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Panasonic TC-PxxVT25

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Product Description

Recently I had a chance to calibrate and evaluate the new Panasonic 65VT25 at Cleveland Plasma. As usual, over the last several days Chris had it breaking in with the break in DVD. Though not one of the super slim sets, the VT25 has a lot of good technology and heritage going for it: 3D capability, THX certification, ISF ccc calibration capability with ControlCAL, and Panasonic's very strong plasma track record. Unfortunately, I was not able to test the 3D or ISF mode at the time of the review, but I will include a follow up report as soon as I am able to test these features.

The first thing I noticed is that the VT25 is very good at diffusing and muting glare in typical living room daytime lighting conditions. With the power off, the screen showed less reflection than the LG 60PK550 I had just calibrated, which was positioned right beside the VT25. The screen was also much darker, though the light revealed a bluish tone compared to the LG's neutral gray. The VT25 does not have the odd off axis double image that last year's Panasonic plasmas showed at extreme angles.

Though as a full time calibrator I get used to seeing sets perfectly calibrated and tweaked, I realize that most people, even AVS members, do not end up getting their sets calibrated. At the risk of coming down too hard on them, I have decided to start paying more attention to how sets perform without any tweaking.

Before calibration impressions:
The VT25 comes out of the box in Standard picture mode, and I took a look at my customary DVE and The Dark Knight demo material before making any adjustments. While Panasonic may have had low power consumption in mind when they made the decision to ship the set in Standard mode, it gets my vote as the mode most likely to make people turn away and make a mad dash to the nearest LCD. My notes include such glowing adjectives as "soft" and "muted"; and I noticed blurred edges, pink/violet fleshtones, severe pumping, crushed blacks, and graininess, especially during movement. Whew! At least the blacks looked nice and dark along with the rest of the picture.

Thankfully, when I switched to the THX picture preset, the VT25's performance took a dramatic about-face. While THX mode is much better suited to dark rooms, even in average lighting conditions it shed most of Standard mode's qualities and showed that this set has the capability to be a great looking display. Though flesh tones appeared to be a little too pink and rosy, the picture acquired a respectable measure of pop and punch, good stability, very good shadow detail, and great blacks. The picture still looked a bit muted, though, and I noticed a little picture grain during movements. Colors appeared to be just a bit pale, and I wasn't falling in love with the somewhat choppy pans (even with 96Hz mode on). THX mode's pre calibration measurements are shown in attachment 1.

Switching from THX mode to Custom brought about a new level of contrast, with the picture nearly oodling pop and punch. Custom mode handled the ambient light very well, and the picture had a good sense of depth and shadow detail. The picture was free of the moire I've been noticing lately on the LG PK550. Of course, my critic's hat was still very much on, and I began to notice that the colors just didn't seem right. In addition to the pink and rosy fleshtones, I found that blond hair tended to look a little greenish. Attachment 2 shows Custom's out of the box measurements.

 
As I began to explore the picture options in Custom mode, I found Panasonic included many useful adjustments such as R/G/B hue and saturation, high and low white balance adjustments, separate block and mosquito noise reduction, gamma presets, and panel brightness selection. There was a selection for blur reduction, which creates sub fields in the picture, but I did not notice any change in the picture during a couple of brief experiments with it.

THX mode does not include most of these options, but that's by design: it's meant to be a "purist" mode, with no artificial enhancements or band aids. THX mode can be fully calibrated with a combination of service menu and user menu adjustments.

After setting up my calibration equipment and getting a start with the white balance adjustments, I found that the VT25 was a little buggy compared to other Panasonic plasmas. Occasionally I would notice that, for some reason, the light output would drop dramatically, among other changes. I was not sure if it was a certain adjustment that triggered the change (maybe the gamma or panel brightness selections), or if it just happened after leaving test patterns up for a certain length of time. Thankfully, cycling through the picture presets brought it back each time.

I calibrated THX mode to use as a night mode, and then worked on Custom as a day mode. After getting THX dialed in to perfection (attachment 3), I began to work on Custom mode. With the aid of the R/G/B hue and saturation adjustments, I was able to get Custom's color to measure about as well as THX mode (attachment 4), while getting the benefit of Custom's higher light output. I calibrated Custom to 50 fL peak light output to match the LG beside it.

At this point I discovered another bit of buggy behavior: Custom's CMS adjustments incorrectly carried over to THX mode, which made THX's colors look extremely pale and washed out! I could find no way to correct this. I finally came to the conclusion that until Panasonic fixes this with a firmware revision or unless ControlCAL is used, the VT25 cannot have a fully calibrated night and day mode.

With a moving 1080i film mode resolution pattern, I saw that the VT25 fully resolved 1080P, though it was a little blurry and grainy around the edges of the moving resolution patches. Pans and movement looked rougher than I am used to, whether looking at 1080i or 1080P/24 with 96Hz on. Measured with my trusty Trichromat-1 meter, the black level was .01 fL and the modified ANSI contrast checked in at 1522:1. There is a good chance that either using Custom mode or ControlCAL's ISF Day mode will result in a higher ANSI contrast ratio.

I stuck with the fully calibrated Custom mode and checked out some demo material. The VT25 showed a fantastic amount of pop and contrast, with a great sense of depth. Shadow detail was very good, though there was a slight bluish cast in very dark objects. Detail was impressive. Although overall color accuracy was improved with calibration, I was still bothered by a slightly greenish tinge in yellow objects like blond hair. Overall, the pop and contrast were impressive enough to overshadow the slight color inaccuracies and give a very good picture. However, I wanted perfection, and I couldn't get Custom's panel brightness, color, and gamma settings to come together quite as well as I would prefer. I decided to reset Custom's CMS adjustments and see what I could do with THX mode in the hopes of getting that last bit of color purity.

THX mode's light output seemed more aggressively limited than Custom's with large bright objects, but I was still able to get nearly the same peak light output with a small measurement window. In other words, small objects could be made to be about the same brightness, but large bright objects (like a hockey rink) could be slightly dimmer.

After calibration impressions:
After calibrating THX mode close to 50 fL to match the LG, the VT25 ended up with superb color. It reminded me very much of a 9G Pioneer Elite Kuro's color in ISF day mode: nearly perfect, but perhaps just a tiny bit pale. Shadow detail was excellent, though it was just a bit on the exaggerated side of neutral. Gamma measured good though not excellent. The gamma measurement was ever so slightly compromised by my decision to push THX mode to a higher light output. At this point, I felt that I was getting the best overall picture out of the VT25; THX retained nearly all of Custom's good points but added that extra amount of color purity. The measurements for this final, high brightness THX mode calibration are shown in attachment 5.

By this time, the sun had set and I was able to get a handle on how the VT25 and the PK550 I had just calibrated compared in a mostly dark room. The first thing that jumped out at me was that the VT25 had much deeper blacks. Dark scenes really showed it off; there was a lot more pop in the darker scenes of The Dark Knight on the VT25. Also, letterbox bars blended in to the bezel much better on the VT25, though still not to the degree of a 9G Kuro. Interestingly, the PK550 had the edge in bright scenes; if there were little to no dark objects in the picture, the PK550 had slightly more punch. The PK550's flesh tones were slightly more rosy, and it's colors looked a tiny bit more vibrant overall, in a good way. The VT25 showed a little bit more shadow detail, though again I felt it was just on the exaggerated side of neutral. The VT25 had an easygoing, natural look compared to a slightly more dramatic presentation on the PK550. That was probably due to a combination of the VT25's lack of moire and more aggressive brightness limiting inherent in the THX mode. I did prefer the PK550's smoother pans, both in 1080i and 1080P/24. Hard pressed to call a winner, I would have called it a toss up slightly in the PK550's favor if it were not for the better blacks of the VT25. The VT25's impressive blacks, great color, and good pop make it overall the best plasma I have worked with since the 9G Elite Kuro, despite some buggy calibration behavior.


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