Panasonic TC-PVT30 review: Panasonic TC-PVT30

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MSRP: $3,999.95

The Good The Panasonic TC-PVT30 has outstanding overall picture quality, with superior black-level performance, very good shadow detail and accurate color points in THX mode. It can handle 1080p/24 sources and bright rooms well and exhibits the nearly perfect screen uniformity of plasma, as well as very good 3D picture quality. It includes one pair of 3D glasses and a Wi-Fi dongle. Its Internet suite is simple to use yet content-rich, and its styling is understated and classy with a single-pane design.

The Bad The VT30 is very expensive, and last year's Panasonic plasmas lost black-level performance over relatively short periods of time. Its color is not as good as the best current plasmas and it uses significantly more power than LCD TVs.

The Bottom Line Superb all-around picture quality, anchored by the deepest plasma black levels of the year, make the Panasonic TC-PVT30 series the best-performing TV we've tested in 2011.

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8.7 Overall
  • Design 8
  • Features 9
  • Performance 9

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 No. 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 it 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 (review posting soon) 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.

Editors' note (September 1, 2011): The reviewed size of this TV is undergoing long-term testing, the results of which don't affect this review but may be interesting nonetheless. Click here for details.

Series information: We performed a hands-on evaluation of the 55-inch Panasonic TC-P55VT30, but this review also applies to the other screen size in the series. Both sizes have identical specs and according to the manufacturer should provide very similar picture quality.

Models in series (details)
Panasonic TC-P55VT30 (reviewed) 55 inches
Panasonic TC-P65VT30 65 inches


A single pane of glass fronts the screen and the black frame, creating a seamless look.

Design highlights
Panel depth 2.2 inches Bezel width 2 inches
Single-plane face Yes Swivel stand No

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 a perfect rectangle.

All told we like the design, but it might be a bit understated for some tastes, and we do wish the bezel around the screen was thinner, a la the GT30 or, better yet, the Samsung PND8000/D7000--both of which have a slight design edge over the VT30.

Panasonic's simple glossy black stand has a relatively large footprint, and we were a bit disappointed that it doesn't allow the panel to swivel.

The stand does not swivel.

Remote control and menus
Remote size (LxW) 9 x 2 inches QWERTY keyboard No
Illuminated keys 31 IR device control No
Menu item explanations Yes On-screen manual No

Panasonic's menus and remotes are basically unchanged from 2010. The menu system looks and acts quite a bit less sophisticated than Samsung or Sony, and we didn't appreciate having to scroll through so many pages in the Picture menu. 3D Settings seems misplaced in the Setup menu, and on-screen support beyond basic explanations is nonexistent.

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."

Panasonic's menu system is spartan compared to those of its competitors.


Key TV features
Display technology plasma LED backlight N/A
3D technology Active 3D glasses included 1 pair
Screen finish Glass Internet connection Wi-Fi adapter
Refresh rate(s) 96Hz, 60Hz, 48Hz Dejudder (smooth) processing Yes
DLNA compliant Photo/Music/Video USB Photo/Music/Video
Other:THX display certification for 2D and 3D; includes Wi-Fi adapter and 1 pair of 3D glasses; additional 3D glasses at $179 each are TY-EW3D2SU (small), TY-EW3D2MU (medium) and TY-EW3D2LU (large); optional Skype camera/speakerphone (TY-CC10W, $169); optional network camera (wired BL-C210, $199; Wi-Fi BL-C230, $299)

Compared with the GT30, the flagship VT30's main step-up features are a dedicated 96Hz mode for 1080p/24 content and a single included pair of 3D glasses. Both models offer THX certification, which can be utilized via a preset picture mode available with both 2D and 3D sources. New for 2011 Panasonic has added dejudder processing to its plasmas. See performance for more details.

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.

Panasonic includes a Wi-Fi dongle with the VT30, occupying a USB slot but happily allowing you to use a wireless connection with this TV without paying an extra $80 or more for a dongle.

The new 3D glasses, included, are rechargeable and slightly less-dorky-looking then their predecessors (provided you remove the USB charging cable before donning them).

Streaming and apps
Netflix Yes YouTube Yes
Amazon Instant Yes Hulu Plus No
Vudu No Pandora Yes
Web browser No Skype Optional
Facebook Yes Twitter Yes
Other: CinemaNow, Dailymotion,, Alphaline, NBA GameTime, MLB TV, Fox Sports widget, Napster, Shoutcast, Picasa, Gameloft games including Asphalt 5 and Golf, Withings Wi-Fi body scale;

Like Samsung and LG, Panasonic redesigned its Internet suite for 2011 TVs, adding an app store, greatly expanding content offerings and changing the name--it's now Viera Connect for TVs, although the old VieraCast moniker still applies to 2011 Blu-ray players.

Vudu video and Hulu Plus are still missing, and we could nitpick about the absence of Rhapsody since Napster gets a spot, but otherwise the selection is solid. Unfortunately the Netflix interface doesn't allow search and uses the old, horizontal scroll instead of the new tiled layout, but at least you get genres.

Notable apps include Shoutcast for Internet radio and one that works with the $159 Withings Wi-Fi body scale. We checked out the new Asphalt 5 racing app on the GT30 we reviewed earlier and although it was better than most TV games, we figure it's with $0.99, not $4.99. In addition to paid apps, the Viera Market also has actual merchandise, including 3D glasses, SD cards, gamepads and Logitech's DiNovo keyboard (everything is list price, unfortunately).

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.

On the downside response times were slower than Samsung in many cases, but not slow enough to be annoying. We also wish you could activate apps from within the market, as opposed to having to back out to the main Viera Connect interface.

Viera Market now has games. No, this one isn't worth $4.99.

Picture settings
Adjustable picture modes 6 Fine dejudder control No
Color temperature presets 5 Fine color temperature control 10 points
Gamma presets 6 Color management system Yes
Other: Gamma detail adjustment; ISF Day/Night modes for professional calibrators

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.