Panasonic Viera TC-P50VT20 review: Panasonic Viera TC-P50VT20

The TC-PVT20/25 has all the inputs needed in even the most gear-heavy home theaters. The SD card slot can handle video, photos, and music, like the USB ports, and the second USB is a nice addition if you use the first for the optional Wi-Fi dongle. The RS-232 port found on the VT25 series allows the TV to be controlled by custom remote systems like Crestron and AMX.

PANASONIC TC-PVT20/25 SERIES
The requisite back-panel jacks, including three HDMI, are present and accounted-for.

PANASONIC TC-PVT20/25 SERIES
A fourth HDMI is located on the side. Few TVs have an SD card slot nowadays, but we'll warrant even fewer viewers care.

Performance
3D picture quality: Between the two 3D-compatible TVs we've tested so far, the TC-PVT20/25 plasma handily beat the Samsung UNC8000 LCD (which we tested with the latest firmware, version 001021) in overall 3D picture quality. We used the best 3D Blu-ray material we've seen yet: "Coraline," which is one of only three currently available 3D Blu-ray movie titles--the others are the computer-animated "Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs" and "Monsters vs. Aliens." Unlike those, "Coraline" was filmed in stop motion by actual cameras, and to our eyes gives a great demonstration of how 3D can look when done right. Our side-by-side comparison was helped by Panasonic's DMP-BDT350, which can output two full-HD 3D signals simultaneously via HDMI, but hampered by the fact that we had to switch between the two companies' glasses.

Aside from differences related to picture settings--we preferred Panasonic's default Cinema, which showed better shadow detail and more accurate color balance than Samsung's default Movie, but of course both can be adjusted significantly--and screen size (bigger is always better, especially with 3D), our experiences were quite similar. Both sets reproduced the illusion of a third dimension with aplomb, bringing obvious depth to every image. There was no obvious difference in detail, which was spectacular in both cases on this disc. In the (thankfully) rare instances when the image popped out of the screen, such as the needle through the button hole in the opening credits, we occasionally stifled flinches.

PANASONIC TC-PVT20/25 SERIES
Without glasses as shown here, 3D looks like doubled images. "Crosstalk" occurs when the double is visible even with the glasses on.

The biggest difference we saw between the two 3D TVs was in their respective incidence of "crosstalk," which can appear as ghostly, doubled outlines around onscreen objects. When we did see crosstalk on the Panasonic--such as along the vertical bedpost after Coraline awakens from her dream (21:53) or along the edges of the letters in the Spink and Forcible sign (27:36)--it was significantly subtler than what we saw on the Samsung. Much more often there simply was no visible crosstalk on the Panasonic where we did see it on the Samsung. One exception came when Coraline began her dream (15:22): the crosstalk around the mice spiraling against the dark brick was amber-colored and more noticeable on the Panasonic; on the Samsung it was neutral and less-noticeable, yet still obvious.

Aside from this issue the 3D-related downsides of the two sets were similar. Watching the Panasonic we felt the same kind minor of queasiness we experienced with the Samsung, especially when we first donned the glasses or switched between them. On both sets differences in depth, along the edges of the screen especially, could be somewhat jarring and take us out of the moment. Also, with fast-moving objects like Coraline's body as she runs through the woods (4:38), her yellow jacket swinging back and forth in the doorway (10:00) or the jumping mice in the circus (Chapter 8), the action seemed choppier and less natural in 3D than 2D. Perhaps this issue is exacerbated by the stop-action film, but in any case we're still awaiting more 3D material, including live-action movies in full HD, before we're sold. For now we still prefer to watch Coraline in 2D rather than 3D, regardless of TV.

2D picture quality: 3D picture quality aside, the Panasonic VT20/25 is among the best-performing televisions we've tested yet. It offers the standard uniformity advantages over LCD--excellent off-angle fidelity, uniform brightness and color across the screen--along with the best black level performance of any non-Kuro plasma we've ever tested, and highly accurate color overall. That said, its color doesn't quite equal that of our reference, and we did experience some artifacts in the 1080p/24-friendly 96Hz mode, but the VT20/25 still outperforms the company's other plasmas, and just about every other TV you can buy today.

Editors' Note: Like the TC-P50G20 we tested earlier, our TC-P50VT25 review sample will undergo long-term testing to track its black-level performance. If we measure any change, we'll update this review.

TV settings: Panasonic TC-PVT20/25 series

THX was, as usual, the most-accurate mode before we made any tweaks, with a solid if slightly reddish grayscale, a linear if slightly too-bright gamma (2.06, versus the 2.2 standard), and excellent primary and secondary color accuracy. For our calibration we upped the light output from 33 to 40 ftl and made a couple of other tweaks (which hurt the grayscale somewhat, but improved gamma to 2.136). The end result was better than anything we could achieve in Custom via user-menu controls, even with the new color management system--which was little help with primary and secondary color accuracy, since improving those areas came at the expense of color decoding.

For our image quality tests we used the (2D) Blu-ray of "Avatar" and lined the following TVs up alongside the Panasonic.

Comparison models (details)
Panasonic TC-P50G20 50-inch plasma
Samsung PN50C550 50-inch plasma
LG 50PK750 50-inch plasma
LG 47LE8500 47-inch full array local dimming LED
Samsung UN55C8000 55-inch edge-lit local dimming LED
Samsung UN55B8500 55-inch full-array local dimming LED
Pioneer PRO-111FD (reference) 50-inch plasma

Black level: The VT20/25 delivered superb black level performance, falling short of only the (discontinued) Pioneer in our lineup. In many scenes it visibly surpassed, to a greater or lesser extent, the LED sets and the other plasmas, including the Panasonic G20. We noticed the VT25's deeper blacks in dark shots most, as usual, such as the shadowy foreground amid the stalking Viperwolves in Chapter 10, or the darkest areas of Neytiri's hair, Jake's shirt, and the darkest plants in the following chapter. As always, the dark blacks made these scenes pop, conveying more punch and realism in our dark environment.

In case you're keeping track, black on the VT20/25 measured 0.004 ftl, compared to 0.001 on the PRO-111FD and 0.007 on the G20. We did measure 0.001 on the LG LH8500 and the Samsung B8500 and in some areas, like the swath of black shadow behind Pandora's parent planet in Chapter 1, or the darkest parts of the screen during the scrolling credits, those sets could conjure a deeper shade of black than the VT20/25. But measurements don't tell the whole story, and in sum the Panasonic VT20/25 plasma's superior uniformity, with no blooming or off-angle issues, earned it the nod over those models for overall black-level performance. And speaking of measurements and uniformity, the minor black-level fluctuation we saw on the G20 was not in evidence on the VT20/25.

Details in shadows on the high-end Panasonic looked excellent, with more realism than on any of the others aside from the Pioneer. The difference was evident in the suspended roots as Neytiri leads Jake over the tree-bridge, for example, which appeared with plenty of definition yet without the too-bright quality we saw on the G20, or the indistinct look of the Samsung C8000.

Color accuracy: In THX mode the Panasonic did very well overall, but if we had to point to a weakness on this TV, it would be in this area. In most colorful scenes--such as the numerous jungle shots, the images of the dragons, and the costumes of the Na'vi--the VT20/25's excellent saturation, helped as always by deep blacks, gave the image a lushness and life similar to that of our reference. But in some areas, like the clouds around the chopper flying through the Hallelujah mountains, or occasionally in skin tones like the face of Norm as he gleefully anticipates going to said mountains, we noticed the slightly reddish/greenish grayscale. The difference was even less noticeable than on the G20, however, and we'd be hard-pressed to see it outside of a side-by-side comparison to a reference.

Shadows and near-black areas on the VT20/25 also stayed true, as opposed to veering into blue as we saw on some of the other displays. They were bluer than our reference, however, but the difference wasn't drastic.

Video processing: In its favor, the TC-P50VT20/25's 96Hz refresh rate delivered the correct cadence when fed 1080p/24 material, as proven by the film-like look of the deck of the Intrepid during the helicopter flyover from "I Am Legend"--and by similarly correct cadence in numerous moving-camera shots from "Avatar." The 60Hz mode, as expected, showed the characteristic stuttering motion of 2:3 pulldown, whereas the 48Hz mode exhibited the same kind of flicker we saw on the G20.

On the other hand, we were surprised to find that the VT20/25 evinced false contouring artifacts in 96Hz mode. They were relatively rare, but certainly obvious when we saw them, which was only in transitions between bright and dark areas that moved across the screen. We first noticed it in Chapter 12 (47:25), where the glow of the pods illuminating the Omaticaya council showed banding contours as opposed to the smooth gradation from light to dark seen on the other displays. Similar bands were visible in the torch Neytiri extinguishes in Chapter 11 (36:30). No adjustment we tried seemed to affect the issue, aside from switching back to 60Hz, which made the contouring much less noticeable (and no worse than on the other sets). In our view the correct cadence is worth the tradeoff for occasional contouring artifacts, so we kept the set at 96Hz for movies, but we wish we didn't have to make that decision. We also looked at the V10 from last year and saw similar contouring in 96Hz, which we missed in our initial review.

Panasonic touts the VT20/25's superior motion resolution compared with LCD, invoking the traditional "600Hz subfield drive" spec in addition to "short-throw phosphors" not found on other plasmas. In reality, as usual, we really didn't see any motion resolution differences in normal program material as opposed to specialized test patterns.

With said patterns, and the Blur Reduction setting engaged, the VT25 scored the full 1080 lines of motion resolution according to our test, and lines did appear a bit sharper than they did on the G20/25 and other plasmas and LCDs with similar scores.

In comparing the plasmas, we attribute the differences to those short-throw phosphors, which the company says return more quickly to an "off" state than normal phosphors. The difference is most visible in green; the VT20/25 largely lacked the green phosphor trails seen in certain fast-moving material, like the green glow in the shadow behind a white license plate from our motion resolution test disc. That said, such issues are nearly invisible in most standard program material, and we didn't see trails on the other plasmas during any of our standard viewing.

With Blur Reduction turned off, the VT20/25 achieved between 800-900 lines of resolution, although phosphor trails were still absent. Since we could see no detriment to this setting, we suggest you leave it turned on.

In our 1080i de-interlacing test, it's worth noting that the VT20/G25 passed in film mode only when we chose the "on" position for the 3:2 pulldown control. When the control was set to the default "Auto" position, the TV failed.

Bright lighting: The TC-PVT20/25 appears to have the same antireflective screen as the G20, and it's a big improvement over what we've seen on past Panasonics. The screen preserved black levels relatively well and reduced the brightness of reflections, such as the faces of viewers or even lamps caught in the screen. It beat the LG models in this area and essentially tied the Samsung plasma, although it wasn't as good as the Pioneer. Compared with the Samsung LCDs, the Panasonic's screen did a better job reducing reflections, but didn't preserve black levels nearly as well.

Standard-definition: Like its G-series brother, the VT-series is one of the worst standard-def performers we've tested recently. It didn't quite resolve all of the horizontal detail of the DVD format, and the shots of the stone bridge and grass appeared a bit soft. Jaggies in moving diagonal lines and a waving American flag were more prevalent on the VT20/25 than on the Samsung or LG sets. Noise reduction was also less-effective; in the Panasonic's strongest setting, we still saw motes and video noise in low-quality shots of skies and sunsets. The TV passed the 2:3 pulldown test in both "On" and (unlike the G series) "Auto" modes.

PC: Via analog VGA the TC-PVT20/25 accepted a maximum input signal of 1366x768, which is disappointing for a 1080p TV. Text in that resolution looked relatively soft, and we missed having an auto adjust function to fill the screen properly, but after some tweaking it looked passable. Via HDMI the TV handled every line of a 1920x1080 source with no edge enhancement or softness and excellent overall quality.

Geek box
TEST RESULT SCORE
Before color temp (20/80) 6801/6421 Good
After color temp N/A  
Before grayscale variation 110 Good
After grayscale variation N/A  
Color of red (x/y) 0.645/0.332 Good
Color of green 0.297/0.603 Good
Color of blue 0.148/0.059 Good
Overscan 0.0% Good
Defeatable edge enhancement Y Good
480i 2:3 pull-down, 24 fps Pass Good
1080i video resolution Pass Good
1080i film resolution Pass Good

Power consumption:
Editors' note, July 1, 2010: This section has been updated to reflect new testing on the power consumption of the 65-inch TC-P65VT25. All of the other sections of this review are still based on our experience with the 50-inch model as described under the series note.

As with the 50-inch VT25 plasma, the 65-incher is an energy hog. Its post-calibration power use is among the highest we've ever tested at 443 watts, which works out to about $100 per year in electricity costs. Tellingly that's even higher than the only other 65-inch plasma we've tested, the Panasonic TH-65VX100U from late 2008. We attribute the lack of improvement in energy efficiency to the fact that Panasonic redesigned the VT20/25 series to work with 3D, and apparently that causes decreased efficiency in 2D mode. To qualify for Energy Star, it employs an even dimmer default picture setting (a mere 15 footlamberts, compared with the already dim 20ftl on the 50-incher), which is the main reason its default power consumption is so low.

As with the 50-incher, the 65-inch uses almost twice as much power in 3D mode as it does in 2D. We tested it using the first 10 minutes of "Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs"--a disc that lets you manually choose 2D or 3D--in the Standard picture mode with the ambient light sensor disabled. When we selected 2D the TV averaged 177 watts; in 3D it averaged 342 watts.

Of course these numbers vary significantly if you adjust picture settings, and might not be a true comparison anyway since the 2D and 3D Standard modes probably don't produce equal light output. However, without aiming our meter through a pair of glasses, and without true 3D test patterns to measure, measuring wattage in default settings is the best we can do for now.

That said, when viewed without glasses the 3D image did appear noticeably brighter than the 2D one, which is likely the main reason for the jump in power use. Since 3D must be viewed through tinted glasses that flash open and closed, reducing perceived light output, the TV has to compensate with a brighter image (a Panasonic representative told us "think of it as watching TV through sunglasses").

Juice box
Panasonic TC-P65VT25 Picture settings
Default Calibrated Power Save
Picture on (watts) 236.66 443.42 N/A
Picture on (watts/sq. inch) 0.13 0.25 N/A
Standby (watts) 0.14 0.14 N/A
Cost per year $51.99 $97.32 N/A
Score (considering size) Good
Score (overall) Average

Annual power consumption cost (after calibration)
Samsung UN55C8000 (55-inch LED)
$24.53 
Panasonic TC-P50G20 (50-inch)
$47.37 
Panasonic TC-P50VT25 (50-inch)
$60.41 
Panasonic TC-P65VT25
$97.32 
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Where to Buy

Panasonic Viera TC-P50VT20

Part Number: TC-P50VT20 Released: May 15, 2010

MSRP: $2,499.00

See manufacturer website for availability.

Quick Specifications See All

  • Release date May 15, 2010
  • 3D Yes
  • Display Format 1080p
  • Diagonal Size 50 in
  • Type Plasma panel
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