Panasonic have certainly released some impressive plasma displays this year from the entry level ST30, the THX certified GT30 and the top of the range 2D display the G30. However it is the top of the line VT30 that attracted the most attention with its newly designed chassis and promises of 'Kuroesque' blacks. Our review of the 50inch VT30 revealed a display that combines excellent design and build quality with the kind of blacks that do indeed rival those of the mighty Kuro. The VT30 also incorporates some of the best 3D performance on the market and includes Panasonic's impressive new internet platform.
There were of course some minor problems but we were surprised to see that the 50Hz issues and brightness fluctuations experienced on the ST30, GT30 and G30 were far less apparent on the VT30. Would these issues remain insignificant on the P65VT30 or would the far larger screen size make them much more obvious? Well let's hire a crane, winch the not inconsiderable 65" beast into our test room and take a look.
Styling and Connections
The chassis itself is only 4cm wide at the top and 6cm wide at the bottom which is surprisingly thin when you consider how large this display is. There are speakers hidden at the bottom of the chassis and the P65VT30 has two woofers built flat into the rear panel. Thanks to this and the larger size of the P65VT30 the audio on this display was actually quite good with a much fuller sound than other flat panel displays. Whilst it can't compete with an external amplifier, if you do intend to use the internal speakers they are certainly more than adequate for normal TV viewing.
The rear of the chassis is made of black metal and there are three fans at the top, although you can't hear them when the display is on. Sometimes plasmas can emit a buzzing noise that is essentially a side effect of the technology (our reference Kuro is actually quite noisy) but the P65VT30 was silent in this respect unless you held your head right up to the chassis. The whole display feels very well built and solid which is appropriate given its high end status. However, there is one factor that must be taken into account if you are considering buying the P65VT30 - this baby is heavy. Really heavy! Obviously given that it has a 65" screen you wouldn't expect it to be light but the solid construction and use of a single sheet of glass for the front means that it weighs a considerable 56kg (63kg including the stand). You will need to bear this in mind wherever you plan on installing the P65VT30 but especially if you are considering wall mounting. If this display fell on you it would almost certainly kill you and your only consolation would be that the box it comes in is so big you could literally be buried in it.
At the rear of the panel are all the connections including the power lead which is now hard wired to the chassis. Whilst this has obviously been added as a safety feature, it might cause some problems for users especially as the lead isn't very long. If you are planning on wall mounting the P65VT30 you will need to run a power supply box and fuse to the mount position so please bear that in mind. Of course if you are planning on wall mounting the P65VT30 you might want to also think about reinforcing your wall!
There has been a trend amongst all the manufacturers to position the HDMI inputs at the side of their displays and Panasonic are no exception with the connections all being repositioned in comparison to the VT20 from last year. The HDMI inputs are now side mounted and positioned about 15cm from the left hand-side of the panel when looking from the front, which is surprisingly close when you consider how big this display is and there is a danger that high quality cables can sit out of the sides. The solution here would be to use right angled HDMI adaptors but perhaps Panasonic could look at moving the connections further away from the panel edge on future models to fix this problem? Of these four HDMI inputs it is HDMI 2 that is set up for use with the Audio Return Channel (ARC) on suitably equipped AVRs.
The Freesat and Freeview HD aerial sockets are downward facing at the bottom of the connections block and are joined by a LAN connection for auto calibration and internet use. There are also special connectors for SCART, composite video, component video and analogue audio (which all use provided break-out adaptor cables) as well as a digital audio out and a headphone socket. Also at the back, in a recess, there are two USB sockets which can be used for recharging Panasonic's new 3D glasses. Also on the side are a third USB slot for use with a HDD for the recording features, as well as a CI (common interface) slot and SD Card slot. We would be surprised if the generous number of source connections were not enough for the vast majority of users.
Along with the display itself, the remote control provided with the P65VT30 has also had a facelift and now includes backlit number and volume keys. It is nice to see that Panasonic has seen fit to try and update its rather basic and plastic remote control units provided with their TVs and that the flagship gets a nicer looking unit. We found the remote to be well built, sensibly laid out, easy to use and comfortable to hold. However, as nice as the remote is, we suspect that many of those buying the P65VT30 will be using some form of system controller. Panasonic also provide a free application that can be used with tablets and similar devices to control the P65VT30 that we found to be quite useful.
The P65VT30 comes with two pairs of 3D glasses included that are the latest design from Panasonic which finally does away with the open sides that let in light reflections and marred the experience. These new glasses are available in three sizes (Large, Medium and Small) and are certainly more comfortable than last year’s models. In terms of syncing the TV with the 3D glasses they still use IR and not Bluetooth like the latest Samsung models, but we never experienced any issues with sync loss unless we looked well away from the TV transmitter for more than a few seconds. The build quality is also pretty good for a set of plastic glasses and weight is improved over last year’s models, although they are still quite heavy. We did however find them to be far more comfortable than last year's glasses and we were happy to wear them for extended periods. However when used in daylight conditions the flicker produced is still quite distracting and will be an issue for a few potential owners. In terms of battery life, the new glasses are rechargeable via USB and a nice touch with the P65VT30 is the provision of a USB extender with a charging station, which means you don’t have to keep accessing the USB connections on the rear of the TV to recharge the glasses.
Menus and Set Up
Within the Setup menu there are controls for the Eco Navigation, Recording Setup, Link Settings, Child Lock, Display Settings, Network Setup, DivX VOD, System Menu and the control for turning the Advanced (ISFccc) menus on or off. It is in this menu that you will find the option to select your preference for either the TV or AV inputs when you turn the display on. This means that if you use an external PVR the P65VT30 will default to the AV inputs rather than the internal tuner.
The P65VT30 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 we found this control to be of no real benefit so turned it off.
Finally there is a 3D Settings sub-menu in which the 2D to 3D Depth control allows you to select the 3D image depth on 2D to 3D conversion as well as a 3D Adjustment for controlling the depth on actual 3D material. There is a control called Picture Sequence which reverses the 3D image and an Edge Smoother function that is presumably designed to work with lower resolution side-by-side material. Finally there is a 3D Detection mode that when on will automatically detect the 3D signal (frame sequential, side-by-side or top and bottom) and display it correctly.
Once the WiFi dongle is setup you can access Panasonic's new Viera Connect internet platform. This replaces the Viera Cast system and opens up the platform to developers so they can add in new applications over the life of the service. The fact that Panasonic has opened up their cloud based network to the development community is a nice touch and hopefully we will start to see some excellent applications added soon. At the moment the Viera Connect platform is a little lacking in terms of overall content but we have been assured that as the year goes on we will see plenty of new functionality and applications being added.
That’s not to say that the service is not without some highlights available now, such as the BBC iPlayer which is formatted to work perfectly well with the P65VT30. Picture quality and speed is of a high enough quality to be pleasing enough to watch catch up TV programs on. Other services include Facebook (you need to connect your account via the Panasonic website to get your sign in details), Skype video calling if you have purchased the required camera, ACE TRAX video on demand services (subscription service), YouTube, Twitter, Screen rush, Euro news, Ustream (coming soon), Picasa, Daily Motion, Weather, Bloomberg and Euro Sport. With IPTV becoming a larger part of the TV world, we wouldn’t be surprised if the services grow further and offer more to end users. As it is now, with the addition of Viera Market to choose even more applications (some are subscription services) you may just find yourself using the service far more than the outgoing Viera Cast system that lacked any really interesting content. It is a shame that previous Panasonic TVs are not upgradable to receive this new Connect system because it actually is very good.
The P65VT30 is also DLNA compliant for streaming content and files from your home network as well as video and photos from SD Cards or USB keys. Most file types are supported including DIVX HD and 3D video files.
The other major new feature on the P65VT30 and also the 2011 GT and G series is the SpectraCAL auto calibration feature. This is a dealer only option and at this present time not available to end users. However, a professional calibrator or dealer who offers the service can hook up their CalMAN 4.2 calibration software via RS232 or LAN to the P65VT30 along with their meter and perform an automatic calibration of the TV. Don’t worry if you don’t have a local dealer or calibrator suitably equipped as the advanced controls available on the P65VT30 allow full manual calibration. We had hoped to test the auto calibration feature for this review but despite updating the display's firmware to v1.518 and having the correct version of CalMAN we were unable to get the display to recognise the laptop. There are clearly some teething problems to sort out but the auto calibration function will be an important feature in the future.
In terms of how the features differ between the VT30 and GT30 series, the P65VT30 uses a new blacker Louvre filter on the screen surface which is darker than that available on the GT30. This helps prevent ambient light washing out the image in a bright room and increases the black level. Other differences include the aforementioned set up features and calibration controls, along with the one sheet design and the inclusion of two pairs of 3D glasses and a WiFi dongle.
Measured Results Out of the BoxAs always in this section of the review we look for the best possible settings out of the box that are as close to the industry standards for colour gamut and greyscale as possible. We measured all the possible picture set up options using CalMAN 4.2 calibration software and a Klein K-10 and settled on the THX mode as the most accurate out of the box setting. The P65VT30 had been allowed to run in for over 150 hours before we started any measurements and tests.
The CIE chart above shows that overall the colour gamut in THX mode is quite good with the overall DeltaE of all the colours being below 5 and some below 3. The errors in luminance are all below 3 which is good because it is errors to the brightness of colours that our eyes are most susceptible to. Some of these errors are probably the result of discolouration in the colour of white which can be easily seen on the DeltaE chart and will drop out once we calibrate the greyscale. Otherwise the main areas that need correction are the hue of red (DeltaH) and the saturation of green (DeltaC) but with the comprehensive colour management system available this should be relatively simple.
Calibrated ResultsThe P65VT30 technically provides two methods to fully calibrate the display and the first is the usual method we employ which is to perform a full manual calibration using the more detailed adjustments offered on the VT30. The second possible route would be to perform an auto calibration using the CalMAN 4.2 interface, however as mentioned previously we weren't able to get the P65VT30 to talk to the software via the LAN connection. This was unfortunate but the comprehensive number of manual calibration controls mean that we will certainly be able to produce an exceptionally accurate image.
Just as the advanced calibration controls resulted in an incredible level of performance for the greyscale so it was the same with the colour gamut. After we calibrated the greyscale the colour temperature is now measuring exactly on the industry standard of D65 which immediately improved the colour accuracy. We were then able to use the CMS to dial in the luminance, hue and colour of all three primary and secondary colours. The results are now as perfect as the greyscale with the colour gamut at exactly Rec.709 and the errors all measuring below 1.0. Panasonic are to be congratulated for including such comprehensive calibration controls that can deliver greyscale and colour gamut performance that is absolutely reference.
Video ProcessingThis is the sixth Panasonic plasma that we have reviewed this year and as we expected overall the performance of the P65VT30 in the video processing tests was excellent, with just the usual minor issues. Using both the PAL and NTSC HQV benchmark discs the SMPTE colour bar test was reproduced correctly, with the P65VT30 scaling the full 576i and 480i images without any loss of detail or unwanted ringing. The P65VT30 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 P65VT30 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.
As expected based on our previous experiences the P65VT30 managed to correctly detect 3:2 (NTSC - USA/Japan) film cadence as long as the Clear Cinema function is on. However the P65VT30 struggled to detect 2:2 (PAL - European) cadence, it took nearly 3 seconds to lock onto 2:2 cadence at 50Hz and completely failed to lock onto 2:2 cadence at 30fps. Whilst the P65VT30 still couldn’t correctly detect 2:2 (PAL - European) cadence, it is a step in the right direction and yet another example of Panasonic listening to review feedback. Hopefully the engineers at Panasonic are reading this and the 2012 displays will finally be able to correctly detect 2:2 film cadence. The P65VT30 also performed well when displaying film material mixed with scrolling video text and correctly displayed the words without blurring or shredding.
The P65VT30 also performed extremely well in most of the tests on the HQV Blu-ray using high definition content. With the player set to 1080i the display correctly deinterlaced and displayed both the video and film resolution tests (provided the 16:9 Overscan setting is turned off) and showed very good scaling and filtering performance as well as excellent resolution enhancement. The P65VT30 also had no problems in showing video text overlaid on film based material.
It is important to ensure that the Intelligent 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 P65VT30 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 P65VT30. The headroom performance of the P65VT30 was very good correctly reproducing from reference white (video level 235) up to peak white (video level 255). Whilst technically video is supposed to be between video levels 16-235 in actual fact there will be peak information between video levels 253 and 255 so it is important that a display doesn’t clip all the way up to video level 255. Conversely the P65VT30 only showed picture information down to reference black (video level 17) which is good because we want to see detail below to video level 17 but no below it.
Gaming PerformanceThe P65VT30 has a measured input lag of 25ms in Game mode which is very good although slightly slower than some of Panasonic other plasmas including the recently reviewed P42C3B - which has an impressive input lag of only 16ms. It is quite often the case that the cheaper entry level displays have lower input lags when compared to the higher end models but then a display like the P65VT30 isn't really aimed at the gaming market. The lag was slightly higher at about 28ms in 3D but overall the P65VT30 should still be fast enough for all but the most hardcore gamers.
Energy ConsumptionClearly anyone who buys a 65" plasma is probably not going to be that concerned about the display's energy consumption but Panasonic however do place a great deal of importance in the energy efficiency of their 2011 models. Since a plasma uses a self-illuminating technology this means the power consumption varies with the content shown on screen, the brighter the content the greater the amount of power used. The energy consumption was tested using 0, 50 and 100 IRE static windows in the calibrated picture mode and we measured 65 watts, 100 watts and 200 watts respectively. When viewing normal material in a calibrated mode the power consumption averaged 300 watts but this was on the full screen as opposed to an IRE window. Obviously in 3D mode the screen is brighter which will result in greater energy consumption but considering its size the P65VT30 is actually as energy efficient as Panasonic claim.
Picture Quality - 2D
The issue of image breakup with 50Hz material has been widely discussed since it was first documented in our review of the P65VT20 last year and was quite obvious in the reviews of the GT30 and G30 this year. Compared to those displays the 50Hz problem appears much less obvious on the VT30 and in fact quite often it wasn't apparent at all. When we used our usual football test to check for breakup in the centre white line, the effect was actually quite subtle and far from obvious. Where it became most apparent was in fast camera pans when you would see people's faces the colours breakup resulting in colour bands. This effect was distinct from posterisation which is a side effect of plasma technology but even on a screen of this size it was rare enough for it not to be an issue. However given how much this display costs we would strongly recommend demoing the P65VT30 just to ensure that it isn't a problem that you will find annoying.
The black levels on the P65VT30 are superb with deep shadows that contain strong gradations that never lose detail. This is the first plasma we have reviewed whose blacks can compete with the Kuro and Panasonic are to be congratulated for their achievement. In fact it is a sign of how good these blacks are that when watching 2.35:1 material the black bars merge into the bezel, an effect we had only seen on our reference Kuro before. Here at AVForums we don't place much importance on measuring black levels because there are too many factors that can affect the results from the environment to the accuracy of the meter but we realise some people do and since we took some measurements with the P50VT30 we repeated the tests here.
As with the previous review of the P50VT30 we measured the P65VT30 with our Klein K-10 in dark surroundings and calibrated mode we got 0.02 cd/m2 at 0IRE and 79.20 cd/m2 at 100IRE using standard window patterns from our Sencore MP500 - this equates to an on/off contrast ratio of 3,960:1. By comparison our 2 year old Pioneer LX5090 Kuro measured 0.03 cd/m2 at 0IRE and 109.80 cd/m2 at 100IRE in dark surroundings and a calibrated mode - this equates to an on/off contrast ratio of 3,660:1. The ANSI contrast ratio measurements on the Pioneer were 0.04 cd/m2 for black and 84.90 cd/m2 for white which equates to 2,122:1, whilst the P65VT30 measured 0.03 cd/m2 black and 73.10 cd/m2 which equates to 2,437:1.
There are none of the issues with 'floating blacks' that plagued some of last year's Panasonics and neither did the P65VT30 suffer from the brightness fluctuations that we have seen on the GT30 and G30. In fact we only saw what might have been a brightness fluctuation twice in the entire review period. There were also no problems with image retention or banding which often affect plasmas from LG and Samsung. The amount of PWM noise was minimal but there is still an occasional flicker from the P65VT30 which might be visible to those that are susceptible. The use of the louvre filter is designed to reject light that hits the screen from above and thus stop the image from being washed and in this area it is very successful. However the use of a single piece of glass in the design of the display can result in reflections from light hitting the screen directly and care should be taken when positioning the display.
Picture Quality - 3D
Where the P65VT30 really benefits is in terms of screen size because with 3D the bigger the better. At a screen size of 65" we found 3D on the P65VT30 to be a truly immersive experience that made you feel as though you were entering the environment rather than just looking at it 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 occasional instances of crosstalk but you really had to look for them and they were never distracting. The display was able to handle fast movement without ghosting or artefacts which was especially obvious when playing fast moving 3D games.
With the comprehensive calibration controls it is also possible to calibrate the P65VT30's 3D image using an expensive non-contact meter, so we may see some UK professionals adding this service in the near future. However, for the vast majority of users this kind of calibration will never be possible, or cost effective, so it is important to look at what end users will be given in terms of image quality here.
The P65VT30 is THX certified for 3D playback and in this mode the image colour balance holds up to a reasonable standard with only a slight reduction in image brightness, if compared to the other picture modes in 3D. The reason for colour balance issues is two-fold. As soon as you put the glasses on you lose image brightness and in doing so, the colour changes. To combat this you would have to calibrate the image for the glasses. However as things stand at the moment, the actual lenses of the glasses (being plastic coated) are never the same even in just one pair. So as you can see we are far from being able to attain absolute image accuracy in 3D modes. But don't let that put you off as the 3D performance on the VT30 is stunning and we can put up with some colour balance issues for the time being and enjoy a huge 3D image here on the 65 inch screen.
Overall the P65VT30 produced a very compelling big screen 3D image and it is certainly some of the best 3D we have experienced outside of the crazy price bracket of a VX200.
- Excellent reference black levels
- Superb dynamic range and contrast
- Excellent colour accuracy out of the box in THX mode
- Good greyscale out of the box in THX mode
- Reference level greyscale when calibrated
- Reference colour reproduction when calibrated
- Excellent calibration controls
- THX and ISF certified
- Reference level 3D playback for a TV
- Minimal crosstalk
- Excellent 3D THX mode
- Excellent video processing
- Excellent motion resolution
- Two pairs of 3D Glasses included
- WiFi Dongle included
- Premium remote included
- Viera Connect shows real promise
- Minimal input lag
- Subtle instances of 50Hz break-up with fast pans
- Screen is very reflective and may be an issue for some users
- Rare instances of brightness fluctuations
- HDMI connections too close to edge of the screen
- Still some issues with 2:2 cadence
- Some users may suffer from image flicker
- Additional 3D glasses are expensive
Panasonic VT30 (TX-P65VT30) 3D Plasma Review
Panasonic have certainly raised their game in 2011 and there is no doubt that the VT30 is arguably the best consumer display currently on the market. It has a beautiful design that provides an elegant and contemporary look but it also has the solid build quality of a premium product. The VT30 comes with THX certification for both 2D and 3D that provides a reasonably accurate out of the box performance that is especially effective with 3D material. For those that wish to utilise the services of a professional calibrator the VT30 also has ISFccc controls that are some of the most comprehensive and effective that we have seen, resulting in reference picture accuracy. Not only have Panasonic made incredible improvements in terms of picture accuracy but in conjunction with CalMAN their new auto calibration capabilities will provide the next stage in the evolution of display calibration.
The result of this wonderfully accurate picture are incredible images in 2D, especially when watching Blu-rays at 24p where the smooth images and amazing levels of detail really shine. In fact any high definition image looks amazing on the P65VT30, where the deep blacks and superb dynamic range create a wonderfully effective big screen image. Obviously standard definition material suffers slightly when shown on such a large screen but the quality scaling results in images that are still very watchable. In fact the quality of the image can be quite merciless in revealing limitations in the source material especially with standard definition broadcast material.
The 3D performance of the P65VT30 is excellent and really benefits from the larger screen size. The additional inches mean that the 3D is far more immersive and feels less like looking through a window and more like actually being there. Overall we regard the Panasonic plasmas as providing a reference 3D performance for consumer displays with wonderful clarity and motion handling as well as bright and largely flicker free images. Thanks to the THX preset the 3D images have a reasonably accurate image and there was almost no crosstalk which is very impressive.
The P65VT30 also benefits from all the other excellent features that are available on the VT30 series including Panasonic's new Viera Connect internet platform that is a huge improvement on the previous Viera Cast and offers enormous potential in the future. The new look remote control nicely matches the redesigned chassis and the P65VT30 also includes a WiFi dongle as well as two pairs of 3D glasses which are a big improvement on last year's design. For the gamers out there, the input lag is also very low at only 25ms.
Of course the P65VT30 isn't perfect but then to be honest no current display is and we feel that the minor issues associated with this display are not enough to detract from its overall excellence. The biggest issue is still how the display handles 50Hz material and whilst we did see the artefact on occasion we felt that it was far less obvious than last year and even less than we saw on the ST30 and GT30.
On a very rare occasion we saw some brightness fluctuation - literally only two times during the whole period of testing - and it was far less than we saw with the GT30. As is always the case with Panasonic plasmas there is a degree of flicker that some people might notice and whilst it is good that their displays can now detect 3:2 cadence correctly it really is about time that Panasonic sorted out 2:2 cadence detection. However on the plus side we experienced none of the banding or image retention that can affect plasmas from LG or Samsung.
Ultimately the P65VT30 is a superb display that offers a reference performance in terms of blacks, dynamic range, image accuracy and 3D. It is only the continuing minor issues with 50Hz material that stop the P65VT30 from getting a reference score overall but this shouldn't put you off giving this beauty a demo. Is the P65VT30 the Kuro replacement that the enthusiast has impatiently been waiting for? Quite possibly and it is certainly an excellent display that offers exceptional big screen performance - highly recommended.
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