Since the demise of the Kuro, enthusiasts have been looking for a manufacturer to replace Pioneer and the majority of the attention has centred on Panasonic. This is understandable, as no other manufacturer has invested as much money in plasma development, from the construction of purpose built factories, in Japan, to the purchase of Pioneer technology and the hiring of some of their engineers. This has perhaps resulted in some unrealistic expectations over the last two years, with many enthusiasts assuming that Panasonic would immediately produce a display that was the equal of the Kuro. Panasonic have certainly produced some excellent plasmas, over the last two years, and they remain the industry leader in terms of black levels and 3D performance. However they have struggled in terms of motion handling, especially with regards to 50Hz material and also had issues with floating blacks and brightness fluctuations. These issues have prevented Panasonic's recent plasmas from achieving a Reference status, although they have still been some of the best displays on the market.
The irony is that Panasonic are essentially a victim of their own success and thus some enthusiasts expect perfection from them. Of course, in the realm of mass produced consumer products, such perfection just isn't achievable at an economically realistic price point. The cost of producing an exceptional product like the Kuro, for the mass market, was ultimately unsustainable for Pioneer and the same would be true for Panasonic, if they were to take that approach. The one area where such a no-compromise approach is possible is within Panasonic's professional monitor division. Here, freed from the constraints of the mass marketplace, Panasonic's engineers are able to produce displays that can potentially deliver a reference performance.
We reviewed the Panasonic Professional VX200 at the beginning of the year and we discovered a plasma that was capable of an exceptional performance. Unfortunately the VX200 still suffered from some minor problems, especially when it came to 50Hz material and at £42,000 it was outside most people's price bracket. However it did give an insight into the technology that would filter down to this year's VT30 and it gave a glimpse of what an enthusiast display could look like.
Now we have the VX300 - which with a screen size of 65" and a price tag of £7,999 - is clearly designed to fit into the gap in the market between the consumer VT30 and the professional VX200. This new display shares much of the pedigree of the far more expensive VX200 whilst also including Panasonic's latest technological developments which will hopefully feed into Panasonic's 2012 consumer displays. So is the VX300 the TV that enthusiasts have been waiting for? Let's take a look and find out...
Styling and Design
This is an incredibly well constructed display and the matt black brushed metal bezel really sets the VX300 apart from the usual gloss black bezels and single sheets of glass that adorn many modern televisions. This bezel is quite wide - at 6cm - but it suits the size of the screen and provides the perfect border for the screen itself. The panel sits behind a protective sheet of glass which once again adds to the display's robust and industrial feel but we didn't find reflections to be a problem, even during daytime viewing. In keeping with the minimalist approach, the front is elegantly clean with no lights or glowing logos but there are some basic controls at the bottom right hand side of the screen.
Since the VX300 is designed for the professional installers market, the rear connections utilise Panasonic’s unique Slot system of input boards that can be customised to the end user’s needs. The VX300 ships with a basic configuration that consists of 2 HDMI inputs, a component video input using RCA connectors, a LAN port, a VGA socket and of course a RS232 control port. The RS232 and LAN connectors can be used for system control and should you need to you can add more HDMI inputs - or SDI connectors - using the additional slot space, you can. The connectors are downward facing and sit within a recessed area that allows for easier wall mounting and better cable management. Clearly the deeper chassis allows for this but it's a shame that Panasonic doesn't take a similar approach for their consumer plasmas.
Like all the other Panasonic Professional displays, the VX300 is designed as a monitor and as such there is no built-in TV tuner, nor are there any built-in speakers. Clearly the VX300 is meant for use in a studio or post-production facility and thus there would be no need for a built-in TV tuner and if you want to watch TV it is just a case of using an outboard PVR or STB. The same is true on the audio side, if you're working on video post-production you don't need speakers and anyone buying a display like this for the home will obviously be using outboard amplification as part of a full home cinema setup. However, if for some reason, you need to add speakers there are speaker terminals at the rear which would allow you to connect a pair of small speakers and use the built-in amplification.
The provided remote control is a major disappointment and is essentially a standard black plastic Panasonic style remote control but with some different buttons and a few obvious ones missing. For example, there is no volume control so if you want to use the internal amplification you need to access the Sound menu. Obviously the fact that the VX300 is aimed at the custom installer market means that Panasonic expect any installation to be integrated into a dedicated control system using a high end device such as a Crestron. Likewise, if the VX300 is being used in a post-production facility ,or a studio, it is unlikely that anyone will care what the remote control looks like or even have need of it that often. Still it is a shame that given the VX300's beautifully engineered chassis, the remote control is so mediocre in terms of design and construction.
The VX300 does not ship with any 3D glasses, as standard, primarily because the display is made by the professional division of Panasonic and the glasses are made by the consumer division. However, for the purposes of this review, we were able to test out a pair of Panasonic's latest active shutter 3D glasses (TY-EW3D3ME), which have only just been released. These new glasses are incredibly light - at 26g - and so comfortable to wear that you quickly forgot you had them on. Whilst this is often the case with passive 3D's lighter glasses, this is the first time that we have experienced this sensation whilst wearing active shutter 3D glasses. The glasses themselves have quite large lenses that provided a suitably wide field of view and don't add excessive discolouration. The glasses sync with the emitter built into the VX300 using infra-red and we never experienced any problems with losing sync, nor was there any noticeable flicker. There is a switch at the top of the frame above the bridge where you turn on the glasses and, if you need to, you can also switch the glasses to 2D mode. This setting will display just one eye view to both eyes thus allowing you to watch 3D content in 2D if you need to for some reason. The glasses sync automatically once turned on and they 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 Up
The menus, themselves, reflect the Professional nature of the VX300 and are functional, comprehensive and straightforward. There are five menu pages, consisting of Picture, Setup, Pos./Size, Sound and Options. The Setup menu includes all the controls for setting up the display, including controls relating to the 3D Setup, Screensaver, Extended Life Settings (including the controls for the Nanodrift feature), Input Labels, Function Button Settings, On/Off Timer, Day/Time Setup, Power Consumption and the OSD. There are also some functions aimed more at the professional market such as Marker Settings which put frame markers on the screen to show safe areas and Scope ratios or the Waveform Monitor. These latter functions are only available if the Studio Mode is selected in the Options menu. There is also a control for selecting an external scaler which means that, if you so wish, you can bypass the internal scaling and send a 1080p signal to the VX300 from an external video processor. Finally there is a sub-menu called Signal which includes information on the type of signal the VX300 is receiving. Unfortunately Panasonic haven't quite managed to break their habit of hiding key controls away in sub-menus and it is in Signal that you will find the controls for the Frame Interpolation feature. We feel that this control should really sit in the Picture menu along with all the other image related controls.
The Picture menu obviously includes most, although as we've already mentioned not all, the key controls for correctly setting the image. There are a number of pre-set Picture Modes including Normal, Dynamic (ISF Day), Cinema (ISF Night) and Monitor. The Monitor mode is designed for use in a post-production facility creating broadcast or movie content. With this mode, even if the overall picture level (APL) changes, the brightness of areas with the same signal level does not change. There are also all the standard picture controls such as Contrast, Brightness, Colour, Hue, Sharpness and White Balance. It is refreshing to see a picture menu that is free of all the useless special features that plague most modern consumer televisions. If you make any adjustments you can save them in the memory and also select the isf settings to allow a trained calibrator to lock their settings.
Measured Results Out of the BoxPrior to taking any out-of-the-box measurements we made sure that all the picture settings were correctly set up, including the previously mentioned 1:1 Pixel Mode and we ensured that any Frame Creation function was switched off. We chose the Cinema (ISF Night) mode and selected a Gamma of 2.35 and a White Balance of Warm, all of which we found offered the best initial measurements. We also chose the Colour Gamut of BT709 which should provide an approximation of Rec709 and we set the Brightness and Contrast controls correctly for our viewing environment. We left the Colour and Hue controls at zero and checked the Sharpness control, which should be left at zero to ensure there is no ringing or softening of the image.
Calibrated ResultsFor these measurements we kept all the previous settings but used the two point White Balance control to calibrate the greyscale by adjusting the levels of red, blue and green at 80IRE and 30IRE. We also calibrated the colour gamut by choosing the Custom option which gave us access to the Colour Management System (CMS).
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 the colour temperature 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 VX300, once white was calibrated to the reference level of D65 the colour gamut was even more accurate.
Using this CMS we could improve the colour accuracy still further and with careful adjustments to the ratios of red, green and blue we were able to produce a reference performance. 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 magenta but all the colours have DeltaEs of less than 2 which, as with the greyscale, is imperceptible to the human eye. This is an excellent performance and is essentially reference, although we would have liked greater control over the secondary colours in order to tweak magenta.
Video ProcessingThe performance of the VX300 in the video processing tests was excellent, so although you can use an external processor there is no reason not to use the processing built in to the VX300. Using both the PAL and NTSC HQV benchmark discs the SMPTE colour bar test was reproduced correctly with the VX300 scaling the full 576i and 480i images without any loss of detail or unwanted ringing and showing a beautifully smooth gradation in colours with no banding. The VX300 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 VX300 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.
It has taken years of badgering but Panasonic have finally managed to produce a display that can correctly detect the two most common forms of cadence. The VX300 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). It also managed to correctly detect 2:2 (PAL - European) cadence without any delay which means the VX300 is the first Panasonic display to pass both cadence detection tests. Hopefully this will feed through to their consumer displays in 2012. The VX300 also performed well when displaying film material with scrolling video text and correctly displayed the words without blurring or shredding.
The VX300 performed extremely well in all of the tests on the HQV Blu-ray using high definition content. With the player set to 1080i the display correctly de-interlaced 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 VX300 includes Nanodrift which is designed to reduce image retention by shifting the image at a pixel level at set time intervals. This feature is quite useful for professional facilities where the same image may be displayed for long periods of time. However, when we displayed a multiburst pattern we could see the Nanodrift shifting the image in the most detailed single pixel parts of the pattern. We therefore decided to turn the Nanodrift off because there was no need for it as there were never any issues with image retention on the VX300.
The VX300 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 VX300 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 VX300. The headroom performance of the VX300 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 VX300 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 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 VX300 showed picture information down to reference black (video level 17) which is good because we want to see detail down to video level 17 but not below it.
There was a lot of controversy over the last two years concerning Panasonic plasmas and their inability to correctly display 50Hz material. This was especially true of their 2010 line-up where there was obvious fringing on the edges of moving objects or with camera pans. Whilst things were improved with the 2011 line-up, the problem was still visible, although to a much lesser extent on the VT30. We’re glad to report that with the VX300 we had no such problems and the motion handling was excellent, regardless of whether the content was 50Hz, 60Hz or 24p. In fact the overall motion handling was just superb with the VX300 showing all 1080 lines on the FPD Benchmark disc. This fantastic performance must in part be due to the new 30-bit image engine and hopefully this will filter down into the 2012 consumer line-up.
Gaming PerformanceWhilst we doubt that anyone buying the VX300 will be using it primarily for gaming, we did measure the input lag at a reasonably low 30ms. We measured a slightly better 25ms on the VT30 but frankly a lag of 30ms should keep all but the most hardcore gamers happy. Of course if you do decide to use the VX300 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. When you add 3D into the equation the increased screen size really comes into play and the lack of crosstalk and bright image resulted in an incredibly immersive experience.
Energy ConsumptionConsidering the size of the VX300, it's energy efficiency was actually quite good. Whilst even very large LCD displays can use surprisingly little energy due to the nature of plasma technology, 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 VX300 a window raster at 0IRE measured 60 watts, at 50IRE it measured 90 watts and at 100IRE it measured 180 watts. These are actually very good measurements for a display of this size and with normal viewing material the measurement averaged between 250 and 350 watts depending on the brightness of the image on the screen. As with all modern displays the VX300 used less than 1 watt in standby mode.
2D Picture Quality
Perhaps the area where the VX300 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 were as good, if not better, than those of either our reference Kuro or the VT30. We measured 0IRE at 0.016 cd/m2, which was superb and resulted in deep blacks that really added to the already excellent picture and created images that were stunning in their clarity, accuracy and dynamism. We also did not experience any of the brightness fluctuations or floating blacks that have plagued previous Panasonic plasmas.
Using reference film material, the VX300 excelled, producing a beautiful film-like image, with a natural appearance, amazing shadow detail, contrast and blacks that were free of judder and artefacts. Overall motion handling was superb, regardless of whether the content was 50Hz, 60Hz or 24p and there was none of the fringing that has accompanied 50Hz material in the past. There was also none of the posterisation that has been seen on Panasonic plasmas in the past, just a beautifully clean and detailed image. Whatever the 2D content you are watching, the VX300 can deliver wonderfully detailed, accurate and natural images to create an incredibly dynamic experience.
3D Picture Quality
When it comes to full HD 3D we have found that Panasonic’s displays have the edge over the competition - in terms of both handling motion and crosstalk - and the VX300 represents the zenith of their current capabilities. The use of their 30-bit image engine, 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 we didn’t find ourselves being distracted by flicker as we had on other Panasonic displays. Since the VX300 uses Full HD 3D we were also amazed by the level of detail in the 3D images, which were wonderfully rendered by the display's beautiful clean image.
As we have mentioned in previous reviews, when it comes to 3D size does matter and the VX300 proves it. Watching 3D content on its 65” screen was extremely immersive and the almost complete lack of crosstalk meant that we never found ourselves being drawn out of the experience. There were occasional instances of crosstalk but we really had to look for them and they were never distracting. The display was able to handle fast movement without ghosting or other artefacts, which was especially obvious when playing fast moving 3D games. The image was also suitably bright even in the calibrated mode which personally we preferred due to its more natural looking colours.
- Dynamic range is the best on the market
- Black levels are the best we have seen to date
- Very clean image with little PWM noise
- Reference 3D performance
- Almost no crosstalk
- Excellent greyscale and colour gamut out-of-the-box
- Reference greyscale and colour gamut after calibration
- Reference colour and shadow detail gradation
- Excellent video processing with the option to use an external processor
- Attractive design and superb build quality
- Professional menu system and features
- Quite expensive
- No built-in TV tuner or speakers
- No internet platform or streaming capability
- Calibration controls are a little limited
- Important functions are hidden in sub-menus
- Remote control is a bit of a disappointment
Panasonic Professional VX300 (TH-65VX300) 3D Plasma TV Review
Of course, whilst TV enthusiasts here at AVForums will no doubt be interested in getting their hands on the VX300, it is worth remembering that it is primarily aimed at the professional market (hence the 'professional' price tag). As such it doesn't have a built-in tuner or any built-in speakers and the remote control is a bit of a disappointment. Naturally, anyone using the VX300 at home will almost certainly be feeding it a TV signal from an outboard source, using it in conjunction with an AV amplifier and controlling it via an integrated control system, so these are all minor issues. There is also no internet or Smart TV platform, which once again can be added externally and thankfully the professional menus are free of any unwanted picture features. Frankly we wish more TVs were like this.
Thanks to the VX300's professional status, its build quality is superb with an understated but beautiful chassis. The whole display is quite deep at 9cm and at 60kg it is genuinely heavy so bear that in mind if considering a wall mount. The connectors are sensibly downward facing and the added depth allows for them to be recessed which makes mounting the VX300 flush with a wall much easier. Whilst the basic combination of connectors is minimal, the assumption is that all your sources will be going through a receiver or processor first and if you need additional inputs they can be expanded using the modular slot system.
Whilst it is unlikely that anyone buying the VX300 will be using it exclusively for gaming we measured the input lag at a reasonable 30ms, which should keep all but the most demanding gamer happy. It is also unlikely that anyone buying the VX300 will be too concerned about energy efficiency but here the VX300 was also quite good, especially considering the nature of plasma and the screen size. In its calibrated mode we measured the energy consumption at between 250 and 350 watts with normal viewing material.
All of the areas we've covered so far are just window dressing because if you're a TV enthusiast what you're really interested in is image performance and here the VX300 will blow you away. As soon as we turned on the VX300 we could see that it was capable of an impressive performance with an accurate greyscale, natural colours, fantastic motion handling and a staggering amount of detail. The built-in video processing was excellent which meant that even standard definition material looked good on the 65" screen, and with high definition content the images were breath-taking. After calibration, the greyscale and colour gamut were capable of a reference performance that provided the perfect base on which to build the rest of the image.
And what an image it was, thanks to the 30-bit image engine the gradations in colour and the motion handling were flawless with no banding, artefacts, fringing or posterisation. There was just a smooth, clean image that was bursting with detail. Whether the content was 50Hz, 60Hz or 24p the images had smooth and judder free motion that was a joy to behold. The VX300 also delivered reference black levels that were easily the equal of the Kuro and the VT30 and the resulting images had a beautiful sense of depth to them. The shadow detail was equally as impressive with plenty of gradation in the greyscale. The overall dynamic range was also impressive and whilst the VX300 isn't as bright as some other displays, we found the image to have an excellent contrast ratio and plenty of punch.
The 2D performance, alone, would be enough to deserve a reference status but let's not forget that the VX300 is also capable of delivering full HD 3D, using the active shutter system. Whilst the VX300 doesn't come with active shutter glasses, as standard, we were able to test it with a pair of Panasonic's latest glasses. The results were spectacular with the VX300 rendering 3D images that were breath-taking in their detail and depth. The superb motion handling and clean image resulted in a highly immersive experience that was almost completely free of crosstalk. As with its 2D performance, the VX300 was capable of a reference 3D performance that can be considered a benchmark.
The 2D and 3D performance of the VX300 is quite simply the best that we have seen from a display and whilst it may have taken three years, we finally have a replacement for the Kuro. If you have the budget, and are looking for no-compromise performance, then we suggest you give the VX300 a demo. Of course if the VX300 is out of your price range, and to be fair that would be the case for most of us, then at least take some comfort in the knowledge that this performance should be reflected in Panasonic's 2012 range of plasmas. In conclusion, the Panasonic Professional VX300 is an exceptional display that deservedly wins our Reference Badge and as such must now be considered the benchmark against which all other televisions will be measured.
Contrast/Dynamic Range/Black Level
3D Picture Quality
Ease Of Use
Value for Money
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