For the last couple of years Panasonic's best plasma has been the most highly anticipated TV review on CNET, and 2011 is no exception. The top-of-the-line Panasonic TV-PVT30 series is the most clicked-upon TV on our site and my most asked-for review on Twitter, and despite coming in #2 in our poll to the flagship Sony, we're confident that no other TV commands the same expectations.
In nearly every way the VT30 lives up to the expectation. If Panasonic's claim about its black-level stability holds true, allowing it to outdo the 2010 models after a few months of age, the VT30 is the blackest plasma we've tested since the Pioneer Kuro (but the Kuro is still better). Other areas of this Panasonic's picture quality are also generally superb, although doesn't stand quite as tall above the competition as last year's VT25 series did. The competition, namely Samsung's best plasmas, has gotten better, and the PND8000 we tested outdoes the color accuracy of the VT30, although the Samsung falls short of the Panasonic in a couple of other areas. The Samsung is the better value, however, so if you want the best picture for your dollar, the VT30 is not the way to go. But if you want the best picture regardless of cost, the Panasonic TC-PVT30 series is our No. 1 pick this year.
The Panasonic VT30's main design improvement over the GT30 series is a single pane of glass that fronts the entire panel, eliminating the depth difference between the frame and the screen. We've always liked this look, and we appreciate the VT30's touch of extra classiness: a thin sliver of silver along the extreme edge to offset the glossy black. There's also a small speaker bulge along the bottom edge, but it's subtle and set back enough that the panel appears to be a perfect rectangle.
The new 2011 glasses are quite expensive at $179 list per additional 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.
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."
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.
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.