Panasonic Convention 2012 - Six million local dimming zones!

Steve Withers

Reviewer
That got your attention, didn't it? To be honest, I'm being slightly disingenuous because whilst I did see some marketing blurb from Panasonic that actually used that phrase - ‘Six Million Cell Ultimate Local Dimming' to be precise - they were referring to their plasma line-up, a technology that has, of course, always had six million local dimming zones. That's because in a plasma each pixel is composed of three individual cells, each of which can be controlled individually, and each Full HD panel consists of over two million pixels, so if you do the maths, that equates to six million individually controlled zones. Panasonic are clearly making the point that other LCD manufacturers are trying to create a marketing gimmick out of an inherent weakness of their technology. In this case, it's the fact that because the backlight is behind the LCD panel and the pixels can never completely block out the light, the blacks on LCD TVs are never really black. In an attempt to address this, LCD manufacturers have created blocks or zones of LEDs that can be turned off completely in order to deliver better blacks. The problem is that unless there are a lot of zones, any bright object that crosses two zones will glow like a kid in a Ready Brek commercial. The only way to avoid this haloing is to increase the number of zones and clearly the ideal number would be two million to match the number of pixels that comprise the image. Since plasma cells are self-illuminating, they can actually turn off and thus deliver great blacks but they also exceed even the two million magic number since there are three cells to each pixel, resulting in a panel that uses six million individually controllable and dimmable cells to create an image. Sometimes you just need to use really big numbers to show the superiority of plasma in certain areas.

Of course, this isn't the first time that LCD manufacturers have tried to turn an inherent weakness of their technology into a marketing gimmick and that leads us neatly on to Panasonic's new 2500Hz Focused Field Drive. One of the fundamental limitations of LCD technology is that it takes a long time (in engineering terms) for a pixel to change from one colour to another, about 4ms at best. As a result, even native 200Hz panels have response times that can be too slow, especially with fast motion. LCD manufacturers have tried to address this through a number of different methods, including picture processing and frame interpolation, which often results in its own problems and more recently with backlight scanning where the backlight effectively flashes to increase the claimed response time. Of course, when a manufacturer claims that its LCD TV is 800Hz that just isn't true, anymore than the contrast ratio is 1,000,000:1, because the native response time of the panel remains 200Hz. When it comes to plasma, the response time is near instantaneous, about 1.4ms, which is how long the plasma cell is illuminated. Here in the UK our TV signal uses 50Hz which equates to 50 fields per a second or one field every 20ms, which means that for the plasma to keep the cell illuminated for that 20ms it must pulse the cell 12 times. Therefore, every second there are 50 fields and 12 pulses per a field, which means that effectively the image is being refreshed 600 times a second or at 600Hz. This is what plasma manufacturers call the Sub Field Drive Refresh Rate and was initially quoted as a way of combatting the claims of LCD manufactures by showing how clearly superior plasma is in this area. Of course this hasn't stopped LCD manufacturers from making misleading claims regarding the refresh rates on their panels but that's nothing new, after all an LED TV is just an LCD TV with an LED backlight. However, to address the claimed increases in LCD refresh rates, Panasonic has managed to develop their 2500Hz Focused Field Drive, which increases the response time of the plasma cells to an incredible 0.4ms, equating to 50 pulses per a field and an effective refresh rate of 2500 times a second. Once again when you break it down, the superiority of plasma in certain areas becomes evident.

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X, XT and UT Plasma Models

OK that's enough of a technical preamble, let's get down the nitty gritty and go through Panasonic's new TV line-up, model by model, kicking off with the plasmas. The line-up itself begins with the entry level X series which replaces 2011‘s C series and comes in 42 and 50” screen sizes, is HD Ready and has 600Hz Sub Field Drive. Next in the line-up is the XT50 which as the T suffix suggests, includes active shutter 3D and again comes in 42 and 50” screen sizes, is HD Ready and has 600Hz Sub Field Drive. After the entry level plasmas, we move on to the UT50 which comes in 42 and 50” screen sizes and offers Full HD, 2000Hz Sub Field Drive, active shutter 3D, Smart VIERA, is WiFi Ready and can be controlled by the VIERA Remote App.

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ST Model

Moving up to the more high end plasmas, we have the ST50 which is also Full HD, uses Neo Plasma Panel with 2000Hz Focused Field Drive, active shutter 3D, Smart VIERA and can be controlled by the VIERA Remote App but includes High Contrast and Infinite Black Pro filters and built-in WiFi. The bezel is an attractive gun metal grey and the screen sizes include the normal 42, 50 and 55” but now Panasonic has added a 65” version.

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GT Model

Whilst it isn't surprising to discover that the next model in the line-up is the GT50, it is perhaps a little surprising that it only comes in 42 and 50” screen sizes. The design is very similar to last year, except that Panasonic have sensibly moved the silver trim from the inside of the bezel to the outside. In terms specifications it is very similar to the top of the line VT50, with the new Neo Plasma Black Panel 2500 that includes the 2500Hz Focused Field Drive, active shutter 3D, Infinite Black Pro and High Contrast Pro filters with 24,576 gradations, THX Certification, Smart VIERA, USB recording, Dual Core processor, built-in WiFi and the VIERA Remote App. The similarities between the GT and VT was one of the problems last year and with the GT walking off with a number of awards, Panasonic found the GT cannibalising VT sales. This year the GT is not only available in just two sizes, it has been classed as a specialist product for limited distribution; so reading between the lines, I expect Panasonic to drop the GT line next year.

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VT Model

Finally we have the VT50 with its familiar glass facia and silver trim, although the bezel is slightly smaller than last year. As I have already mentioned the VT50's specifications are very similar to the GT50 but it uses the Infinite Black Ultra filter and includes two pairs of glasses and an additional touch pad remote. In terms of screen sizes, the VT50 comes in 50, 55 and 65” screen sizes and prices should be similar to last year.

You will probably notice that Panasonic have dropped the 46” screen size from their entire line-up because it was just too close to 50” and presumably wasn't selling well. In addition, all of Panasonic's new line-up come with Freeview HD as standard and the GT50 and VT50 also include Freesat HD. Panasonic have managed to improve the energy efficiency of their Neo Plasma Panel but rather than reduce the power consumption, they have used this saving to boost the brightness by 30%. This should please all those calibrators who were struggling to get decent light output in the ISF Day mode. As far as image quality goes it is never easy to tell on a show floor, especially when the TVs are in dynamic mode but when I had a chance to grab a remote and play with a VT50 I thought that the image looked very nice. Having said that there was still evidence of banding, just as we saw at CES, but hopefully this was just inherent in the content being shown rather than issue with the TV itself, obviously we'll have to wait until we get them in for review. We also discovered that all the TVs were showing 60Hz material, which meant we couldn't look for signs of the 50Hz bug. We did see a comparison between this year's VT50 and last year's VT30, designed to show how better the motion handling of the 2500Hz panel was but once we'd put them both in THX mode, I really couldn't see any difference. Still, overall this remains an impressive line-up of plasmas and I'm sure there is something to please even the most demanding Forum member.

Moving on to Panasonic's LED LCD line-up and we start with the entry level E series that includes 150Hz, Brilliant Contrast ambient light filter, IPS Clear Panel for 178 degree viewing angle and screen sizes of 32, 37, 42 and 47”. Then we have the rather interesting ET5 which is a passive 3D TV! Yes, who would have thought the most vocal supporter of active shutter would release a passive 3D TV but here it is. According to Panasonic, the logic is that they want to offer an entry level 3D TV but to keep the costs down they will use a 100Hz panel which doesn't work as well with active shutter 3D. So instead they will use a passive panel provided by a third party vendor (their name has two letters in it apparently) and include four pairs of passive glasses. Even Panasonic had to grudgingly admit that at the cheaper end of the market, passive 3D makes more sense. Aside from the passive 3D, the ET5 also includes an IPS Clear Panel, 300Hz with backlight scanning, Brilliant Contrast filter, WiFi Ready, Smart VIERA and comes in 32, 37, 42, 47 and 55” screen sizes.

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ET50 Model

At the premium end of the scale we have the ET50 which includes Progressive 3D Full HD, as Panasonic are describing active shutter now, presumably to differentiate it from the passive varierty. It also includes 800Hz with backlight scanning, an IPS Clear Panel, Brilliant Contrast filter, Built-in WiFi, Smart VIERA and comes in 32, 37, 42, 47 and 55” screen sizes.

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DT50 Model

After that we have the DT50, which has active shutter 3D, 1600Hz, IPS Clear Panel Pro, Brilliant Contrast filter, Dual Core Processor, USB recording, Built-in WiFi, Smart VIERA and comes in 42, 47 and 55” screen sizes.

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WT50 Model

Finally we have the WT50 which includes all the features found on the DT50 but also includes the Infinite Contrast filter, two pairs of glasses, a touch pad remote and comes in 42, 47 and 55” screen sizes. As with the plasma line-up the design of the LED LCD TVs is very attractive, although the use of metal and the look of the stand are a little derivative.

As with the plasmas, all of Panasonic's 2012 LED LCD TVs include Freeview HD and the DT50 and WT50 will include Freesat HD. Only the VT50 and WT50 will come with active shutter glasses and as mentioned previously the ET5 will come with four pairs of passive glasses. All of Panasonic's TVs this year incorporate their ‘metal and glass' philosophy and the aim is for larger screen sizes with 70% over 42” but with a thin chassis - 27mm for the plasmas and 10mm for the LCD TVs. The basic concept behind the TV design, is a combination of picture quality, design, ease of use, networking and energy efficiency, all powered by Panasonic's “black box technology”. For their LED LCD TVs, Panasonic have managed a 40% reduction in power consumption compared to 2011 and in other good news, pricing will not be dissimilar to last year for comparable screen sizes. Whilst it is no longer being heavily promoted, over 70% of Panasonic's TVs will be 3D capable and I think that we can expect to see more passive 3D displays in the future. Panasonic is hopeful that more 3D content, such as 3D broadcasts from the Olympics will help push 3D but even they had to admit that the take up has been very disappointing.

Panasonic will also include Smart VIERA in the majority of their TVs this year, with the aim that 54% of all their TVs will be internet capable by 2015. However, this number is more likely to be driven by the fact that most new TVs will be internet capable, rather than customer demand. It is true that people are more interested in internet TV than they are in 3D, especially catch-up services but at present only about 30% of users are actually using their internet TV, based upon registration data. However Panasonic are also keen to further develop Smart VIERA and transform the TV from a ‘broadcast receiver' into an ‘interactive communication device' that will be at the centre of what they call the ‘digital hearth'. This will allow users to connect, create and share content via DLNA, Air Play, Bluetooth, WiFi or on the Cloud, whilst the addition of Dual Core Processing will speed up the platform and allow users to multitask, such as watching TV and using Skype simultaneously. Interaction is simplicity itself and once you have downloaded the VIERA remote app onto your smartphone or tablet, you can not only control your TV but ‘swipe' content directly on to it. By ‘swipe' I mean you hold your finger down on the image or video and then literally swipe up, the content will then appear on the TV. Thanks to the inclusion of the Dual Core Processor, Smart VIERA TVs also have a full web browser and flash support. It remains to be seen if manufacturers can convince consumers to reconcile the inherently passive nature of watching TV with the more interactive nature of the internet, only time will tell.

Panasonic's VIERA line-up will continue to evolve and as Panasonic pointed out, they already offer a 152” 4K2K TV, as well as a 20” 4K2K TV, not to mention 3D plasma and IPS LED LCD TVs. According to Panasonic, next year there will be 2 primary plasma models (ST & VT) and 3 primary LED LCD (ET, DT & WT) models, plus some entry level models. Whilst Panasonic are keen to stress that they are still committed to plasma, they also can't ignore consumer trends and since they have a massive LCD factory it would be crazy not to produce more LED LCD TVs. The ultimate end game seems fairly clear though, with plasma being slowly phased out, as new display technologies like OLED are introduced. Whilst there won't be any releases this year, I think we can expect to see more from Panasonic in the form of OLED and 4K2K next year.

Watch our in-depth video from the convention
 

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Deleted member 380720

Guest
Most informative as always, thank you.

Only one quick question: When you saw the VT30 next to a VT50 you say you saw little difference, was this just in respect of motion handling or was the claimed increase in brightness not apparent?


Thanks

I should add the background to my question is the current wracking of one's brain as to whether to pick up a VT30 on the cheap or wait for a VT50!
 
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Moolers

Active Member
Thanks Steve,
The opening 2 paragraphs are possibly the most informative and helpful I've ever read on AVF.
I could never explain correctly to my mates why refresh rates are never as good as the marketing blurb would suggest and now I can just point them to this thread..!!:thumbsup:
 

Steve Withers

Reviewer
Only one quick question: When you saw the VT30 next to a VT50 you say you saw little difference, was this just in respect of motion handling or was the claimed increase in brightness not apparent?

I was only referring to the motion handling, it was difficult to really determine just how much additional brightness the new panels have without actually taking measurements.
 

Steve Withers

Reviewer
I should add the background to my question is the current wracking of one's brain as to whether to pick up a VT30 on the cheap or wait for a VT50!

The age old dilemma :)
 

deblee

Active Member
good post Steve
Interested in the UT50, does this have any form of contrast or a/r filter this year do you know?
 

Steve Withers

Reviewer
Interested in the UT50, does this have any form of contrast or a/r filter this year do you know?

I don't think it does, which I guess is what differentiates the UT from the ST.
 

Steve Withers

Reviewer
I hope that the GT being classed as a specialist product does not mean higher prices...

No I think that it will only be sold through certain outlets and that supply will be limited, especially for the 50" version, so that people buy the 50" VT50 instead.
 

mikelj

Well-known Member
Thanks Steve.

Apologies for sounding dismissive of your excellent post, but have you any idea when Panasonic are likely to announce the details of the replacements for their current professional/commercial displays?
 

Steve Withers

Reviewer
No idea Mike but for anyone interested in their current professional line-up, I should be getting the BT300 in for review at the beginning of next week.
 

Gauchoo

Active Member
Really looking forward to this years panny plasmas with the new tech.

Wonder what the input lag will be with the higher end models.

And also the power consumption
 
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gmarceau

Standard Member
Really amazing coverage, Steve and Phil! Absolutely the best videos in the business. I'm a little concerned that by being phased out in a few years, plasma is going to stop innovating. Although Panasonic continues to insist that they still believe plasma is the best technology out there and these LEDs are to be competitive, it'll be disappointing if plasma leaves sooner rather than later. Many were expecting it to be around until 2020 at the earliest.
 

Remoth169

Active Member
No I think that it will only be sold through certain outlets and that supply will be limited, especially for the 50" version, so that people buy the 50" VT50 instead.

Thanks, Steve. Interesting though, that this restriction only seems to apply to EU, since in NA the GT will be available in 4 sizes, while there will be only 2 sizes for the VT.
 

Steve Withers

Reviewer
And also the power consumption

As I mention in the article, Panasonic have used the energy savings this year to increase the brightness which means the power consumption on their plasmas should be the same as last year. For their LED LCD TVs, Panasonic claim a 40% reduction in power consumption compared to last year.
 

Steve Withers

Reviewer
Thanks, Steve. Interesting though, that this restriction only seems to apply to EU, since in NA the GT will be available in 4 sizes, while there will be only 2 sizes for the VT.

My personal opinion is that the GT is being phased out, at least here in Europe but I really can't comment on what Panasonic are up to in the States or Japan for that matter.
 
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Steve Withers

Reviewer
I'm a little concerned that by being phased out in a few years, plasma is going to stop innovating. Although Panasonic continues to insist that they still believe plasma is the best technology out there and these LEDs are to be competitive, it'll be disappointing if plasma leaves sooner rather than later. Many were expecting it to be around until 2020 at the earliest.

I'm sure there will still be plasmas around for a few more years but the reality is that it's a dwindling market and plasma sales are a fraction of those for LED LCD TVs. I think Panasonic will be the last to abandon plasma but with the popularity of LED LCD TVs and the arrival of OLED and possibly CLED, I can't help but feel plasma's days are numbered.
 

barlimanrob

Active Member
Thanks guys for bringing up the 'green blob issue.'
 

Remoth169

Active Member
I'm sure there will still be plasmas around for a few more years but the reality is that it's a dwindling market and plasma sales are a fraction of those for LED LCD TVs. I think Panasonic will be the last to abandon plasma but with the popularity of LED LCD TVs and the arrival of OLED and possibly CLED, I can't help but feel plasma's days are numbered.

I agree completely.
I really hope OLED proves to be a viable technology with no major problems as it appears to be a very good plasma replacement. I won't miss plasma if a different technology with equal or better performance would be available for the same price :)
 

Jacksdad999

Well-known Member
Great video. I would be interested to know if they have thoroughly tested these new plasma panels for green blobs. If they are 'blob free' then surely they can work out what the problem is with 2011 sets and develop a fix. Would be terrible if Panasonic are willing to release these new models knowing full well that they also suffer from this issue.
 

davidcrofter

Well-known Member
I am not so sure about the imminent death of plasma - that all depends solely on OLED which is an unknown tech in TV's this size. I certainly think it could take OLED's 4 or 5 years to iron out their problems and then another 2 or 3 before they start hitting the right price point.

When you think you can pick up a decent 50" ST30 for under 600 quid it would take a brave man to say OLED can hit that sort of price-point any time soon ... but until they release them it is all just total guesswork imho.:D
 

Steve Withers

Reviewer
It's pure conjecture on my part but based upon what I've seen and reading between the lines of what the manufacturers have said, I think they'll be gone in five years.
 

BrynTeg

Distinguished Member
again well done for bringing up the green blob:D

So do you think the DT50 and WT50 will be out by April?
 

NW3

Active Member
Great review and explanation of the technology! I know you mentioned in the editorial that the screens were running 60hz so you couldn't check the 50hz bug but I'm quite surprised you didn't ask about it in the interviews? Before green blobs became the issue this was pretty much the biggest issue and something I remember Phil raising on his Japan factory trip. If they haven't fixed it I think that's very,very poor indeed.
 

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