I've never really been interested in the Olympics but for some reason I found myself transfixed by the sporting prowess on display during at London 2012. This new found enthusiasm might be due to the fact they were taking place in London and Team GB did so well, it might also be because the BBC's coverage was so good but I also think the fact I was watching it on the Panasonic P65VT50 added to the enjoyment. There's no denying that when it comes to sporting events, the larger the screen, the bigger the impact. So the ideal solution is to get a projector but the reality is that not everyone has the space or the right environment for a projector. So if you want big screen action without the hassle of a projector, you need top consider a TV with a 60" plus screen size.
Although there are a few larger LED LCD screens around, at the moment the biggest remain the domain of the plasma, so where better to start than the P65VT50. We have already reviewed the 50inch and the 55VT50, with both becoming the first TVs to win Reference badges in over three years. Given its pedigree we would expect the P65VT50 to be equally as good but sometimes there can be differences between panel sizes and it's possible the larger screen might reveal problems missed in the earlier reviews. So let's put the P65VT50 through its paces and see if it has what it takes to join its illustrious brothers on the podium.
Design and Connections
The rear of the P65VT50 is made of black metal and as with all the other Panasonic TVs we have reviewed this year, the build quality is excellent. We couldn't hear any buzz when the P65VT50 was on but it does use cooling fans and these could be audible, especially during very quiet passages in movies or TV shows. Remarkably, despite the 65" screen size, the P65VT50 is only 4cm deep but even with these svelte dimensions the entire display weighs a hefty 43kg, no doubt thanks to the glass front. At the rear are standard fixing points for wall mounting and the provided stand is rectangular in shape, with a two-tone gunmetal grey to silver finish and a silver trim. The overall design of the P65VT50 is both contemporary and tasteful, with a solid construction that perfectly compliments its flagship status.
The Picture sub-menu offers a series of Viewing Modes including Dynamic, Normal, Cinema, THX Cinema, THX Bright Room and Game. There are also two Professional modes that need be activated in the Settings menu and can be locked by professional calibrators as isf Day and Night settings. This sub-menu also includes all the usual picture controls such as Contrast for adjusting the luminance of the video signal, Brightness for adjusting the black level, Colour control and Sharpness.
There is Vivid Colour which boosts the saturation of the colours and C.A.T.S. (Contrast Automatic Tracking System) which is used to adjust picture contrast according to ambient light in the room but this can cause fluctuations in the image and is best left off. There is also 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 Colour Balance option that gives the user the choice of Remaster (a wider colour gamut) or three industry standards - Rec.709, SMPTE-C and EBU.
There is also a control for Intelligent Frame Creation or 24p Smooth Film (when the content is encoded at 24p) which can be set to Off/Min/Mid/Max. The Clear Cinema mode is for film cadence detection and is best left on. The DVI Input can be set to either Normal or Full, where Normal represents video levels (16-235) and Full corresponds to PC levels (0-255) but if the input is straight HDMI – rather than a HDMI to DVI connection – the VT50 will automatically operate in Normal mode. There is also a 3D Refresh Rate control, which we will cover later in the review. Finally the Side Panel control increases or decreases the brightness of the side panels, whilst the Pixel Orbiter and Scrolling Bar functions are designed to reduce image retention.
The P65VT50 has an extensive selection of calibration controls including a ten point parametric Gamma control. This Gamma control allows for selection of a specific curve of either 1.8, 2.0, 2.2, 2.4 or 2.6, as well as an S curve. There is also a parametric control for fine tuning the gamma curve at specific IRE points. Last year this control introduced artefacts when used but hopefully things have improved this year.
Audio and Features
The P65VT50 has as extensive a set of smart TV features as you are likely to find anywhere and thanks to built-in WiFi, Bluetooth compatibility and DLNA certification, 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. The P65VT50 has dual core processing which makes VIERA Connect far more responsive than previously and that includes the new web browser. 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 P65VT50. Panasonic's new 'swiping' feature makes it easy to send content from your tablet or smartphone to the P65VT50 or vice versa - allowing you to continue watching TV on your tablet or smartphone, even when the TV itself is turned off.
Out-of-the-Box MeasurementsWhen you first turn the P65VT50 on, it defaults to the Normal picture mode and whilst this isn't as bad as the Dynamic mode, it's still not ideal. In this mode C.A.T.S. (Contrast Automatic Tracking System) is on, which can cause brightness fluctuations and the Sharpness control is set too high, resulting in ringing. The Normal mode also defaults to IFC (Intelligent Frame Creation) at Max and Noise Reduction set to Auto. In addition, it sets 16:9 Overscan to On and the Aspect Ratio to Auto, which results in scaling and a loss of image resolution.
As you can see from the graphs above the Normal mode's greyscale is tracking with too much blue energy and not enough red; this is quite common because it gives whites a blue tinge that makes them appear 'whiter' to our eyes. However this produces a colour of white that is far from our industry standards and thus results in sizeable DeltaEs (errors), that are clearly visible in test patterns. In addition, the Gamma curve is a long way below our target of 2.2 and as a result the overall image is too bright, washing out the picture. Unsurprisingly, the Colour Gamut is also wildly over-saturated, with a colour space far larger than the industry standard and resulting in an obvious excess of green.
Basic Set-Up ResultsThankfully the image accuracy of the P65VT50 can be vastly improved by just selecting a few simple options. First the best picture mode to select is the THX Cinema mode, which will attempt to match the industry standards as closely as possible. The THX mode defaults to 16:9 Overscan off but it is important to also select an Aspect Ratio of 16:9; this will ensure you retain all the high resolution detail. Thankfully the THX mode turns off most of the special features but it is best to check that Vivid Colour, C.A.T.S., Noise Reduction and IFC or 24p Smooth Film are all turned off. You can however leave Clear Cinema and 1080p Pure Direct on. We also used test patterns to correctly set the Contrast, Brightness and Sharpness controls.
As the above graph shows, the Greyscale performance is now much better, with blue tracking quite close to our target of 100, with a slight deficit of red and a slight excess of green. Overall this resulted in some minor errors, especially around 60, 80 and 90 IRE but the majority were below five, which means that they border on what is perceptible to the human eye. The Gamma curve is also much better, hitting our target of 2.2 from 50-100 IRE and increasing slightly to 2.4 below 40 IRE. In the Professional picture modes there is a two point and a ten point white balance control and a parametric gamma control, which should allow us to improve this performance still further.
The CIE Chart above shows that the Colour Gamut in the THX mode is now very close to the industry standard of Rec.709, with only minor errors in red being noticeable, although as a result there are also some tiny errors in the colour and hue of yellow and the luminance of magenta. Once again the Professional picture modes include a full six axis Colour Management System (CMS), so this performance can be calibrated to an even higher level of accuracy.
Calibrated ResultsFor these measurements, we chose one of the Professional picture modes and selected the Rec.709 Colour Balance and a Gamma curve of 2.2. As with the THX picture mode, we made sure that all the unwanted features were turned off, that Clear Cinema and 1080p Pure Direct were on and that we set the Brightness, Contrast and Sharpness controls correctly. We were then ready to use the more advanced calibration controls to hopefully bring the P65VT50 into line with all the industry standards.
As the above graph ably shows, the overall greyscale performance is nothing short of reference. The selection of a Gamma of 2.2 delivered a measurement very close to that target and we were able to use a few clicks on the parametric control to bring the curve exactly in line with our target. Last year we found that using the 10 point Gamma controls could introduce unwanted artefacts but there appeared to be no such issues this year. The two and ten point White Balance controls meant that we could fine tune the RGB Tracking and the resulting greyscale is essentially perfect, with errors that are all less than one.
The accuracy of the colour gamut was immediately improved by the reference greyscale, with white now measuring exactly at D65. The CMS allows for control of the Luminance, Colour and Hue of the three primary colours (red, green and blue) and the three secondary colours (cyan, magenta and yellow) and as a result we were able to fine tune the colour accuracy to a reference standard. The overall errors are now all less than one and the errors in all the other categories are also less than one, with the exception of a tiny amount of under saturation in the colours of both red and magenta. However this is an absolutely fantastic performance and this is simply one of the most accurate pictures we have measured.
Above is a new graph that we have recently added to our reviews thanks to the latest CalMAN5 beta software and its enhanced features. The normal CIE Chart that we use demonstrates colour performance at 100% saturation levels and at a 75% luminance but, thanks to the enhancements in CalMAN5, it’s now possible to show you how a display copes at different levels of colour saturation and for the purposes of this test we’ve chosen 25, 50, 75 and 100%. We've only measured the saturation tracking on a few TVs so far, so we're still building up a picture of the comparative abilities of the various displays we have in for review. Looking at the P65VT50's performance there is some slight over-saturation of the three primary colours at 25, 50 and 75% stimulus but the secondary colours look good and in general the tracking is very linear. So overall we would class the P65VT50's saturation tracking as very good and certainly the best that we have measured to date.
Contrast and Black LevelWhilst you can never just rely on measurements to judge the performance of a display, we appreciate that a lot of people like to know the numbers when it comes to both full black and peak white. This is of particular interest with the P65VT50 because Panasonic has limited the light output of the panel in the two Professional picture modes. This was borne out by the measurements, with THX Cinema delivering 100% white at 106 cd/m2 compared to 81 cd/m2 from the Professional modes. This difference wasn't especially noticeable when comparing the two modes with real world material and we had no problems using the calibrated Professional picture modes for both day and night viewing. However some people might feel they need the additional brightness during the day and as a result, some calibrators now calibrate the THX greyscale in the service menu in order to provide their clients with an alternative day setting.
There have been reports of black levels also differing between the THX Cinema and Professional picture modes and whilst we didn't find this to be the case with the P50VT50 and P55VT50 screens that we reviewed, we did find a difference on the P65VT50. Using a full black screen we measured the THX Cinema mode at 0.009cd/m2 and the Professional modes at 0.014 cd/m2. We should point out that there was some fluctuation in the measurements but overall the THX Picture mode did deliver a slightly better black level, although it also appeared to have slightly more dither noise in dark areas of the picture. Based on these measurements, the THX Cinema picture mode is capable of delivering an excellent 11,778:1 on/off contrast ratio, whilst the Professional picture modes are limited to 5,786:1, although that's still a very impressive number.
However, on/off contrast ratios are only part of the story and of far greater importance is how the display performs when mixed content is on the screen. This is the intra-frame or ANSI contrast ratio, so called because we use an ANSI checker board pattern to take the measurements. The P65VT50 performed superbly well in this test and as you can see on the graphic above, the uniformity across the screen is very consistent in the perfectly calibrated Professional picture mode. The averaged light output is 86cd/m2 and the averaged black level is 0.018 which gives an ANSI contrast ratio of 4,778:1, which is again excellent. You are never looking at just a black or white screen, which is why the intra-frame performance is so important and these measurements show that the P65VT50 can deliver a fantastic contrast ratio and dynamic range with real world material. For this reason, whilst there might be an absolute difference between the THX Cinema and Professional picture modes, there was no real perceivable difference between them with normal viewing content.
Video ProcessingThe performance of the P65VT50's video processing was excellent, it reproduced all the detail and resolution tests correctly and scaled the standard definition images without any loss of detail or unwanted ringing. It also scored very highly in the jaggies tests, 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 P65VT50 was able to 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 and it displayed film material mixed with scrolling video text without blurring or shredding.
We checked the high definition performance of the P65VT50 and it correctly deinterlaced and displayed both the video and film resolution tests provided 16:9 Overscan was set to off. The P65VT50 also showed very good scaling and filtering abilities, as well as extremely impressive resolution enhancement capabilities. When it came to 1080p24 content, the P65VT50 delivered incredibly smooth movement and even 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 P65VT50 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, as evidenced by the six concentric squares in the white, red, green and blue patterns on the Spears and Munsil disc.
The P65VT50 could also handle a full luma and chroma bandwidth and delivered excellent resolution for both. Thanks to the new 1080p Pure Direct mode, the P65VT50 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. However, it certainly shouldn't cause any harm to leave the 1080p Pure Direct mode on and benefit from any possible improvements, especially if your using the P65VT50 with one of Panasonic's latest Blu-ray players.
We discuss motion handling in more detail in the picture quality sections but overall the motion handling on the P65VT50 was excellent and using the FPD Benchmark disc, the full 1080 lines of resolution were visible on the moving tests. The P65VT50 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 P65VT50 didn't need any additional processing and the results looked spectacular.
Using our new input lag tester, we measured an input lag of 47ms with the P65VT50 in Game mode, which is comparable with measurements we have made on other Panasonic plasmas this year. Whilst a lag of 47ms might be a little high for the serious gamer, it is certainly good enough for most people and when gaming we were never really aware of any lag. Plasma technology has the trait of showing up the low motion deficiencies inherent with games running under 60 frames per second natively and the P65VT50 was no exception but it never bothered us.
- Standby: 17W
- Out-of-the-Box – Normal Mode: 146W
- Calibrated – THX Mode: 245W
- Calibrated - Professional Mode: 215W
Picture Quality - 2D
The excellent video processing meant that standard definition material looked very good, which is important on a 65" screen, and high definition content was just breath-taking. When we put on a Blu-ray, the P65VT50 produced incredibly detailed and film-like pictures with smooth judder free motion that delivered wonderful big screen entertainment. The P65VT50 also showed superb levels of shadow detail, which was all the more remarkable because these details were being retained whilst still delivering some of the best blacks we have measured.
Thanks to all these factors, the P65VT50 could deliver wonderful images that did full justice to the BBC's remarkable coverage of the Olympics. The stadium shots were bristling with detail and the close-ups of athletes showed every bead of sweat. The colours and vibrancy of the opening ceremony was perfectly replicated and, in the evening, the night skies looked suitably black. The P65VT50 handled all the fast motion equally as well and regardless of which sport you were watching you never missed any of the action. The glass front was never a problem, even when watching during those occasional sunny days and the off axis performance was rock solid, which was handy when keeping one eye on the action from the kitchen.
As far as any possible problem areas were concerned, we had no issues with image retention or flicker, although the latter can very much depend on the individual. Panasonic plasmas have always been very good when it comes to image retention and even after leaving a high contrast multi-burst pattern up for a minute, any retained image was gone within minutes. We didn't see any line bleed, nor did we experience any colour flashes although people who are susceptible to rainbows might. We also didn't have any problems with screen uniformity, green blobs, brightness pops or floating blacks. Whilst we can't guarantee that issues won't manifest over a prolonged period, we certainly didn't have any problems during three weeks of fairly heavy usage.
We also had no problems with the 50Hz bug, even on the larger screen size. Yes it was there if you went looking for it but during the hours and hours of Olympic sport that we watched, we were never aware of it. In fact the only problem that were really aware of was dynamic false contouring, which could become apparent on occasion, especially during hand held close-ups of the athletes. The larger screen size obviously made the contouring more obvious but given all the different coverage and the multitude of sports we watched, it was only visible occasionally and certainly didn't detract from our enjoyment of the wonderful images being produced by the P65VT50.
Picture Quality - 3D
Thanks to the inclusion of the THX 3D mode the P65VT50 is capable of delivering a reasonably accurate 3D picture out-of-the-box, with a bright image 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.
However, the P65VT50 really has the edge over smaller screen sizes when it comes to 3D and thanks to the huge 65" panel, it could deliver an incredibly detailed and immersive 3D experience, especially with 3D Blu-rays. The P65VT50 handled the frame sequential 3D with ease, delivering smooth motion and detailed images that were almost free of crosstalk, even when watching all those black penguins against white ice in Happy Feet Two. There were very occasional instances of crosstalk but you really had to look for them and so they were never distracting.
Thanks to the BBC there has been quite a lot of side-by-side 3D content broadcast this summer, including the Wimbledon Finals and the opening and closing ceremonies of the Olympics. We remain ambivalent about tennis in 3D because the camera angles make it difficult to follow the action but the Olympic ceremonies looked spectacular. The BBC also broadcast highlights of the games in 3D each evening and here it was more successful, especially in the swimming and track and field. Ultimately though, whatever the 3D content, the P65VT50 is another winner from Panasonic that can deliver a wonderfully engaging 3D experience.
- Reference black levels
- Dynamic range is equally as impressive
- Lack of PWM noise and clean looking images
- Excellent out-of-the-box greyscale
- Reference greyscale after calibration
- Excellent out-of-the-box colour gamut
- Reference colour gamut after calibration
- Comprehensive calibration controls
- Reference 3D performance
- Excellent video processing
- Incredible motion, especially with Blu-ray
- VIERA Connect is effective and responsive
- THX Cinema and Bright Room modes are effective
- 8 train speakers work very well
- Built-in WiFi, Freesat HD and Freeview HD
- Well designed menus and remote control
- Attractive design and excellent build quality
- Very 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
- Slightly better blacks in THX Cinema than in Professional Modes
- Professional modes could be brighter
- HDMI inputs are too close to the edge
Panasonic VT50 (TX-P65VT50) 65 Inch 3D Plasma TV Review
The P65VT50 uses the same menu system as all of Panasonic’s other 2012 displays and it includes a extensive set of calibration features, including two and ten point white balance controls, a parametric gamma control and a full colour management system. The combination of the P65VT50's sheer size and Panasonic's new 8 train speakers resulted in an audio performance that was actually very good and should please anyone thinking of using the built-in sound capabilities. The measured input lag was 47ms in Game mode, which should be low enough for all but the most hardcore of gamers and considering its size, the P65VT50 is reasonably energy efficient for a plasma.
Thanks to built-in WiFi, Bluetooth compatibility and DLNA certification, the P65VT50 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. The P65VT50 has dual core processing which makes VIERA Connect far more responsive than previously and that includes the new web browser. 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 P65VT50. Panasonic's new 'swiping' feature makes it easy to send content from your tablet or smartphone to the P65VT50 or vice versa - allowing you to continue watching TV on your tablet or smartphone, even when the TV itself is turned off.
Thanks to the excellent calibration controls, the P65VT50 is capable of an incredibly accurate picture, with the amazing dynamic range and excellent video processing, delivering wonderful 2D images. Regardless of the source, the P65VT50 was capable of delivering jaw-dropping images and thanks to the video processing even standard definition looked good on a screen this size. However, when the P65VT50 was 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 motion handling was also excellent, especially on Blu-ray content, where images had a smooth film-like quality that was free from judder.
The black levels were superb, although we did notice that we got slightly better measurements in the THX mode than in the Professional modes. The THX mode was also brighter which effectively gave it a much higher contrast ratio, although this wasn’t apparent when watching real world material and there seemed to be more dither noise in the blacks. We had no problems with the 50Hz bug, even on the larger screen size and we were never really aware of it, unless we went looking for it. In fact the only problem that were really aware of was occasional dynamic false contouring, which the larger screen size obviously made more obvious. However, even then it certainly didn't detract from our enjoyment of the wonderful images being produced by the P65VT50.
As far as other possible problems were concerned, we had no issues with image retention or flicker, although the latter can very much depend on the individual. Panasonic plasmas have always been very good when it comes to image retention and even after leaving a high contrast multi-burst pattern up for a minute, any retained image was gone within minutes. We didn't see any line bleed, nor did we experience any colour flashes although people who are susceptible to rainbows might. We also didn't have any problems with screen uniformity, green blobs, brightness pops or floating blacks.
Unsurprisingly the larger screen size of the P65VT50 really allows it to deliver some impressive and immersive 3D images. The 3D produced by the P65VT50 was excellent, with well defined depth and a sense of solidity to the objects on screen. The P65VT50 was able to detect and correctly display 3D images regardless of whether it was a frame sequential Blu-ray, a side-by-side TV broadcast or a 3D game. There is a dedicated 3D menu for users to customise their 3D experience and the 3D modes can be calibrated separately from the 2D modes, although the THX mode seemed to offer the best compromise in 3D.
The Panasonic P65VT50 certainly makes for a tempting package, combining a large screen size with attractive looks and a reference performance. So if you're looking for some big screen TV action, it should definitely be at the top of your list.
Contrast/Dynamic Range/Black Level
3D Picture Quality
Ease Of Use
Value for Money
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