Today's subject is the Panasonic TC-P50GT25, the first of several 3D-capable plasma TVs Home Theater Review has lined up over the next few months. This 50-inch, 1080p, plasma TV is technically 3D-ready because, unlike Panasonic's top-shelf VT25 Series, it doesn't come with the active-shutter glasses required for 3D viewing. Each pair of glasses will cost you about $150. Like most of the new 3D-capable flat panels, the TC-P50GT25 uses frame-sequential 3D technology, in which the TV alternately flashes a full-resolution left-eye and right-eye image. The shutters in the glasses open and close in sync with the signal to direct the appropriate image to each eye. The IR emitter that syncs the 3D glasses with the TV is built into the TC-P50GT25's front panel, so you don't have to purchase that module separately, as is the case with some 3D-ready displays. The TC-P50GT25 supports 2D-to-3D conversion to produce a simulated 3D image from standard 2D content, a feature that's not available on the step-up VT25 models.
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The TC-P50GT25 is actually quite similar to the TC-P50G25 2D television that we recently reviewed--in its appearance, features, setup options, and performance. So, instead of repeating many of the same specs and observations, I'm going to refer you to that review first and focus here on the ways in which the TC-P50GT25 differs from its 2D-only predecessor. The quick summation of the G25 review goes a little something like this: It offers very good HD performance and a thorough assortment of features for a solid value. Both models offer THX certification (for 2D content), 600Hz Sub-field Drive to improve motion resolution, the Infinite Black Panel to reject ambient light and improve black-level performance, and EnergyStar 4.0 certification. Both include the VIERA CAST Web platform, with access to Netflix, Amazon VOD, YouTube, Pandora, Twitter, and Skype (with the addition of an optional Web camera). The 2D model has an MSRP of $1,495.99, while the addition of 3D capability ups the TC-P50GT25's MSRP to $2,095.99. Although the GT25 doesn't come with 3D glasses, Panasonic is currently offering a bundle promotion: Buy any Panasonic 3D TV, and get two pairs of glasses, two movies (Coraline and Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs), and the DMP-BDT100 3D Blu-ray player for free, in the form of an instant rebate.
The TC-P50GT25's appearance is practically indistinguishable from that of the TC-P50G25, except for a few subtle accents and the inclusion of two new logos on the front bezel: the "3D Full HD" logo is located at the top right, and the RealD 3D logo sits near the integrated IR emitter located in the center of the bottom bezel. The connection panel, dimensions, gloss-black finish, oval-shaped base, and backlit remote control are identical between the two TVs. Highlights of the connection panel include three HDMI inputs, two component video inputs, one PC input, and one RF input--as well as an SD card slot for media playback, an Ethernet port for network connectivity, and dual USB ports that support the addition of the optional WiFi adapter ($99.95), the Web camera ($169.95), and/or an external keyboard for easier text input.
Likewise, the TC-P50GT25's setup menu includes the same options in the video, audio, aspect ratio, anti image retention, and power-saving categories as those found in the 2D model. Among the TC-P50GT25's preset picture modes, you'll find both a THX mode and a Custom mode. The THX mode offers the most accurate, natural-looking image out of the box, and Panasonic does allow adjustment of basic image parameters within the THX mode. However, if you want to perform a full calibration, the Custom mode is the only mode that provides access to advanced white balance controls (high/low red and blue only), gamma adjustment (six presets), contour emphasis (edge enhancement), and panel brightness (with low, mid, and high options).
Obviously, one new tool appears in the setup menu: 3D Settings. Through this menu, you can choose to turn the 3D eyewear on or off (which essentially enables or disables 3D playback) and select the 3D input format (auto detect, side by side, top and bottom, 2D-to-3D, and native). You can also do a left/right swap to give a correct perception of depth, engage a diagonal line filter to remove jaggies, and set the level of depth in 2D-to-3D converted images. Out of the box, the TC-P50GT25 is configured to automatically detect a 3D signal and enable 3D playback when needed. As a DirecTV subscriber, I get three 3D channels: ESPN 3D, n3D, and an On-Demand channel (the latter two are sponsored by Panasonic). With my HD DVR connected directly to the Panasonic TV via HDMI, I switched to the n3D channel and was immediately able to view 3D content, just by donning the 3D glasses and turning them on. (Panasonic sent me a pair of the TY-EW3D10 glasses). Likewise, when I connected the Panasonic DMP-BDT100 3D Blu-ray player via HDMI and popped in a 3D disc, I did not have to make any changes to either product's setup menu. The player automatically recognized that it was connected to a 3D-capable TV and asked me if I wanted to view the movie in 2D or 3D. I selected 3D playback and was off and running without issue.
When the TC-P50GT25 detected a 3D signal, it automatically switched to a 3D-only picture mode labeled Cinema. The THX picture mode is no longer available because the TC-P50GT25's THX certification applies to 2D content only (this model does not have the THX 3D certification found in the LG PX950 Series). One challenge of 3D glasses is that they alter the picture's color and brightness; the TY-EW3D10 glasses I used for this review have a greenish tint that immediately makes the image look darker and the color temp look warmer and greener. The Cinema mode changes some picture settings to help address these issues. For one, it cranks up the contrast setting to its maximum level to help improve the visibility of certain details. I assume that the panel brightness is set to High in this mode, but I couldn't access that setting to verify. As with the THX mode, the Cinema mode doesn't allow you to adjust controls like panel brightness, gamma, and white balance. The good news is, the Custom picture mode is still available for 3D content, and you can make different adjustments for 3D content than for 2D content, even within the same HDMI input. This will be very helpful for the serious videophile who wants to perform separate calibrations for 2D and 3D material.
As for VIERA CAST, Panasonic has now launched the Netflix video-on-demand feature, which was not yet active when I reviewed the G25. So, you can now choose whether to go with VOD from Amazon (a pay-per-use service) or Netflix (a monthly subscription service). The VIERA CAST interface allows you to watch a source in the center of the screen while you navigate the VIERA CAST options, and you can customize the interface, rearranging the various options or deleting them from view.
I began by evaluating the TC-P50GT25's 2D performance, since the majority of content you'll watch on this TV will be in two dimensions. Fortunately, I still had my review sample of the 2D G25, so I was able to do a side-by-side comparison, using each TV's THX mode with its default settings in tact. You might expect the two THX modes to produce identical images, and indeed they were quite similar in many respects, such as color points, detail, and general contrast. The most obvious difference between the two TVs was in their color temperature. The new GT25 runs somewhat cooler, with a bit more red in both skintones and whites. The new model also has less green push than the G25--which is a good thing, especially when you factor in the green tint of the 3D glasses. These color-temp differences were especially noticeable with darker DVD and Blu-ray films, as opposed to bright HDTV content. The new model also has a slight advantage in its black level and black detail. The TC-P50GT25 has solid brightness for a well-lit room, and the Infinite Black Panel does a very good job of rejecting light to cut down on reflections. The combination of good light output and improved black level results in a 2D image with excellent contrast that looks very good in either a bright or dark viewing environment.
The TC-P50GT25's THX mode is certainly a fine choice for most viewers, but I appreciated the advanced controls available in the Custom mode--especially the gamma, white balance, and panel brightness. I felt that both the gamma and panel brightness were a bit too high in the THX mode, which revealed more noise in blacks and other low-level areas. In the Custom mode, I was able to lower the panel brightness and set gamma to my preference, which cleaned up the noise and produced a slightly more saturated image in a completely dark room. The TV's noise reduction control is set to "weak" by default, and the picture had a little more noise in dark-colored backgrounds than I've seen elsewhere. Luckily, turning up the noise reduction to "high" does not soften the image and did produce a cleaner picture.
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Next, it was time to check out some 3D. For source content, I used the Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs 3D Blu-ray disc (20th Century Fox Home Entertainment), played on Panasonic's DMP-BDT100 player. I also watched several programs on the DirecTV n3D channel, as well as college football broadcasts on ESPN 3D. The 3D Blu-ray disc presented a full 1080p 3D image, and the level of detail was excellent. The 3D image had great depth, and I didn't notice any blatant crosstalk (ghosting) or jagged edges, even in faster-moving scenes. Colors generally looked natural, but the color temp did veer green. The snow, for instance, had a bluish-green tint, as opposed to a true white. Some of the fine black details were lost in darker scenes, thanks to the glasses. Overall, though, I was impressed with the quality of the 3D Blu-ray image. The DirecTV programs, however, were less successful--not necessarily because of the TV's performance, but because the content just wasn't as effective. These programs have a reduced resolution because DirecTV embeds both the left-eye and right-eye image side by side in the same frame. The level of detail was solid but not as impressive as the Blu-ray. The depth of field also wasn't consistent, even within the same program, and I found the content to be more fatiguing to watch...especially the football. Broadcasters still have some work to do in figuring out how best to show a game in 3D, but again that's not Panasonic's fault. Thankfully, I still didn't notice crosstalk in the image. Last and definitely least, I tried out the 2D-to-3D conversion, which manufacturers like to tout as a big feature. I found it to be useless. I tested the conversion process with sports, primetime TV, and Blu-ray content. In all cases, the effect was so subtle, it bordered on non-existent, even with the depth function set to maximum.
Overall, I didn't see any significant issues with the TC-P50GT25's 3D picture, but admittedly I don't have a lot to compare it with at this point. I will certainly refer back to my experience here as I test other 3D-capable TVs.
Beginning again with 2D performance, the TC-P50GT25 doesn't exactly wow with standard-definition content. It produces a slightly more detailed image than its predecessor, but the picture was still a little soft compared with other new HDTVs I've tested. The video processor was slow to pick up the 3:2 cadence in film-based 480i signals, resulting in a fair amount of moiré and jaggies in my SD demo scenes. The SD picture was also somewhat noisy, even with noise reduction set to its highest level. The TC-P50GT25 simply didn't do much to make standard-def look better, so I recommend you feed it upconverted SD images from a high-quality DVD or Blu-ray player.
In the 3D realm, the TY-EW3D10 glasses were pretty uncomfortable and way too big for me. I had to use the supplied strap to secure them around my face, and I was constantly adjusting them to try to find a more comfortable position. (Panasonic has since released a new series of 3D glasses that come in small, medium, and large sizes and sport rechargeable batteries; the model numbers are TY-EW3D2SU, TY-EW3D2MU, and TY-EW3D2LU.) More so, I simply did not like wearing 3D glasses while watching TV content. It's one thing to wear them for a few hours in a dark room while watching a movie, but it just felt awkward to have them on during a daytime football game, which is a more communal experience. Finally, as someone who seldom watches 3D content even in a movie theater, I found the experience fatiguing, both to my eyes and my brain as it tried to process the added depth information. I definitely think it helped to limit my 3D viewing to a dark room, where I was less distracted by peripheral information and could just focus on the TV screen.
With both 2D and 3D content, the TC-P50GT25 allows you to adjust the frame rate for 24p Blu-ray sources: You can choose between 60Hz, which produces film judder, or 48Hz, which slightly reduces judder but adds distracting flicker. Absent is the more desirable 96Hz option found in the VT25 Series, which results in less juddery motion without the flicker. Also, the TC-P50GT25 does not offer any type of "smooth" de-judder mode that uses motion interpolation to produce much smoother, video-like motion. I personally don't consider this to be a low point because I don't like the way these modes affect the quality of film motion; however, some people love that super-smooth, video-like look. For them, the absence of this feature may be a drawback.
Finally, as I wrote about in my review of the G25, the long-term stability of black levels in Panasonic plasmas has been called into question. Tests have indicated that the black levels in some 2009 models rose noticeably over time. Panasonic acknowledged the problem but said that, in new 2010 models, the black-level change would be more gradual and that it would level out at a point that still yields excellent picture quality. CNET has been tracking the black-level performance of its G25 review sample; while the level has risen slightly, the change hasn't been significant enough to hurt the TV's overall performance. It's likely that the same will be true of the TC-P50GT25.
Competition and Comparison
Compare the Panasonic TC-P50GT25 with its competition by reading the reviews for the Samsung PN58C8000 3D Plasma and UN55C7000 3D LED LCD, the Sony KDL-55HX800 3D LED LCD, and the Panasonic TC-P54VT25. Learn more about 3D HDTVs by visiting our 3D HDTV section.
With the GT25 Series, Panasonic provides a nice alternative to its top-shelf VT25 3D line. This TV offers good 2D and 3D performance, as well as a compelling list of features--such as Netflix and Amazon VOD, WiFi-readiness, and Skype functionality. With a street price under $2,000, it's a solid value in the 3D marketplace, although you can find lower-priced options in the plasma realm. Clearly, 3D is this TV's main selling point. If you don't care about 3D technology, you might as well save $600 get the TC-P50G25 instead. But, if you're intrigued by 3D, the TC-P50GT25 is a good way to ease in to this new era. You can enjoy an attractive 2D high-def picture on a daily basis and take in the occasional 3D Blu-ray movie as they become available.