Last year, Panasonic won many awards for the TVs in its VT20 range, including our coveted Editors' Choice award, on account of the tellies' stunning 2D and 3D picture quality.
This year's updated VT30 line promises to be even better. The 55-inch, 1080p resolution, 3D-capable Viera TX-P55VT30B plasma TV is the second largest in the range. But, at around £2,500, is it worth such a large dollop of your hard-earned cash?
Like most of the other TVs in Panasonic's current line-up, this set sports a much more appealing design than the company's previous tellies. It has a classy, single-sheet-of-glass design, with the entire display framed by a thin strip of metal. It's a pretty minimalist look, but the simplicity of the design is its strength.
The remote has also been tweaked, with a new, simpler button layout and the addition of a red backlight, which is handy if you're watching a movie with the lights turned down.
The TX-P55VT30B has both Freeview HD and freesat HD tuners, so you can use it to access the largest range of free high-definition channels available.
As with all of Panasonic's TVs, though, when you use the Freeview tuner, you're saddled with the annoying Guide Plus+ electronic programme guide, which shows Web-style adverts on the main screen. This compromises the amount of space available for actually showing upcoming programme information. If you choose to use the freesat HD tuner instead, you just get the standard freesat HD electronic programme guide (EPG), which is easier to use.
There are plenty of connectivity options, including four HDMI sockets and the usual Scart and component ports. Panasonic has also added three USB ports, as well as an Ethernet jack. When you're using the bundled Wi-Fi USB adaptor, you'll still have two spare ports for connecting up other devices, like hard drives or the optional peripherals that can be used with the set's Viera Connect online software.
If you connect a hard drive or memory stick to one of the TV's USB ports, you can use it to record shows to disc from either of the tuners. As with other TVs, you can't record one show while watching another, but it's still a useful feature if you don't have a PVR, such as Sky+HD or Virgin Media TiVo.
The set features Panasonic's new Viera Connect Internet TV platform. This includes a number of apps, for services such as the BBC's iPlayer, the Acetrax movie-rental store, Dailymotion and YouTube. Along with these, you get support for a number of social-networking sites, including Facebook and Twitter, and there's also a Skype app that works in conjunction with an optional HD webcam, which will set you back around £135. Overall, it's a good showing and the menus are reasonably fast and easy to navigate.
The TV supports digital media playback either locally from a hard drive connected to one of its USB ports, or across a network via its Ethernet jack or Wi-Fi adaptor. Its format support is good too. It played a range of our DivX, Xvid and MKV files without any problems.
So far so good, but the TX-P55VT30B really starts to pull away from the competition in terms of picture quality. Its 2D performance is stunning. The high-contrast filter used in the NeoPlasma panel improves its contrast performance notably, helping the TV to deliver images with an impressive richness and a cinematic subtlety.
The telly's excellent upscaling abilities mean it's kind to lower-quality signals, such as standard-definition Freeview channels, as it manages to increase sharpness and clarity without making the results look artificial. High-definition material looks amazing, with hugely impressive levels of detail, and colours that are superbly delicate and nuanced.
The TX-P55VT30B doesn't drop the ball when it comes to 3D either. The set comes with two pairs of active-shutter glasses, with extras pairs setting you back between £80 and £100 each. The panel's fast-firing phosphorous all but eliminates cross-talk, so you don't get the double images around the edges of objects that you often see on LED TVs. While the glasses do dim the apparent brightness of the TV slightly, the extra brightness output of the VT30's screen means it's not as big an issue as it was on the older VT20.
Sound quality is above-average too. The speakers offer more bass than normal and produce a crisper and cleaner mid-range. As a result, music and dialogue sounds richer and more full-bodied than on some other plasmas we've had in for review lately.
The Panasonic Viera TX-P55VT30B is certainly expensive, but, other than that, it's difficult to find any faults. With both 2D and 3D content, it delivers fantastically rich and detailed images that have bags of contrast. Add in good sonics and impressive Internet and media-streaming features, and you've got arguably the best TV currently on the market.
Edited by Charles Kloet