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Panasonic TC-PxxVT50

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Review: Panasonic TC-P65VT50 Plasma

The Panasonic TC-P65VT50 is the brand new flagship of Panasonic’s plasma line. It sports all the web based features you’d expect in a Smart TV, and it’s glass over bezel design gives it the looks to match the brains. The screen filter is very effective, minimizing distinct reflections without smearing them and remaining commendably dark even under harsh fluorescent lights. Chris from Cleveland Plasma had the VT50 finishing up a few days of break in and ready for some serious attention.

Before calibration:

Standard mode is the mode the VT50 comes in out of the box. In this state, the VT50’s picture was extremely dim and drab. I saw brightness pumping and line bleed in the DVD menu, and pans had the fake-looking Soap Opera Effect smoothing. Skin tones were overly ruddy, though bearable. Shadow detail was somewhat lacking and colored, with charcoal gray suits looking a bit too dark and bluish toned. On the positive side, blacks were very deep and the picture had a good sense of depth. Clearly, any owner who wishes to get the best performance from the VT50 will have to make switching to a better picture mode a top priority.

One of those better picture modes is Cinema. Switching to Cinema brought a breath of fresh air to the picture, with much more acceptable brightness and color. Speaking of color, bright colors did appear to be a bit hot, and the overall feel was too earthy-toned. Brightness stability appeared good, though I noticed a hint of the Dirty Screen Effect in panning whites. Shadow detail was very good, with dark objects easy to see (possibly a bit too bright) and fairly neutral toned. The SOE was present again, giving movie pans an overly smoothed look. Depth and black levels continued to impress. Cinema had a lot of promise, though a careful calibration would be required to alleviate the somewhat earthy toned cast and slightly over rich colors.

Switching to THX Cinema brought slightly sharper definition over regular Cinema mode, and movie pans looked excellent. There was a bit more life in the image, and colors appeared to be slightly better balanced. Dark images appeared neutral and well balanced, though there was still a slightly earthy toned look to the image. There appeared to be just a bit of added graininess. THX Cinema had a lot going for it: there was a ton of pop, excitement, and dimension in the image.

Game and Custom modes looked very similar, the difference being that Custom opens up many more calibration options in the advanced picture menu. These modes showed some promise, with a bright, punchy picture, but whites looked a bit hard and dark images appeared too dark and tended to sink down into a black blob. The picture appeared overly enhanced and processed in these modes, though the VT50’s excellent blacks were evident.

Though most of the viewing was done in a dark room, I turned the lights on to check out the THX Bright Room mode. This mode is intended to punch through ambient light while still retaining a good deal of accuracy, and I am impressed with how well this mode worked in moderately bright lighting. Shadow detail was easily visible, though the beginning of chapter 2 in The Dark Knight showed some layers of blue in extremely dark objects. The picture had a lot of pop and punch; blacks blended in with the bezel, giving a great sense of contrast. Reds were not quite rich enough, and if I had to nit pick I’d say highlights were a bit greenish, but overall this mode did it’s job very well.

Calibration:

I began by calibrating the THX mode’s white balance in the service menu, which was a familiar, easy task. The results were good, and fairly similar to what I obtained with the GT50 I reviewed recently. It is worth noting that the VT50’s THX mode is better tuned than the VT30, measuring better in significant areas even after calibration on both sets.

The VT50 adds some significant calibration adjustments in the VT50’s Custom and ISF Day/Night modes that could possibly improve upon the performance of THX mode. Since Panasonic did not include a serial port on the VT50, I had to use the Ethernet connection method to calibrate the VT50’s ISF Day and Night modes with CalMAN. I found several problems once I started the Day mode calibration. First, when I started CalMAN’s auto calibration routine, I noticed that while it was having success smoothing out the grayscale, it tried and tried to adjust gamma with no change. I watched as CalMAN read the 90% step, found it was too high in level, and brought the 90% luminance control down, down, and down some more; all the while not making the slightest bit of difference in the reading. CalMAN finally gave up and went down to the next step and repeated the process at 80% on down. The end result was an improvement in grayscale tracking but little improvement over most of the gamma, which was in fairly bad shape (much worse than THX mode) to begin with.

I discovered that, strangely, any of the luminance (multipoint gamma) controls, whether 10%, 60%, or 100%, controlled only the luminance in the 0-15% range. For instance, the 80% control had no impact whatsoever at 80%, but it had a significant effect from 0-15%. That happened whether or not I had the brightness and contrast at the CalMAN recommended 50 and 100 starting points.

I thought that I would try leaving all the luminance adjustments at their default positions and just take all 3 colors up or down to calibrate the gamma. At that time I discovered that there was a strange interaction preventing the success of that technique. If I lowered green, red and blue were raised. If I raised red, blue and green were lowered. If I lowered all 3 colors simultaneously, there was absolutely no change in any respect.
Similarly, there was no change in gamut luminance with the CMS luminance control.

Interestingly, the Custom picture mode, which the ISF modes are based on, did not have these problems. Panasonic has some refining to do to the calibration adjustments for the ISF modes.

In the end, through careful manipulation of the controls, I was able to improve the gamma somewhat, so it was only marginally poorer than in THX Cinema mode.

Black level measured a superb .0025 fL in 60 Hz mode and .002 fL in 96 Hz mode, the lowest figures I have ever obtained; though the Pioneer Elite Kuro was lower still, as measured by others. The modified ANSI contrast ratio was 8309:1, with black steady at .0025 and white at 20.95 fL in 60 Hz mode. In 96 Hz mode, the ANSI contrast improved to 10554:1, with black at .002 and white at 21.2 fL.

In THX Cinema mode, there was no significant color differences between 96 Hz and 60 Hz modes, which is very good news.
The VT50 did almost as well on the AVS 709 Dynamic Brightness test as the 50GT50, which means it did better than the Samsung PN-E8000 and LG PM6700.

After calibration:


Comparing THX Cinema, THX Bright Room, and ISF Day revealed that THX Cinema had the richest picture. ISF Day mode, despite the calibration problems, was absolutely gorgeous, striking a balance between the rich look of THX Cinema and the brighter look of THX Bright Room.

Overall, I preferred the color balance and smoothness of ISF Day mode over THX Cinema in a dark room. Apparently the smoother grayscale tracking and stronger light output of ISF Day took a slight precedence over the better gamma of THX Cinema.

I was struck by the easygoing yet exciting and immersive look. THX Cinema is excellent in it’s own right, and quite similar to the GT50; but ISF Day had a slightly more natural looking color that I found captivating. Viewing my 1080P/24 Blu Ray material in 96 Hz mode, the pans and motion were satisfyingly film like.

Black levels were the best I’ve seen on a plasma since the last generation of Kuros, and I would venture to say any remaining differences in black levels between the 60” 9G Kuro and the 65VT50 would be extremely hard to see except during direct comparisons of mostly black screens in a very dark room.
Shadow detail was excellent, with dark objects appearing to be about the right brightness and very neutral in color tone.

Brightness and blacks appeared to be stable, and resolution was very crisp.

I did see hints of DSE at times, though it was not serious and was easily overlooked. While I’m on the down sides, I should add that the color purity I enjoyed was not present until after careful calibration, since the out of the box settings all had color that was either too cool and clinical or too earthy toned.

How does the 65VT50 stack up against this year’s best high performance sets?

Samsung’s PN-E8000 is the only worthy plasma contender. While it has very natural color and other excellent traits, it’s black level remains pretty close to last year’s model with cable and satellite sources, whereas the VT50’s black level has significantly improved. That leaves the E8000 falling behind the VT50 in dynamic range and contrast, with other areas very close.

The Sharp Elite, which remains unchanged this year, has the VT50 beat in black levels and contrast; but it’s off axis deterioration and the Dirty Screen Effect can be crippling. The Elite’s color can be made pleasant enough with a good calibration, but it’s color can never be accurate across all saturation and brightness levels.

Sony’s HX929, also unchanged from last year, remains my favorite current LED LCD, with excellent color and overall picture quality. As with the Elite, the HX929’s black levels and contrast can beat the VT50, though the HX929’s blooming and off axis degradation are enough to at least even the score.

LG has plans to roll out new full local dimming and OLED sets soon, but these will be limited to smaller screen sizes when they become available.

The VT50 has some serious “Wow!” factor. When you get that rare combination of accuracy and excitement, it makes being called a nerd by your friends (or maybe even your wife) worth it after all.


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