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Panasonic TC-PVT50 review: Panasonic TC-PVT50

As you can probably guess by now, the VT50 earned a "10" in this category. Its only flaws are minor crosstalk in 3D and some wonkiness during my calibration, but neither of those can keep it from taking the 2012 TV picture-quality crown -- and serving as my new reference TV. It's clearly Panasonic's best plasma ever, and creates some stiff competition for the OLEDs arriving later this year.

Click the image at the right to see the picture settings used in the review and to read more about how this TV's picture controls worked during calibration.

Comparison models (details)
Samsung PN60E8000 60-inch plasma
Panasonic TC-P55ST50 55-inch plasma
Panasonic TC-P55GT50 55-inch plasma
Sony KDL-55HX850 55-inch full-array LED
Sharp Elite PRO-60X5FD 60-inch full-array LED
Pioneer Elite Kuro PRO-111FD (reference) 50-inch plasma

Black level: Blacks on the VT50 had an inky quality visibly superior to what I saw on any other TV in the lineup aside from the two Elites. The letterbox bars and numerous black and shadowy areas from "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2" looked and measured a notch lighter on the Panasonic ST50 and GT50, the Samsung, and the Sony in most scenes, and the darker the scene, the more superior the VT50 looked than those four. Its true 0 percent measurement of 0.0024 is the lowest we've ever recorded for a non-Kuro plasma.

In brighter scenes and mixed content the advantage was much less noticeable, but in our lineup the VT50 still won against the non-Elites. Its advantage in light output compared with the PNE8000 was also readily apparent, and contributed to its better overall punch and impression of contrast.

In a few extremely dark scenes, such as the gathering of Voldemort's host on the hilltop (45:52), the superior black levels of the two Elites were discernible. The VT50 couldn't quite approach their depths of black, but the gap between the VT50 and the Elites was much narrower than between the VT50 and the others in our side-by-side comparison.

Compared with the LEDs, the dimmer image produced by the VT50 and the other plasmas in very bright scenes, like the all-white world of Harry's vision of the foetal Voldemort in chapter 22 (1:31:48), could be seen as a disadvantage. In my experience however the light-output limitations of plasmas in such scenes are only visible in side-by-side comparisons, and don't detract at all from critical viewing in dim and dark rooms.

Details in the shadows, such as the snake carvings in the watery cave (52:25), were essentially perfect, distinct and perfectly visible yet not too bright. The VT50 was probably the best in the room in this regard, although the Sharp Elite was extremely close. I didn't notice any instances of floating black or other anomalies in my viewing sessions.

Color accuracy: The VT50 was subjectively the best TV in the room overall in this area, despite its imperfect charts (see my notes on picture settings above). It trounced the cyan-poor Sharp Elite and also outdid the Kuro as well as the other Panasonics. Its closest non-Kuro color competition was provided by the Samsung PNE8000, although I'd give the nod to the VT50 for its less bluish cast.

Harry's vision in chapter 19 (1:15:48) showed the VT50's colors to good effect, from the grass to the blue sky (it looked more purplish on the Sharp) to the delicate skin tone of the young redhead. The bright scene dripped with saturation and lushness, another advantage of the deep black levels.

I looked hard for evidence of the slightly redder cast of the low grayscale, fluctuation in grayscale in the midtones, improper primary color balance, and a greenish cast to cyan -- all of which I measured during calibration -- but found these issues impossible to spot. Colors on the VT50 looked rich and yet accurate across the board, with the exception of a greenish-reddish tinge in the very brightest white areas like Harry's chapter 22 vision. Dark areas and shadows looked more neutral than on any other TV in the room.

Video processing: Both the 60Hz and the 96Hz mode handled 1080p/24 sources properly in my test, and this year I didn't notice any extra false-contouring artifacts when setting the TV in 96Hz mode. I did detect slight flicker in 96Hz in bright areas, for example the clouds over Brooklyn in "I Am Legend" (24:49).

I did notice some artifacts from 1080p/24 sources in 60Hz mode. 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. I didn't see any similar issues during other program material, but assume they might crop up. In any case I still prefer the flicker-free 60Hz mode.

As usual, the results of engaging Motion Smoother dejudder processing were objectionable to my eyes, although some viewers might actually want its soap-opera effect. If you like smooth images you may find another reason to like the VT50: its Weak setting (the least objectionable) showed fewer artifacts -- tearing and unnatural motion -- than the same setting on the GT50 and ST50 when I watched the pan over the aircraft carrier in "I Am Legend." The Medium and High settings looked basically the same on the three Panasonics.

Panasonic makes a big deal out of the improved motion-handling capabilities of its new plasmas, and the VT50 is supposedly the best. It may well be, but personally I couldn't detect any difference between the way the VT50 and the ST50 handled my motion-resolution test or fast motion in program material. During program material blurring was, as usual, extremely difficult to discern on any of the TVs in my lineup.

I also didn't see any benefit in program material to the VT50's extra shades of gradation, which should help with false contouring in transitions. Looking at grayscale ramp patterns, for what it's worth, the three Panasonics looked essentially identical, a bit better than the Samsung but not as clean as either LCD.

The VT50 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).

I did not test the 1080p Pure Direct function since the content it requires to realize any benefit (4:4:4 uncompressed component video) is rare.

Bright lighting: Under the lights the VT50 is simply the best non-matte TV I've ever tested. While it can't match the light output of LCD or the antireflective properties of a matte screen, it still manages to mute reflections better than any glossy LED I've seen. Next to the Sharp Elite, for example, my face appeared quite a bit dimmer and less noticeable when the screen went black.

The VT50's bigger strength is its ability to preserve black-level performance under the lights, lending its picture pop and contrast to spare. The Samsung plasma looked dull by comparison, due to its combination of more washed-out blacks under the light and dimmer highlights (despite being smaller than the 65-inch Panasonic I tested, the 60-inch Samsung is more limited in its light output unless you choose an inferior picture mode like Relax or Dynamic). The VT50 was also better than either the GT50 or the ST50 at preserving blacks; only the Sony and Sharp Elite LCDs outdid it in this department.

Panasonic's louvre filter acts like Venetian blinds to reject light coming from above. Compared with last year's sets the VT50's filter did dim the image a bit more when seen from high off-angle vertically. In practice, this difference is only visible from angles that are roughly equivalent to placing the TV on the floor or standing directly above it. As usual for a plasma, horizontal off-angle viewing, which is far more important than vertical in typical living-room situations, looked essentially perfect, in marked contrast to both LCDs.

3D: Updated June 5, 2012: When I first tested the VT50's 3D picture quality I called out its mediocre showing in what I consider the most important performance characteristic for an active 3D TV: reduction of crosstalk. But after the review was published I was alerted by readers that changing the TV's 24p setting (under the Advanced Picture submenu) from the THX 3D Cinema default of 60Hz to 48Hz would help. I got the chance to test that change today and can confirm that, yes, it works, turning the VT50 into a very good 3D performer.

Watching "Hugo," my current favorite 3D torture test, the ghostly double image of crosstalk was clearly visible at 60Hz in many scenes, especially with objects in difficult sequences, like Hugo's hand as it reaches for the mouse (5:01), the tuning pegs on the guitar (7:49), and the face of the dog as it watches the inspector slide by (9:24). When I changed to 48Hz, however, the crosstalk became much dimmer and less noticeable.

Comparing the VT50 in 48Hz mode and the Samsung PNE8000, I saw about the same amount of crosstalk in these scenes. The VT50 still showed more crosstalk than the Elite or the Samsung UN55D8000, and more than any passive 3D TV I've tested. It's also worth noting that 48Hz mode is also available on the GT50 and ST50 in 3D, and provided the same substantial improvements on those TVs as well. I also tried Samsung's SSG-4100BG glasses on the Panasonic TVs and they showed the same improvement in 48Hz.

The 48Hz mode did introduce very minor flicker in the brightest sections of the image, but in my opinion that's a small price to pay for greatly reduced crosstalk. That flicker was quite a bit more subtle than what I saw in 2D using the 96Hz and 48Hz modes, and in 3D it didn't detract from my enjoyment of the film much at all.

The THX mode's 3D picture quality in other areas was also very good. Black levels appeared deeper than on the ST50 and color looked more accurate and well-saturated. I chalk this advantage up to the settings, not necessarily any inherent difference in the TVs, mainly because the GT50's image in THX Cinema looked almost identical, albeit slightly brighter, than the VT50's (I'm guessing if the two were of equal size that the light output difference would be even less noticeable).

Color and shadow detail were superior to what you get in the default Movie mode of the Samsung E8000. The Samsung also seemed to be doing some edge enhancement. I assume all of these issues can be improved by calibration, however, and even if they can't I still liked the Samsung's 3D image, with its much-less-obvious crosstalk, better than the VT50's.

Panasonic's standard 3D glasses for my review fit better than the Samsungs and provided marginally better performance since they enclosed my eyes better. Check out my comparison and reviews for more.

Power consumption: [Note that this test and all of the chart numbers below apply only to the 65-inch TC-P65VT50; I expect the 55-incher to consume about as much power as the ST50 below.] As a 65-inch plasma, the VT50 is destined to be the least efficient TV I test this year. In its favor it uses about $16 less per year than the 65-inch VT25 from 2010, but compared with smaller plasmas and especially LEDs of any size, it's a power hog.

This year, due to the hard cap of 108 watts for any size of TV imposed by Energy Star's latest 5.3 specification, all 55-inch and larger Panasonic plasmas fail to earn the blue sticker.

Editors' note: CNET has dropped TV power consumption testing for 60-inch or smaller LCD- and LED-based TVs because their power use, in terms of yearly cost, is negligible. We will continue to test the power use of larger LCD or LED models, as well as all plasma OLED models.

Juice box
Panasonic TC-P65VT50 Picture settings
Default Calibrated Power save
Picture on (watts) 180.04 370.08 N/A
Picture on (watts/sq. inch) 0.1 0.2 N/A
Standby (watts) 0.11 0.11 N/A
Cost per year $39.56 $81.22 N/A
Score (considering size) Poor
Score (overall) Poor

Annual power consumption cost after calibration

Test Result Score
Black luminance (0%) 0.0024 Good
Avg. gamma 2.176 Good
Near-black x/y (5%) 0.3228/0.3266 Good
Dark gray x/y (20%) 0.3147/0.3338 Average
Bright gray x/y (70%) 0.3132/0.3287 Good
Before avg. color temp. 6330 Average
After avg. color temp. 6516 Good
Red lum. error (de94_L) 1.7032 Average
Green lum. error (de94_L) 2.3221 Average
Blue lum. error (de94_L) 2.54 Average
Cyan hue x/y 0.2294/0.3452 Poor
Magenta hue x/y 0.3219/0.1552 Good
Yellow hue x/y 0.4196/0.5019 Good
1080p/24 Cadence (IAL) Pass Good
1080i Deinterlacing (film) Pass Good
Motion resolution (max) 1,200 Good
Motion resolution (dejudder off) 900 Good

Panasonic TC-P65VT50 CNET review calibration results

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