Panasonic XT50 (TX-P50XT50) 50 Inch 3D Plasma TV Review
Mark Hodgkinson takes a look at Panasonic's HD Ready 3D plasma and discovers a rather strange fruit
IntroductionIt’s a sign of the times that the XT50B is one of very few non-1080p displays we’ve been sent in 2012. More unusual still, the Panasonic XT50 is an HD Ready (720p) only TV with 3D capabilities, making it a very rare beast indeed. Are obvious concerns centre around the scaling and handling of 3D material, in particular, but we’ll also be watchful on how it handles 1080p/i content too. Is there a place for HD Ready when 4K is just about to hit the market and will low res equal low rent? There’s only one way to find out; 3D Specs synced and batteries inserted into the remote control and we’re off…
Styling, Connections and MenusThe Panasonic TX-P50XT50B is a doppelganger for the UT50 we reviewed back in June 2012. In fact we’d go as far as saying it’s the exact same hull employed in both TVs. It’s already become trite to mention the similarities to a certain Korean manufacturer's designs that the 2012 Panasonics hold so we promise this is the last time we mention it. The XT50 features a transparent ‘crystal’ strip surrounding the fairly narrow gloss black bezel to the top and sides and an attractive brushed silver accent to the bottom of the bezel where the infra-red sensor and power indicator lights are located. The base stand perhaps most betrays the cost cutting nature of the XT50 and it’s black, bland and fairly lightweight but it doesn’t really offend once you’ve got the screen mounted upon it.The Panasonic XT50B isn’t really going to make the best choice for those looking for a sleek looking wall mount, it’s about 8.5cm thick and has out facing HDMI connections on the rear of the panel. The fact there’s only 2 HDMI ports is another nod to the budget nature of the TV. Joining the digital video inputs, on the rear connections panel, are legacy SCART, Component and Composite analogue inputs; stereo audio jacks; the aerial connection and a LAN port. On the side is the CAM module interface, a SD card slot, 2 USB ports and the headphone jack.
The XT50 comes with the older style Panasonic remote control but retains, almost exactly, the button layout of the recently reviewed higher tier products. Not in the box but necessary for testing the 3D aspect we had a pair of Panasonic's USB rechargeable TY-ER3D4MU glasses. As we’ve said previously we’re big fans of the new specs with them weighing in at just 26g and being very neutral in tint.
The Picture menu contains a choice of Viewing Modes including Dynamic, Normal, Cinema, True Cinema and Game. This sub-menu also includes all the usual picture controls such as Contrast for adjusting the luminance of the video signal, Brightness for adjusting the black level, Colour control and Sharpness. There is Vivid Colour which boosts the luminance of the colours and C.A.T.S. (Contrast Automatic Tracking System) which is designed to adjust picture contrast according to ambient light in the room but this can cause fluctuations in the image and is best left off. Finally there is a P-NR (Noise Reduction) function that is designed to reduce compression artefacts but we found this control to be of no real benefit so turned it off.
Also in the Picture Menu there are the Advanced Settings where you will find the 16:9 Overscan control. There is also a control for Intelligent Frame Creation or 24p Smooth Film (when the content is encoded at 24p) which can be set to Off/Min/Mid/Max. The Side Panel control increases or decreases the brightness of the side panels, whilst the Pixel Orbiter and Scrolling Bar functions are designed to reduce and eliminate image retention, respectively. Options we don’t have present in all the 1080p Panasonics we’ve seen in 2012 are any calibration controls or a Clear Cinema setting. The former will no doubt limit the ultimate image accuracy of the XT50 whilst the latter may impinge on the quality of film based content displayed on the XT50.
AudioThe comparative hulk of the chassis of the XT50 does provide the opportunity to move a little more air than the more slimline Panasonics, which have all been fitted with the new ‘8 Train’ speaker systems to compensate, but the 2 x 10w down-firing speakers on board the XT50 don’t really take advantage of the added depth. They’re not bad, just very drab, uninspiring and flat. Dialogue is clear enough and you have to push them quite hard to get them to distort but that’s about all we can say for them. During the review period we were very happy to have quite a humble Soundbar to cover as well; let’s put it that way.
Out-of-the-Box MeasurementsTypically out-of-the-box Standard or Normal modes provide an image awash with blue energy, partly as a measure to combat a bright living room but more to fool the eye in to thinking whites are somehow ‘whiter’ than is the reality. In actual fact, there’s an industry standard for the colour and temperature of white that’s nothing like what is represented below, in the RGB Balance Graph which gives an indication of the relative amount of Red, Blue and Green in the greyscale, i.e from black to white. If we can get this mix correct, we’ll be providing a neutral background on which the colour signal(s) can be portrayed correctly. The XT50 in Normal mode is slightly overblowing the blue channel and green channels but we’ve seen far worse.
In the CIE chart, which is shown in the graphs to the right, we can see that crimes against colour are far more heinous but we’re almost tempted to congratulate Panasonic on creating such a wide colour gamut but as there’s no domestically available content to take advantage, we’ll hope that by switching to the True Cinema Mode things are brought more into line. Unusually, the relative luminance of the colours isn’t that overstated but the gross over-saturation more than ‘makes up’ for that.
Calibrated ResultsSince we’ve no advanced calibration controls to play with, all we had to use was Contrast, Brightness and Colour to right the wrongs shown above. Of course the native abilities of True Cinema would play a major part in the eventual result. The outcome wasn’t up to the standards we’ve seen from the 1080p TVs from Panasonic but probably better than we could have hoped for.
Greyscale tracking was unusually non-linear but by manipulating the Contrast slider to its sweet spot we were able to bring Delta Errors to below the threshold where they’re practically visible to the human eye but it was a bit of hotch-potch; Blacks are blue, the mid-scale is slightly green tinted and whites are a tad pink. It’s certainly better than the starting point but we’d wish Panasonic had seen fit to employ a 2 point white balance control in to the XT50. Just because it’s lower resolution doesn’t mean it won’t benefit from being accurate.
Colour performance was vastly improved from the factory default and a couple of clicks down on the Colour control saw a fantastic result at the traditional 75% luminance/100% saturation point measure. If you look to the right of the charts above, you’ll see the colour luminance is generally a bit high but this was done deliberately. Look below and you’ll see a representation on how the colours track at lower saturation levels – i.e. when they’re paler – and we found that reducing the Colour control too much had quite an adverse effect on the less saturated colours, especially noticeable with skin tones. Calibration is a balancing job, most of the time, and these new charts really arm the calibrator with a lot more useful data. Overall colour tracking is very good but not quite to the standards of the higher-end plasmas.
Video ProcessingPanasonic’s video processing has been a major strong point this year. The XT50, however, was a bit of a mixed bag. As we would expect, scaling of standard definition signals presented no issues but the lack of a film mode meant the XT50 was unable to pick up on film content sent in an interlaced signal, so if you’re still using a DVD player connected (likely) by Scart, you might notice some unnecessary deinterlacing steps and resultant moire type patterns and break up of solid lines. The actual deinterlacing of video content was sub-par also, at 1080i, with some visible scaling artefacts around edges. One of the major challenges for a 720p panel is to display a 1080p24 signal cleanly and correctly and the XT50 struggled a little here too with, again, some obvious scaling artefcats present. So Blu-rays are displayed with nothing like the pristineness of the 1080p Panasonics.
Contrast and Black LevelThe XT50 doesn’t possess the same black levels or dynamic range of the 1080p TVs, in fact it’s quite a way off but it would still give almost every LED TV more than a run for its money and has the advantage of perfect screen uniformity, where for most LED’s that’s an unobtainable goal. The filer isn’t great – if there's one at all – so the averaged 0.054cd/m2 black readings from the ANSI checkerboard pattern will look considerably weaker in bright conditions. Turn the lights down and it’s a different story so we’d suggest some consideration over how, where and when its used is necessary. On the flip side, the XT50 was capable of hitting a searing 170 cd/m2 in True Cinema but since we target around 120cd/m2, on a window pattern, ANSI contrast was restricted to around 1,700:1, which is good but not great.
Gaming PerformanceThe XT50 doesn’t particularly cover itself glory in terms of input latency, registering around 50 milliseconds in Game Mode, putting it toward the lower mid-tier of sets we’ve tested this year. In consolation, most console games run at the native resolution of the XT50, i.e. 720p, so at least there’s not often scaling to worry about if you set your console to output that signal.
Picture Quality – 2DAs we mentioned in the video processing on the Test Results page, the XT50 sometimes struggled with content with a resolution of 1920 x 1080, whether it was sent progressively, like Blu-ray, or interlaced as used in Broadcast HD material. We could also clearly see the dip in resolution from around 9ft from the screen, particularly with close-up shots and fairly static content. Our eyes have been tested as pretty much spot on so mileage will vary but don’t believe the people that tell you there’s no practical difference between 1080p and 720p on a fifty inch screen at those kinds of distances. There is. On the flip side of that, of course, the XT50 handled standard definition content extremely well so if you’re viewing habits are somewhat ‘halfway house’ between Standard Definition and High Definition, then this Panasonic might just serve you well.
Other big bonuses were a better handling of 50Hz content under panning than the 1080p Panasonic plasma line-up, with only a hint of break up with fast movements, and an almost complete absence of that other failing of the higher-end TVs, dynamic false contouring. Clearly the driving of the TVs is a little different. Further evidence of that came through the diminished contrast and black levels of the XT50 when compared to the ‘big boys’ and whilst dynamic range is still impressive, it’s not even close to that of the likes of the VT50 when in a dimly lit viewing environment. Colour accuracy was very good, however, and although the XT50 does have some shortcomings we still found it better to watch than many 1080p TVs we’ve had in for testing. It’s good but not great.
Picture Quality – 3DAgain the Panasonic TX-P50XT50B proved a bit of an inconsistent performer here. Whist 1080p Blu-rays were dealt with reasonably well – again there were scaling artefacts – we also were somewhat put off by some very noticeable luminance fluctuations during both Avatar (yes, again) and Happy Feet 2. The ghosting effects of crosstalk were also brought to bear, with bright objects on darker backgrounds and the handling of side by side material at 1080i also left something to be desired. Putting on our favourite testing of that format – the BBC’s Wimbledon Coverage – revealed a distinct increase of the amount of crosstalk and jagged edges to objects and faces. If 3D is of major importance to you, you’d probably be best served looking elsewhere.
- Excellent SD scaling
- Solid blacks and contrast
- Very accurate colours
- Very good feature set
- Noticeable resolution loss and scaling artefacts with 1080 content
- Brightness fluctuations with 3D
- Lack of 2:2 cadence detection
- No Calibration controls
Panasonic XT50 (TX-P50XT50) 50 Inch 3D Plasma TV Review
The Panasonic XT50 is a decent looking display, with the silver accent to the bottom and the ‘crystal’ strip surrounding the top and sides of the gloss black bezel resulting in the contemporary look Panasonic have been striving for. It’s unfortunate there are only 2 HDMI ports to the rear, however, so you’ll need to consider what you have to plumb in to it before purchase, although we certainly weren’t unhappy with another of the cost saving measures, in the shape of the old school Panasonic remote control in the box. Another slight disappointment was the lack of calibration controls in the otherwise familiar menu system.
Despite that lack of controls once we’d optimised the available basic settings we were able to extract a very convincing palette. Video processing was lacking, when compared to the 1080p Panasonic’s, and the inability to correctly detect film cadences will mean your DVD collection will be best passed through a scaling player rather than leaving it to the TV to cope with the demands. We could certainly notice a loss of resolution with 2D and 3D Blu-rays and some slight scaling artefacts around the edges of both. There were also some brightness fluctuations with 3D Blu-ray that could be a touch distracting. Whilst contrast performance and black levels were good, again they don’t touch the likes of the ST, GT and VT50’s and an ineffective (or missing) filter means the XT50 doesn’t handle brighter environments particularly well. What the XT50 does do very well, is scale standard definition signals so if your TV diet is a fairly even split of the two, or with a heavier emphasis on SD, then the XT50 is worthy of consideration. The Panasonic XT50 will not suit those that watch a lot of HD and 3D content and gamers seeking low latency thrills are also best directed elsewhere.
The Panasonic XT50 is a decent TV but definitely a long way off the greatness of the higher end plasmas from the manufacturer. You could certainly do worse but we’d probably steer you toward Panasonic’s UT50 as an alternative for only a little more outlay.
Suggested retail price when reviewed: £659.00
Contrast/Dynamic Range/Black Level7
3D Picture Quality6
Ease Of Use7
Value for Money6
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