Panasonic TH-85VX200 £42000
14th Feb 2011 | 14:14
The ultimate 3D display is as expensive as it is vast
Panasonic TH-85VX200: Overview
Bigger is better where 3D is concerned and they don't come any larger than the 85-inch Panasonic TH-85VX200. You could, of course achieve an even bigger picture with a 3D projector, but you'll need to find a way of bringing about near-total darkness in order to reap the benefit. No such room control is necessary with this plasma.
The only thing about the TH-85VX200 more mammoth than its screen is its price, which equates to the sort of deposit you'd need for a £200,000 house.
Despite that, the TH-85VX200 isn't even a telly: it's just a tuner-free screen. With all this in mind, it's not surprising to find the display shipping via Panasonic's 'Pro' division (check awe-europe.com/dealers) rather than the consumer channel responsible for the brand's Viera 3D TVs.
That the TH-85VX200 is one of Panasonic's Pro screens bodes rather well; experience of previous pro models suggests that they sometimes get additional compromise-free technology that improves picture quality even beyond Panasonic's acclaimed consumer plasma TVs.
If you can't run to the TH-85VX200's colossal price and size, the 65-inch TX-P65VT20B can be yours for around £5k, complete with integrated Freeview and Freesat HD tuners. Clearly this is a significant saving in itself, but if you step down further to the 50, 46 and 42-inch VT20s, prices become aggressive, with even the most expensive TX-P50VT20B only setting you back around £1,500.
It isn't about the money. With the TH-85VX200, though: for anyone who can even dream of owning one, it's all about the sheer, unadulterated size and status of the thing.
Panasonic TH-85VX200: Features
If you're as huge as the TH-85VX200, you might as well be unapologetically so. The gargantuan display is clad in a startlingly heavy-duty, metallic black bezel, boasts a rear that could slot in half a dozen of today's slim edge LED TVs and weighs a hernia-guaranteeing 118kg.
You will therefore need a seriously sturdy wall if you fancy wall-hanging and Panasonic's custom-built hydraulic floor mounts are reportedly proving popular with those already fortunate enough to be in possession of a TH-85VX200.
Connections are a mixture of standard stuff and stuff you can add via optional accessory boards. Among the standard options are four HDMI inputs all built to the v1.4 standard for 3D compatibility, a component/RGB RCAx3 input, and a D-Sub PC input.
There is a LAN port, but this is only for control systems. Significantly, the TH-85VX200B doesn't carry Panasonic's Viera Cast online system. Perhaps even more troublingly for some people, it doesn't carry any DLNA, USB or SD card support for multimedia duties and these can't be added via any of the (mostly professional broadcast-minded) extra connection boards. This is not, remember, a TV in the normal sense of the word.
It's probably because of this, too, that there doesn't appear to be any THX preset like you get with the VT20 consumer series.
Don't start to think, though, that the TH-85VX200B is devoid of film-friendly calibration tools. In fact, its Pro nature sees it equipped with more fine tuning tools than Panasonic's normal TVs. Among the options available are a series of white balance presets plus the facility to adjust white balance manually via adjustment bars for the high and low red, green and blue colour segments; a black extension tool; a selection of Gamma presets; and a full colour gamut adjustment complete with a Digital Cinema Colour default mode designed to deliver a colour palette more representative of what you see if you visit a professional digital cinema.
With all these tweaks – and more – available, it's no surprise to find the TH-85VX200B endorsed by pro-calibration group, the Imaging Science Foundation (ISF).
Tucked away in the Setup menu, meanwhile, is an option to adjust the motion processing the set applies to sources, which varies between 24p Smooth Film when watching Blu-rays and Panasonic's Intelligent Frame Creation system when watching non-24p material.
Arguably the most interesting part of the TH-85VX200B's Pro nature, though, comes with its 3D features. For as well as Panasonic's crosstalk-reducing accelerated plasma cell decay technology, found also on the VT20 and GT20 models, the TH-85VX200B carries new Motion Vector Prediction circuitry. This attempts to track movement in and out of the picture, as well as the more normal left/right motion, thus increasing the speed at which the panel can respond to changes in 3D image content to deliver a further boost in clarity.
Also potentially significant to 3D is the TH-85VX200B's ultra-high speed drive system, reckoned to make each plasma cell able to respond almost 75 per cent faster than those of previous Panasonic plasmas.
Given that Panasonic's consumer 3D plasmas are already less troubled by crosstalk than any other 3D TVs, the prospect of this flaw being reduced even further on the TH-85VX200B is mouthwatering.
One final significant bit of number crunching delivered by the TH-85VX200B's professional-level 'brain' is the delivery of 30-bit colour processing, as opposed to the usual 20-bit system – something that should increase tonal accuracy and reduce the potential for colour striping.
The main negative to report in this section is that it seems a bit churlish on Panasonic's part to include only a single pair of active shutter 3D glasses with the screen, but then if someone can afford to spend £42,000 on a screen, a few hundred quid for subsequent pairs of specs ought to be small beer.
Panasonic TH-85VX200B: Picture quality
If you own a TH-85VX200B and haven't already tooled yourself up with a 3D-capable Blu-ray player and Sky HD receiver, then do so immediately, for it is mind-blowingly good in three dimensions.
First of all, of course, there's the sheer size of its images. Having the world of Avatar splayed across an 85-inch screen enables you to get lost in the action more completely than any other 3D system bar a projection screen.
Of course, an 85-inch screen leaves no hiding place for crosstalk noise, so it's just as well that there's practically none to speak of from any source.
There is no overstating how important this is to the success of the TH-85VX200B's 3D pictures, as it makes them look instantly more natural, more watchable over long periods of time, more detailed and sharper.
Also very important about the TH-85VX200B's 3D pictures is their brightness. For this screen is capable of kicking out some pretty serious light levels, which proves invaluable in combating the quite marked brightness-reducing impact of Panasonic's active shutter glasses. As a result, colours look palpably richer – especially during dark scenes – than they do on Panasonic's consumer 3D screens.
This might perhaps have something to do with the TH-85VX200B's 'Pro' status not requiring the screen to be as tightly limited in terms of power consumption as Panasonic's consumer TVs are.
The overall result of the practically absent crosstalk, enhanced brightness and sheer size of the TH-85VX200B's 3D image is a mesmerising experience that should convert all but the most die-hard 3D detractors.
One little oddity in 3D mode, when the screen is working unusually hard, is that there's quite a bit of green dotting noise over black parts of the picture when you take your glasses off, but as these all but disappear with your glasses back on, it's nothing to get hung up on.
If you can drag yourself away from the TH-85VX200B's unprecedented 3D images, you'll discover some outstanding 2D pictures. This is especially true with HD sources, as the screen's inherent sharpness joins forces with a terrific contrast performance in reproducing every solitary pixel of detail from favourite Blu-rays. And you can appreciate these details and HD's inherent crispness all the better on an 85-inch scale.
The TH-85VX200B also delivers outstanding black level response, possibly getting even slightly deeper, in fact, than Panasonic's VT20 consumer screens. What's more, these inky blacks are not in the least bit forced or hollow; thanks to the screen's surprisingly good brightness output, even the darkest corners contain the sort of shadow detailing necessary to give them a sense of depth that fits naturally with the depth apparent – even in 2D mode – during bright scenes.
Motion looks more natural without Panasonic's Intelligent Frame Creation processing in play than it does with Panasonic's consumer models, too, and colours are punchy, subtly blended and, above all, natural.
You might expect standard-definition pictures to look pretty shoddy when asked to fill a full HD 85-inch screen, but such is the quality of the TH-85VX200B's video processing that it scrubs up acceptably well. There's a slightly soft look to things, but tones remain accurate and noise is well suppressed.
Add to the list of great TH-85VX200B picture features a much wider viewing angle than you'd get with any LCD TV and a completely consistent black level right across the screen's enormous area and you really do have a terrific AV experience.
While undoubtedly brilliant the TH-85VX200B is not quite perfect, though.
The wonderful 3D experience, for example, is very nearly undermined by Panasonic's dismal glasses. As well as cutting out more brightness than most, they are too narrow, meaning many people will have to perch them right at the end of their nose so that they 'fit' over the screen properly.
This makes them uncomfortable to wear and worse, it allows ambient light in your room to get between the lenses and your eyes, reducing the impact of the 3D experience.
Another more general issue not connected with the 3D tech finds small colour seepage around very bright lines during camera pans when watching 50Hz sources – though this goes if you employ the Intelligent Frame Creation system.
Another issue is that pictures can look a touch 'fizzy' if you sit too close to the screen, especially if you've got the brightness set high. High brightness settings – which are really only recommended for 3D viewing – can also cause the screen to emit a slight hum, presumably because some cooling fans are kicking in. Anyone using an external sound system alongside their TH-85VX200B is unlikely to notice this, though.
Another 'issue' that's not really the TH-85VX200B's fault is that the sheer size of its screen does highlight the quality 'gap' between full HD 3D as delivered by suitable Blu-rays and lower-resolution 3D as delivered by Sky's platform. But that's not to say that some of Sky's broadcasts don't still look very compelling in 3D, especially given the other strengths the screen portrays.
The TH-85VX200B additionally struggles to produce a really convincing pure white colour (instead there's a rather warm, yellowish tone to bright whites).
Don't get too caught up on the various flaws, though; the TH-85VX200B's overall performance should render you largely indifferent to the glitches.
Panasonic TH-85VX200B: Sound and Value
The TH-85VX200B's screen-only nature means it doesn't have any integrated speakers, so you'll need to invest in a separate audio system.
The simple fact is that its £42,000 price tag is a vast amount of money for any screen and places the TH-85VX200B beyond the means of almost everyone.
It's also impossible to ignore the fact that you can get a decent 3D projector system able to produce pictures more than 100-inch across for as little as five grand, including a decent screen. Plus, of course, Panasonic's P65VT20 costs just £5k, meaning you're paying £37k for the TH-85VX200B's extra 20 inches and 'pro' picture features.
On the other hand, the TH-85VX200B is destined for custom installations where money is no object. In this context, its ability to deliver the finest home 3D pictures yet seen together with stunning 2D on an 85-inch scale and without the faffing associated with a projector makes the TH-85VX200B a truly tempting proposition.
Ease of use
It's immediately reassuring to find that the TH-85VX200B is operated by a surprisingly normal remote control, the layout of which is even slightly more intuitive than Panasonic's normal zappers, as it doesn't have to accommodate multimedia features.
Things aren't quite so rosy where the onscreen menus are concerned. The best that can be said about them is that they are 'professional'; the combination of reams of white text against ugly blue boxes hardly create the comfortable user experience found with some of the latest onscreen menu systems.
The apportioning of some features to different sub-menus doesn't always seem logical either, leaving some things tricky to track down. Some of the menu positioning also proves less than helpful during calibration.
If you're going to spend more than 40 grand on a screen, then, unless you're extremely confident about what you're doing, you really ought to consider coughing up a relatively small amount extra to get your TH-85VX200B professionally calibrated, then just stick to using the basic functions for everyday use.
Panasonic TH-85VX200B: Verdict
With its mammoth 85-inch screen requiring a professional installation by a team of installers and £42k in your bank account, the TH-85VX200B is not for the faint-hearted. But considering it comes via Panasonic's professional distribution channel rather than its consumer one, it wears its size rather well, with its gleaming, black metallic bezel.
Its standard connections include four HDMIs, meanwhile, to help AV users out, though there's no support for multimedia or online purposes beyond a D-Sub PC port.
The screen also lacks any tuners, but it makes up for this with a pretty extravagant suite of picture adjustments endorsed by the Imaging Science Foundation, and by employing some high level picture technologies not found on Panasonic's mainstream consumer TVs.
These picture technologies seem to work, too. The TH-85VX200B's pictures are, for the most part, astonishingly good. Its 3D images in particular are phenomenal, thanks to their brightness, freedom from crosstalk noise and sheer enormity.
It's also a superb 2D performer, leaving as our only serious niggle with the screen, aside from its impossible price - the poor quality of Panasonic's current 3D glasses.
The size of the TH-85VX200B is enough in itself to get a movie fan's pulse racing and it's beautifully made. It's got plenty of calibration tricks to keep tinkerers and installers happy too, but best of all is the hugely impressive quality of its pictures. 3D, in particular, is a revelation, especially thanks to the way it appears with practically no crosstalk noise.
With many folk struggling to find even, say, £20k for a decent family car, the idea of stumping up £42k for a TV will just seem laughable to most people. The screen isn't particularly energy efficient either, especially as it needs cooling fans when running at sort of brightness levels that are recommended for 3D viewing.
The operating system is a bit bland, too, there's no tuner, and multimedia talents are limited compared with today's consumer TVs.
Finally, the generally terrific 3D quality is undermined by Panasonic's current 3D glasses design.
Few, if any, readers of this review will ever be able to own an TH-85VX200B on account of its millionaires-only price.
From an AV quality perspective, though, it's a phenomenal bit of kit. Tucked away inside its extremely robust and metallic bezel is the best 3D picture quality seen to date, thanks chiefly to the way the screen's professional-grade features help keep a lid on 3D's infamous crosstalk noise problems, and the screen's impressive brightness levels.
Sure, it would have been nice to get more regular 'TV' features like a tuner and online/multimedia functions. If, however, you simply want to add a monster screen to your mansion that delivers the picture goods in spades, then you won't find anything finer than the TH-85VX200B.
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