Panasonic TC-P65VT50 3D Plasma HDTV Page 2
The TC-P65VT50 passed through most of our standard video processing tests unscathed but failed both our HD and SD 2:2 tests (see Video Test Bench). A failure on 2:2 processing is common on many sets we’ve tested, including Panasonic’s TC-P55ST50 (Home Theater, July 2012). You might see occasional video processing artifacts on 2:2 interlaced sources (some music videos, for example), but my experience in watching a wide range of such programming on this set, mainly in HD, indicates that such distractions should be infrequent.
In all the qualities that matter, the TC-P65VT50 left a potent impression. The only set I’ve reviewed in the past year that can compete with it is Sharp’s Elite PRO-60X5FD (Home Theater, January 2012). While the latter was no longer on hand for a direct comparison, it remains a strong challenger to the Panasonic except in three respects. First, the Panasonic, like all plasmas, offers flawless off-axis performance; the Sharp, like all LCDs to one degree or another, does not. This is no small thing if your usual viewing audience spreads out over more than one or two seats. Second, the Panasonic is larger (65 inches versus 60 inches for the Sharp—although a 70-inch Sharp is available). And third, the Panasonic is thousands of dollars cheaper. In the plus column for the PRO-60X5FD are a considerably brighter picture and deeper absolute blacks. The Panasonic’s output is more than sufficient for comfortable 2D viewing, but for 3D brightness the Sharp leads the pack among the active-glasses, flat-panel sets we’ve tested.
And the Sharp Elite is still the black-level champ among currently available sets. (Some commentators have also taken the Sharp Elite to task for its cyan tracking—the location of the cyan point at various brightness levels. This is something that we did catch in our review but in any case never found distracting in normal viewing.)
But the Panasonic wasn’t far behind the Sharp Elite in its measured blacks and equally good or perhaps even slightly better—as memory serves—in shadow detail. Apart from the darkest scenes, the black bars on widescreen films very nearly disappeared from the TCP65VT50 in a darkened room (although they were slightly more visible with 3D material). Mixed light and dark scenes popped convincingly, and darker scenes never descended into a foggy mist.
While the Sharp Elite was not on hand for a direct comparison, my 60-inch Pioneer Kuro PRO141FD was. The darkest scenes on the Panasonic weren’t quite as enticingly rich, a result confirmed by the two sets’ measured black levels (0.001 foot-lamberts on the Kuro after three years of use; 0.002 ft-L on the Panasonic after an estimated 200 hours of operation). But keeping in mind that this Kuro’s MSRP (the top model in the Kuro lineup) was roughly twice the list price of the TC-P65VT50, Panasonic’s achievement here shouldn’t be underestimated. On Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2, a film with more than its fair share of dimly lit, challenging video, the Panasonic held its own. The main difference between the two sets was a slightly smoother transition into the darkest region of the brightness range on the Pioneer. The Panasonic had a trace of black crush on a few shots; the Pioneer did not. But it was a very close call. The Panasonic looked very slightly sharper than the Pioneer, but that too was very material dependent.
In other respects, the Panasonic gave quarter to no other set I’ve reviewed. Images were crisp, and colors sparkled—but never looked unnatural. Literally dozens of hours of viewing, including two seasons of Downton Abbey, several episodes of Lost, and movies including Journey 2: The Mysterious Island and Mirror, Mirror confirmed the Panasonic’s excellent color and superb resolution of detail. Downton looked sublimely natural, and Lost was brightly colored with believable greens. Both of the above named films also looked gorgeous, which was fortunate since they offered little else to tempt me to sit through to the bitter end. You know you’ve sat through a clunker when the end credits are an entertaining relief, particularly an entry on Island for “Mr. [Dwayne] Johnson’s Hair Stylist!”
Modern post-production color manipulation being what it is, it’s difficult to subjectively judge color accuracy with today’s films. But sports came to my rescue. A late-June Yankees–Cleveland Indians baseball game, played on a sunny New York afternoon, jumped off the screen, with precise fleshtones and acres of convincingly real, green grass.
All of the 3D sets we’ve tested have produced convincing 3D images, and the Panasonic was no exception. But as I noted in my last Panasonic plasma review, two other concerns come immediately to mind when judging 3D performance: Is it bright enough, and is there any 3D ghosting? The latter is a particular concern with sets that use active shutter glasses, as do all plasmas to date. The TC-P65VT50 performed somewhat better in this respect than had Panasonic’s lower-end TC-P55ST50. I only saw one hint of ghosting in Despicable Me (a frequent ghosting offender) and none at all in the few scenes from A Christmas Carol and Avatar that have occasionally tripped up other 3D sets. With the number of 3D titles now available, it’s certainly possible that you may see a trace of ghosting here or there. But this was not, for me, a significant issue on this set.
The measured peak brightness level in the Panasonic’s maxed-out 3D Custom mode was not the best we’ve seen, at just over 7 ft-L (measured through the 3D glasses), but it looked much brighter than the meter suggested—a phenomenon we’ve seen in other 3D displays. Occasionally, a bright, sunlit scene didn’t look quite as punchy as it should. But at other times, such as the opening desert scene in Despicable Me, the picture was more than bright enough. Since our measurements can only be taken through one eyepiece of the 3D glasses, I’m beginning to suspect that the way the brain combines the two sequential signals from active glasses produces a perceived brightness higher than we can measure. The Panasonic’s Vivid Picture mode can produce even higher 3D brightness, but it doesn’t have the Custom mode’s full set of calibration controls.
The Panasonic also uses the low gamma trick that many 3D sets employ to pump up the mid-brightness region (see HT Labs Measures). A lower than standard gamma in the mid-brightness region, where most video material is concentrated, produces an impression of higher overall brightness. I’ve never been entirely happy with this gamma compromise—you’re seeing the images differently than the director intended. But it beats a too-dim picture and works in most sets, including this one, without the washed-out images that a similarly low gamma would produce in 2D.
Overall, the Panasonic produced enjoyable and often compelling 3D pictures. Panasonic’s newest, rechargeable 3D glasses also helped; they’re light and comfortable. I often had to re-cycle their on/off switch to get a solid 3D lock-on, but once engaged, the lock didn’t break.
Comparisons and Conclusions
Why do we so often insist on comparing a set under review to an HDTV you can no longer buy? Because in the three years since the Pioneer Kuro departed the HDTV scene, there has not yet been another set that can equal or better it in all respects, most particularly in black level. Bringing that up may frustrate the reader, though it reminds manufacturers that they still have a way to go.
But with the Panasonic TC-P65VT50, the distance isn’t far. And consider the ways in which Panasonic has moved beyond its now departed competitor: 3D capability, less noise at the extreme bottom end of the brightness range, far more flexible setup controls, Internet features, and a larger maximum size (even apart from Panasonic’s super-size-me sets—those ranging from 85 inches to the company’s custom, “put the set on a slab and build the house around it” and “your electric bill will necessarily skyrocket,” 150-inch monster).
Most significantly, you can purchase the TC-P65VT50 for the family room and also bring home the smaller, 55-inch TC-P55VT50 for the bedroom, for the $7,000 price once demanded for the best 60-inch Kuro—with $800 change in the bargain. The value and performance offered by the Panasonic VT50 series is truly remarkable.