There's plenty of hype surrounding 3D TV, much of it promulgated by the people at Panasonic, but the main reasons we like the TC-PVT20/25 series so much are contained by the traditional two dimensions. Yes, it beats the one other first-generation 3D-compatible TV we've tested, and yes, it actually includes 3D glasses, but with the scarcity of 3D content available today, the need to buy additional, expensive glasses for every family member, and the basic fact that 3D TV isn't for everyone, we think this TV's 2D prowess is the main reason to buy it.
Of course, there are plenty of reasons not to as well, chief being the company's black-level loss issue with 2009 models. Until the results of our long-term test of the VT25 are in we can't speak definitively to that, but in the meantime nay-sayers could also point to its hungry power use, some issues with 1080p/24 playback or the imperfection of its grayscale. But weighed against its excellent general color accuracy in THX, its improved antireflective screen and especially those inky black levels, the knocks against the initial 2D picture quality of the Panasonic TC-PVT20/25 series seem minor. , it's the best 2D TV we've ever tested, although we'll reserve final judgment until we can examine the competitors' best 2010 HDTVs.
Editors' note, October 7, 2010: After about 1,500 hours, the black-level performance of our TC-P50VT25 review sample has worsened, but not enough to affect our overall performance score. According to Panasonic it should not increase much further. Based on the strength of its performance against the competition, we have awarded the Panasonic TC-PVT25 series our Editors' Choice among plasma TVs for 2010.
Series information: We performed a hands-on evaluation of the 50-inch Panasonic TC-P50VT25, but this review also applies to the other screen sizes in the series. All models in the series have identical specs and according to the manufacturer should provide very similar picture quality. The same goes for the 50-inch TC-P50VT20, a 50-inch model exclusive to Best Buy. Aside from its bezel color and the fact that it lacks an RS-232 connection, it is the same as the others listed below.
|Models in series (details)|
|Panel depth||3.6 inches||Bezel width||2.4 inches|
|Single-plane face||No||Swivel stand||Yes|
Externally there's no extra dimension of panache to the TC-PVT25's appearance, unless you count the glossy, dark, grayish-bronze bezel color--glossy black is the HDTV norm--or the silver accent strips that border the top and bottom edges of the panel. The lower one tapers at the sides and separates the main area of the frame from the black-colored, gentle curve along the bottom edge. Panasonic continues the staid-yet-subtly-high-end look with the matching oval stand, complete with its own silver border. All told we really like the TV's appearance, which separates it from the pack without being too garish. Note that the TV-P50VT20 (not pictured) has a brighter, "simulated stainless steel" frame instead of the VT25's bronze.
|Remote control and menus|
|Remote size (LxW)||9 x 2 inches||Remote screen||N/A|
|Total keys||50||Backlit keys||36|
|Other IR devices controlled||No||RF control of TV||No|
|Shortcut menu||Yes||On-screen explanations||Yes|
The company uses an improved clicker compared with 2009's, with more backlit keys and a larger "Menu" button, and we appreciate the well-differentiated layout. Its only downside in our view is an incapability to control other gear directly via infrared. The company has updated its blue-and-yellow menus to include onscreen explanations and a persistent navigation column of icons on the left, and as a result they feel more modern and are easier to use than last year, if not quite up to the level of Sony or Samsung.
|Key TV features|
|Display technology||plasma||LED backlight||N/A|
|3D compatible||Yes||3D glasses included||Yes|
|Screen finish||Glass||Refresh rate(s)||48Hz, 60Hz, 96Hz|
|Dejudder (smooth) processing||No||1080p/24 compatible||Yes|
|Internet connection||Yes||Wireless HDMI/AV connection||No|
|Other: Includes one pair of 3D glasses (TY-EW3D10; $150 each per additional pair); Optional Wi-Fi dongle (DY-WL10, $99); Optional network camera (wired BL-C210 , $199; wi-fi BL-C230, $299)|
Unlike the 3D TVs released so far by Samsung, the TC-PVT20/25 includes the necessary glasses which, like all first-generation glasses, will not work with other brands' 3D TVs. The Panasonic lacks a 2D-to-3D upconversion system found on 3D models from Samsung, Sony, and Toshiba--although given the issues we experienced with Samsung's system, we don't miss this feature much.
Panasonic says its flagship plasma incorporates all sorts of image-quality enhancements, including short-throw phosphors designed with 3D in mind that also improve motion resolution and phosphor lag with 2D--although, as far as we're concerned, those areas didn't really need any improvement. More importantly, the VT20/25 models include a 96Hz refresh rate, which allows the TV to properly handle 1080p/24 content--something the step-down Panasonics cannot. See Performance for details.
Options include the same kind of proprietary Wi-Fi dongle used by Samsung and LG; naturally we'd like to see built-in Wi-Fi (a la Vizio and higher-end Sony sets), but, again, we're not surprised at its omission. We're also intrigued by the optional networked camera, which provides VT25 owners with relatively cheap in-home monitoring capability. We didn't test either option for this review.
|Netflix||Yes (July 2010)||YouTube||Yes|
|Amazon Video on Demand||Yes||Rhapsody||No|
Just about every TV maker has Netflix, and when Panasonic turns on this feature in July it will join the ranks of "good enough" streaming. We'd still like to see the excellent picture quality of Vudu's HD service, found on many other makers' TVs, available too, but Amazon VOD has solid high-def picture quality in its own right. DLNA won't be missed by most buyers, and it's nice to see Pandora onboard to handle audio duties.
|Other:Customizable VieraCast home page; two German-language news widgets; Skype requires speakerphone accessory (TY-CC10, $169); compatible with USB PC keyboards|
Panasonic's VieraCast system got a facelift for 2010, adding widgets like Fox Sports and Twitter ("coming soon" as of press time), as well as a Skype option. Our favorite change is that the home page can be customized somewhat, allowing you to place the apps and streaming services you want on the first, second, or third page in any of seven slots arranged around the central picture window. Most other TVs' , aside from Vizio and Yahoo widgets, don't let you rearrange content to the same extent.
VieraCast still seems a bit archaic compared with the others, takes over rather than overlays whatever you're watching, and inexplicably lacks a non-business (and non-German) News component, but we do appreciate the well-integrated feel, relatively snappy response time, and the above-average functionality of the custom apps, namely Bloomberg and Weather.
We also like the option of using a USB keyboard, although a couple of older wireless ones we tried (a Logitech MX3200 and a ) didn't interface with the TV. Many other wired or wireless USB keyboards should work, however, and Panasonic told us "Logitech MK700, DiNovo, Logicool, or Microsoft keyboards work well."
|Adjustable picture modes||5||Independent memories per input||Yes|
|Dejudder presets||0||Fine dejudder control||N/A|
|Aspect ratio modes -- HD||5||Aspect ratio modes -- SD||4|
|Color temperature presets||5||Fine color temperature control||4 point|
|Gamma presets||6||Color management system||Yes|
|Other: THX mode is adjustable; On/Off "Blur reduction" setting; very basic 3D settings|
Panasonic has equipped the TC-PVT20/25 series with an array of picture settings on a par with other makers' TVs, if not quite to the level seen on LG and Samsung's high-end models. The Pro Settings menu, available only in the Custom picture mode, offers niceties like a fine color temperature menu (a measly four points is still better than none), an array of gamma choices, and, unlike on the G20/25 models, a color management system (although it wasn't effective at correcting the color errors in Custom mode). We also like that, unlike on LG's so-equipped TVs, Panasonic's THX mode can be adjusted.
The new-for-2010 "blur reduction" setting affects motion resolution, but (happily) doesn't introduce any . Unlike the Samsung UNC8000 series, which offers an array of tweaks to 3D, the VT25's sole non-essential adjustments are a provision for swapping the right and left eyes, and a simple On/Off diagonal line filter, described as something you "Select when diagonal lines appear jagged" and "Turn off when the picture looks noisy." We never found the need to use it during 3D viewing.
|Power saver mode||No||Ambient light sensor||Yes|
|Picture-in-picture||No||On-screen user manual||No|
|Other: Two modes to combat burn-in|
Watchers paranoid about burn-in (we aren't) will appreciate the scrolling bar designed to erase it, and the pixel orbiter intended to prevent it in the first place. We'd like to see a brightness-limiting energy saver mode, as well as an onscreen companion to the thick paper manual.
|HDMI inputs||3 back, 1 side||Component video inputs||2 back|
|Composite video input(s)||1 back, 1 side||S-video input(s)||0|
|VGA-style PC input(s)||1||RF input(s)||1|
|AV output(s)||0||Digital audio output||Optical|
|USB port||2 side||Ethernet (LAN) port||Yes|
|Other: Side SD card slot; RS-232 port (VT25 models only)|
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.
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.