Panasonic is preparing to unveil its brand new family of 3D televisions in the coming weeks. The 50in TX-P50VT20, though, is the last explosion from last year’s range, so don’t expect there to be unlimited supplies available.
Mind you, the Panasonic TX-P50VT20 is quite a special screen, so it’s worth hunting down. What makes it particularly notable is its use of Plasma technology. There was a time when it was plasma screens that sat on top of the pile, with LCD alternatives struggling for position. And for many, plasma still offers the best image quality. Unfortunately cost and size have always seemed to favour the brighter but potentially less satisfying LCD technology. And when Pioneer, creator of the class-leading Kuro range of screens (built around plasma), decided to call time on its own foray into televisions, it seemed that plasma’s greatest champions were falling by the wayside.
It would be brave now to argue that plasma will be able to stage an exciting turnaround in fortunes, but if there’s any product that can produce the vital first spark, it’s this Panasonic TX-P50VT20. Mind you, the TX-P50VT20 does highlight some of plasma’s lower points too, and compared to some of the beautifully slim models we’ve seen, the Panasonic seems positively oversized. If you can ignore the slightly thicker depth, however, the Panasonic will prove a pleasing room-mate. Its finish is sleek, and the silver underlay proves a nice contrast. The stand is well, standard, and lacks the attraction of, for instance, the Samsung UE46C8000’s X-shaped version. There’s nothing outstanding about the Panasonic’s looks, but neither will it have you wincing every time you look at it.
As is typical for these screens, the Panasonic divides its ports and connectors evenly between the rear of the television and the side. Most of the permanently connected ports are situated to the back, though, so in practice the Panasonic’s layout should be very clean. Of the four v1.4 HDMI ports, for instance, three are placed on the back, with the remaining one easily accessed from the side of the Panasonic TX-P50VT20.
Both of the USB ports are positioned on the side, a good choice since it’ll allow users to quickly insert memory sticks, USB hard drives etc. The Panasonic TX-P50VT20 allows you to record programmes (and rewind them) to an external USB hard drive (160GB and above). This is a nice feature, although we would have liked it more had you been able to use any old USB memory stick for this purpose.
Most users will have to sacrifice one of their USB ports, if they’re to plug in the wireless USB adaptor – a wired network port is offered as well. It’s a shame that Wi-Fi hasn’t been built directly into the screen. Nonetheless, you’ll have one USB slot available, even if you keep the wireless adaptor permanently connected. Also sitting on the side of the screen is an SD memory card slot, and this makes it easy to play media from a suitable card – AVCHD or DivX videos are supported, for example, as are Jpegs and AAC and MP3 files. The back of the television features component and composite video, as well as a brace of SCART ports. As is fairly standard, an HD FreeView tuner is included, as is support for DLNA, so the Panasonic TX-P50VT20 television should seamlessly make itself available to play any media found on your home network.
All of these screens have some sort of portal that allows access to internet applications, and the Panasonic TX-P50VT20’s version is called Viera Cast. This isn’t the most fully-featured online gateway we’ve seen, and while there’s an adequate sampling of services that includes Skype (complete with video) and Twitter, YouTube and Netflix, this is definitely an area where Panasonic seems to be trailing behind its rivals. Acetrax video-on-demand content is quite a decent addition, but with the slick interfaces and long lists of supported services found on some screens, the TX-P50VT20 is a touch underwhelming. It’s the amount of content that really governs the success or otherwise of these features, so Panasonic needs to get more third party support from some big names.
The remote control unit is slightly busy but is packed with features. Most of the main functions are well signposted, and we didn’t experience too many problems using the remote to navigate the menu systems. The television has Panasonic’s Viera Link feature, so as with the Samsung’s Anynet+, the remote can be used to control multiple devices, automatically selecting the right inputs and settings.
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The Panasonic comes with a good range of setup options. You can turn the Professional mode on and off and so decrease the level of complexity of the menus if you don’t want to stray too much into the nuts and bolts of image quality. However, it’s worth taking the time to explore the Panasonic’s features a little more thoroughly. In particular, we relished having the ability to adjust the white balance of various areas of the colour palette (from bright red to dark green). Extra controls relating to the picture hue and saturation of some of these shades were also available, while the gamma curve could be fine tuned too. This level of customisation allows the more patient users the opportunity to squeeze that little extra from the picture quality, and so gets a big thumbs up from us.
The main course is obviously going to be the 3D, and Panasonic has given its customers an extra helping hand by supplying not one but two sets of 3D glasses with the screen. These TY-EW3D1 glasses aren’t cheap (around £100 for a single pair), so it’s very commendable to see two sets bundled. The glasses themselves aren’t the best we’ve tried though, and the slightly stiff frames made for a little discomfort.
They certainly lack the comfortable simplicity of the Samsung’s glasses, for instance. As far as the 3D goes, though, that’s about the only complaint we can come up with, and the quality of the 3D is outstanding. Not only do you get the requisite depth, but the image is almost totally free of the crosstalk that affects all of the LCD-powered screens. Even the tougher segments in Monsters vs Aliens went through without distortions, making for a steady and clear image that allows 3D to perform to its highest capabilities. A number of tools let you cut down on other undesirables, such as jagged lines and jerky motion. Overall, though, the Panasonic worked wonderfully well for 3D movies. 3D Gaming is also pretty decent on this screen, with the Panasonic quite capable of handling the fast motion that mars the effect on many an LCD model.
Much of the Panasonic’s excellence is down to the NeoPDP plasma panel, with its accordingly fast response rates, and native 5,000,000:1 contrast ratio. This allows for the darkest blacks we’ve seen. Compared to the LCD screens on offer, the Panasonic has much greater colour depth. This works extremely well when it comes to HD video as well, with even the darkest moments in our Dark Knight test showing up brilliantly on the TX-P50VT20.
But it also brought out the beauty of a film like Coraline, and the clarity of the picture is first-class. Add in features like the 600Hz Intelligent Frame Creation, and this is an outstanding screen for image quality. Standard Definition isn’t quite as impressive, and plasma screens tend to work less well with such low-resolution content. The picture quality is adequate, but it’ll seem something of a waste to be using this screen with something other than HD content. The speakers are perhaps a little underdone, and we felt they lacked punch.
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