What is the Panasonic TX-P55VT65B?
Design and Connections
The speaker performance was greatly helped along by the addition of a small subwoofer, secreted somewhere within the confines of the chassis, which helped deliver genuinely defined voice tones and more clout than you would expect, with special effects benefitting significantly from the added low frequency. We generally treat manufacturer’s claims for improved sound quality with a pinch of salt but Panasonic has actually managed to make good on theirs this time and the VT65 produces a very pleasing audio performance with enough dynamism to make you think twice about that soundbar purchase.
The more we look at it the more we like the Panasonic TX-P55VT65B and it’s predominantly down to the fact its overriding colour is black in its outward projection. The VT65B features a ‘one sheet of glass’ design with an integrated 3cm wide bezel – to the sides - and there’s a further half a centimetre, or so, where the perforations of the speaker grille can be seen and it’s all finished off with a silver trim, providing a very solid frame for the on-screen images. That’s not to say the VT65 is old-fashioned in appearance and the base-stand, in particular, is extremely stylish with the new V-Shaped connector which secures it to the chassis. The VT65 doesn’t swivel, unfortunately, but since viewing angles are not an issue with plasma technology, it’s not a huge omission. Here is also probably a good place to mention the efficacy of Panasonic’s new-and-improved High Contrast Filter Pro which performs its primary goal of maintaining the pictures’ punch in more challenging environments by combatting the amount of light let it in to the plasma cells, extremely well. The fact we can now choose from a range of ‘Panel Brightness’ settings only helps the VT65’s cause further but we’ll look at that more later on.
The front of the panel doesn’t just act as a filter, it also protects the screen when it’s being used in conjunction with the Touchpen, although with having kids in the house, we’re never going to get that out, other than for test purposes when they’re safely tucked away in chambers. The chassis is just over 5cm deep and has numerous vents on the back of the panel for cooling – but some might be disappointed by the inclusion of a couple of cooling fans, at either side, that you can sometimes here whispering in low volume scenes. It never troubled us but we realise there are personal tolerances to consider.
All 3 – and we think there should be 4 – HDMI connections are sideways facing, which makes wall mounting easier, but are only 12cm, or so, from the edge of the bezel. Which means if you prefer chunkier HDMI cables, you may need to apply more force than you would want to your cables in order they can be concealed effectively. Along with the HDMI ports, also side-pointing are three USB ports, a headphone socket, a SD card slot, a Common Interface (CI) slot and an optical digital audio output. Facing downwards there are aerial and satellite inputs, an Ethernet port and the AV1 and AV2 inputs for legacy connections. The AV2 connection doubles up for component and composite video and the AV selection menu lets you manually select which type of signal is being sent, whilst the AV1 input is exclusively for SCART sources. There’s two satellite antennae inputs (for dual tuner recording), a single DTV aerial terminal – internally it’s also dual for Freeview HD recording - and the VT65 also features a service port which we assume can be used in place of the absent RS232 port for the custom install market; those involved in that particular business may also like to know that the P55VT65B comes with a 1.5m long three-pin power cable that attaches to a rearward facing socket using a right angled connector to aid wall mounting. It’s also probably worth noting that Panasonic has dropped D-SUB VGA connections for PC’s in 2013, so it’s DVI/HDMI only from here on in.
If you fancy a simpler way to navigate around menus and assume general control of the VT65, the new Touch Pad controller might suit your tastes. It’s very similar to last years, which we liked, but now includes a ‘trigger’ to the rear, so it’s even better! It’s actually a very good design choice by Panasonic, making the Touch Pad much easier to use one-handed; whereas previously you were required to enter in to a spot of thumb gymnastics to keep the experience smooth when wanting to verify a selection. That’s a long way of saying it acts as an Enter/OK button and does so very well. As the name would suggest, the Smart controller has a touchpad that allows for some rudimentary TV controls, such as volume or channel selection but it really comes in to its own when used to scroll the internet functions and apps. New for 2013 is a built-in microphone offering its own command interface which actually works very well and comes in to its own more with the likes of content and web searches than it does for day-to-day duties, such as changing channel or volume. That’a matter for personal taste, of course, but credit to Panasonic for integrating a voice control system that can respond to a Northern accent!
The TX-P55VT65 ships with two sets of Panasonic’s latest active shutter 3D glasses (TY-ER3D5MA), which seem to have had a slight makeover since last year. The new glasses share the same general design as the earlier ones, so they’re still relatively featherweight and comfortable to wear and they’re also pleasingly tint-free so wont discolour 3D images in any meaningful way. The glasses utilise the new RF standard so you should never have any problem with syncing and run from watch style batteries.
Moving in to the Menus ‘proper’ and the basic look of the Graphical User Interface (GUI) is familiar from last year’s ranges with a two-tone blue and gold colour scheme and sharp, easy to read text in sharp white. The Menus are split in to six submenus, Picture, Sound, Network, Timer, Set and a new Help section which, amongst other things, includes an ‘eHELP’ interactive menu, which like similar iManuals we’ve seen from other manufacturers, provides excellent assistance to more novice users, although we’d imagine the user-friendly nature of most of the menus shouldn’t require much in the way of explanation.
Moving on to the second page there are controls for the Ambient Sensor, Noise Reduction, MPEG Remaster, Resolution Remaster, Caption Smoother, Brilliance Enhancer and Intelligent Frame Creation - all of which should be turned off if image fidelity is important to you. Don’t forget that Intelligent Frame Creation becomes 24p Smooth Film when you’re watching 24p content and in some of the modes it defaults to maximum, so make sure that is off as well. Also on this page you can access the Advanced Settings, Option Settings, Screen Settings and 3D Settings submenus.
The Option Settings sub-menu allows for selecting the Game Mode and the 1080p Pure Direct mode, as well as engaging the Film Cadence Mode. Here is also where you’ll find the setting for HDMI RGB Range, which, unless you’re hooking up a PC, will be best set at Normal range but it’s good to see that it’s assignable per input. Finally, should you so wish, the HDMI inputs can be set to be expecting Graphics or Photos with some automatic picture adjustments then applied, but unless this a professional requirement, we’d advise leaving at the default Auto setting.
The next submenu is Screen Settings, where you can turn 16:9 Overscan off - although make sure you have also selected the 16:9 Aspect Ratio. If you have the aspect ratio set to Auto, Panasonic TVs will still scale the picture up even with 16:9 Overscan set to off. Other controls include H-Size, Zoom Adjustments, Screen Display, Side Panel, Pixel Orbiter and the Scrolling Bar, with the latter two designed to prevent and reduce the effects of image retention, respectively.
The last submenu is 3D Settings and here you can make adjustments to the 3D performance, although generally you shouldn’t need to make any changes when watching 3D content. However should you need to the options include 3D Detection, 3D Signal Message, 3D Refresh Rate, 2D to 3D Depth, 3D Adjustment, L/R Picture Swap, Edge Smoother and Safety Precautions.
Basic SetupPanasonic’s new Custom Viewing Mode gives calibrators a third – or arguably 4th, including THX Cinema – accurate preset from which to make their manipulations and it has all the necessary adjustments to gain first-class accuracy. As it transpired, the Custom and Professional ISF modes measured near identical once some basic adjustments had been made and we could just as easily have used one over the other for our calibration but what everyone really wants to know is, how does the new Red Phosphor affect performance? Well, let’s first take a look at that.
Elsewhere, Greyscale tracking was fantastic for an out-of-the-box mode (both Pro and Custom with Warm Colour Temperature) but the Gamma tracking wasn’t quite so flat. It should be noted that the panel had less than 50 hours on the clock before calibration and it’s likely that will settle down some as the panel ages but we simply couldn’t wait to get stuck in and watch some calibrated images. With the available controls we shouldn’t have any problems in rectifying the gamma, in any case.
As we suspected, there was absolutely no chance in bringing the Native Gamut in to anything like the Rec.709 standard so its uses in the home should be limited to, perhaps, gaming and/or animation, where it can be fun to have over-saturated colours. For anyone serious about their video, Rec.709 is the only option for other HD material and we were actually able to fix the pre-calibrated under-saturation of red using a combination of the Contrast slider, White Balance calibration and a tickle on the CMS. So whilst the DCI claims are just a bit of marketing bluster, the new red phosphor is useful. About the only thing we couldn’t get perfect was Blue, which was irretrievably over-saturated but seeing as its overall Delta Error is only around 1.5, not something you’re going to notice. As we can see from the chart below, we can also see that the VT65 can be brought in to hit its lower saturation targets too but, not – we repeat not – in the Native gamut which will always look overblown, no matter what you try.
Contrast, Black Levels and Screen UniformityWe were already satisfied with last year’s Panasonic’s in this department so the fact they’ve managed to extend the dynamic range, at both ends, is a fantastic achievement. Using the Mid Panel Luminance setting we were comfortably able to achieve 120cd/m2 on full white pattern and with an all black screen reading of 0.005 cd/m2, this gives a staggering 24,000:1 On/Off contrast ratio. We could push the Mid-level setting to around 145 cd/m to get around 30,000:1 but didn’t feel the need. Naturally the High Panel Luminance can give you even more but since it messes with the rest of the picture so much, we didn’t bother measuring.
Panasonic’s bête noire amongst our forum members for the 50 series came in the form of some unevenly illuminated strips running vertically down some panels, also known as ‘Vertical Banding’. We did see it ourselves with a few of the review samples but it rarely bothered us whilst watching real-world content but we are, nevertheless, delighted to report the VT65 under scrutiny here was absolutely beautifully uniform. We checked with grey and coloured slides, the Software update screen and several televised Football games and we saw not a glimpse of any banding so Panasonic seems to have got on top of that issue. For the conspiracy theorists out there - who frankly have no clue on how the process works - the TX-P55VT65B reviewed here was from a retail source so any notions of the so-called – and mythical – ‘Golden Sample’ can be put to bed.
Video ProcessingPanasonic’s new Hexa-Processing Engine is seriously good and with a few twiddles of the, otherwise unnecessary, added controls such as MPEG Remaster and Resolution Remaster and Noise Reduction settings, it’s possible to get even low quality content looking relatively good. We hate to admit that’s an important concern but in the days of Smart TV, the internet and YouTube et al, it is a concern for many. The VT65 passed all the resolution tests with it scaling the images without any loss of detail or unwanted ringing. The Panasonic 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 P65VT65B had no problems correctly detecting both 3:2 (NTSC - USA/Japan) and 2:2 (PAL - European) film cadence, as long as the Film Cadence Mode is turned on.
When it came to 1080i material the P50GT60 correctly deinterlaced and displayed both the video and film resolution tests provided 16:9 Overscan was set to off in the Screen settings. As per last year’s V Ts, when it came to 1080p24 content it was able to produce superbly smooth movement and even on the torturous moving wedge tests on the Spears and Munsil disc. The P55VT65 was comfortably capable of hitting reference white and, even more impressively, was able to show 1% black simultaneously, giving a staggering dynamic range.
Panasonic’s latest 3000Hz Focused Field Drive meant it was able to ace the FPD Benchmark disc, where the full 1080 lines of resolution were clearly visible on the moving tests. The VT65 includes an Intelligent Frame Creation setting for 50 and 60Hz content, which is a frame interpolation feature that offers a choice of Off/Min/Mid/Max. As Steve found with the GT60, the Min setting does very little with motion perhaps appearing just ever so slightly clearer but we honestly never felt a pressing need to engage it, at all. That goes double (maybe more) for the 24p Smooth Film function which makes film appear as video shot on a (not very good) handheld camera.
- Standby: 0W
- Out-of-the-Box – Normal Mode: 388W
- Calibrated – Professional Mode: 203W
- Calibrated - 3D Mode: 403W
Panasonic TX-P55VT65B Picture Quality 2D
We’ve never had cause for complaint with the handling of 1080p24 content but it’s equally gratifying to impart the fact that the best with Blu-ray’s just got better. The benefits of the tweaked Focused Field Drive (FFD) make their way on to high definition disc too, and we were transfixed in reverence by The Hobbit Blu-ray, which looked considerably better at 24 frames per second than it did at the cinema in HFR. But it’s not only the motion, it’s the look and ‘feel’ of the VT65’s picture that inspires, delivering the most analogue and film like experience we’ve seen since TVs went digital; LED TVs will never look like this and if OLED can’t manage it either, we’re in no rush for its almost inevitable replacement of PDP as the connoisseur’s choice of TV display.
Speaking of OLED, it had also better make good on its claims of almost infinite contrast and cavernous black levels as the VT65 is imbued with such dynamic range that it can fair take the breath away. Apologies to regular readers – and it’s almost over now so I won’t keep harping on about it – but the Spartacus HD series really is a treat for the eyes (and not just for the candy), with its stylised colour palette underpinned by some great CGI and photography and it’s a categorical fact that this reviewer has never seen it delivered in such fine style – colours were deliciously rich and saturated, skin-tones wonderfully realised and shadow detail abundantly clear; probably a good point to mention that the VT65 is very neutral near black, with no visible colour tint and all the better for that. In fact, the beautiful nuance of the fine colour gradations starts at black and pretty much just keeps on going until pictures go very, very bright.
Away from the test patterns and software, we used Spartacus to test the effects of trying to force Rec 709 in to the Native Colour Gamut which only confirmed what we suspected, it really doesn’t work unless you like all your actors to have suntans, even when they don’t. We can see a superficial appeal, especially with colours at full saturation but that’s not where most of the action is so we’d advise avoiding its initially enticing allure – television and film doesn’t get made by accident, it gets made to standards and won’t look as it’s supposed to unless they’re followed. Simple stuff really.
There has to be a catch, right? OK, there are a couple of things that could be improved but they’re fairly minor. Despite the fact that Panasonic has seemingly managed to finally nail motion at 50Hz, we could – just ever so often – see instances of false contouring manifesting as magenta and green fringing to edges such as peoples’ cheekbones or on objects of solid white. We’d put good money on the fact that most will never see it and instances are uncommon and usually very fleeting but it is there and at least it gives Panasonic something to work on for 2014. The only other quibble some might have, is with detecting flicker in brighter scenes. We could see none at ‘Low’ Panel Luminance, a little with ‘Mid’ and lots with ‘High’ but there’s a huge element of personal tolerance at play here so, as ever, we’d advise a demo to make sure you’re not one of the unlucky few that does see it with Panasonic Plasma TVs.
Panasonic TX-P55VT65B Picture Quality 3D
Turning away from frame packed 1080p24 Blu-ray, we put the VT65 through its paces with side-by-side content at 50Hz, i.e. what we see from our broadcasters, and there’s no better test than the Wimbledon footage shot by the BBC. Again, the VT65 came up smelling of roses with just the faintest hint of crosstalk on the tramlines as balls travelled with fierce velocity at diagonal angles across the net. Motion was similarly excellent to the Blu-ray presentations and the detail packed in with either format, was utterly spellbinding, at times. As a personal note, with anything but a single lamp on in the room, I was able to detect a fair bit of flicker but you really shouldn’t be watching 3D in a well-lit room.
- Superb analogue looking images
- Reference black levels
- Incredible contrast ratio and dynamic range
- Lack of PWM noise and clean looking images
- Very good out-of-the-box greyscale
- Reference greyscale after calibration
- Excellent out-of-the-box colour gamut
- Reference color gamut after calibration
- Reference level 3D performance
- Comprehensive calibration controls
- Wonderful motion handling
- Excellent video processing
- Built-in WiFi, Freesat HD and Freeview HD
- Excellent Smart TV platform
- Highly effective remote app
- Well designed menus and remote control
- Attractive design and excellent build quality
- Some DFC
- Stand doesn't swivel
- Fans might bother some
Panasonic TX-P55VT65B (VT65) Plasma TV Review
Those above mentioned calibration controls helped us extract reference accuracy from the VT65B but that’s not the only reference thing about this TV, both motion handling and contrast performance are firmly from the top drawer and that’s not just with Blu-ray disc this time, Panasonic has all but expelled any issues with motion on 50Hz content, at last, but there does remain the odd, and we really mean fleeting, spot of false contouring but that’s just about out only complaint with the 2D pictures on offer. The 3D presentation is also tremendous with the improvements in the Focus Field Drive technology translating over in to the third dimension with improved motion and reduced crosstalk.
The VT65 is an absolute triumph for Panasonic and brings everything to the party one could possibly hope for – stunning dynamic range, steadfastly accurate colours and gloriously silky motion handling. With so many rumours circulating of Panasonic’s imminent departure from the Plasma market , let’s hope that party isn’t a leaving do but we think they’d be crazy to give up on it at this stage when it, so obviously, has so much to give. Bravo Panasonic. Oh, and yes, they’ve done it again, Reference Status.
Contrast/Dynamic Range/Black Level
3D Picture Quality
Ease Of Use
Value for Money
Our Review Ethos
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