Styling and Connections
Sadly the remote control provided with the VT20 doesn’t have any designer flare and is a typical black plastic Panasonic model. Given the cost of this display I can’t help feeling that Panasonic could have made a bit more of an effort with the remote, especially when compared to the stylish remote provided with the Samsung C8000. Having said that, the design is sensible, well laid out and intuitive and I found the remote comfortable to handle; besides I expect anyone investing in a display this big will be using a universal remote.
The P65VT20 is Panasonic’s flagship PDP for 2010, so it only seems right that it is packed with every connection possible on the rear and side panels. There are four HDMI v1.4 slots with three positioned on the rear of the panel and one on the side. HDMI 2 is the connection on the P65VT20 which allows the new audio return signal as part of the 1.4 specifications. This means that you can feed the TV direct from a blu-ray player and then feed the audio back from the set to your HDMI v1.4 equipped AV receiver. Also, on the back panel, are two SCART connectors, one set of component RCA plugs, a VGA PC slot and an ethernet connection. There are also audio inputs and outputs using RCA plugs and an optical audio input. For the Freesat HD feed there is a satellite socket and for Freeview HD there is a standard RF socket. Considering the flagship status of the P65VT20, it is unusual that Panasonic has chosen not to include a RS-232 interface.
On the side panel there are two USB inputs; a common interface card slot; a composite video input and further audio inputs; along with an SD card slot and 3.5mm headphone jack. Finally, on the side panel, is the main power switch and basic function and channel buttons.
Whilst it is pleasing to see such a comprehensive list of connections, as always, I can't help feeling that although the rear panel is recessed slightly it would be better if the HDMI and power sockets were positioned at a right angle and fully recessed, allowing better wall mounting options.
As the P65VT20 is also a 3D TV, it comes with two pairs of active glasses included in the box, which should put manufacturers like Samsung and Sony to shame. These are stored in sturdy plastic boxes with two nose fixings and a lanyard so you can have them hanging from your neck. As Phil mentioned in his review, the glasses have a unique design that, whilst looking quite trendy (or as trendy as a pair of 3D glasses can look), does allow light from behind and to the side of the user to reflect on the inside of the glasses. In the worst-case scenario this can cause reflections on the inside of the lenses, which can spoil the 3D effect. The glasses are large enough to put over regular glasses if need be but I found them to be quite uncomfortable to wear for long periods of time and I definitely preferred the design of the Samsung glasses that I used with the C8000. I would suggest that Panasonic should definitely re-think the overall design of their 3D glasses for future releases.
The final item included in the box is a WiFi dongle which allows connection to your network and the internet without having to run an Ethernet cable to the back of the TV. This is a simple design that will be hidden from view when used in one of the USB ports on the side of the TV and, once again, it is a nice touch that Panasonic has included it with the display.
Menus and Set Up
Like the EPG, the main menu system itself is bright, colourful, easy to read and quick to navigate. It offers three choices which are titled Picture, Sound and Setup. In Setup, there are general controls such as Network Set, Timer and DivX VOD as well as a control called Advanced (ISFccc) that allows you to gain access to the Professional1 and Professional2 picture modes. Hidden away within the Set Up menu is an option called Other Settings, and within here, you will find three functions that would have made more sense to be included within the Picture menu. There is a control for setting the frame interpolation function which Panasonic calls Intelligent Frame Creation and if the image being received is 24p then this function becomes the 24p Smooth Film mode. There is also a Resolution Enhancer control and finally a control for setting 16:9 Overscan. This last function is particularly important because only by setting it to off, will you get accurate pixel mapping with no scaling and thus benefit from the full resolution of high definition sources.
The Picture menu offers a series of Viewing Modes which range from the eye blistering Dynamic to a THX preset that appeared to offer very good out of the box performance. There are also two ISF modes called Professional1 and Professional2 which allow access to additional Advanced Settings and can be locked. The idea is that the ISFccc modes provide a professional calibrator with the tools to accurately set the greyscale and colour gamut and then lock these settings so that they can’t be accidentally changed. The reason for two Professional modes is to allow the calibrator to create Day and Night settings, each of which is optimised for watching programmes under different viewing conditions.
The P65VT20 includes all the usual picture controls including a Contrast control for adjusting the luminance of the video signal, a Brightness control for adjusting the black level, a Colour control and a Sharpness control. The C.A.T.S. (Contrast Automatic Tracking System) is designed to adjust the Contrast setting from scene to scene in order to boost the contrast ratio numbers 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 I found this control to be of no real benefit so I turned it off.
If the Professional1 or Professional2 mode is selected you will have access to the Advance Settings in which there are menus for White Balance, Colour Management and Gamma. The White Balance menu allows two point calibration of the greyscale, the Colour Management allows adjustments to be made to the Hue and Saturation of the three primaries and the Gamma setting allows a selection of different gamma curves.
Finally, there are menus for setting up the 3D functions on the P65VT20. If you use a 3D Blu-ray player then the TV will switch automatically to 3D mode and this defaults to the Normal picture mode and this is important as light output is critical to get the 3D effect to work correctly. There are currently no industry standards established for 3D content and, because the technology uses active glasses that use dark lenses, it is important to use enough light to negate any colour balance issues created by the glasses themselves. This is why the P65VT20 defaults in auto mode to the Normal picture mode in order to increase the light output and thus address any colour balance issues. If you are using other sources for 3D material, such as a Sky+HD box or a Sony PS3, then you will have to choose the correct options manually. Whilst you can select other picture modes including True Cinema, in lieu of the THX preset, the best option is the Normal picture mode. You will also need to choose the type of 3D format, the choices here are Auto, Side by Side and Top and Bottom. As Phil and I have already discovered, from reviewing other 3D displays, when using a standard HDMI 1.3 cable with the Panasonic BD player, the P65VT20 automatically switched to 3D mode and had no problems playing back full HD sequential material. The other settings available are Picture Sequence which reverses the left and right eyes, and Edge Smoother which applies some smoothing to the image. I found this setting tended to rob the 3D image of finer details and left it off. Once again hidden in the Setup menu, under Other Settings, there is a control called 3D 24p Film Display which allows you to increase the refresh rate on 24p 3D material from 24 frames to 48 frames per an eye.
The P65VT20 also includes 600Hz capability, which has caused some confusion as it is being marketed like the 100/200Hz features found on LCDs, but is nothing of the sort. It actually refers to how the subpixels, that make up the plasma image, work and it all comes down to the frame rate and how many subfields are used to make up one frame. These subpixels do not directly affect motion but rather make up the image being drawn on screen within each frame. Unlike LCD displays, plasmas have no issues with motion blur so the inclusion of this 600Hz claim is nothing more than marketing blurb. I find it slightly amusing that plasma manufacturers feel the need to add these kinds of numbers in response to a feature that LCD manufacturers only introduced in an attempt to address a genuine weakness in that particular technology.
In addition the P65VT20 includes Panasonic's Intelligent Frame Creation which uses frame interpolation to automatically compensate for the picture frame rate, thus removing judder and making images smooth and clear. Once again, the inclusion of this function would also appear to be more marketing driven than anything else, as a plasma's fast response time means it doesn't suffer from the same motion blur problems that LCD displays do, this function is largely unnecessary and ultimately detrimental to the image.
When watching Blu-rays encoded, at 24fps, the P65VT20 has a 24p Playback function that will increase the frame rate to a more appropriate 96Hz which is a multiple of 24. There is also a 24p Smooth Film function that does something similar but includes frame interpolation and is best left off unless you want your film-like image to look more like video.
The P65VT20 includes VIERA CAST, which is Panasonic’s version of internet TV, and allows access to selected online content such as YouTube and Eurosport videos and Google’s Picasa Web Albums. It isn’t a web browser but it does provide information such as weather and news and Panasonic plans to add Skype and Twitter in the near future. I found that the included WiFi dongle worked very well and never had any issues connecting to my wireless router.
Finally, the P65VT20 includes DLNA compliance for streaming photos, music and video, as well as DivX HD, VIERA Link, VIERA Image Viewer and Dolby Digital Plus decoding.
Measured Results Out of the BoxFor the purposes of these tests I used the THX mode which should represent the best calibrated preset. I adjusted the Contrast and Brightness settings as necessary using a PLUGE pattern and I left the Colour setting as it was. I set the Sharpness to zero and for the same reason I turned the Resolution Enhancer off. The C.A.T.S. and P-NR controls were already turned off but I also turned off the Intelligent Frame Creation function as well. The Gamma function was already correctly set to 2.2 and hopefully the actual curve will be close to that number. Please note that all testing was done after over a 100 hours of continuous use.
Much like the Greyscale measurements, the Colour Gamut performance, shown on the CIE chart, was also very good for an out of the box preset, with the P65VT20 measuring very close to Rec.709. The Luminance and Hue measurements are excellent, with the exception of Red, and the Colour is a little oversaturated in the three primaries and Yellow but, overall, the colour reproduction is very good. The P65VT20 includes a Colour Management System so once again I would hope to make minor improvements with calibration.
Calibrated ResultsAs Phil and I have mentioned, on many other Panasonic reviews, the design of the menus is very frustrating for calibrators. The sliders for adjusting the CMS and White Balance appear over the very point where the meter is trying to measure the IRE window. Since I have recently calibrated a number of Panasonics, I was already familiar with a workaround and thanks to the excellent out of the box performance, the adjustments required were minimal
Although the Panasonic specifications claim the P65VT20 has a 3D Colour Management System (CMS), this isn’t strictly true since it only controls Hue and Saturation, whereas a real 3D CMS would have controls for Hue, Colour and Luminance separately. In addition, the CMS only controls the primary colours (Red, Green and Blue), so you don’t have direct control over the secondary colours (Cyan, Magenta and Yellow). For this reason I found it difficult to get the colour gamut as accurate as I would like and I found the controls to be quite coarse. Whilst I was able to improve the Colour measurements, compared to the THX preset, I still felt the colours were a little too saturated, in the primaries, and this affected the overall DeltaE. This is still a reference colour performance but I think the inclusion of a more effective CMS would allow for even greater colour accuracy.
Panasonic are to be congratulated for including ISFccc controls but perhaps next time they could include 10 point greyscale calibration and a proper 3D CMS with control over all six colours which would bring them in line with many of their competitors.
Video ProcessingThe performance of the P65VT20 in the video processing tests was very good overall, with just the usual cadence issues that I have come to expect from Panasonic displays. Using both my PAL and NTSC HQV benchmark discs, I first checked the SMPTE colour bar test which the P65VT20 easily passed, correctly scaling the full 576i and 480i images without any loss of detail or unwanted ringing. The P65VT20 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 P65VT20 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.
As expected, the P65VT20 did not perform so well in the film detail test and failed to correctly lock on to the image resulting in aliasing in the speedway seats behind the race car (for those of you who are familiar with the HQV test footage). The P65VT20 failed all the cadence tests and was unable to correctly detect either 2:2 (PAL) or 2:3 (NTSC - USA/Japan) as well as a number of less common formats. However, the P65VT20 did perform well when displaying film material with scrolling video text, correctly displaying the words without blurring or shredding.
The P65VT20 also performed very 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 with overscan off) and showed good scaling and filtering performance, as well as good resolution enhancement. The P65VT20 also had no problems in showing video text overlaid on film based material.
The P65VT20 handled 24p content without any problems. You do need to make sure that the 24p Smooth Film function has been turned off or you will introduce unnecessary artefacts and any film based images will have a video look to them.
I used my Spears and Munsil test disc to check the high and low dynamic range performance of the P65VT20. The headroom performance of the P65VT20 from reference white (video level 235) up to peak white (video level 255) was very good with no signs of clipping. The P65VT20 showed picture information down to reference black (video level 17) so the performance here was also very good.
Overall this is an excellent set of results and the video processing of the P65VT20 is very good, with the notable exception of film cadence detection which Panasonic really needs to correct, plus the issues with images encoded at 50Hz, which I will address in the next section.
Flicker, Image Retention, Rising Black Levels and 50Hz Motion ArtefactsAll four of these subjects have received a great deal of attention on the forums and therefore I thought I would address them in a separate section. However, Phil covered the first three in some detail in his review of the P50VT20 so I will concentrate predominantly on the 50Hz motion artefacts.
First off, is the subject of flicker which personally I rarely see it but I know there are people that do so I will address it here. The degree of flicker will depend on how the PDP processes and displays its image and how sensitive you are to seeing the effects of this. It is perhaps the new approach, with the advent of the VT20, of faster phosphor technology and a reverse in subpixel processing, that is causing the appearance of flicker to be more pronounced for some people I did notice a slight degree of flicker, occasionally, but the instance of this reduced as the display was run in and eventually I hardly saw it at all. It was more obvious if you looked at the display from the corner of your eye but I rarely noticed it when looking directly at the display, so I don't think this is really an issue.
Secondly, there is the issue of image retention, this is an effect that is seen on every plasma TV to varying degrees and will either be noticed or not. However, it is not the same as panel burn-in and I would be surprised if anyone these days could permanently damage a plasma screen with normal or even heavy use. Image retention is different, as it is not permanent and usually disappears in time, how long it takes to disappear usually depends on the make and model as some manufacturers' screens seem to be more susceptible than others. I have reviewed plasmas where image retention was a real issue but I was hardly ever aware of it with the P65VT20 and on the rare occasion, when I did notice it, the retained image quickly disappeared.
Thirdly, there are the reports of rising black levels on 2009 Panasonic models. As Phil mentioned in his review of the P50VT20, Panasonic has remained very quiet about this issue in the UK and have given us no guidance, either on or off the record, as to whether it is a design of the panel or a fault caused by the way the panel software is designed to work. Unfortunately, the short period of time that the P65VT20 was available for testing wasn't long enough to draw any real conclusions regarding this subject. Certainly the P65VT20 produced excellent results in testing and showed no signs of this issue so all we can do is monitor the situation and report back if there is any news.
Finally, there has been a lot of debate on the forums regarding a problem with a video artefact where red, green and blue lines are apparent around certain moving objects, especially the centre line on football pitches during World Cup broadcasts. I also noticed this problem whilst watching the World Cup Final, as soon as the match started, and the camera panned across the pitch. Once you have noticed the problem it can be quite distracting, especially on a 65" display. The problem isn't restricted to World Cup broadcasts and I noticed it on all Freeview programming, whether it was standard or high definition. The problem also resulted in false contouring on areas that were the same such as peoples faces as they moved across the screen. However, I didn't notice this problem when watching 1080p24 Blu-rays or NTSC DVDs which made me curious. Plus this issue did not manifest itself in the review sample of the 50 inch VT20 that Phil covered a few months back.
My Sencore MP500 video generator can create a moving zone plate test in whatever format or refresh rate I desire so I decided to try a 1080p signal at different refresh rates and see what the results where. If I set the output to 1080p 60Hz or 1080p24 the circular target moving around the screen was accurately and smoothly reproduced but as soon as I set the output to 1080p 50Hz there was obvious red, green and blue ringing around the circles in the target.
Gaming PerformanceAs you would expect for a plasma, the P65VT20 has an almost non-existent lag time of less than 10ms in Game mode and every other picture preset, for that matter. This should please even the most hardcore gamers amongst our readership.
Energy ConsumptionSince a plasma display uses a self illuminating technology, the power consumption varies with the content shown on screen. Therefore high contrast white background material will use more power to create an image whilst darker scenes will use less. The highest measured figure with normal viewing content was 430 watts and the lowest was 80 watts. The consumption figures at 0, 50 and 100IRE rasters, in the calibrated picture mode, were 70 watts, 330 watts and 500 watts. These numbers are certainly much larger than those of LCD displays but, considering the size of the screen, the energy performance was pretty good and negligible when compared to your average amplifier.
Picture Quality - 2D
As mentioned earlier, the P65VT20 incorporates a newly designed faster phosphor discharge process, which was actually introduced by Panasonic to handle fast moving 3D images. However, there is an additional benefit for 2D viewing, with this process practically eliminating the phosphor trailing that used to be a common problem on Panasonic plasmas. The P65VT20 did not appear to suffer from this problem, at all, which was evidenced when playing PS3 games with fast moving content.
One of the major advantages of the P65VT20 is the sharpness of the image available thanks to the reduced amount of PWM noise. As Phil mentioned, in his earlier review, this makes the image look far crisper although it is not producing any more detail than other plasma displays and shadow detailing is also more pronounced on the P65VT20 due to its excellent dynamic range. However, this cleaner image does result in some minor issues, in particular colour gradation with certain material. This is not a common issue but once you are aware of it, you can be taken out of a particular scene you are watching. Whether this is caused by the lack of dithering used by Panasonic is debatable but there were also instances where posterisation was seen within backgrounds and occasionally on faces. However this is only a minor issue that shouldn’t detract, too much, from the overall picture quality. In fact most people probably wouldn't notice it and to a large extent this kind of issue is only apparent because of the sheer size of the display.
The size of the screen also impacts in other areas because although the Freeview tuner in the P65VT20 is perfectly good, it reaches the technological limits of standard definition broadcasts as far as image quality is concerned. Any channel that uses a low bandwidth is almost unwatchable on a screen this size with blocking and pixellation galore. However, the inherent problems with Freeview aside, the P65VT20 performed very well with standard definition material and both PAL and NTSC DVDs looked very impressive. The excellent scaling and deinterlacing helped here, as did the accurate Greyscale and colour performance. But this is one area, screen size, that does change the ball game slightly in terms of visible artefacts over that of the 50 inch screen size.
With high definition material the P65VT20 really excelled, producing breathtaking images that had increased impact due to the size of the screen. Freeview HD looked very good and the larger image really benefited from the increased resolution. With Blu-ray discs the P65VT20 really came into is own and its ability to display 24p discs at 96Hz resulted in a very solid and excellent image that had a very cinematic impact.
Picture Quality - 3D
Unlike with my previous 3D TV review, which was hampered by a lack of content, this time I had plenty of content to watch including Coraline, Monsters Vs Aliens and Cloudy With A Chance Of Meatballs. The 3D images appear sharp and well defined, with a good sense of colour balance and detail, despite the glasses meaning some light loss. However, a TV is capable of far greater brightness than a cinema projector so the 3D images are much brighter than I am used to in the cinema, which is a definite advantage of 3D TV.
As I have previously mentioned in my review of the Samsung C8000, I found 3D gaming to be particularly immersive and exciting. If you can excuse the pun, gaming takes on a whole new dimension in 3D and I think this will be the primary driver of the technology over the next year.
I only had a one minor complaint with the 3D technology, during my time with the P65VT20, and that related to the glasses which were heavy and not very comfortable. However, unlike the Samsung active glasses, if you tilt your head the lenses don't go dark, which is good news for people who want to lie down whilst watching 3D content.
I certainly enjoyed watching 3D content more on the P65VT20 than I had on the Samsung C8000 and I suspect his was in part due to the increased screen size. I found the 3D images on the 65" screen very immersive and quite involving in a way far more reminiscent of watching 3D movies at the cinema.
- The best black levels of any new TV on the market
- Good out of the box performance in THX mode
- Reference greyscale and colour reproduction when calibrated
- Lack of PWM noise and clean looking images
- Freeview HD and Freesat HD built-in
- Reference level 3D performance
- Excellent build quality
- Excellent lag times for gamers
- Full ISFccc calibration controls
- THX Certified
- Two Pairs of 3D glasses included with the display
- WiFi dongle included with the display
- The display appears to have a processing issue with 50Hz material that results in artefacts
- Uncertainty over long term black level performance
- Some visible banding with certain material
- Menu design gets in the way when calibrating
- Some users may see flicker from the image
- 3D glasses not that comfortable
- Still lacks film cadence detection
- CMS lacks full three way control for colour, hue and luminance as well as no control for secondary colours
- Greyscale calibration only uses as a 2 point control as opposed to the 10 point controls available on some other displays
- Lack of content on Viera Cast
- Uses considerably more power than its LCD rivals
- Extra 3D glasses are expensive
- The price which is comparable to a good projector
Panasonic VT20 (TX-P65VT20B) Review
Overall the P65VT20 is an excellent display that is hampered by an unfortunate processing problem. The Greyscale performance and colour accuracy are reference and the black levels are the best you will see on any consumer display currently available. As a 3D display, the P65VT20 is also excellent with a very sharp, bright and detailed 3D image that is almost entirely free from crosstalk. In addition, the performance with 24p and 60Hz 2D material is equally as impressive, with a sharp and nicely rendered image. Unfortunately this is not the case with 50Hz material and since a great deal of people's viewing material will be in 50Hz this could be something of a problem.
When displays start to get larger than 50", you have to consider whether it wouldn't be more sensible to simply just buy a projector and a screen. The price would be about the same, it would probably take up less room and the performance might well be better. In my opinion the real advantage to buying a display this large is for watching 3D content and, here, there is no doubt that the larger size definitely increases the impact of 3D.
Finally, why has this version of the VT20 not received a highly recommended badge like its smaller brother? Well that is all because of the added size of the screen needing more real estate and showing up picture issues more clearly given the screen size. Plus, the price of this TV is not insignificant and that means issues like the 50Hz artefacts, described above, is, in our opinion, not acceptable on such a flagship unit. So while the 65 inch VT20 does still offer many of the excellent attributes in picture quality and 3D playback, that its smaller brother has, it also adds some new issues that in our opinion spoil the party to a degree that is not conducive to awarding this model a highly recommended badge. We wait to see what feedback we get from Panasonic, on the highlighted issues, and if a fix is forthcoming we will certainly look at re-assessing this model. As always those interested in buying this model should demo the TV for themselves to see if the points raised are going to affect their enjoyment and viewing habits when owning this HDTV.
3D Picture Quality
Ease Of Use
Value for Money
Contrast/Dynamic Range/Black Level
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