Last year's GT30 was a very good and very successful TV for Panasonic, perhaps a little too good and too successful. Throughout 2011 the display won a boat load of awards and sold like hot cakes to consumers looking for high-end performance, without the high-end price. The reason for this was that the GT30 offered almost identical performance to the VT30, with the exception of the more expensive TV's black filter, and at a reduced price. Yes the GT30 didn't come with the single sheet of glass facia, the snazzy remote or two pairs of glasses but in terms of performance there was little to differentiate the two displays. The result of this was that the GT30 took sales away from the higher end VT30 and probably cost Panasonic in terms of lost margin in an already highly competitive market.
This left Panasonic with something of a dilemma in 2012 and their solution appears to involve reducing the number of screen sizes for the GT50, so as not to compete directly with the VT50. This year the GT50 only comes in two screen sizes, a 42" and a 50" and since there's no 42" VT50, that means anyone looking for a TV with that screen size should be adding the GT50 to their short list. However, anyone looking for high end performance from a screen size larger than 50" will have to go straight to the VT50. That leaves the 50" screen size as the only area where consumers can choose between the GT50 and the VT50, although the lack of a price for the GT50 on Panasonic's website means the P50GT50 might have a more limited availability. Panasonic have taken an interesting approach to their pricing this year and are offering substantial discounts to retailers with actual stores rather than those online. This means that whilst the P50GT50 might be difficult to come by, there are some incredible deals on offer from those 'brick and mortar' retailers that do stock it.
In terms of specifications, the GT50 certainly seems to mirror the reference VT50 quite closely. It includes the same new G15 NeoPlasma Panel, 2,500Hz Focused Field Drive, dual core processor and 24,576 shades of gradation as per the VT50. It also has the same comprehensive set of calibration controls, 3D capability, THX certification and an impressive array of connections, all wrapped up in an attractive design. What's missing? Well the VT50 has the Infinite Black Ultra filter which might give it the edge in terms of black levels and of course it includes the single sheet of glass design. Otherwise the only differences are that the GT50 doesn't come with any 3D glasses or the touch pad remote but that's no great loss. So on paper the GT50 appears to offer the promise of first class performance, assuming you can get hold of one of course, but let's see how it does in reality.
The full in-depth review follows after the summary and scoring and the Test Results are under the tab above.
Styling and DesignThe P50GT50B follows Panasonic's new 'metal and glass' design philosophy for this year, although it doesn't look wildly different from last year's GT30. The most obvious difference is that the P50GT50B has the silver trim along the outside of the bezel, rather than along the inside. This is a sensible move from Panasonic and we would like to think it's because they have been listening to our feedback. A black bezel gives the eye a point of reference that sets off the actual image better, this is one of the reasons we aren't so keen on the recent trend for silver bezels. The inner silver trim on last year's model ruined this effect and distracted the eye but on the outer edge it looks very attractive. The bezel itself is a glossy black and measures 2.5cm at the top and sides and 4cm at the bottom. Along the centre bottom of the bezel is the Panasonic logo, which thankfully doesn't illuminate, to the right of that there is the infra-red receiver for the remote control and on the right hand edge there are some basic controls.
Aside from the use of RF instead of IR, the new glasses share the same general design as the earlier TY-EW3D3ME glasses and as such they are incredibly light - at 26g - and so comfortable to wear that you quickly forget you've got them on. The glasses themselves have quite large lenses that fit over regular glasses, provide a suitably wide field of view and are very neutral in tint. There is a switch at the top of the frames above the bridge of the nose where you turn on the glasses, they sync automatically and will switch off if they don't receive a sync signal for 5 minutes. You can fully charge the glasses in a couple of hours but a 3 minute charge should give you enough battery life to get through a film.
Menus and Set UpThe P50GT50B uses essentially the same menu system as last year and we remain very impressed with the overall design, which has a very modern feel to it, with subtle use of colours against a black background. The menu system is also very responsive, easy to read and intuitive to navigate. The menu now has five primary sub-menus Picture, Sound, Timer, Setup and a new one called Network.
The Sound sub-menu has three modes - Speech, Music and User - and allows control over various aspects of the display’s built-in sound including the bass, treble and balance, as well as the headphone volume control. If you select User mode, there is an Equaliser and there are also controls for the Surround mode, the Auto Gain, the Volume Correction and for setting the distance from the speakers to the wall. There is a control for Audio Description for use with the Freesat and Freeview tuners and you can elect to turn on or off NICAM, whilst the SPDIF selection allows for either sound to be sent as PCM or decoded to Dolby Digital Bitstream. There are also controls for setting the Voice Guidance for the visually impaired. Given how thin the P50GT50B is, we weren't expecting the sound to be great and it wasn't. It was good enough for basic television watching and the 24 hour news channels but for anything more critical we strongly recommend using a sound bar or, better still, connecting to an AV amplifier.
Within the Setup sub-menu there are controls for the TV Guide Settings, Eco Navigation, Recording Setup, Bluetooth Setup, Link Settings, Child Lock, Freesat Tuning Menu, DVB Tuning Menu, Display Settings, DivX VOD, System Menu and Other Settings (power settings and USB charging). Finally, there is a control called Advanced ([tip=isfccc]isfccc[/tip]), by selecting On you unlock the [tip=isf]isf[/tip] calibration controls in the Advanced Settings of the Picture sub-menu.
Finally and for the first time, Panasonic have included a full six axis [tip=cms]Colour Management System[/tip] (CMS) which will allow the user or a professional calibrator to adjust the luminance, saturation and hue of the three primary colours (red, green and blue) and the three secondary colours (cyan, magenta and yellow). This level of control should also promises that the colour gamut on the P50GT50B can be brought to a reference standard.
FeaturesAs you would expect from a modern TV, the P50GT50B comes with an impressive array of features including Freesat HD and Freeview HD but in order to utilise this and other features, the display needs to be set up correctly first. This process is fairly painless and when you first turn the P50GT50B on, you will be asked if you want to tune in all the digital channels. This only takes a few minutes and the resulting Electronic Programme Guide (EPG) is a big improvement on last year as Panasonic appear to have dropped all the unwanted adverts, leaving a guide that is easy to read and use. As an added feature, you can also connect a HDD via USB and use the programming timer in the menu system to record and store programming.
2D Picture QualityThanks to the incredibly accurate greyscale and colour gamut, plus the excellent video processing, the P50GT50B delivered some spectacular 2D images. The overall picture quality was just superb and the P50GT50B produced some of the best images we have seen, regardless of whether they were from standard or high definition sources. Standard definition content looked good but it was with high definition content that the P50GT50B could really impress, delivering a wonderfully detailed and natural image. This detailed image was in part due to the incredibly clean picture that was largely free of PWM noise and when we put on a Blu-ray, the P50GT50B was able to show what it was really capable of, delivering incredibly detailed and film-like pictures with smooth judder free motion.
Panasonic have been busy refining their plasma technology in the last year and both the VT50 and GT50 range share a lot of the same innovations. They both incorporate the new 2500Hz Focused Field Drive which uses an ultra-fast panel response time of 1/2500th of a second from which the technology gets its name. This allows for a much reduced pixel address time, compared to previous Panasonic plasmas, and a more even distribution of light through the sub-field phases, which should result in cleaner and sharper looking motion. It should also deliver the added benefits of deeper blacks and a brighter appearing image, as well as the ability to produce more gradations in darker portions of the picture. Panasonic claim an effective 24,576 equivalent steps of gradation, which is four times that of the previous generations, so it should result in some benefits to shadow detail.
What were the results of all this innovation? Well the blacks looked spectacular and were in fact some of the best we have seen. The Infinite Black Pro filter was certainly doing its job during the day and when we put out the lights at night, the resulting blacks were incredible. They were very deep and inky, the kind of blacks that provide a solid base to the image and result in an impressive contrast ratio and a suitably wide dynamic range. We measured a 0 IRE screen at between 0.015 and 0.008 cd/m2 in a completely black room, which gives you an idea of how unreliable these measurements can be. However, using a ANSI checkerboard pattern we measured black at 0.011 cd/m2, which isn't as good as the VT50 but is still very impressive. What was even more impressive about these backs, was that there was still plenty of shadow detail, although there was some noise just above black but you would need to be very close to the screen to see it.
Last year's Panasonic's struggled to deliver very bright images in the Professional modes and this year, Panasonic claim that energy savings have been used to generate greater levels of brightness. We found that a calibrated night setting in Professional2 could deliver about 32 fL and a calibrated day mode in Professional1 could deliver about 40 fL. Whilst not blisteringly bright, they are brighter than last year and we always found the image to have sufficient brightness, even when watching a calibrated night time mode during the day. Conversely we measured the THX Cinema mode at 40 fL and the THX Bright Room mode at 65 fL, which frankly are probably a bit too bright.
As far as other reported issues on Panasonic plasmas are concerned we had absolutely no problems with image retention, even when we left static test screens up for a prolonged period of time during calibration. Like all plasmas however, if you do subject a panel to static images over a long time and in bright picture modes, IR can be an issue. There was still some occasional posterisation and the odd phosphor trail but that is just a limitation of the technology. The same goes for flicker which some people might notice but we only saw occasionally with bright static test patterns. If you suffer from rainbows there is a chance that you could see flashes of colour from the panel but again we didn’t experience this problem. Last year there were problems with fluctuating brightness but this appears to have been eliminated as we didn’t see this once on the P50GT50B. We ran the P50GT50B in for over 100 hours before we began testing and using various patterns to check the uniformity of the screen, we could see no sign of the dreaded green 'blobs' that were reported on some of last year's Panasonic plasmas. Of course we obviously cannot give 100% assurances that this will stay the same over a longer period of time.
The two biggest problems with Panasonic plasmas, and the ones that have generated the most comment over the last two years, are the 50Hz bug and dynamic false contouring. The first problem, which only manifests on 50Hz material and is therefore not just a limitation of plasma technology, in general, is best described as breakup or fringing on the edges of moving objects. This problem has gradually been reduced by Panasonic over the last two years and we could barely see the problem on the P50GT50B, in fact the majority of the time we didn't see it at all, but every now and then it would manifest around the edges of a moving object or camera pan. However if you do find it to be an issue, setting IFC to max can eliminate it entirely. The other problem of false contouring is also occasionally visible, usually when someone's face moves across the screen and you see their skin tones break up into red and green contours. This problem also seems to mostly manifest with 50Hz and once again setting IFC to max can eliminate the issue. Personally we never found either issue to be a major problem and they certainly didn't detract in a big way from what was a marvellous picture overall. Of course, if you feel that either of these issues will be a problem, as always we suggest you demo a P50GT50B.
3D Picture QualityIt is no secret that Panasonic have put a lot of their resources behind 3D and its relative failure has been a disappointment to them but they continue to deliver some of the best performance in this area. The P50GT50B continues this trend by delivering some of the best 3D that we have seen. When it comes to active shutter Full HD 3D we have found that Panasonic’s displays have the edge over the competition in terms of both handling motion and [tip=crosstalk]crosstalk[/tip] and their use of high speed drive technology, high speed illumination and fast decay phosphors has clearly paid dividends and resulted in excellent 3D images.
Thanks to the inclusion of the THX 3D mode the P50GT50B delivers a wonderfully accurate 3D picture, with an image that appears bright and colours that appear natural. There is a dedicated 3D menu that allows users to customise their 3D experience and there are separate settings for the calibration controls which means you can also calibrate the 3D picture mode if you so desire. The new glasses also helped with the performance because they're so light and comfortable that you forget that you're wearing them, there is no noticeable flicker to distract you or cause fatigue and the tint free lenses don't cause discolouration. Thanks to their use of RF instead of IR, there were also no problems with losing sync or any other issue that might take you out of the 3D experience.
A screen size of 50" is probably the limit for an immersive 3D experience, any smaller and the effect becomes more akin to looking through a window. The immersive nature of the experience was also improved by the general lack of crosstalk which meant we never found ourselves being drawn out of the movie. There were very occasional instances 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, although they can often contribute their own set of problems through poor implementation from the developers.
The 3D images produced by the P50GT50B were excellent, with well defined depth and a sense of solidity to the objects on screen. Whether the 3D content was provided by a frame sequential Blu-ray, a side-by-side TV broadcast or a 3D game, the P50GT50B was able to detect and correctly display the 3D images. The P50GT50B includes a 2D to 3D conversion function but whilst this worked to a degree, it remains nothing more than a gimmick feature that is best avoided. Overall, however, when it comes to native 3D content, the P50GT50B is another winner from Panasonic that can deliver a wonderfully engaging 3D experience.
Gaming PerformanceWe measured an input lag of 30ms with the P50GT30B in Game mode, which is comparable with last year's GT30 and this year's VT50 but more than we measured in our review of the ST50. It is interesting that quite often the lower range TVs do have lower input lags but 30ms is a respectable number and we were certainly not aware of any lag during gaming. Of course more serious players might notice it but we feel that the majority of people will be happy with an input lag of 30ms.
Energy ConsumptionDespite that fact that plasma tends to use more energy than LCD due to the inherent nature of the technology, Panasonic have taken great strides in making their plasmas as efficient as possible. In fact this year they decided that since their plasmas were already delivering an excellent degree of efficiency, they would use any energy savings to boost the brightness of the 2012 models. The P50GT50B measured an average calibrated draw of about 180W in Professional mode for 2D viewing and for 3D material it drew around 220W in THX mode. In standby, the P50GT50B was drawing less than 0.5W, so overall the P50GT50B is very efficient for a plasma of this screen size.
Measured Results Out-of-the-BoxThe P50GT50B comes with a number of picture presets and of these we would normally expect the THX Cinema mode to be the most accurate out-of-the-box. We did however check all of the presets and sure enough, the THX Cinema mode did deliver the most accurate measurements. We found that the Professional modes appeared to use the THX Cinema mode as their starting point and there was no discernible difference between the three presets. We therefore decided to use the THX Cinema mode for these initial measurements and the only additional calibration that we did was to correctly set the Brightness, Contrast and Sharpness controls using freely available test patterns.
Calibrated ResultsFor these measurements, we chose one of the Professional modes and selected the Rec.709 Colour Gamut and a Gamma of 2.2. We the made sure that all the unwanted features were turned off and we set the Brightness, Contrast and Sharpness controls correctly. We were then ready to use the more advanced calibration controls to hopefully bring the P50GT50B into line with [tip=IndStand]industry standards[/tip].
Video ProcessingPanasonic have taken great strides in improving their video processing over the last two years and with their 2012 models they have finally delivered. The performance of the P50GT50B in the video processing tests was excellent and using both the PAL and NTSC HQV benchmark discs the detail and resolution test was reproduced correctly, with the P50GT50B scaling the full 576i and 480i images without any loss of detail or unwanted ringing. The P50GT50B 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 P50GT50B 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. Panasonic have finally managed to produce TVs that correctly detect both 3:2 (NTSC - USA/Japan) and 2:2 (PAL - European) film cadence, as long as the Clear Cinema function is turned on. The P50GT50B also performed well when displaying film material mixed with scrolling video text and correctly displayed the words without blurring or shredding.
Using both the HQV Blu-ray and the Spears and Munsil Blu-ray we were able to check the high definition performance of the P50GT50B. We set our Blu-ray player set to output 1080i the P50GT50B correctly deinterlaced and displayed both the video and film resolution tests provided 16:9 Overscan was set to off in the Advanced Picture settings. The P50GT50B also showed very good scaling and filtering performance as well as extremely impressive resolution enhancement capabilities. When it came to 1080p24 content, the P50GT50B delivered incredibly smooth movement and even on the torturous moving wedge tests on the Spears and Munsil disc were reproduced with little sign of moire or flicker. In both the THX and Professional modes the P50GT50B was comfortably capable of hitting reference white and, even more impressively, was able to show 1% black simultaneously. This resulted in a truly impressive dynamic range that delivered an excellent contrast ratio that was free of any clipping, which was evidenced by the six concentric squares in the white, red, green and blue patterns on the Spears and Munsil test disc all being visible simultaneously.
The P50GT50B could also handle a full luma and chroma bandwidth and delivered excellent resolution for both. Thanks to the new 1080p Pure Direct mode, the P50GT50B is capable of displaying a full 4:4:4 signal instead of chroma sub-sampling back down to 4:2:0. In theory this should mean a slightly enhanced chromatic resolution and more detailed images, provided that the source is sending it correctly. In reality, whilst we could perhaps see the tiniest differences when the mode was engaged, it didn’t really seem to make any practical difference for Blu-ray where the information on the disc is only 4:2:0 in the first place. Where it could make some more discernible difference is with gaming – PC in particular – where the additional chromatic information is there in the first place. However, it certainly shouldn't cause any harm to leave the 1080p Pure Direct mode on and benefit from any possible improvements.
We discuss motion handling in more detail in the picture quality sections but overall the motion handling on the P50GT50B was excellent and using the FPD Benchmark disc, the full 1080 lines of resolution were visible on the moving tests. The P50GT50 comes with Intelligent Frame Creation, which is a frame interpolation feature that offers a choice of Off/Min/Mid/Max. The addition of a Min setting is new this year and we found that it had little to no affect in testing, with the motion just appearing slightly clearer on the FPD Benchmark disc with no obvious artefacts being introduced. With the Mid and Max settings the impact was much more pronounced and whilst you could use IFC in conjunction with fast paced and video based sporting material, it should never be used with film based content. For exactly the same reasons you need to ensure that the 24p Smooth Film function is also turned off when watching 24p material. The reality is that with Blu-ray content encoded at 24p, the P50GT50B didn't need any additional processing and the results looked spectacular.
- Excellent black Levels
- Impressive contrast ratio and dynamic range
- Lack of PWM noise and clean looking images
- Very good out-of-the-box colour gamut
- Reference colour gamut after calibration
- Excellent out-of-the-box greyscale
- Reference greyscale after calibration
- Reference level 3D performance
- VIERA Connect is effective and responsive
- Comprehensive calibration controls
- 8 train speakers work well enough
- Wonderful motion handling with Blu-ray
- THX Cinema and Bright Room modes are effective
- Excellent video processing
- Built-in WiFi, Freesat HD and Freeview HD
- Well designed menus and remote control
- Attractive design and excellent build quality
- Subtle instances of 50Hz break-up with fast pans
- Occasional dynamic false contouring
- Some dither noise in darker elements of the picture
- Some users may suffer from image flicker
- Professional modes could be brighter
- HDMI inputs are too close to the edge
Panasonic GT50 (TX-P50GT50B) 50 Inch Full HD 3D Plasma TV Review
The new glossy black remote is easy to use and well laid out and if you want to watch 3D, Panasonic's new RF glasses are incredibly light and work very well. The menu system is essentially the same as last year but Panasonic have added another sub-menu called Network, which is dedicated to setting up the built-in WiFI and the VIERA Connect platform. The P50GT50B also has built-in Freesat HD and Freeview HD and you can connect a HDD via USB and use the programming timer in the menu system to record and store programming. The P50GT50B is THX certified for both daytime and night time viewing and on top of all that, the isf certified calibration controls on the P50GT50B are excellent, with a parametric Gamma control, a ten point White Balance Control and a full six axis Colour Management System.
Whilst not as impressive as the VT50, the out-of-the-box performance of the P50GT50B was excellent and the greyscale measurements had errors that were on the limit of what the human eye can perceive. There were some slightly more noticeable errors in terms of the colour gamut but, even here, the overall performance was very good and for a factory preset the THX Cinema mode delivered what it promised. Thanks to the superb isf controls, the calibrated performance was absolutely reference in terms of greyscale and colour gamut. The gamma was also spot on and unlike last year, the parametric controls didn't cause any artefacts when used. The video processing has been improving each year and is now excellent, passing all our tests and delivering fantastic standard definition images and some wonderful high definition pictures, especially from Blu-ray.
As a result of the incredibly accurate picture and the excellent video processing, the resulting 2D images were spectacular. The P50GT50B could deliver lovely images from any source but when fed a 1080p/24 Blu-ray the results were incredible, with a staggering level of detail from a picture that was clean and largely free of PWM noise. The black levels were deep and imposing but there was still plenty of detail in the shadows and these wonderful blacks resulted in an excellent contrast ratio and an impressive dynamic range, although we would like to see more brightness in the Professional modes. The motion handling was also excellent, especially on Blu-ray content, where images had a smooth film-like quality that was free from judder.
There were no problems with floating blacks or brightness pops and we used test patterns to check the uniformity of the screen itself, which was very good with no signs of the dreaded green 'blobs' that were reported on some of last year's Panasonic plasmas. We also had absolutely no problems with image retention and whilst there was still some occasional false contouring, that's more of a limitation of the technology. The same goes for flicker which some people might notice but we only saw occasionally with bright static test patterns. We didn't see any line bleed, nor did we experience any colour flashes although people who are susceptible to rainbows might. Whilst could still occasionally see evidence of the 50Hz bug, we generally didn't notice it unless we went looking and it certainly didn't detract meaningfully from the wonderful images that the P50GT50B was producing.
The 3D images produced by the P50GT50B were excellent, with well defined depth and a sense of solidity to the objects on screen. Whether the 3D content was provided by a frame sequential Blu-ray, a side-by-side TV broadcast or a 3D game, the P50GT50B was able to detect and correctly display the 3D images. There is a dedicated 3D menu for users to customise their 3D experience and the 3D picture modes can be calibrated separately from the 2D modes, although THX Cinema seemed to offer the best compromise in 3D. Overall, when it comes to native 3D content, the P50GT50B is another great plasma from Panasonic that can deliver a wonderfully engaging 3D experience.
The P50GT50B is DLNA certified which means it can connect with other such devices and stream content over your home network. You can also access content via USB or SD card and from mobile devices like smartphones and tablets. Whilst the VIERA Connect internet platform looks basically the same as last year, Panasonic have added a number of new applications to their platform and their VIERA Connect Market. The P50GT50B has dual core processing which makes VIERA Connect far more responsive than previously. We also tried out the VIERA Remote app which was easy to connect and simple to use, providing an effective way of controlling and communicating with the P50GT50B. Finally, the P50GT50B had a measured input lag of 30ms in Game mode and is very energy efficient of a plasma of this size.
If you're in the market for a 42inch television, then there is currently nothing out there to compete with the GT50 and it should be on your short list. If you're looking for a 50" screen then there is the option of the VT50 but depending on your budget, and assuming you can find one, the GT50 could give you almost all the flagship's incredible picture performance and features at a very attractive price. Highly Recommended.
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