Panasonic TC-P55VT30 3D Plasma HDTV Page 3

Other than the common failure to properly handle 2:2 pulldown, and a failure to cleanly upscale 480p material to 1080p (see the Scaling block on the Video Test Bench chart), the VT30's HD video processing was good. The SD processing (upscaling and deinterlacing from 480i to 1080p, not shown in the charts) was borderline on 3:2 SD (marginal on two different tests, but a pass on a third). The set also failed a 2:2 SD pulldown test.

2D Performance
The VT30 offers gorgeous color on most sources, even with its somewhat inaccurate color gamuts (the points were spot on, but the intensities of the colors diverged from the HD standard, even with the color control turned down). While there were some minor flaws in its calibrated color tracking (see "HT Labs Measures"), none of these appeared to visibly compromise the results.

The VT30 offers exceptional resolution. If you don't see resolution that's second to none on any of these sets when they're properly calibrated, you need either better source material or better glasses.

In terms of black level and shadow detail, the VT30 did very well. The darkest scenes in Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World were impressive. And the star field that opens Stargate: Continuum displayed a density of stars, from the dimmest to the brightest, that often escapes lesser sets. That star field was also less affected than on most sets when the bright white title pops up over it. Shadow detail was also exceptional.

We still had our review sample of last year's top-of-the-line TC-P50VT25 on hand, so a comparison between that and the VT30 was clearly irresistible. There was only time for a 2D face-off, but one thing was clear: In terms of picture quality, the VT30 was neither better nor worse than the VT25 in any respect save one: The VT25 had better blacks—0.006 ft-L on the VT30 versus 0.004 ft-L on the VT25. The visible difference on a full black field was subtle but unmistakable. This was disappointing, as we were hoping for steadily increasing improvement in Panasonic's already very good black levels. The VT30's overall performance is still near the current state of the art for plasma, which can still beat the usable black-level performance of most LCDs. But note the word current in the last sentence. Even the best black-level measurement turned in my current flat panels is still well short of our gold standard: the 0.001 ft-L measured on the last generation of the now long-discontinued Pioneer Kuros.

3D Performance
I performed a full 3D calibration on the VT30. Like all sets in our experience, the brightness and color of the VT30 were somewhat muted in 3D. But in its Custom mode, those weren't major concerns. In particular, the VT30 is an outstanding 2D set that sacrifices nothing in its 3D quiver apart from the higher 3D brightness that a few LCD sets offer. I sometimes question whether 3D in and of itself is worthwhile if we have to sacrifice the brighter, punchier images we're used to seeing in 2D, as is typically the case. But this time, the 3D color appeared to leave nothing on the table on either set. 3D can be addictive when done right, as it is here.

The VT30 produced no obvious 3D ghosting. Both Avatar and A Christmas Carol have exhibited serious ghosting on some active-glasses sets, but not here. The near total lack of this phenomenon may well be a major factor in this set's crisp, vivid 3D performance. I say "near total lack" because there's no way of knowing if this or that piece of some as-yet-unseen 3D material will conjure up an unwelcome apparition or two. But thanks to plasma's naturally fast response time, not to mention the faster phosphors Panasonic introduced with last year's first generation of 3D sets, I didn't find ghosting to be an issue here.

As with virtually all plasmas, this one exhibits the sort of off-axis performance that no LCD can match. This was true for both 2D and 3D. The color and 3D effects held up solidly as far off center as anyone would care to sit—at least 45 degrees. Sit beyond that, and parallax takes over (with an increasingly trapezoidal image), even as the basic picture quality remains virtually unchanged. Nor was head tilt ever an issue in 3D, as it is in LCD sets.

About that 2D-to-3D conversion mode. It provided a modest degree of depth to 2D material, but as I've said before, if I'm going to sacrifice brightness for 3D, I prefer the real thing.

Conclusion
The VT30 deserves its place as Panasonic's flagship 3D plasma—its detail, color, blacks, shadow detail, and feature set are among the best offered by today's flat panels, though it doesn't quite reach the benchmark for blacks set by Pioneer's gone-but-not-forgotten Kuro plasmas. Still, the VT30's blacks beat the GT30's and ST30's, so if you've got the dough, I say go for it. But if money's tight, the ST30 offers an excellent alternative with only slightly less deep blacks and otherwise similar performance for a lot less scratch.

COMPANY INFO
Panasonic
(800) 221-PANA
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