Panasonic TX-P50GT50 £1399.99
25th Jul 2012 | 14:02
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Not many people buy plasma TVs any more, believing that LED-backlit televisions are cheaper and better. In fact, the differences between the two technologies at all screen sizes have shrunk to almost nothing – and the Panasonic TX-P50GT50 is sure proof of that.
If anything, it's assured plasma TVs such as the TX-P50GT50 that still have the upper hand on both ultimate picture quality and value. While only a pricey LED telly can get over that tech's shortcomings, expensive screens such as the Panasonic TX-P50GT50 really get the very best out of plasma panels.
More basic 50-inch plasma TVs can be had for as little as £750/$1,000 from the likes of Samsung and LG – plasma tech's only other fans – but it's on screens high up in Panasonic's ranges that it really excels.
The 50-inch Panasonic TX-P50GT50 possesses a dual-core processor to power the Viera Connect smart TV platform (BBC iPlayer, BBC Sport, Lovefilm, Netflix, a web browser, and even a shopping dimension are included), a NeoPlasma panel (sporting a Full HD resolution, of course), 2500Hz Focused Field Drive (the response time is a world-beating 0.001 milliseconds), Infinite Black Pro (for deep black levels) and High Contrast Filter Pro, and both Freeview HD and Freesat HD tuners.
The provision of both free-to-air digital and satellite platforms, though arguably over-spec for most of us, demonstrates Panasonic's commitment to the UK market.
It being a THX 3D Certified display in the form of three picture modes – THX Cinema, THX Bright Room & THX 3D Cinema – is a nice bonus, as is some Imaging Science Foundation (ISF) standard picture controls that enable a custom calibration. The THX Cinema picture mode is our favourite, which makes setting up and using this plasma TV simple enough for everyone to achieve an exacting performance.
Design-wise, the Panasonic TX-P50GT50 is the equal of its peers. At a mere 41mm in depth this is the slimmest plasma television around, and while gloss black is still the dominant colour for the 24mm-wide bezel, a 3mm-wide silver strip helps create an attractive, slender look.
What we also like is the oddly patterned desktop stand, which starts out gloss black and grades down to light grey at the back. The effect is difficult to describe, though the end result is that this huge, heavy plasma TV appears to float. Now that is how to design a television.
Judged purely on build quality, there's nothing to match the Panasonic TX-P50GT50 – it's a solid, well-made and hugely professional piece of AV equipment that looks and feels expensive. It's joined in the GT50 range by 42-inch brother the Panasonic TX-P42GT50B.
Before diving in and purchasing the Panasonic TX-P50GT50, it's worth ruminating on whether you could save yourself a few quid by ranging down. This GT50 screen is sandwiched by the step-down Panasonic ST50 and reference level Panasonic VT50 Series of plasma TVs, both of which are – like the Panasonic TX-P50GT50 – 3D-ready, though only the latter comes with 3D specs in the box.
What you lose if you plump for an ST50 plasma – which are sold as the 42-inch TX-P42ST50 and 50-inch TX-P50ST50 – is that slimness.
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Go for the VT50 flavour - either the 50-inch TX-P50VT50 or whopping 65-inch TX-P65VT50 - and that extra cash gets you a touchpad remote (which helps with web browsing, though arguably not as much as the free iPhone/Android smartphone app), two pairs of Bluetooth 3D glasses, and a svelte design that sees the TV seemingly carved from a single sheet of glass.
The Panasonic VT50 Series also has a more advanced Infinite Black Ultra Filter to take black levels to the highest possible level, though, as we'll see, the differences when compared to the Panasonic TX-P50GT50 are rather slight. And by that we mean that the plasma we have in front of us is simply exquisite.
Digitally speaking the Panasonic TX-P50GT50 is well endowed. What did slightly annoy us is that as soon as we switched it on it started searching, and tuning-in, digital channels followed automatically by analogue, the latter being a total waste of time (about five minutes).
Once done, the electronic programme guide for Freeview HD proves a massive improvement on previous attempts by Panasonic, though it's hardly the most joyous around. There's no thumbnail for live TV and no sound either, which makes inspecting the TV schedules a rather lonely experience.
That's even more of a shame given that the Panasonic TX-P50GT50 can indulge in recording TV programmes – complete with timer – to an HDD connected to one of its three USB slots.
Its other connections are plentiful as befitting a high-end TV. Four HDMI inputs on the side of the TV are kept company by three USB slots, an SD card slot, headphones jack and a Common Interface space.
Underneath are ports for connections for both Freesat HD and Freeview HD tuners, a Scart (via an adaptor), an optical audio input, either composite or component video (again, via an adaptor, which also includes phono inputs) and Ethernet LAN (though there's a Wi-Fi module mounted nearby, too).
The latter fuels both basic media streaming (from a USB or SD media, or over a home network from a PC or Mac), and Panasonic's stab at smart TV – Viera Connect.
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Apps are quickly increasing and now involve BBC iPlayer, BBC Sport, BBC News, a web browser, Skype, Netflix, Eurosport, YouTube, Acetrax Movies, Twitter, Facebook, SHOUTcast Radio, Picasa, ROVI TV Guide, Euronews and Dailymotion, among many others.
The only absentee of any note is Lovefilm, though Viera Connect is the only such smart TV platform that hosts a shopping section (where you can buy keyboards and gamepads for the few games offered as paid-for downloads, 3D specs and Skype cameras such as the TY-CC20W).
3D imaging is via Panasonic's own Active Shutter Full HD 3D system, though sadly no 3D glasses are included in the box.
Tech-wise the NeoPlasma panel has seen some new developments for 2012. The panel filter now lets less light in, and better controls its discharge; the end result should be brighter images with blacker blacks.
The only difference between this plasma and those either side of it in Panasonic's ranges is black levels. On the Panasonic TX-P50GT50, its Infinite Black Filter provides black levels – which contribute immensely to contrast and the boldness of colour – superior to most plasmas.
The way the Panasonic TX-P50GT50 handles 3D, too, is nothing short of amazing. With a pair of the brand's TY-ER3D4ME 3D specs strapped on (though we also managed to use some of Samsung's newest 3D glasses), we watched the entire Hugo movie on 3D Blu-ray.
Totally absorbing, highly detailed and with stunning colours and contrast, we noticed 3D crosstalk on only one occasion. As Hugo Cabret sits down in his chair opposite the automaton, his right leg appeared twice. That was it.
Incidentally, the opening long-shot of snowflakes fluttering across the camera as a panoramic shot screws down into Gare Montparnasse and across the platforms, provided us with the finest views of the 3D format yet – it was almost beautiful in its depth, detail and extreme clarity.
A tad brighter than in previous years in 3D mode, this Panasonic plasma nevertheless excels in a blackout, which will make some shoppers quickly turn to LCD/LED TVs. We're still not sure why brighter equals better to some eyes on the shop floor, because for us a good plasma such as the Panasonic TX-P50GT50 isn't just bright enough for a living room – it's spot-on.
That said, our favourite mode – THX Cinema – is perhaps a tad muted for watching Antiques Roadshow in a brightly lit room. A brighter Living Room mode is cleverly supplied on the Panasonic TX-P50GT50, and though it does make a difference, it's fairly slight.
Talking of brightness, we didn't get on too well with C.A.T.S either. It cleverly alters the brightness of the panel according to the amount of ambient light in the room, but like the Panasonic TX-P50GT50's picture parameter bars, it only manages this in rather clumsy steps – cue a massive drop in brightness a second or two into a new frame of video.
Until C.A.T.S can happen so gradually as to be unnoticeable, it's always going to be distracting, though it's a purely optional feature.
Switched on by default, Pixel Orbiter in the Picture menu's Advanced Settings menu dampens screen burn (by moving the image around the screen by a few pixels either side – it's unnoticeable), though it's worth engaging the Scrolling Bar feature occasionally, too, since after we'd watched Hugo we did see an after-image of the credit roll.
This was only noticeable in a blackout and had disappeared by morning; we'd judge it as something people may find distasteful, rather than being a problem, though it's worth knowing about.
Switch to Ironclad on 2D Blu-ray and the Panasonic TX-P50GT50 quickly gets back onto its podium. Even in mixed brightness shots black is just that, shadow detail is excellent and the delicate colours are superbly natural and rich. The detail is perhaps a whisper beneath that achieved by a similar-sized LED/LCD telly, but the difference here is that almost all of it remains during motion shots.
For some reason this TV includes the Intelligent Frame Creation feature designed to give LCD/LED panels a helping hand; here it's a weak, almost worthless addition that merely swaps a filmic feeling for a TV/video look, though it doesn't appear to introduce any artefacts.
Freeview HD is clean, bright and looks sublime, while even ropey standard definition channels excel. Some footage from Heir Hunters on BBC1 appears free from digital blocking, and though soft on such a massive screen with some contouring, is overall remarkably clean and free of jagged edges.
Usability, sound and value
The Panasonic TX-P50GT50 suffers from the same problem as all of the brand's 2012 TVs; while its user interface is relatively straightforward to use, it's long-winded and old-fashioned-looking, and not a patch on the likes of LG, in particular.
Take media playback. The Panasonic TX-P50GT50 supports MOV, MP4, AVC HD and AVI files over a network, adding MKV and WMV support if you use a USB flash drive. MP3, WMA and FLAC music files are also supported, as are JPEG photos.
Not a bad effort, but actually accessing these files from a Mac is a terribly manual process, and poor when compared to LG's SmartShare idea.
That said, it's not a difficult or complicated TV to get on with, largely thanks to its excellent preset picture modes. Kudos goes to the THX Cinema mode in particular, though there are two spaces – Professional 1 & 2 – on which to save calibrations; the Advanced Menu (once activated in the set-up menu) contains tweaks for white balance, gamma and colour management.
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Dual-core processing makes Viera Connect a joy to use, and it remains one of the easiest to use smart TV platforms around, despite its separation from the GUI as a whole.
A final gripe about the user interface involves the grid-like electronic programme guide for Freeview HD; it contains two hours' of schedules for 10 channels, but both audio and picture of the channel you're on are cut while you inspect it. It badly needs a live TV thumbnail.
As a result of the Panasonic TX-P50GT50 being relatively slim, audio is nothing to get excited about.
We failed to hear much difference between V-Audio and V-Audio Surround, and though there's just enough mid-range to cope with most dialogue-dominated TV programmes, the onboard sound never does justice to the on-screen awesomeness.
We think the Panasonic TX-P50GT50 is excellent value, considering its high-end performance. Still, we do think that any plasma TV costing this much that purports to be a 3D TV – and a stunningly effective one, at that – really should have at least a couple of pairs of 3D glasses in the box.
All use Bluetooth or radio to link to the Panasonic TX-P50GT50, so no line of sight is required, though that does have the unfortunate effect of making 3D specs from Panasonic's previous 3D TVs, such as the Panasonic TX-P50VT20 obsolete. Who'd be an early adopter?
Although the step-up VT50 version of this TV includes a slightly more advanced black filter, some 3D glasses and a touchpad remote control, the latter, in particular, isn't worth paying extra for.
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Packed with extra features it may be, but smart apps, web browsing and cute designs can be bought for less cash; buying the Panasonic TX-P50GT50 is all about a serious quest for picture quality prowess. And, boy, does this 50-inch plasma TV deliver.
Nicely styled and reasonably thin, this app-packed plasma television is relatively rare, in that it has both Freeview HD and Freesat HD tuners. What's equally rare these days is an affordable, though reference-level advanced picture.
Boasting detail-laden, smooth 2D Blu-ray and excellent upscaling – all free from motion blur and endowed with profound yet natural black levels – the Panasonic TX-P50GT50 also supplies the cleanest, most convincing 3D images we've seen yet.
With no 3D specs in the box, we do wonder how many owners of the Panasonic TX-P50GT50 will ever get to see its quite stunning 3D images.
With a few tiny caveats, we have no major issues with its picture quality, with our main concerns surrounding the drab user interface, rather average sound and the manual nature of its media streaming feature.
A class-leading plasma TV at an affordable price – at least compared to other high-end TVs – it's impossible to think of a better screen on which to watch both 2D and 3D Blu-ray.
Standard definition sources are coped with unusually well, too, and while the image isn't as immediately bright as an LCD/LED TV, a picture this good shouldn't be difficult to live with in any setting.
However, the user interface is a little drab, and we're sad to see no 3D specs in the box (especially as the cheapest ones don't cost much), but a picture completely lacking in motion blur and with awesome black levels makes this a reference-level television.
The Panasonic TX-P50GT50 represents one of the best 3D plasma TVs around, and though it's not at the pinnacle of Panasonic's range – that honour goes to the VT50 Series – on past evidence we're not sure the other brands can quite match it for quality or price.
The closest rivals with a similar feature count (3D, smart TV and a Full HD resolution) include the Samsung PS51E6500 and LG 50PM970T, though we've not reviewed the Samsung just yet.