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Panasonic TC-P65VT50 3D Plasma HDTV Reviewed

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Panasonic-TC-P65VT50-Plasma-HDTV-review-front-small.jpgIf you follow the TV business at all, you've likely already heard a lot about the Panasonic VT50. The company's top-shelf 2012 plasma series has earned accolades from most every major CE publication as being one of if not THE best-performing TV since the Pioneer KURO era. Well, I didn't want to take anyone else's word for it. I wanted to see this baby for myself, and Panasonic kindly obliged with a review sample of the 65-inch TC-P65VT50. (The series also includes a screen size of 55 inches.) 

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As the top-tier model in the line, the VT50 is loaded with the finest performance technologies and features that Panasonic has to offer. On the performance end, the THX-certified VT50 uses the Infinite Black Ultra panel with an improved Louver filter, offers 24,576 shades of gradation, employs 2500 Focused Field Drive technology to improve motion resolution, and includes ISF calibration controls. As for features, this is an active 3DTV with a built-in RF emitter, but Panasonic does not include any pairs of 3D glasses in the package. The TV includes Panasonic's VIERA Connect Web platform, has built-in WiFi, and offers DLNA media streaming. The 65-inch TC-P65VT50 carries an MSRP of $3,699.99. 

Over the course of the past year, I've reviewed two other plasma TVs: Panasonic's step-down ST50 and Samsung's PNE7000. Both TVs proved to be very good performers that earned high marks, and fortunately I still had both TVs on hand when the VT50 arrived, so I was able to do head-to-head comparisons. Would the TC-P65VT50 live up to the hype? Would its performance really be that much better than other worthy, lower-priced plasma offerings? In a word, yes.

Setup & Features
The VT50 offers all of the core features found in the ST50, and it adds some higher-end options. Rather than repeat myself, I'm going to direct you first to my review of the TC-P55ST50 to get a rundown on the basics; here, I will focus on what the higher-end VT50 adds to the equation. 

In the area of design, Panasonic's plasma line got a makeover this year, and the VT50 is the most stylish of them all, featuring a single sheet of glass with no raised bezel. About one inch of black border surrounds the screen. The cabinet has a glossy black finish with a silver accent strip that runs around the frame. The matching silver stand is probably the weakest link, design-wise; it looks pretty boxy and does not swivel. This 65-inch TV weighs 93.7 pounds (without the stand) and measures 35.1 (H) x 59.1 (W) x 2 (D) inches. As with the ST50 model, Panasonic has reduced overall cabinet depth by redesigning the TV's speakers: The new 8-Train system features eight dome-type microspeakers run along the bottom of the front panel, plus a 20mm-thick subwoofer mounted to the rear panel. New "sound lifting" technology is designed to more effectively redirect the sound to the center of the screen. 

Compared with the ST50's connection panel, the VT50 offers an additional HDMI input (four total), an extra USB port (three total), and a PC input. There's still no RS-232 or IR port for connection to an advanced control system. The TC-P65VT50 comes with two remotes: the standard-issue IR remote that accompanies all Panasonic TVs and the Touchpad Controller that's only available with the VT50. This little controller combines a round touchpad with nine hard buttons, including power, volume, channel, exit, return, VIERA Tools, and VIERA Connect. The touchpad can be used to navigate menus and is especially helpful for Web browsing; you can adjust its speed/sensitivity via the TV's setup menu. The Touchpad Controller communicates with the TV over Bluetooth, so line-of-sight is not necessary. The TV's built-in Bluetooth also allows for the addition of a wireless keyboard or wireless headphones, options you don't get with the ST50. 


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The TC-P65VT50's setup menu includes a lot of advanced picture adjustments that are absent from the ST50, starting with two THX picture modes: THX Cinema and THX Bright Room. The THX modes are designed to provide the best, most accurate image out of the box, without requiring a lot of adjustment on the part of the end user. Panasonic does allow you to fine-tune basic picture controls like contrast, brightness, color, tint, sharpness, and color-temperature presets within the THX modes (something LG doesn't allow with its THX modes), but neither mode really required much tweaking to produce an attractive image for its respective viewing environment. Those who would like to perform a more advanced calibration must use the Custom picture mode in order to access the Pro menu. The VT50's Pro menu includes more options than the ST50's. Both have RGB high/low controls for white-balance adjustment, but the VT50 adds a 10-point RGB system and full color management to adjust the hue, saturation, and luminance of all six colors. Both TVs offer six gamma presets, but the VT50 adds a 10-point gamma detail adjustment. The VT50 also adds a 1080p Pure Direct mode that enables support of a 4:4:4 video signal with 1080p HDMI. Both TVs include Panasonic's Motion Smoother function, designed to improve motion resolution and reduce film judder using frame interpolation. The ST50 can output 24p Blu-ray sources at either 48Hz or 60Hz; the VT50 adds the more desirable 96Hz option (for 2D content only) that shows each film frame four times to produce slightly smoother, less-juddery motion. As I mentioned above, the TC-P65VT50 is ISF-certified; however, to calibrate ISF Day and Night modes, you'll need to hire a professional calibrator who can access the service menu, since those modes are not available through the main menu. 

In terms of 3D picture controls and audio adjustments, the VT50 includes all of the same options found in the ST50. The VT50's THX certification also applies to 3D, so you do get a special THX 3D picture mode. 

To get more details on Panasonic's VIERA Connect Web platform, check out my separate review. The VT50 upgrades to a dual-core processor that allows for faster performance than the ST50, especially in the loading of Web pages. The dual-core processor also allows for multitasking: When you're in the VIERA Connect system, a quick press of the remote's VIERA Tools button will reveal all of the apps that are open and allow you to quickly and easily jump between them. With the ST50, you have to quit out of one app to launch another. It's worth noting that the VT50's Web browser also supports Flash, whereas the ST50's does not. 

Performance 
Of course, I had to start with a black-level comparison. Ever since Panasonic acquired patents and engineers from Pioneer's KURO division, we've seen incremental improvements in the company's plasma black-level performance, with the VT50 reportedly being the best to date. I began by comparing the VT50 with the lower-priced Samsung PNE7000, and really there was no comparison. Even with brighter HDTV content in a dim room, I could see that the Panasonic held an advantage in black level and contrast. When I moved to a completely dark room and ran through my standard DVD/Blu-ray black-level demos, the VT50 served up noticeably deeper blacks and better overall contrast. Even when I turned down the Samsung's Cell Light control to its dimmest level (thus robbing the image of brightness), the PNE7000 could not equal the VT50's depth of black. 

Read more about the performance of the TC-P65VT50 on Page 2.
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