Editors' Note Feb 4, 2011: Pricing has been revealed. Also, we have preliminary word that THX certification applies to 3D mode as well as 2D.
Editors' Note Jan 8, 2011: The Panasonic VT30 series was one of three nominees for CNET's Best of CES award in the TVs category.
LAS VEGAS--About this time last year we gave the Panasonic TC-PVT25 series of plasma TVs our Best in Show award as the most promising product at CES 2010. At the end of 2010 it still stood out as the overall best-performing HDTV we'd tested all year, and the second-best of all time (yes, the Kuro is still No. 1).
The VT25's successor, the TC-PVT30 series, looks like the favorite again in 2011.
Panasonic's chief VT30 enhancement for the new year is something the company calls an "Infinite Black Pro 2 Panel." As the press release puts it, the panel "raises the luminous efficiency while minimizing pre-discharge, resulting in even more subtle, delicate blacks, in both dark and bright environments than last year's Infinite Black Pro Panel provided."
The VT30 provides one other important step-up over the GT30: the capability to properly reproduce the cadence of 1080p/24 sources. We noticed some artifacts when we engaged that mode last year, however, so we're curious to see if they've been eliminated this year.
According to a trustworthy leak a THX picture setting is available in 3D as well as 2D modes, much like the PX950 series.. In any case we expect the setting to be adjustable, unlike THX on LG, and provide an accurate default picture without too much fuss.
We also don't know whether any Panasonic plasmas offer 2D-to-3D conversion, although we assume they will. Unlike the GT30, Panasonic throws in a pair of shutter glasses for free with the VT30.
In terms of style, Panasonic has cleaned up its entire plasma line, thinning down the chassis and adding, in the VT30's vase, the one-sheet-of-glass front we liked so much on earlier Panasonics like the V10 series. The bezel might still be thicker and the panel a bit chunkier than those from Samsung and LG, but it's a step in the right direction.
The VT30 has the same Viera Connect Internet suite found on the ST30 series.
Panasonic TC-PVT30 series features:
- Plasma TV
- 3D compatible
- One pair of 3D glasses included
- THX certification
- Infinite Black Pro 2 panel
- 1080p/24 playback mode
- Short throw phosphors
- 3D-compatible SD card slot
- Viera Connect Internet suite
Panasonic TC-PVT30 series models:
- Panasonic TC-P55VT30: 55 inch, available April, $2799
- Panasonic TC-P65VT30: 65 inch, available May, $4299
Editor's take: I notice that the description of the new Pro 2 panel includes the words "subtle, delicate" but not "deeper" or "darker." I interpret that as a possible indication that the VT30 will not match the depth of the Kuro's blacks. But once again I'll have to wait until I see one in person, and directly compare it to the VT25 and the Kuro (not to mention the new Samsung D8000), to get the full story. Even after that, long-term testing will be in order to see how those blacks fare over time--both on Panasonic and on Samsung and LG plasmas. Finally, I find it strange that Panasonic is only offering two screen sizes, and wouldn't be surprised to see others appear later in the year.
Update Jan 7, 2010: I spoke with Panasonic's rep at the booth and found out a few more preliminary details about the new plasmas.
He couldn't say whether the actual black levels (MLL) would be improved (specs for the new panels were not finalized), but in any case mentioned that the VT30 would not use "Kuro tech" (see the comments below for more). He also couldn't speak to any change for 2011 in the designed-in MLL increase I found on the VT25 and other models. He did mention improving shadow detail, but didn't know whether the "floating blacks" of previous models (I saw them on the G series last year, although others have also reported them on the VT25) had been addressed. Finally, he didn't know whether the contouring artifacts I noticed in 1080p/24 mode on the VT25 had been removed on the VT30.
In terms of 3D he mentioned improvements related to crosstalk reduction, but said that the VT30 uses the same amber-tinted glasses, so major changes to color offsets were not made. He also described a new frame-interpolation processor for 3D that's designed to make the 24p video appear smoother--it has two settings, and can be disabled. All three series will get 2D to 3D conversion systems.
Other major improvements were made in the screen filters, which apparently preserve black levels in ambient light better without increasing the brightness of reflections (all of the new 3D series have better filters, but the VT30's are darker.) He confirmed that the ST30 and GT30 have the same panel, and that THX is the only real picture quality difference between them.
The rep also stressed that he hadn't been fully briefed on all of the differences in the new plasmas, so this information is, as usual, subject to change.