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Panasonic's TX-P65VT50 is the TV equivalent of turning it up to 11. It sits right at the top Panasonic's current lineup of goggleboxes and its huge 65-inch screen means you're going to need a lot of space in your lounge to make this set feel at home.
The mammoth screen size means unfortunately that it also comes with a hefty price tag of around £3,799, but the TV is packed with features including support for active 3D and online services, built-in Wi-Fi and Panasonic's latest NeoPlasma screen technology, which promises deeper black levels and brighter pictures.
One thing is for certain when it comes to Panasonic's TVs: you don't buy them if you're a fan of flashy menu systems. The menus are definitely the worst thing about the VT50, as its dated onscreen graphics look out of place on what is otherwise a very advanced TV. On the plus side, the simplicity of the menus does mean they're easy to navigate, as the layout is very straightforward. Unlike on some of LG and Samsung's sets, there aren't multiple ways of accessing the same features.
Panasonic has fortunately put some work into improving its EPG. The advert placeholders that muscled their way into the EPG on last year's models have been removed, so there's a tad more space on the screen for displaying upcoming programmes.
The presentation is still a let down though, as once again the text and graphics look very unsophisticated. It's also lacking a live video window and doesn’t keep the sound running when you open the EPG, with the result that you quickly lose track of what's going on in the show you're watching whenever you check out the guide.
The TV comes with two remote controls. The standard zapper is attractive and thoughtfully designed. It's reasonably large and has comfortably sized buttons that are intelligently laid out, so that all the key features are within easy reach of your thumb.
Panasonic has also added a second touchpad remote control. This is much less successful as a means of navigating the menus however, and I found it fiddly to use for all but the most basic tasks.
As with Panasonic's GT50 and WT50 models, this TV has a dual-core processor powering its smart TV features. The main advantage of having the extra core is that it allows the TV to support multi-tasking for Smart TV apps, so you can have multiple apps running in the background and switch between them as you like, rather than having to exit each app to start another one. To switch apps you press the Viera Tools button on the remote. The corner of the screen then curls up to show the apps that are currently running, allowing you to choose the one you want to jump into.
The other benefit of the dual-core processor is that apps seem to load slightly faster and are smoother to use, although the difference in this regard between Panasonic's dual- and single-core processor TVs is hardly significant.
The interface for the smart TV platform could do with a spruce up as it looks a bit blocky and there's rather too much lag in the transitions between the different pages of apps. A 3D-style layout is used, with grids of apps stacked on top of on another. As you add more apps across multiple grids however, the stacks start to feel on the cumbersome side, and navigation between layers becomes tedious.
The TV packs a fairly exciting lineup of apps, including the likes of BBC iPlayer, YouTube, Daily Motion and Vimeo. There's also support for movie services such as Acetrax and Netflix, as well as news and sports apps form the BBC. Naturally, Facebook and Twitter are all present and correct, and there's even a joint app that overlays feeds from social networks onto whatever happens to be playing -- so, for example, you can follow what people are saying while watching The X Factor. Nevertheless, it's missing some big hitters that you'll find on competitor's Smart TV platforms such as Lovefilm, Demand 5 and ITV Player.
The TV also packs a full web browser, although it's a bit torturous to navigate a website using the remote -- even the touchpad one. If it seems like too much effort, you can always use Panasonic's iPhone and Android apps to catch and throw web pages straight from a phone or tablet to the TV's web browser -- and Flash is supported, so it can play video on some websites.
Panasonic's built-in media player has also been improved, so it will now happily play video formats like MKV and DivX either locally from USB drivers or by streaming them from a PC across a network.
The TX-P65V50 is a mammoth TV, and while it's often difficult to make a screen this size look stylish, Panasonic has managed to achieve just that. A single sheet of glass covers the front, running from edge to edge and framed only by a strip of chrome that runs around the outer rim. As a result, the television looks very sophisticated and stylish. Bear in mind though that at 42.5kg it is very heavy, so you're probably going to have to call in the experts if you want to wall-mount it.
This TV certainly isn’t found wanting when it comes to ports. On the left-hand edge you'll find the four HDMI ports, and above these are three USB sockets along with an SD memory card reader. The remainder of the connections are all found on the rear and include RF and Satellite inputs for the Freeview HD and Freesat HD tuners, as well as an Ethernet port for the online services. However, as Wi-Fi is built in, you're unlikely to need the Ethernet port at all. The rear panel also has mini jack inputs for component and Scart connections, which require the use of the supplied break out cables.
Big, cinema-style pictures need big, powerful audio to accompany them, and luckily the TX-P65VT50 doesn’t disappoint in this area. Panasonic has added a mini subwoofer to the rear of the TV, which helps it to deliver fatter sounding bass that you could get from most flatscreen models. The distance between the two downward firing stereo speakers mounted on the bottom of the panel also helps to widen the stereo image, making it sound broader and more enveloping.
Hardcore movie fans are of course likely to twin a screen of this size with a surround sound system, but if you don’t want to splash out on extra kit, the built-in audio provided is more than meaty enough to allow you to enjoy even the most bombastic action movie soundtracks.
If there's one thing you want a quality TV to get right, it's picture quality and fortunately the TX-P65VT50 comes up trumps in this area. It actually takes a while to get accustomed to a screen this big, as its gargantuan dimensions give it a cinematic feel, but there's a lot more to the pictures on this set than mere size.
The black levels are truly amazing, and are arguably the best of any TV on the market at the moment. As it uses plasma technology, the TV doesn't suffer from problems associated with LED screens, such as backlight inconsistencies and haloing around bright objects. The black levels help to give pictures a richer feel with much sharper contrast, making movies a real pleasure to watch.
While it doesn't have the ultimate brightness levels of many LED models, the TX-P65VT50 is a good deal brighter than last year's plasma screens from Panasonic. This in turn helps to give its colours some much-needed extra punch. The finer gradient control on this model over the ST50 and GT50 sets means that dimly lit scenes in movies are handled with more refinement too.
I'd expected standard-definition broadcasts on Freeview to look rougher than a builder's hands, but the VT50's picture processing actually does a very competent job of upscaling standard-definition material. The better-quality channels on Freeview actually look perfectly watchable at this screen size.
Things do begin to break up a bit if you try watching low-quality YouTube clips or the low bandwidth Freeview channels, but on the whole its upscaling is very impressive. Motion is handled beautifully too, and HD movies are so sharp you'll need to be careful the pictures don’t slice your eyeballs.
The VT50 comes with two pairs of Panasonic's active specs. These have been redesigned and are a good deal smaller than the company's previous eyewear. As a result they're lighter and more comfortable to wear.
The general rule about 3D is that it's more impressive the bigger the screen size -- something which is borne out on the TX-P65VT50. The sheer scale of this model's 3D pictures make them a joy to behold, but add in the fact that pictures look very crisp and sharp, and suffer from practically no crosstalk and you've got a cracking screen for watching 3D. In fact, the only slight downside is that its 3D images look a little bit darker than what you'd find on many LED TV sets.
The TX-P65VT50 really is a cracking TV from Panasonic. It may cost and arm and a leg and the sheer size of the thing might mean you have to remove a wall to fit it in your lounge, but you'll be rewarded with gloriously refined, cinema-sized pictures. Panasonic still has work to do on its dated menu system and the provision of more premium apps and smart TV features, but you can guarantee that overall, this telly won't disappoint.