Panasonic has entered the 3D TV market in a fairly low-key manner, selling just two 3D-capable tellies. The 1080p Viera TX-P50VT20B plasma TV, which we're looking at here, has a screen size of 50 inches and costs around £2,200. The larger, 65-inch model, the Viera TX-P65VT20B, costs about twice as much.
Like most of Panasonic's high-end plasma TVs, the TX-P50VT20B has plenty of extra features, including Viera Cast, freesat HD and Freeview HD tuners, and the ability to stream video over your home network. It also promises untold black levels and super picture quality. So, will this 3D TV manage to wow over two grand out of your pocket? Let's have a look and see.
Solid, beautiful and feature-packed
It's well known that Panasonic makes sturdy, reliable and well-designed TVs. We've had a pop at the company in the past for playing it safe in terms of design, but the TX-P50VT20B is stylish, will suit any lounge, and won't offend even the most delicate of sensibilities. Its brown finish looks very sophisticated.
Panasonic has stuffed the TX-P50VT20B full of cool features too, which means you're getting a fair amount of added value from a TV that already offers a large screen, high-end picture quality and 3D capability.
The TX-P50VT20B's price tag is slightly higher than those of many other high-end, 50-inch plasma TVs, but there are also some hidden costs to be aware of. If you buy a 3D TV, you'll probably want to watch a 3D movie too. You can only do that if you buy a new 3D Blu-ray player, or subscribe to Sky 3D. Neither of these options offers access to a massive amount of 3D content at the moment.
Panasonic's 3D Blu-ray player, the DMP-BDT300, will set you back an additional £400. Happily, you can use any 3D Blu-ray player with this TV, though, so you could opt for Sony's £180 BDP-S470 or Samsung's £300 BD-C6900 instead. That said, the DMP-BDT300 does have one crucial advantage over its rivals: its offers two HDMI outputs. That might not sound like a big deal, but it allows people with surround-sound systems to get lossless surround sound via a second HDMI out. This is useful if your AV receiver isn't 3D-ready.
Also, while Panasonic includes two pairs of TY-EW3D10 3D glasses with this TV, you'll need more if you want to have a family movie fest. The extra glasses cost around £100 each, representing a further substantial investment before you can all sit down and watch 3D material together. Most people will probably be looking at spending about £2,500 in total if they get this TV -- and that's before you've bought a single Blu-ray movie.
3D and plasma TVs
The first 3D TV we tested was the Samsung UE55C8000. Illuminated by LED edge lights, the screen was very bright indeed. The same cannot, sadly, be said about screens that use plasma technology. As much as we love plasma TVs, they simply don't produce as much light as LCD TVs. You also have to enter into the equation the fact that 3D glasses reduce the colour and brightness of a TV's pictures.
This all makes plasma technology less suitable for 3D viewing than LCD technology. There are two sides to every coin, though -- unless it's a pyramid-shaped coin. One distinct advantage of plasma TVs is that their response times are much quicker than those of LCD sets. Consequently, whereas the UE55C8000 suffered from ghosting on hard lines, the TX-P50VT20B had an entirely ghost-free picture.
3D material on the TX-P50VT20B looked much subtler than on the UE55C8000. Images didn't seem quite so dynamic, but the TV still managed to produce a beautiful picture and some shockingly good 3D effects. Overall, we preferred its 3D performance to that of the UE55C8000.
Demo clips from Monsters vs Aliens didn't disappoint. The first scene with the bouncing ball was as startling as ever, causing us to expect a projectile in the mush. Our Black Eyed Peas clip was impressive too, and, as with the animated glory of Monsters vs Aliens, there was no ghosting on display. The TV also delivered an impressive sensation of depth.
Plasma warm-up times
When a plasma TV arrives at CNET Towers, we'd ideally like to run it for 100 hours before we review it, to make sure the panel is settled in and looking its best. Sadly, we don't have time to do this, so we give the TV some leeway when it comes to displaying certain picture artefacts. For example, image-retention and colour-smearing issues are always more severe in the first 100 hours of operation.
Having said that, the TX-P50VT20B blew us away straight out of the box. Its Freeview picture quality is good, Freeview HD pictures look stunning, and Blu-ray content in both 3D and 2D just knocked us sideways.
We used our trusty District 9 Blu-ray disc to test the TX-P50VT20B's HD performance. The detail on display was second-to-none. We actually couldn't believe we were looking at a TV screen at some points -- it looked more like a high-resolution photo, and we were soon drooling in delight.
The TV's black levels are superb too. Using the THX picture mode yielded the best quality for us. Some minor tweaking of the other settings helped too, but this TV is pretty much ready to go out of the box. We're quite certain this is one of the highest-quality TVs on the market right now. The 3D capability is a welcome bonus, but it's by no means the whole story.
Tale of two tuners
As with many TVs in Panasonic's 2010 range, the TX-P50VT20B comes with both Freeview HD and freesat HD tuners. If you live in a Freeview HD area (there's a coverage checker on the Freeview HD Web site), then the TV will tune three HD channels in for you when you first set it up. If you have a satellite dish, then you can let the freesat HD tuner work its magic too, giving you access to two HD channels -- BBC HD and ITV1 HD -- and a bunch of standard-definition channels.
The inclusion of two tuners is always welcome, but we wish Panasonic would better integrate the electronic programme guides, so you can see what's on all the channels available to you. With the current system, you need to switch between freesat and Freeview to see what's on either platform.
Glasses are a pain
Panasonic's 3D glasses are pretty rubbish, especially compared to Samsung's, which are much more comfortable. On the plus side, people who wear normal glasses will like Panasonic's more, because you can wear spectacles underneath them. Hopefully, the company will release some better glasses soon, because these ones aren't at all suited to prolonged use.
When the TV was in 3D mode and syncing the glasses with the on-screen images, we noticed another issue. Our Onkyo AV receiver's remote control stopped working properly, and only started to work again when we switched the 3D mode off. Clearly, Panasonic's infrared frequency is very close to that of the Onkyo machine, or the TV floods the room with too much IR and stops other devices working. We didn't have the same problem with the UE55C8000.
This isn't a catastrophe, but it's irritating. It also makes us think that 3D glasses synchronised by Bluetooth might be a more sensible idea, although they'd be more power-thirsty.
You can be sure that the Panasonic Viera TX-P50VT20B will deliver a very impressive HD image in 3D, and it's a really terrific 2D TV too. Apart from its price, there aren't many downsides to this TV. The Samsung UE55C8000 is a super alternative but, given the choice, we'd choose the TX-P50VT20B. It's just a shame that the 3D glasses are so uncomfortable.
Edited by Charles Kloet