Panasonic's VT20 was pretty much our favourite TV of last year thanks to its supreme picture performance and excellent 3D capabilities. It was little wonder then, that it managed to bag our coveted Editor's Choice award. But time and tide wait for no TV and so the VT20 has now been replaced by the upgraded VT30, which is priced at around £1,400. It promises a whole load of new features, but is it really that much of an improvement over last year's model?
A TV with a premium price tag should also have a premium look, but this is something that Panasonic hasn't always excelled at. Panasonic's design department has upped its game this year, however, and the VT30 is probably the best looking set the company has ever produced.
The front of the TV has a 'one sheet of glass' design that's beautifully framed by a thin metallic strip running around the outer edge of the display. It gives the TV a very clean and sophisticated look. Panasonic has also redesigned the remote control by slimming it down and adding a red backlight.
As with most of Panasonic's high-end models, the set has both Freeview HD and Freesat HD tuners onboard, so you get access to the widest range of free channels available. One annoyance, however, is that the Freeview HD tuner uses the GuidePlus+ EPG, which displays web-style adverts on the left hand side of the screen, compromising the amount of space available for showing programming information. We really do wish Panasonic would dump this system and return to using a standard Freeview EPG.
Nevertheless, the VT30 isn't found wanting when it comes to the range of connections on offer as you get a full quota of four HDMI ports. The slim 50mm chassis means that some connections, such as the component and Scart ones, have to be made using small adaptor cables, but this shouldn't be too much of a hassle.
The TV also has two USB ports and an Ethernet socket for Internet and digital media playback capabilities. There's no Wi-Fi built-in, but Panasonic does include a USB Wi-Fi module in the box. Even with it connected you still have a spare USB port for hooking up a memory key or hard drive.
Thankfully Panasonic has upgraded its Internet platform and the new Viera Connect system that replaces Viera Cast on this year's models finally includes a proper implementation of the BBC's iPlayer service. This slots in alongside apps for other services such as AceTrax, DailyMotion and YouTube. There are also social media apps for Facebook, Twitter, Skype and Flickr, so all in all it's a pretty exciting line up.
The media playback support is good, too. The TV connected to our PC and NAS drive without any problems and was as happy playing HD MKV files as it was dealing with DivX and Xvid videos.
Cracking image quality
One of the reasons for the higher than average price tag is its 3D features. It comes with two pairs of 3D glasses in the box and, as they're active glasses, extra pairs will set you back between £80 and £100 each. Fortunately, the VT30's 3D performance really is first rate.
The set's fast-firing phosphorous means there's pretty much no discernable crosstalk (the two images bleeding into each other) or image ghosting visible when you're watching 3D content, and this helps to add a solidity to 3D images that makes the sense of depth even more appealing.
The VT30's 2D picture quality is every bit as good as its 3D performance. The extra-high contrast filter used on its Neoplasma panel really does help the set to deliver images that are bursting with contrast. Add to this the class-leading, deep black levels, along with the VT30's seemingly effortless ability to render complex shadow detail, and you've got pictures with a finesse that simply rises above the competition.
HD content looks remarkable sharp and detailed, but the VT30 also manages to be flattering to lesser quality signals, such as some of the more heavily compressed Freeview channels.
Also noteworthy is the TV's sound quality. Panasonic has made the bottom of the chassis slightly thicker than the top in order to cram in larger speakers. The result is that you get a much more full-bodied sound than you do from most slim-line TVs.
The VT30B is hard to criticise. Its 3D performance is arguably the best in the business and it produces absolutely stunningly cinematic pictures with DVDs and Blu-ray discs. The only real issue is whether you think the VT30 is worth the slight premium over Panasonic's GT30. All things considered, we think that it is.
Edited by Jason Jenkins