Panasonic TC-P50GT30 3D Plasma HDTV Reviewed

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Panasonic TC-P50GT30 3D Plasma HDTV Reviewed

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Panasonic_TC-P50GT30_3D_plama_review_horses.jpgIn the color realm, the TC-P50GT30's colors were rich but natural, and the Warm2 color temperature looked generally neutral with both bright and dark content. Blacks didn't have the overly blue tinge that I often see in LCDs, and skintones looked accurate. The Warm2 mode had a slight greenish-yellow push; switching to Warm1 removed it, but the overall color temperature was a bit cooler. For those who desire a more technically accurate white balance, you'll have to switch to the Custom picture mode to access the advanced adjustments.

With HDTV and Blu-ray content, the overall level of detail was excellent, and the TC-P50GT30 did a better job with standard-def film sources than last year's GT25, producing a cleaner image with fewer artifacts and better detail. By default, the TV's 3:2 mode is set to Auto; in this mode, the TV fails to properly deinterlace 480i and 1080i content, resulting in a lot of jaggies and moire. However, when I switched the 3:2 mode to On, it correctly detected the cadence and cleanly rendered my standard demo scenes from Gladiator (DreamWorks) and The Bourne Identity (Universal) for 480i and Mission Impossible III (Paramount) for 1080i. The Panasonic doesn't correctly handle as many assorted cadences as other TVs I've tested, so you might see some artifacts when you move beyond traditional film sources.

To check for motion blur, I used the resolution test patterns on the FPD Benchmark Software Blu-ray disc. With Motion Smoother turned off, this plasma still produced clean lines in the HD 720 pattern and some visible line structure in the HD 1080 pattern--good enough, in my book, to justify leaving the smoothing function turned off. But, should you choose to turn on Motion Smoother, the motion resolution gets even better. The HD 1080 lines were crystal clear. The "Weak" Motion Smoother mode is fairly subtle in its judder reduction, while the "Strong" mode produces a smoother effect, for those who prefer it. Motion Smoother performed more reliably with my DirecTV signal than many de-judder modes I test, but I still chose to leave it off.

Next, I moved to 3D content, starting with 3D Blu-ray content from Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs (Fox), Monster House (Sony), and Monsters vs. Aliens (DreamWorks). The LG 47LW5600 is a passive 3DTV, so I had an opportunity to compare the two competing formats. LG's passive approach uses Film Patterned Retarder (FPR) technology that incorporates the left- and right-eye images into the same frame, with a polarized filter and polarized glasses directing the appropriate image to each eye. (Each eye only receives half of the image's vertical resolution.) The stated benefits of the passive approach were on display with the LG: The package comes with four pairs of lightweight, battery-free 3D glasses; there was no flicker when watching 3D in a well-lit room; and the 3D image was brighter than that of the Panasonic's THX 3D mode. However, in the Custom mode with the panel brightness set to high, the TC-P50GT30 produced a significantly brighter 3D image with razor-sharp detail and virtually no crosstalk. The one downside to this setup is that the color is clearly oversaturated, but I must confess, I kind of liked it for 3D. The combination of the rich color, excellent detail, and good brightness made for an engaging 3D experience.

Purists would probably appreciate a color-management system to precisely dial back each color, but the best you can do is simply turn down the general color control. It's worth noting that the LG also kept crosstalk to a minimum, although it was more noticeable when sitting off-axis. The most obvious difference between the two TVs was the fact that LG's FPR technology and polarized glasses produce a noticeable horizontal line structure. These lines were especially obvious in the snow-filled scenes of Ice Age, while the Panasonic image was clean and crisp. When I switched over to DirecTV 3D content, the LG's lack of vertical resolution became very obvious. Cable/satellite providers use a side-by-side 3D format in which both images are embedded beside one another in the same frame. So, horizontal resolution is already cut in half. The LG image didn't look terrible, but it didn't look nearly as detailed or have as much depth as that of the Panasonic.

Panasonic_TC-P50GT30_3D_plama_review_angled.jpgLow Points
One of the nice things about a high-quality plasma is its innate ability to produce a deeper black level without having to employ a special performance tool like local dimming. Don't get me wrong: I've seen some outstanding local-dimming-based LED/LCDs; but, as a reviewer, it's almost a relief to sit down with a good plasma because I don't have to spend time trying to discern how local dimming is affecting the image. Is there too much glow around objects? Can you see the black level shift in unnatural ways? So, you can imagine my surprise when I noticed subtle brightness fluctuations in the TC-P50GT30's image. The brightness didn't fluctuate across the entire image; instead, specific (often small) areas within a scene would suddenly get a step brighter or darker. While I couldn't pinpoint an exact circumstance in which this occurred, it seemed to happen more often in backgrounds that contained a lot of mid-level grey or muted blue. I also saw it more with HDTV than with Blu-ray or DVD. In much of the content I watched, I didn't see this problem at all. However, in certain sources, I saw it regularly. For instance, in the TV show Castle, I often saw it during interrogation scenes in the interview room, which has a muted grey color palette. This is a fairly subtle quirk; but, once you notice it, you're likely to keep noticing it.

As I mentioned above, the THX mode isn't quite as accurate as it could be. The gamma, in particular, appears to be too light. In my favorite black-level demo from The Bourne Supremacy (chapter one), the Panasonic revealed a bit too much detail in the dark backgrounds, making them seem slightly overexposed. The LG TV's 1.8 gamma setting best matched the Panasonic's 2.2 setting. If you find this objectionable, you can switch to the Custom mode and adjust the gamma and AGC controls to tailor the appearance of black areas.

The Infinite Black 2 panel does a good job of reducing glare off the screen while allowing blacks to look darker during the day; however, it's still a reflective screen--which can present problems when trying to watch darker content in a well-lit room. You want to be mindful of the position of lamps and other light sources in relation to the TV.

With the GT25 model, I complained that the 3D glasses were big and uncomfortable. That's less of an issue this year; Panasonic now offers rechargeable glasses in small, medium, and large sizes, and the medium-sized TY-EW3D2M glasses were much more comfortable. The cost of the glasses is still a stumbling block compared with the inexpensive glasses used with passive 3DTVs. In an effort to be more competitive, Samsung has decided to give away two pairs of glasses to consumers who buy its 2011 3DTVs and has dramatically cut the cost of additional pairs to $50. Unfortunately, Panasonic has not yet followed suit.

Competition and Comparison
Compare the Panasonic TC-P50GT30 with its competition by reading the reviews for the Samsung UN55D8000, Vizio E3D470VX, Sharp LC-60LE925UN, and Toshiba 55WX800U. Learn more about 3D HDTVs by visiting our 3D HDTV section.

With both 2D and 3D content, Panasonic's TC-P50GT30 is a very good performer, and its well-rounded features package hits all of the desirable bases: Web-based video-on-demand, an included WiFi adapter, DLNA streaming, and even Skype video conferencing. This plasma TV is equally well suited to the casual TV viewer and serious movie fan. The issue with subtle brightness fluctuation is disappointing but not a deal-breaker, as it isn't a constantly occurring problem.

While the passive 3DTV approach certainly has its benefits and its merits, at this stage, I think the more discerning videophile will be happier with the performance offered by a good active 3DTV model like the TC-P50GT30. Yes, you have to pay more for the 3D glasses and the format does have some limitations, but you get a better-looking image with a wider assortment of content.

Additional Resources
� Read more 3D HDTV reviews from the staff at Home Theater Review.
� Explore more plasmas in our Plasma Review section.
� Learn more about active 3D versus passive 3D.

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