce an exciting gaming experience. The PS3 I was using was outputting at 60Hz and the resulting images were detailed and artefact free. When you add 3D into the equation the increased screen size really comes into play and the lack of crosstalk and the bright image resulted in an incredibly immersive experience. When playing Gran Tourismo in 3D for example, you were far more aware of the dimensionality of the track and how sharp oncoming corners were. It didn’t stop me from crashing of course but that’s down to my driving not the VX200’s performance.
Energy ConsumptionI strongly doubt that anyone buying the VX200 is going to care about its energy consumption and you wouldn’t really expect an 85” plasma to be especially efficient in this area. Whilst even very large LCD displays can use surprisingly little energy the nature of the plasma technology means that it will always use more power than an LCD. The brighter and bigger the image, the greater the amount of energy the plasma uses to drive the phosphors. In the case of the VX200 a window raster at 0IRE measured 80 watts, at 50IRE it measured 150 watts and at 100IRE it measured 425 watts. These are exactly the kind of numbers you would xpect from a display of this size and with normal viewing material the measurement averaged between 300 and 400 watts. As with all modern displays the VX200 used less than 1 watt in standby.
2D Picture QualityAny display’s picture quality is based on a number of elements - the greyscale, the colour gamut and the video processing - if the display gets these elements right the resulting images can be spectacular. As I’ve mentioned earlier in this review the VX200 gets these essential basics right and as such the resulting images are some of the best I’ve seen from a display. The VX200 reproduced the reference demo footage on the Spears & Munsil Blu-ray disc superbly with sharp images composed of natural colours, excellent shadow detail, smooth gradations and an abundance of fine detail. This fine detail was all the more obvious because there was very little PWM noise which is a real plus for a plasma of this size.
Perhaps the area where the VX200 really excelled was in contrast ratio and black levels. The dynamic range was very impressive and the display’s ability to show dark and light images in the same frame or move from shadow to daylight with ease gave the picture a real sense of dimensionality, even in 2D. However it was the black levels that really impressed and for the first time I saw blacks that matched my Kuro at home. These deep blacks really added to the already excellent picture and created images that were stunning in their clarity, accuracy and dynamism.
I often use my Blu-ray of ‘I Am Legend’ to test out the capabilities of displays but with the exception of my Kuro this is the first time I’ve had the experience of not being able to tell where the black bars ended and the bezel began; this is one of the best indications of how good the blacks are on this display. I like using ‘I Am Legend’ because it has a nice detailed image, plenty of dark scenes for testing shadow detail and blacks and some clever use of colour to check a display’s accuracy. The VX200 passed with flying colours (no pun intended), producing a beautiful film-like image, with a natural appearance, amazing shadow detail, contrast and blacks and free of judder and artefacts.
If the VX200 was amazing with high definition material it was equally as impressive with standard definition content. Obviously with a screen this large the lack of resolution will be obvious but the high quality video processing resulted in images that actually looked very good on the 85” screen. As with the high definition content the accurate greyscale and colours and the superb contrast ratio and black levels result in wonderful looking standard definition images. The only real problem was that I could still see some ‘fizzing’ that is a result of a continuing problem with 50Hz material. It certainly wasn’t as bad as on the 65” VT20 that I reviewed in the summer so it does look as though Panasonic have been trying to address the issue but it was still there. This is a shame because were it not for my continuing concerns over 50Hz I would have no hesitation in awarding the VX200 a Reference badge.
3D Picture QualityIt is no secret that Panasonic have put a lot of their resources behind 3D and it could even be said that in their desire to optimise 3D performance they were prepared to compromise on certain elements of their 2D performance (50Hz). Therefore given the amount of innovation and development that Panasonic has put into 3D I expected the VX200 to perform well but I wasn’t prepared for how well. This is the best 3D performance I have seen to date and this is no doubt due to the combination of Panasonic’s technology, the bigger screen size and an almost complete lack of crosstalk.
When it comes to full HD 3D I have found that Panasonic’s displays have the edge over the competition in terms of both handling motion and crosstalk and the VX200 represents the zenith of their current capabilities. The use of their high speed drive technology, high speed illumination and fast decay phosphors has clearly paid dividends and resulted in a reference 3D performance. The newly designed glasses also seem to add to the performance and I didn’t find myself being distracted by flicker as I had on other Panasonic displays.
I have mentioned in previous reviews that with 3D size does matter and the VX200 proves it. Watching 3D content on its 85” screen was far more immersive than at any other time and a general lack of crosstalk meant that I never found myself being drawn out of the experience. There were occasional instances of crosstalk but you really had to look for them and they were never distracting. The display was able to handle fast movement without ghosting or artefacts which was especially obvious when playing fast moving 3D games. The image was also impressively bright even in the calibrated mode which personally I preferred due to its more natural looking colours. Of course if you want a brighter image in 3D you can always create another preset with the contrast set higher but you need to be careful of setting it too high or you will compromise the image and colour balance.
When watching scenes from ‘Avatar’ I found the 3D really enhanced my viewing experience and was never just a gimmick. I found myself being drawn into James Cameron’s carefully composed images and for the first time really appreciated his artistry. One interesting side effect of 3D is that I began to notice more detail in the image as my eyes took in all the additional depth information. This might be one reason why you don’t really notice the loss of resolution with passive systems but with full HD active shutter displays like the VX200 the level of detail is staggering. This is without doubt reference standard 3D and I can only hope that this level of performance filters down to Panasonic’s more affordable consumer displays during 2011.
- Dynamic range is the best on the market
- Black levels are the best you will see on any current display
- Very clean image with little PWM noise
- Reference 3D performance
- Almost no crosstalk
- Very good greyscale and colour gamut out-of-the-box
- Reference greyscale and colour gamut after calibration
- Greyscale calibration controls
- Colour Management System
- Excellent colour and shadow detail gradation
- Excellent video processing with the option to use an external processor
- Attractive design
- Professional menu system is an improvement on the consumer version
- Excellent build quality
- Very expensive
- Minor issues with 50Hz material
- No TV tuner, speakers or internet platform
- CMS could be more comprehensive
- Certain controls are hidden in unnecessary sub-menus
- Unable to detect 2:2 cadence correctly
- Only includes one set of active shutter glasses
- Remote control is a major disappointment
Panasonic VX200 (TH-85VX200E) 85 Inch 3D TV Review
Panasonic’s Professional TH-85VX200 represents the current state of the art in plasma technology but as with all things at the ‘bleeding edge’ it comes with a price tag to match. Still you get what you pay for in this life and the VX200 offers size, performance and build quality that no other current display can come close to. It offers a reference greyscale and colour performance coupled with excellent video processing. It also has one of the best native contrast ratios on the market and the deepest blacks I’ve seen since the Kuro. In fact the general lack of PWM noise and the corresponding fine detail resolution are actually an improvement on the Kuro.
When watching high definition 24p material the performance is nothing short of reference and with 3D material the VX200 represents the gold standard amongst 3D displays. The only real problem that the VX200 has is Panasonic’s continuing issue with 50Hz material and it is only my concerns over this that prevent me from awarding a Reference badge overall.
The VX200 shows that to achieve a no-compromise high end performance is certainly possible, it just doesn’t come cheap. I guess that explains why Pioneer stopped making Kuros in the first place. The real question is why someone would pay so much for a plasma when you can achieve an equivalent performance and size from a projector. The obvious answer is that there are certain situations where a projector isn’t practical and in a professional environment where cost is less of an issue the VX200 makes an excellent alternative.
There is certainly an argument for questioning the sense in reviewing a display that is so clearly out of almost everyone’s price range but what the VX200 offers is a glimpse of things to come and from that perspective it is very interesting. If Panasonic can resolve the processing issues with 50Hz and produce blacks as good as the ones on the VX200, then we might finally see a worthy successor to the Kuro in 2011, fingers crossed...
Suggested retail price when reviewed: £42,000.00
Contrast/Dynamic Range/Black Level10
3D Picture Quality9
Ease Of Use8
Value for Money5
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