Panasonic TX-P42VT30B £1500
2nd Jun 2011 | 10:54
Sophisticated 3D plasma TV with superb performance and extensive multimedia capability
Panasonic TX-P42VT30B: Overview
The Panasonic TX-P42VT30B looks terrifyingly good on paper.
The 42-inch plasma improves on the exceptional GT30 series by adding an extra filter to the screen structure to improve black reproduction and ships with two pairs of active shutter 3D glasses, plus a USB dongle for Wi-Fi.
The latter two items, if bought separately, will set you back around £300, which immediately accounts for the price difference between the TX-P42VT30B and its GT30-suffixed counterpart.
The TX-P42VT30B also boasts a more powerful audio system than the GT30 models, complete with a separate boxed woofer on its rear and adds recording to SD card from its built-in Freesat HD and Freeview HD tuners.
The TX-P42VT30B is the smallest set in the VT30 range. Above it can be found the 50-inch TX-P50VT30B and two super-sized models, the 55-inch TX-P55VT30B and 65-inch TX-P65VT30B.
If you fancy getting your hands on Panasonic's 3D plasma prowess without spending as much money, the ST30 range sports the same panel technology as the GT30s, but does away with integrated recording, DLNA network support and THX certification and sports a markedly less sleek design.
Panasonic TX-P42VT30B: Features
This 42-inch TV introduces an extra bit of technology that is strangely absent on its larger stablemates. Fishbone ITO uses indium-tin-oxide in the plasma panel's electrode structure, enabling each pixel to be driven much more efficiently than was previously possible. This is designed to achieve maximum brightness from less power, which is something of a Holy Grail in plasma development.
The aforementioned extra contrast filter, meanwhile, works to reduce ambient light reflections affecting the onscreen contrast while also adding a slightly darker tone to the light emitted from the TV.
Connectivity is seriously extensive. LNB and RF ports serve Freesat HD and Freeview HD tuners and reams of multimedia-oriented jacks include three USB inputs, a D-Sub PC socket, an SD card slot and a LAN port (despite LAN being rendered somewhat irrelevant by the provision of Wi-Fi via USB).
The SD card slot and USBs not only play most sorts of video, photo and music multimedia files, they can also both be used for recording in lossless quality from the HD tuners.
Video duties, meanwhile, are catered for by four HDMIs (all built to the v1.4 spec for 3D compatibility), the inevitable component video port and a composite video input for anyone daft enough to want one.
The TV's fascia is sleek and exceptionally well built, with a heavy-duty glass top-sheet giving it an elegant single-layer finish.
The TX-P42VT30B is endorsed by both THX (for both 3D and 2D), and the Imaging Science Foundation and its extensive calibration tools include colour management, gamma controls, and white balance adjustments. The presentation of these professional-grade tweaks leaves some room for improvement, but the flexibility they afford is excellent.
The TX-P42VT30B is equipped with both DLNA PC compatibility and Panasonic's cloud-based Viera Connect online service carries more content than the previous Viera Cast platform, with some games and a health and fitness suite about to be added to an already impressive roster that includes Skype, the BBC iPlayer, Eurosport video news and YouTube, as well as the AceTrax service for renting or buying streamable films.
Panasonic TX-P42VT30B: Picture quality
The TX-P42VT30B's black level response is the best from any TV since Pioneer's legendary KURO plasmas and there can be no higher praise than that.
The extra contrast filter enables the screen to deliver dark scenes that are richer, more natural and with a greater cinematic punch than those achieved by the GT30 models. Plasma's self-emissive (as opposed to backlit) nature enables the hugely impressive blacks to sit right alongside bright whites and colours with none of the inconsistency that plagues LCD TVs.
Also abundantly apparent is how much richer and brighter colours are on the TX-P42VT30B than they were on last year's VT20 models. This is undoubtedly the result of marked improvements in power efficiency that have enabled brighter pictures without breaking the energy consumption ceilings set by the electronics watchdogs.
Colour tones are extremely natural and have an extra vibrancy that makes it easier to appreciate the finesse with which the TX-P42VT30B blends hi-def hues.
Detail levels are exemplary, thanks in part to some excellent image processing and panel design; Panasonic is currently the only manufacturer with a full HD, 42-inch plasma in its lineup.
Motion clarity is also mostly excellent, with no sign of the blur that is so common on LCD sets, while judder is neatly contained most of the time and eradicated entirely when Intelligent Frame Creation processing is engaged.
IFC can make pictures look processed and unnatural if it is set too high, but is certainly worth experimenting with on its lowest setting.
Plasma enables a much wider viewing angle than LCD without any loss of contrast or colour saturation and the quality and power of the TX-P42VT30B's picture processing ensures it can also produce clean, crisp 2D pictures that don't suffer from serious colour tone degradation.
The set's 3D performance is vastly entertaining, thanks to the near-elimination of crosstalk noise.
This leaves you free to appreciate the excellent clarity and detail of full HD 3D Blu-rays and there is much more brightness, shadow detail and colour richness than was witnessed Panasonic's 2010 3D plasmas.
This is especially true if you switch the set to its Dynamic mode for 3D viewing, which suggests Panasonic might be well advised to include a dedicated 3D picture setting on its future ranges.
Some room for improvement remains when it comes to brightness and colour compared to the vibrancy of a typical LCD 3D picture, but the absence of crosstalk more than atones for this.
The TX-P42VT30B's pictures aren't quite perfect, though. The reduction in brightness caused by the extra contrast filter might be a minor handicap under abnormally bright conditions and judder is noticeable when viewing 50Hz material to the extent that some double imaging occasionally occurs, although a small dose of IFC improves things markedly.
Panasonic P42VT30B: Sound, value, ease of use
The TX-P42VT30B's separate woofer produces a slight increase in bass power, but the mid-range is slightly cramped and the audio has a disappointing lack of overall muscle.
At first glance, the £1,500 TX-P42VT30B looks scarily expensive for a 42-inch TV; it costs £500 more than, say, LG's 42LW550T passive 3D TV, which comes with seven pairs of 3D specs.
Compare it to the inferior TX-P42GT30B (currently retailing for about £1,150 with no supplied 3D glasses or Wi-Fi dongles), though and the extra £350 suddenly looks like money well spent.
Ease of use
Operation is straightforward for such a sophisticated set. The attractively minimalist remote is well laid out and comfortable in the palm and a stylish red backlight picks out the main keys to aid its use in dark rooms.
The interface is clean, logical and rather jollier than Panasonic's previous efforts, but it still seems dour compared to LG's or Samsung's.
The biggest problem concerns the Viera Connect interface, which doesn't present many options on screen at once, forcing you to wade through multiple layers of sub menus.
Panasonic TX-P42VT30B: Verdict
The heavy, incredibly well built TX-P42VT30B looks, feels and performs like a serious bit of AV kit.
Its connections are comprehensive, it boasts a state of the art plasma panel and benefits from Panasonic's most comprehensive suite of picture adjustments and calibration aids to date, while the already impressive Viera Connect online system can only improve as more content is added.
Most importantly, the pictures are Panasonic's finest to date, which makes them by default among the very best ever seen. Just remember to use it in a reasonably low-lit environment if you want to get the very best from it.
The TX-P42VT30B is the most solidly built TV around and is good looking to boot. It's got all the connections you could possibly need and ships with 3D glasses and a Wi-Fi dongle.
Its online features are useful and it covers most multimedia bases. It's the set's stunning picture quality that really makes it special, though.
The £1,500 price tag is undeniably hefty and the extra contrast filter in the screen slightly reduces its brightness (though it also boosts contrast) and 3D pictures aren't as vivid as on the best LCD sets.
There's judder with 50Hz images, too, which can only be improved by using the set's IFC processing.
The TX-P42VT30B is TV made for AV enthusiasts. Its uncompromising spec leaves no stone unturned in its bid for 2D and 3D excellence, it has professional-grade calibration aids and is beautifully built.
Its 50Hz judder issue and slightly compromised brightness don't stop the TX-P42VT30B from being an imperious example of why plasma is still a hugely potent TV technology.
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