Panasonic GT30 review: Panasonic GT30

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MSRP: $1,899.95
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4 stars

CNET Editors' Rating

4.5 stars 1 user review

The Good The Panasonic TC-PGT30 has excellent overall picture quality, with deep black levels, accurate color, and solid video processing. It can handle 1080p/24 sources and bright rooms well and exhibits the nearly perfect screen uniformity of plasma, as well as very good 3D picture quality. It includes a Wi-Fi dongle, its Internet suite is simple to use yet content-rich, and the styling is handsome with a 1.5-inch-deep panel.

The Bad Picture quality flaws include subtly fluctuating black and gray levels as well as inaccurate gamma that washes out shadows somewhat. The GT30 has fewer picture controls than the competition, doesn't include 3D glasses, and uses significantly more power than LCD TVs.

The Bottom Line Excellent all-around picture quality combined with improved features and styling should make the Panasonic TC-PGT30 TV a favorite among bigger-spending plasma seekers.

8.0 Overall
  • Design 8.0
  • Features 8.0
  • Performance 8.0

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.

Editors' note (September 1, 2011): The reviewed size of this TV is undergoing long-term testing, the results of which don't affect this review but may be interesting nonetheless. Click here for details.

Series information: We performed a hands-on evaluation of the 50-inch Panasonic TC-P50GT30, but this review also applies to the other screen sizes in the series. All sizes have identical specs and according to the manufacturer should provide very similar picture quality.

Design


Panasonic's slim bezel is fattened a bit by the speaker lip along the bottom.

Design highlights
Panel depth 2.2 inches Bezel width 1.37 inches
Single-plane face No Swivel stand Yes

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 since 2009. We liked the clean, minimalist lines, rounded corners, and classy silver edge around the frame, and think the GT30 easily outstyles the step-down ST30 models.

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 inches with speaker), but doesn't compete with the 1.5-inch bulge-free depth of the 2011 Samsungs.

The bezel around the screen was trimmed to 1.4 inches on all sides (there's a shallow, set-back protrusion on the bottom for the speaker, however) compared with 1.8 inches on the ST30. Note that all of these dimensions might vary on the larger screen sizes in the series.


The swivel stand supports the panel with a low profile.

Remote control and menus
Remote size (LxW) 9x2 inches QWERTY keyboard No
Illuminated keys 31 IR device control No
Menu item explanations Yes Onscreen manual No

Panasonic's menus and remotes are basically unchanged from 2010. The menu system looks and acts quite a bit less sophisticated than a Samsung or Sony menu, and we didn't appreciate having to scroll through so many pages in the Picture menu. 3D Settings seems misplaced in the Setup menu, and onscreen support beyond basic explanations is nonexistent.

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.


The menu system looks rather primitive compared with the competition.

Features

Key TV features
Display technology plasma LED backlight N/A
3D technology Active 3D glasses included No
Screen finish Glass Internet connection Wi-Fi adapter
Refresh rate(s) 60Hz, 48Hz Dejudder (smooth) processing Yes
DLNA-compliant Photo/Music/Video USB Photo/Music/Video
Other: THX display certification for 2D and 3D; includes Wi-Fi adapter; optional 3D glasses (TY-EW3D2SU (small) / TY-EW3D2MU (medium) / TY-EW3D2LU (large), $179 list each); optional Skype camera/speakerphone (TY-CC10W); optional network camera (wired BL-C210, $199; Wi-Fi BL-C230, $299)

The main step-up feature of the GT30 compared with the ST30 is THX certification, which can be made use of via a preset picture mode available in both 2D and 3D modes. Unlike the step-up VT30, the GT lacks a 96Hz refresh rate, but in our test it delivered proper film cadence, on 1080p/24 sources, anyway. New for 2011 Panasonic has added dejudder processing to its plasmas. See the performance section for more details.

Panasonic includes a Wi-Fi dongle with the GT30, occupying a USB slot but happily allowing you to use a wireless connection with this TV without paying an extra $80 or more for a dongle. On the downside, and unlike with the VT30, it 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 sync 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's new 3D glasses are not included with the GT30.

Streaming and apps
Netflix Yes YouTube Yes
Amazon Instant Yes Hulu Plus No
Vudu No Pandora Yes
Web browser No Skype Optional
Facebook Yes Twitter Yes
Other: CinemaNow, Dailymotion, Ustream.tv, MLB TV, Fox Sports widget, Napster, Shoutcast, Picasa, numerous games, Withings WiFi Body Scale

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 Viera Cast moniker still applies for 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. Unfortunately the Netflix interface doesn't allow search and uses the old horizontal scroll instead of the new tiled layout, but at least you get genres.

Standouts include Shoutcast, a well-designed interface for the Internet radio service with search, genres, a favorites list, and bandwidth/format display of station. Another unique offering is the ability to interface with the Withings WiFi Body Scale ($159), letting the TV record your weight and graph it over time. Panasonic says additional fitness offerings with hardware tie-ins will be available soon along with more advanced games (Gameloft's Asphalt 5, for example, which Panasonic touted at CES, isn't available yet).

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's interface we liked the ability to arrange and reorder app tiles among the various screens.

On the downside, response times were slower than with Samsung's Smart Hub in many cases, but not slow enough to be annoying. We also wish you could activate apps from within the market, as opposed to having to back out to the main Viera Connect interface.


The Viera Connect home page uses a simple, tile-based layout for apps.

Picture settings
Adjustable picture modes 6 Fine dejudder control No
Color temperature presets 5 Fine color temperature control 2 points
Gamma presets 6 Color management system No

As we mentioned above, THX takes the form of a pair of picture settings, one for 3D and one for 2D, and you can adjust the basic settings of both (unlike with LG's THX presets). However, 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. You'll need to input a 1080p/24 source to activate the 24p mode at 48Hz, but due to the flickering we don't recommend it.

Speaking of gamut, we'd like to see a color management system on this TV, but no dice. Notably the two-step Motion Smoother dejudder control is inactive in THX. You do get full picture control with Netflix and other streaming services--the TV basically treats Viera Connect as a separate "input"--but THX is renamed Cinema. Panasonic also offers 2D-to-3D conversion among its smattering of 3D settings, but it won't convert streaming video.


Advanced adjustments are only available in the Custom picture setting.

Connectivity
HDMI inputs 4 Component video inputs 1
Composite video input(s) 1 VGA-style PC input(s) 1
USB port 3 Ethernet (LAN) port Yes
Other: SD card slot on back

Like Samsung's slim plasmas and many companies' LEDs, the input bay of the GT30 series is so slim that breakout cables are required for many of the jacks: component and composite video, stereo audio, RF, optical digital, and even the VGA input. The four HDMI ports and three USB ports don't need extra cables, so that's a plus.


The slim input necessitates breakout cables for many connections.

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