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Panasonic Viera TH-P50VT20A review: Panasonic Viera TH-P50VT20A

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Starting with synthetic tests our television aced all of the HQV tests, bar the film mode (24p) test. This is one better than the V10, which also failed the video test, but this still means that you may experience some judder when watching Blu-ray movies.

This proved true on the Mission Impossible III Blu-ray, which showed a propensity for clunky motion, but this also depends on your player. While we had judder issues with the PlayStation 3 we had none with Panasonic’s own BD300. Despite passing the synthetic jaggies test, the VT20 left us scratching our heads with its inability to smooth out some jaggies. There was a lot of moire on the railings at the beginning of the bridge scene of MI3 and this was disappointing — the Sony HX800 was able to clean this image up spectacularly and still deliver a detailed picture. Despite this, the image was sharply honed without degenerating into noise and blacks were inky.

Traditionally, plasmas have problems with clouds — whether it be dust, sunsets or storm clouds — and this is because they weren’t able to handle the subtle graduations of colours. This usually resulted in clear streaky lines and "buzzing" artefacts. Moving to the Batman Begins Blu-ray, though, we found that the Pana no longer sees this as a problem. The clouds above Ra's al Ghul’s mountaintop palace were smooth and fluffy.

DVD replay was also good, with the sunrise over the Empire State Building in King Kong never so believable. Images were clear, full of depth and natural looking. While clouds did show a little bit of "buzz" colour gradations were mostly smooth. Another thing we noticed was that large patches of sky also displayed faint strobing horizontal lines on occasion, and this occurred regardless of the player.

LCD TVs have a terrible problem with off-axis viewing — that is, viewing when not directly in front of the TV — and even the Sony HX800 has a problem with this. This Panasonic has the best viewing angle of any TV we've seen so far. Add a swivel stand and you can truly watch this TV from anywhere in the house, presuming you have a line of sight.

Sound quality was good, with voices clear and soundtracks delivered with oomph, though we did find that there was a "chuffing" noise with music.

After connecting a USB disk, we found that the on-board recorder is very quirky and not recommended as an alternative to a PVR. It won’t let you preset recordings, you can only record the show you are watching. To access it, you need to press the SD-card button on the remote.

So far, so good. But the TV wasn’t as successful in some areas, particularly 3D. While images suffered from very little “crosstalk” or ghosting, we did find that engaging the 3D mode did cut the TV's brightness quite significantly. This would make it hard enough to watch in a lit room if it weren’t for the flicker — any light source that’s in your peripheral vision will flicker. So it’s best to watch this TV in the dark if you want to watch 3D. Obviously this can present a problem when you’re watching communal 3D content such as sport.

The internet features aren’t that comprehensive at this stage though browsing YouTube was fun. We look forward to the company announcing content deals with the commercial and public broadcasters in the near future to round out its content offering.

Conclusion

We had high hopes for the Panasonic VT20 and they were mostly fulfilled. This is truly one of the best plasmas that has ever been produced. Black levels are very high, pictures are detailed and off-axis viewing is the best of any TV currently on the market.

Unfortunately, the spectre of the "grey" black levels issue will hang over Panasonic TVs, and there's even debate over whether it even affects Australian models at all. It's too soon to say if this TV will be affected, but we can imagine that the brightness will increase gradually over the life of the set instead of overnight.

The VT20 is an excellent television, and we predict it will be seen as one of the best TVs ever. It just happens that Sony’s TV is that much better.

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