Panasonic TC-PVT30 review: Panasonic TC-PVT30

The VT30 offers more user-menu control options than any other TV we've seen yet. New for 2011 Panasonic has added a 10-point grayscale adjustment, full-fledged CMS and, unlike any other TV we've seen so far, a 10-point luminance control to home in on gamma. Unfortunately these controls are only available in the Custom preset, not on any others; they were difficult to use and didn't produce the results we expected.

If you don't want to mess with controls, THX for 2D and 3D gets you pretty close. And if you want to pay a calibrator to mess with controls, for example to set up the ISF Day and Night modes, you might want to ask for someone who can take advantage of the Calman auto-calibration system built into this TV.

You also get full picture control with Netflix and other streaming services--the TV basically treats Viera Connect as a separate "input." Panasonic also offers 2D-to-3D conversion among its smattering of 3D settings, but it won't convert streaming video.


Custom mode offers numerous picture settings, including a full color management system. We wish it provided better results.

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; RS-232 port for remote control

Like Samsung's slim plasmas and many company's LEDs, the input bay of the VT30 series is so slim that breakout cables are required for many of the jacks: component and composite video, stereo audio, RF, optical digital, the VGA input and the RS-232 port. The four HDMI ports and three USB don't need extra cables, so that's a plus.


The slim back panel offers up plenty of connections.

Performance (How we test TVs)
The Panasonic TC-PVT30 is the best-performing TV we've tested this year. Its black levels are among the deepest we've seen, outdoing the competing Samsung PND8000 plasma, and its shadow detail is also superior. Color accuracy is very good, albeit not as accurate as the Samsung, video processing is excellent, and of course it enjoys the near-perfect uniformity of plasma. 3D picture quality was excellent as well in the THX 3D mode, although Samsung's flagship plasma and LCD were better at reducing crosstalk.

As usual THX mode delivered the most accurate picture out-of-the-box, with Cinema too dim and Custom off in nearly every way. THX on the VT30 measured better than on the GT30, with improved gamma and grayscale, but it could still be better especially in terms of primary color luminance (see the Geek Box). This year, Panasonic seemingly provided the necessary picture settings to properly calibrate Custom mode, but when we tried them the result still came up short.

Our Custom calibration took a while and was hampered by poor menu design with excessive nesting and a need to back completely out of the menus frequently, but afterward our software and charts told us that the VT30's color was nearly perfect (see our Custom post-calibration chart here). Unfortunately, when we looked at actual program material, our eyes told us that colors were still inaccurate, with reddish skin tones and too much saturation throughout. We were mystified because the TV's colors measured extremely well (Delta errors of less than 3 across the board), but compared to other well-calibrated TVs in our lineup, we saw a different story that contradicted the charts. Rather than mess with Custom further to attempt to resolve the discrepancy, we settled on THX for our evaluation. We've contacted Panasonic seeking clarity on this issue and will update this review if we hear back.

We've heard of VT30 calibrations using Custom that supposedly achieved superior results, and perhaps expert calibrators with more time to spend could dial in those controls to outdo THX. There's also a new automatic ISF mode calibration available via Calman, our TV calibration software, which supposedly adjusts all of those controls automatically. The TV firmware supporting it is not yet available, however, and we doubt its results would be replicable via the standard menu controls, so we didn't try it for this review.

As for THX, since it lacks most controls our "calibration" consisted of simply increasing light output to our standard 40ftL and tweaking a couple of other basic controls. Afterward average gamma and a few other picture characteristics actually measured slightly worse than before we made any adjustments, due we assume to the increase in light output. Again, if THX offered better controls, or if the ones in Custom worked as well as they do on competing high-end TVs, we'd see better results. As with previous Panasonic reviews we've included both our Custom and THX picture settings (linked above) so you can see the differences for yourself.

For our evaluation we lined up the comparison models below and watched old favorite "Avatar" on Blu-ray.

Comparison models (details)
Panasonic TC-P65VT25 65-inch plasma
Samsung PN59D8000 59-inch plasma
LG 50PX950 50-inch plasma
Panasonic TC-P50GT30 50-inch plasma
Vizio XVT553SV 55 inch full-array local dimming LED-based LCD
Pioneer PRO-111FD (reference) 50-inch plasma

Black level: The VT30 reproduced an extremely dark shade of black, outdoing the GT30, the LG, and the Samsung plasmas, although it still couldn't get quite as dark as the VT25, the Vizio or the Pioneer. Of course the VT25 (which we measured at 0.004 fL) only had a couple hundred hours on it; we its black level to worsen as it ages further , while according to Panasonic, the VT30's black levels won't change . If that's the case, then the VT30 is the new plasma black level runner-up to the Pioneer Kuro, but we won't know for sure until we can test how the VT30 ages.

The difference in absolute depth of black was quite subtle between the VT30 (0.0061 fL) and the Samsung (0.0071), not to mention the GT30 (0.0082), but between the three the VT30 produced the best picture in dark scenes like the nighttime forest in Chapter 10. While the VT30's gamma measurement was inferior to the Samsung's, the latter obscured details in shadows, such as the plants at 33:38 and the back of Jake's avatar's hair at 34:03. Such details were a bit too bright on the VT30 compared to our reference, but still closer than the other two. Black areas appeared inky and deep, lending the customary pop to every scene.

We looked for fluctuations in the level of black and gray but couldn't find any in "Avatar." We also checked both of the scenes from "Tron: Legacy" where the GT30 showed such fluctuations and they didn't occur on the VT30 (and didn't on the ST30, either).

Color accuracy: Although colors in THX mode looked very good on the VT30, with great saturation and accurate color points, the Samsung was superior overall in this area. The Panasonic seemed to have a slight greenish cast to many scenes when compared side-by-side with the Samsung and a few of the others, a difference that was visible primarily in skin tones--such as the face and arms of Jake as he wheels toward Quaritch's harangue in Chapter 2, or the faces of the cafeteria-goers in Chapter 12. On the other hand the VT30's THX looked better than that of the slightly redder GT30, but fell a bit short of the reference we expect from a very high-end TV.

Near-black on the VT30 was the best in the room, but the Samsung was also very good so the difference in color between the two wasn't as noticeable as during brighter scenes.

Video processing: Like the ST30 and GT30 series, the VT30 correctly handled 1080p/24 cadence in its 60Hz mode. Furthermore, we noticed the same kinds of false contouring artifacts in 96Hz mode on the VT30 that we've seen on earlier so-equipped Panasonic plasmas, like the VT25 (see that review for more details). For these reasons we decided to use 60Hz mode for our evaluations and calibration. There were some slight differences between the two in terms of black level and color, but nothing on the scale of, for example, CinemaSmooth on the Samsung PND8000.

On the other hand we did notice some artifacts from 1080p/24 sources in 60Hz mode that we didn't see in 96Hz. On the "Digital Video Essentials" test Blu-ray we noticed shifting lines and minor instability in the downtown Philadelphia buildings during an upward-facing pan. We didn't see any similar issues during "Avatar," but assume they might crop up. In short, neither mode is perfect, but both do the main job--correct film cadence--properly.

Otherwise the VT30's video processing tested basically the same as the GT30 and ST30. Panasonic introduced dejudder processing this year with a setting entitled "Motion smoother." It delivers two options, Weak and Strong; they looked very similar to our eye, although Weak left a hint of more judder. As usual we found both relatively distasteful.

The GT25 from last year had a "Blur reduction control" that, when engaged, delivered full motion resolution. That control has been dropped for 2011, but Motion smoother basically does the same thing: when it was engaged, either Weak or Strong, we saw an increase in motion resolution in our test pattern (see the Geek Box). It's worth noting again that THX doesn't allow you to turn on Motion smoother at all, and as usual any blur was impossible for us to discern with real program material.

The VT30 passed our 1080i deinterlacing test with 3:2 pull-down set to On, but not when we used the default Auto (and, despite what the menu explanation says, this setting does affect HDMI sources).

Bright lighting: Compared to the Samsung the VT30's screen was a bit more reflective, with brighter highlights when we turned on the lights. On the other hand it did a slightly better job at preserving black levels under bright lights, although the Samsung was still very good in that area. We ended up slightly preferring the bright-room picture of the Samsung, but the two were very close.

PC: The VT30 only accepts a maximum resolution of 1366x768 via VGA, so we don't consider it a good computer monitor. Text and other fine objects looked relatively soft.

3D: The VT30 is a very good 3D performer, roughly equaling the GT30, but it wasn't quite as good as the two Samsungs in our lineup at handling crosstalk. We added the Samsung UN55D8000 LED model for our 3D tests, and it was once again the best performer in the room.

During "Avatar," crosstalk was infrequent, but we saw it occasionally. Faint extra outlines appeared at edge of the weights and the vertical equipment rack behind Quaritch in Chapter 6 (21:16), for example, and they were more noticeable on the VT30 than on the Samsungs. The head of the rightmost spook talking to Jake over his brother's casket (2:42) also showed a stronger outline on the VT30 than either Samsung, especially the UND8000. The outlines appeared a bit more noticeable on the GT30 then the VT30, but the difference was subtle.

Between Movie mode on the Samsung PND8000 and THX mode on the VT30 we preferred the look of the Panasonic. It had better color accuracy, and skin tones and color looked a bit oversaturated on the Samsung. The Samsung's Movie did look a bit brighter and punchier, but it also seemed a bit too crisp and somewhat edge-enhanced. We assume the difference could be narrowed in calibration, but we don't calibrate for 3D at the moment.

Power consumption: We did not test the power consumption of the 65-inch TC-P65VT30, but we did test the 55-inch model. For more information, refer to the review of the Panasonic TC-P55VT30 .

Test Result Score
Black luminance (0%) 0.0062 Good
Avg. gamma 1.9395 Poor
Near-black x/y (5%) 0.3119/0.331 Good
Dark gray x/y (20%) 0.3128/0.3345 Average
Bright gray x/y (70%) 0.3123/0.327 Good
Before avg. color temp. 6589 Good
After avg. color temp. 6567 Good
Red lum. error (de94_L) 3.8128 Poor
Green lum. error (de94_L) 6.8783 Poor
Blue lum. error (de94_L) 4.4764 Poor
Cyan hue x/y 0.2296/0.3264 Good
Magenta hue x/y 0.3121/0.142 Poor
Yellow hue x/y 0.4174/0.5084 Good
1080p/24 Cadence (IAL) Pass Good
1080i Deinterlacing (film) Pass Good
Motion resolution (max) 1200 Good
Motion resolution (dejudder off) 800 Average
PC input resolution (VGA) 1,366x768 Poor

Panasonic TC-P55VT30 CNET review calibration results

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Where to Buy

Panasonic TC-P55VT30

Part Number: TC-P55VT30

MSRP: $2,499.95

See manufacturer website for availability.

Quick Specifications See All

  • Enhanced Refresh Rate 600 Hz
  • 3D Yes
  • Display Format 1080p
  • Diagonal Size 55 in
  • Type Plasma
About The Author

Section Editor David Katzmaier has reviewed TVs at CNET since 2002. He is an ISF certified, NIST trained calibrator and developed CNET's TV test procedure himself. Previously David wrote reviews and features for Sound & Vision magazine and eTown.com.