Panasonic TX-P65VT50B £3500
14th Aug 2012 | 14:30
Say hello to 65 inches of home cinema heaven
While the Panasonic P65VT50 has stood imposingly on our test benches, it's affectionately become known as the beast. Why? Because it's arguably the most uncompromising TV ever.
For starters there's its size. At 65 inches, its screen is the joint biggest in Panasonic's 2012 television range. In fact, it would be the biggest TV (as opposed to professional monitor) around from anyone had Sharp not recently launched 70-inch and 80-inch LCD TVs.
Since it uses plasma rather than LCD screen technology, the Panasonic Viera TX-P65VT50's chassis is much meatier than that of most modern TVs, too, thanks to a pretty chunky expanse of bezel by today's standards, as well as a degree of back-mauling heft that hasn't been experienced since the beefy days of the CRT. Certainly if you want to hang the Panasonic TX-P65VT50 up, you'll need a very sturdy wall.
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Next up there's the Panasonic TX-P65VT50's feature count, which is really pretty huge. Multimedia playback is expansive, courtesy of USB, SD card and DLNA playback support, plus the set provides a portal - via built-in Wi-Fi - to Panasonic's Viera Connect online service. You even get a touchpad remote control intended to make internet surfing easier.
Also notable are its twin Freesat and Freeview HD tuners, and its huge raft of picture calibration aids, including colour management and gamma controls. It's not surprising, then, that the TV is endorsed by both the Imaging Science Foundation (ISF) and the THX quality assurance group.
The Panasonic TX-P65VT50 also benefits from Panasonic's premium plasma panel design, complete with a new filter introduced to deliver the richest black levels yet seen from a Panasonic plasma TV.
Other stand-outs on the 65-inch television's spec sheet are its use of dual-core processing for enhanced picture quality and multimedia features, and a 2500Hz sub-field drive system that makes the 600Hz claimed by rival brands look positively puny.
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The Panasonic TX-P65VT50 sits above smaller brothers the 55-inch Panasonic TX-P55VT50 and 50-inch Panasonic TX-P50VT50.
In terms of rivals, one step down from the VT50 range you get to the Panasonic GT50 TVs, which use a less advanced filter to deliver a marginally reduced contrast ratio, and don't ship with either the touchpad remote or any 3D glasses included in the price.
The most affordable way to get your hands on Panasonic's latest plasma panel design is the ST50 series, which lack the fancy filters of the higher models, and don't use dual-core processing.
Obviously the most instantly attractive thing about the Panasonic TX-P65VT50 is its sheer size. Its 65-inch screen will strike an ecstatic chord with anyone who's remotely serious about watching films or great sporting events.
Some people might not like the way the set's slightly wide frame doesn't seek to minimise the screen's already considerable impact on whatever room it's in, but let's be fair: 65 inches of plasma chambers and glass can't just be hung in thin air!
The Panasonic TX-P65VT50 is as strong as you would expect a flagship TV to be when it comes to connections. Four HDMIs should satisfy the needs of even the most ambitious AV system, especially since they're built to the 3D-friendly v1.4 specification.
And multimedia fans are extremely well served too, thanks to a combination of three USBs, an SD card slot and DLNA streaming via LAN cable or integrated Wi-Fi.
The Panasonic TX-P65VT50's file handling isn't totally comprehensive, but it's hard to imagine a situation where anyone would struggle to work with the video, photo and music formats that are supported.
You can also record to either USB or SD card from the Panasonic TX-P65VT50's tuners. And when we say "tuners" plural, we mean it. Unusually in today's television marketplace, the Panasonic TX-P65VT50 sports a Freesat HD tuner alongside the more common Freeview HD one.
With Freeview now available across a much greater chunk of the UK than it used to be, the Freesat tuner isn't quite as useful as it once was, perhaps. But it's still a choice we don't mind finding on a high-end TV such as this one.
The LAN/Wi-Fi connectivity on the Panasonic TX-P65VT50 inevitably additionally taps you into a selection of online content courtesy of Panasonic's Viera Connect platform. This is growing nicely into quite a rich experience, incorporating a good variety of video, gaming, social media and information apps.
Highlights on the all-important video side include Eurosport, BBC iPlayer, Netflix, Acetrax and Fetch TV, while social media fans will appreciate the provision of Twitter, Facebook and Picasa.
Gamers are unusually well served too, thanks to some truly superior, console-like efforts (Asphalt 5 and Let's Golf 2) from Gameloft that leave the efforts of most other game apps looking positively archaic by comparison.
Also earning a positive notice is the Viera Marketplace - a well-presented online shop where you can buy TV hardware (joysticks, keyboards, weighing scales and even, eventually, a special treadmill to make your friends jealous) as well as premium apps.
There still isn't as much content overall as you get with the latest online services from Samsung, LG and Sony. Lovefilm is a particularly aggravating absentee. But the service is one of the most stable around, which counts for a lot.
Making all the Panasonic TX-P65VT50's extensive multimedia tools even more fun to use is the multitasking made possible by the dual-core processors sitting inside the Panasonic TX-P65VT50's enormous frame. You can have up to six different apps open at once, and switch between each one easily.
The heavy duty processors at the Panasonic TX-P65VT50's heart also play their part in its potential picture quality, promising to improve the speed at which the TV set can apply its picture processing algorithms to the image.
This should make the television's motion processing in particular superior to the versions found on other Panasonic sets, but might also reap benefits when it comes to upscaling standard definition, reproducing colour blends smoothly (the TV claims a huge 24,576 steps of gradation) and reducing noise levels.
The presence of 2500Hz sub-field driving also promises to greatly reduce the judder issues often seen with plasma TV technology, as well as boosting images' general richness and stability.
Then there's the special filter Panasonic has built into the TX-P65VT50's glass in order to deliver its best ever contrast performance. The number Panasonic attaches to this is a phenomenal contrast ratio of 6,000,000:1 - and this is a native figure, not one that's dependent on the sort of brightness-adjusting antics required by LCD TVs to deliver a good contrast performance.
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The Panasonic TX-P65VT50 is, as you would expect of a flagship TV, equipped with active 3D playback. And unlike any other TV series in Panasonic's latest plasma range, it comes with two pairs of active shutter glasses included for free.
The last thing to discuss here is the amount of picture controls Panasonic has built into the Panasonic TX-P65VT50. Colour balances, gamma levels, white balance elements and even the intensity of the plasma cells themselves can all be adjusted - along with the power of the set's noise reduction and motion processing routines.
Not surprisingly this has led to the TV being endorsed by the Imaging Science Foundation, which can send an engineer round to calibrate the TV's images so that they're perfect for your room conditions.
That's not the only third-party endorsement the Panasonic TX-P65VT50 enjoys, either. It's also received the seal of approval from quality assurance outfit THX, which has also contributed a couple of carefully calibrated picture presets. The Bright Room setting is particularly helpful, and shows a welcome willingness on THX's part to acknowledge the usually quite bright real world conditions that most people watch their TVs in.
There's only one way to kick off the picture quality section of this review, and that's by saying that the Panasonic TX-P65VT50 finally delivers an even deeper black level than the justly legendary Pioneer Kuro plasma TVs.
This statement might not mean too much to you, we guess, if you haven't been following the twists and turns of the TV world over the past five or six years. But for Panasonic to break Pioneer's black level record really is a watershed moment.
Especially since the impact the Panasonic TX-P65VT50's groundbreaking black levels have on its picture quality is astounding. Being able to see inky, rich, natural black tones during dark scenes of our favourite films is frankly a revelation, providing the perfect foundation for other elements of the screen's picture quality to build on.
What's more, because the Panasonic TX-P65VT50 uses plasma technology (which can produce individual light levels for every single pixel in its pictures), the stunning black level response does not require the sort of general luminance reduction you get with most LCD technologies when they try to show dark scenes.
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This means that the Panasonic TX-P65VT50's pictures still contain outstanding amounts of shadow detail even in the very darkest corners, and the TV is able to produce really vibrant, rich colours and reasonably bold whites right alongside those adorable blacks.
This all comes as a breath of fresh air versus the crushed blacks and hollow dark areas common to some extent with all rival technologies.
And there's more. The pixel-level localisation of the Panasonic TX-P65VT50's plasma luminance also means that it is completely immune to the sort of backlight clouding/inconsistency problems still alarmingly - if understandably - common on today's LCD TVs.
Feed the Panasonic TX-P65VT50 a completely black screen, and that blackness will remain beautifully uniform from one corner right across to the other, despite the enormity of the screen.
This is, of course, extremely important to how immersed you can become in what you're watching, since there's nothing more distracting than seeing a bunch of light pools lying across your TV's picture. Especially if you're watching 3D content.
Underlining the Panasonic TX-P65VT50's black level abilities is the startling intensity of its colours. The past couple of flagship plasma TVs from Panasonic have struggled a bit when it comes to luminance levels, looking awesome in dark rooms but feeling rather muted when you've got much light in your room.
But this year's VT50 series of TVs look much punchier, thanks to a combination of greater energy efficiencies in Panasonic's latest plasma panels and a conscious decision to use those efficiencies to boost the image's brightness rather than trying to get a higher grade on the new energy efficiency rating system (the Panasonic TX-P65VT50 'only' scores a C).
The Panasonic TX-P65VT50's pictures are also breathtakingly sharp and detailed. Every last nuance of even the very best HD pictures is reproduced with total precision, and given extra glorious emphasis by the sheer size of the screen. There's zero noise to get in the way of your enjoyment of the glories of HD either, and nor is there any resolution loss over moving objects - another clear advantage plasma has over LCD technology.
The judder issues that have slightly plagued some of Panasonic's previous plasma TVs have been largely squashed by the new sub-field drive system on the Panasonic TX-P65VT50 too, even if you don't trouble yourself with Panasonic's Intelligent Frame Creation motion processing.
The dual-core processing in the Panasonic TX-P65VT50 does mean, though, that this motion processing is more effective than usual, delivering even greater smoothness (if you like that sort of thing) without generating as many unwanted side effects as usual.
The dual-core processing also seems to be playing a significant and positive role in the Panasonic TX-P65VT50's upscaling of standard definition pictures, since they appear surprisingly sharp but with most of their inherent noise carefully processed out.
Obviously a screen this large is really made for HD, but if you do occasionally have to tolerate standard definition, it's nowhere near as offensive to your eyes on the Panasonic TX-P65VT50 as you might expect.
Yet more evidence of the power of the Panasonic TX-P65VT50's image processing can clearly be seen in the subtlety of its colour reproduction. There's much more finesse in colour blends than we're used to seeing with Panasonic's plasma televisions, which plays a very important role in ensuring that colours still look exceptionally natural despite the extra punch the Panasonic TX-P65VT50 injects into them.
Add up all the strengths we've just dissected, and if you find yourself watching a movie with the curtains drawn and the lights dimmed you will likely also find your jaw hanging open in awe at the Panasonic TX-P65VT50's truly stunning pictures.
Such images would previously only have existed on one of Panasonic's very expensive professional-grade monitors, which means that Blu-ray images pretty much by default look better here than they've ever looked before on a domestic TV.
Shifting to 3D, the excellent news continues. The extra brightness Panasonic has injected into its plasma pictures this year counters much more effectively the quite heavy dimming effect caused by Panasonic's active 3D glasses, enabling images to look much punchier.
So much so that you can comfortably watch them with a bit of light in your room, which wasn't the case with previous 3D Panasonic plasma TVs.
3D images are also improved on the Panasonic TX-P65VT50 by the dual-core processing, in two key ways. First, colour blends look noticeably cleaner and smoother than they have on previous plasma generations, and second, motion is superb, avoiding almost completely the judder that still creeps into the 3D pictures of a surprisingly high number of TVs.
The Panasonic TX-P65VT50 significantly also gets rid of pretty much all the crosstalk ghosting noise that surprisingly slipped into the 3D pictures of the ST50 series, leaving you able to fully appreciate the crisp, detailed joys of Full HD 3D in all its deep, immersive glory. Let's not forget, either, that 3D works best on big screens, and TV screens don't get much bigger than this.
The motion handling, contrast and quality 3D, together with the huge screen size, make the Panasonic TX-P65VT50 a really pretty wondrous monitor for playing games on. So it's great to find it turning in a very respectable input lag time of just 39ms.
So are there any problems at all with the Panasonic TX-P65VT50? Well, you can't ignore the fact that its £3,500 (around $5,490) price tag will prove an impossibly tall order for many TV buyers.
Also, despite Panasonic's impressive improvements where brightness is concerned this year, it's still a fact that if you're watching the Panasonic TX-P65VT50 in a bright environment, its images tend to lose quite a bit of their punch. Certainly much more than happens with LCD-based screens.
Also in the negative column, motion can look a bit 'fizzy' from time to time, especially over skin tones, and if you make the mistake of watching 2D images using the set's Dynamic preset. But this issue reduces to almost nothing if you use a relatively subdued preset and sit a sensible distance away from the screen.
One final oddity is some curious brightness jumping that sets in with medium-dark material when using the Dynamic preset. This is especially obvious while watching 3D, when the panel is working especially hard to combat the dimming effect of the active shutter glasses.
Thankfully the problem pretty much disappears if you shift down a gear to a different picture preset - so really this is just another reason to avoid the Dynamic preset.
Usability, sound and value
The Panasonic TX-P65VT50 tries hard to make itself a no-brainer to use, but not all of its efforts pay off.
The TV's main set up menus are OK. They're not the prettiest in town by any means, but they're reasonably well organised, their text is very legible, and there are brief on-screen explanations of what each feature you highlight does.
A Tools button on the remote, meanwhile, takes you to a simple jump off menu for accessing content stored on USB drives, SD cards or PCs, while a separate internet button takes you to Panasonic's Viera Connect menus.
The main menus here are a mixed bag. On the one hand the very large icons make the system feel friendly and colourful. But unfortunately they also mean you can't fit much content on screen at once, requiring you to delve through numerous layers of icons to find all the apps at your disposal.
You can, at least, rearrange the order of the apps, so that you can put your favourites on the home screen. But it still seems likely that Panasonic will eventually have to shift to a smaller icon system as content levels on Viera Connect continue to rise.
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In fact, a glimpse of the potential future of Panasonic's Viera Connect menu might be seen in the excellent presentation of the Viera Marketplace, from where you can buy both software and hardware using the smart TV world's first fully functioning secure, online payment system. Here the icon size seems much better judged, enabling you to see many more options on-screen at once, and there's some impressive use of quick content-finding shortcut lists on the screen's left side.
Also excellent is the multitasking system introduced this year on Panasonic's dual-core TVs. This makes using all the smart features on the Panasonic TX-P65VT50 much easier, and definitely led to us using these features more extensively than we tend to on normal smart TV operating systems.
A great touch in control terms is the Viera Control app you can download for free for iOS and Android devices. This makes great use of the touchscreen controls of your smart device, and even enables you to easily share content on your device with the TV, or reproduce the video on the TV on the screen of your portable device.
However, while we appreciate the thought behind Panasonic including a second remote control for free with the Panasonic TX-P65VT50, the design of this second touchpad remote is poor. The touchpad area is too small, its circular shape doesn't gel well with the rectangular screen you're trying to control a cursor on, and having to tap the pad to select an option leads to lots of accidental cursor movements and incorrect selections.
It doesn't help, either, that the pressure you need to apply to your taps of the pad seems to differ almost every time you use it.
Accompanying the mostly sensational pictures of the Panasonic TX-P65VT50 is some good sound. Not brilliant - not quite as brilliant, in fact, as we might have hoped from such a mammoth screen - but certainly satisfactory.
The speakers make good enough use of their 8-train design to ensure that there's both excellent clarity and plenty of volume. But the mid-range doesn't exhibit as much breathing room as we'd like during action scenes, and a touch more deep bass wouldn't have gone amiss, either.
Handing over around £3,500 (around $5,490) for a TV is clearly not something that most people will be able to contemplate. And there's an argument to be made that you could get a bigger picture still for considerably less money if you opt for a projector instead.
But projectors come with all sorts of hassles where room lighting and set up are concerned, so just don't fit in with most people's normal living spaces.
We guess you can also argue that the Panasonic TX-P65VT50 is expensive versus most rival big-screen televisions. But then it's also substantially better than any of them, especially when it comes to the all-important business of watching films or playing games.
It's worth considering, too, that you get two pairs of 3D glasses free with the Panasonic TX-P65VT50, while you don't get any with models lower down Panasonic's range.
Overall, we actually find the price to be quite fair - even if it's likely to be aggravatingly beyond most people's reach.
The Panasonic TX-P65VT50 has all the credentials it needs to be the daddy of all 2012 TVs. For starters, it's 65 inches from corner to corner, making most TVs look puny by comparison. It also boasts the very top tier of Panasonic's latest plasma panel technology, including a special high-contrast filter designed to deliver hitherto unimaginable contrast.
It packs dual-core processing too, which it uses to deliver excellent multitasking for the TV's online features, as well as Panasonic's most accomplished video processing system to date. This produces particularly excellent motion and colour handling, but also seems to enhance the set's standard definition upscaling.
There are a couple of image flaws you need to work around, but so long as you do this then as a serious movie machine, there really is nothing else out there right now to touch the Panasonic TX-P65VT50.
The 65-inch screen size brings movies and 3D content to life like nothing smaller ever could - especially as every inch of it is filled with spectacular, high-contrast, colourful and detail-rich images of unprecedented quality. The Panasonic TX-P65VT50's multimedia talents mostly hit the right notes, too, and 3D is as good as we've ever seen it.
The pictures tend to lose quite a bit of their punch if you happen to be watching them in a very bright room. There's a little dot crawl over motion too if you drive the picture quality too hard or sit too close, and some flickering problems if you leave the set in its Dynamic preset. But all these issues are pretty easy to avoid.
After seeing its plasma TV rivals gain on it substantially last year, Panasonic has pulled out all the stops for 2012 to put clear blue water again between its top-tier plasmas and the chasing pack. In fact, its efforts have resulted in the Panasonic TX-P65VT50 delivering the best pictures we've yet seen from a flatscreen TV - including the legendary Pioneer Kuro sets.
There are still one or two areas Panasonic could work on to nudge even closer to perfection, but if you love watching films and can afford the entrance fee, the Panasonic TX-P65VT50 is pure home cinema heaven.
To be honest, the Panasonic TX-P65VT50 is so good that we're tempted to say you shouldn't consider buying anything else. But of course, not everyone will be able to afford the £3,500 (around $5,490) asking price.
If you want most of the quality of the VT50 series for a bit less money, you could consider Panasonic's GT50 series. But there's no 65-inch model available here, and the sets don't get the same level of high-contrast filter.
The most compelling alternative to the Panasonic TX-P65VT50 from a rival brand is Sony's 55HX853. This is surprisingly affordable, and thanks to a brilliant new local dimming system for its Edge LED lighting, it delivers the best black levels yet seen from Edge LED technology.
Another option would be the excellent 55-inch Samsung UE55ES8000. This needs a bit of care with setup to get the best out of it for watching films - in particular you need to sacrifice substantial luminance to get a convincing black level and backlight uniformity. But you can get there in the end, and with normal daytime TV viewing its pictures are outstanding. It looks the part, too.
Next there's the phenomenally affordable Sharp 60LE636, which you can get your hands on, amazingly, for under a grand if you shop around. This looks great with bright material, but be warned that there are backlight uniformity issues during dark scenes.
A final option to mention here is the LG 55LM660T. This has a few backlight flaws too, but its pictures generally look great, and its passive 3D technology is the family-friendly option.