Excellent all-around picture quality combined with improved features and styling makes the Panasonic TC-PGT30 TV an early favorite among plasma seekers.
The GT30 sits in the upper-middle end, a notch below the company's 2011 flagship in panel technology and, we assume, picture quality. It's not without its flaws, but it's still a superb TV overall that sets the bar high once again--although it's not a significantly better performer than its less-expensive (albeit plainer-styled) line-mate, the TC-PST30 series. The Panasonic TC-PGT30 series belongs on the short list for buyers who want the advantages of plasma in a thin form factor but don't want to pay the premium for a flagship TV.
Update May 5, 2011: The introduction and performance sections of this review have been modified to reflect additional testing and comparison in light of the Panasonic TC-PST30 series review. The score has not been modified, however.
The GT30 represents the first major redesign of a Panasonic plasma in a couple of years, and is also the first to adopt the thin profile used by Samsung plasmas since 2009.
The new panel measures 1.5 inches deep, but a speaker bulge along the bottom (you can't detach the speaker) brings the true depth to 2.2 inches. That's still slimmer than the ST30, with its 2.2-inch panel (2.8-inch with speaker), but doesn't compete with the 1.5-inch bulge-free depth of the 2011 Samsungs.
The bezel around the screen was slimmed to 1.4 inches on all sides (there's a shallow, set-back protrusion on the bottom for the speaker, however) compared to 1.8 inches on the ST30. Note that all of these dimensions might vary on the larger screen sizes in the series.
The GT30 doesn't any include 3D glasses, although given Samsung's recent move we wouldn't be surprised if that changed soon.
In the meantime the new 2011 glasses are still quite expensive at $179 list per pair. Improvements over the 2010 glasses, model TY-EW3D10, include an on-off switch to make it easier to determine whether they're powered-up, a closed design and significantly lighter weight. We wish they used Bluetooth synch like Samsung's 2011 glasses. On the other hand we appreciate their prior-year backward compatibility; you can use Panasonic's 2011 glasses with the 2010 TVs, and the 2010 glasses with the 2011 TVs.
Panasonic includes all of the breakout cables (component and composite video, stereo audio, RF, optical digital and even the VGA input) required. The four HDMI ports and three USB don't need extra cables, so that's a plus.
We like the remote more than Samsung's thanks to the better button differentiation, but not quite as much as Sony's slicker clicker. We missed having a dedicated Netflix button, and noticed that despite officially renaming its Internet suite for TVs "Viera Connect," the button on the remote still says "Viera Cast."
Like Samsung and LG, Panasonic redesigned its Internet suite for 2011 TVs, adding an app store, greatly expanding content offerings and changing the name--it's now Viera Connect for TVs, although the old VieraCast moniker still applies to 2011 Blu-ray players.
Vudu video and Hulu Plus are still missing, and we could nitpick about the absence of Rhapsody since Napster gets a spot, but otherwise the selection is solid.
Overall we preferred the layout and simplicity of the Viera Connect interface to Samsung's significantly more ambitious, and more cluttered, Smart Hub. Panasonic seems to enforce a straightforward menu structure and default font in many of its app and widget designs, and as a result using them feels easier and more cohesive. We didn't miss having a Web browser or video search capability, and as with last year we liked the ability to arrange and reorder app tiles among the various screens.
You only get the full gamut of picture adjustments, which includes the 2-point grayscale control (calibrators rejoice: green is available this year!), gamma and a few others, when you're in the Custom setting.
Overall the GT30 delivered excellent picture quality, with deep black levels, accurate color and the essentially perfect uniformity of plasma, with the surprising bonus of handling 1080p/24 content correctly. Compared to the GT25 from last year it evinced worse gamma, however, which washed out darker parts of the image, and showed some subtle fluctuations in black and gray areas. Its strengths more than outweigh its weaknesses in our book, however.