If you're shopping for a 2012 TV and picture quality is your highest priority you should, in ascending order of financial recklessness, get a good plasma, splurge for an Elite or wait and buy an OLED. If getting the best picture for your money is your highest priority, you should get the Panasonic TC-PST50 plasma -- although the Samsung PNE6500 is a very close second place. At press time both cost hundreds less than the Panasonic TC-PGT50 reviewed here, and offer picture quality that's just as good.
That's not to say the GT50 isn't worth recommending; it's just a tweener whose reputation suffers the tarnish of comparison -- both at the hands of better values like those two, and better performers like its bully of a big brother, the VT50. I love baby G's styling; its feature set is all I could ask for, and its picture quality is among the best of any TV I've tested. Its one seeming advantage over the ST50, a THX mode that promises picture quality similar to a professional calibration, just isn't good enough to be worth the extra money. If you have other priorities however, such as premium design in screen sizes beyond those of the VT50 series, the GT50 still has plenty of appeal.
Series information: I performed a hands-on evaluation of the 55-inch Panasonic TC-P55GT50, but this review also applies to the other screen sizes in the series. All sizes have identical specs and according to the manufacturer should provide very similar picture quality.
|Models in series (details)|
|Panasonic TC-P50GT50||50 inches|
|Panasonic TC-P55GT50 (reviewed)||55 inches|
|Panasonic TC-P60GT50||60 inches|
|Panasonic TC-P65GT50||65 inches|
I called the VT50 the best-looking Panasonic plasma TV yet, but the GT50 isn't far behind. It eschews the comparatively chintzy transparent edging of the ST50 for metallic, sharp-edged silver that makes a beautiful accent around the thin black bezel. It lacks the VT50's impressive single-pane face, and unfortunately keeps its stand's lame two-tone fade color scheme, but the GT50 still ekes out a minor win over Samsung's excellent plasma designs in my book.
The GT50 includes the same remote as the ST50 and it's one of my favorites, although the newly glossy face shows fingerprints. I like the rest of the changes, though, from the nicely differentiated button sizes and groups to the extensive backlighting to the Help button.
Panasonic's menus remain unchanged: an all-business yellow-on-blue that still seems a bit dated compared with Samsung's or Sony's UI, but gets the job done. One great addition is the Help section with an onscreen user manual, which isn't as complete as the included print version but still covers most of what new users will want to know.
|Key TV features|
|Display technology||Plasma||LED backlight||N/A|
|Smart TV||Yes||Internet connection||Built-in Wi-Fi|
|3D technology||Active||3D glasses included||No|
|Refresh rate(s)||60Hz, 48Hz||Dejudder (smooth) processing||Yes|
|Other: Optional 3D glasses (model TY-ER3D4MU, $65 each), Skype camera/speakerphone (TY-CC20W, $125), network camera (wired BL-C210; $199; Wi-Fi BL-C230, $299); compatible with USB keyboards|
The GT50's main step-up over the ST50 comes in the form of two THX picture presets for 2D and a third for 3D. It also has a couple more esoteric PQ-related extras, namely double the "shades of gradation," a 24p smooth mode (not to be confused with a higher refresh rate)," facial retouch" and "pure image creation." The flagship VT50, meanwhile, gets an Infinite Black Ultra Panel, improved louvre filter, 96Hz mode and touch-pad remote that the GT50 lacks.
Like the VT50 it also has a dual-core processor and extra connectivity over the ST50. I was disappointed in the lack of 3D glasses; even Samsung's least expensive 3D plasmas come with two pair. Like all 2012 Panasonic active-3D TVs the GT50 complies with the Full HD 3D standard, so in addition to Panasonic's own 2012 specs it also plays well with others, namely the $20 Samsungs. Check out my comparison for reviews of each.
Smart TV: Last year I ranked Panasonic's Smart TV interface, called VieraCast, highest for its simple layout and ease-of-use. The company didn't change much beyond the name -- it's now VieraConnect -- for 2012. I like the ability to easily shuffle the items you want most, like Netflix, into prominent positions. Navigation and app launching was a bit faster than on the ST50, likely thanks to the dual-core processor, but once I was within an app I didn't notice any differences in reaction time. The GT50 also gets "multitasking"; when I hit the tools key a virtual page flips up to reveal the most recently used apps, providing quick access.
Panasonic's content selection is top-notch since it added Vudu, although I'd like to see a dedicated 3D app like LG and Samsung offer. There's a new-ish Social Networking app that lets you combine live TV, Twitter, and/or Facebook on the same page. Audio gets relatively short shrift, with just Pandora, Shoutcast, and a Karaoke app as of press time.
The Viera Market has a solid selection of apps, although I didn't appreciate having to sign in to an account to download even the free ones. There's also a real shopping section with overpriced Panasonic gear and other sundry hardware like keyboards (which help if you're the one guy who really enjoys tweeting on your TV).
The company says it will add new apps, including a partnership with MySpace touted at CES and an exclusive with Disney digital books, soon. It also offers a remote control app for iOS, Android and Blackberry.
The Web browser is severely limited when you use the standard remote. It's a step below Samsung's and LG's in any case, and of course no TV browser can hold a candle to any phone, tablet, or laptop browser. Clicking over to CNET.com, I found I couldn't navigate down the page until it finished loading, which took forever (about a minute). Entering text via the onscreen keyboard was a painful necessity and lack of no-brainer conveniences like autofill or a single button for ".com" is incredibly annoying. Load times were hit or miss, and while I did get an ad to load at Hulu.com, my video clip didn't arrive at all.
VieraConnect has more advertising than other TV makers' Smart TV systems. The TV actually shows you a banner ad when you first power up. It popped up and lasted only about three seconds, but it was till annoying. Here's how to disable it. Like many TV makers, Panasonic also reserves a spot on the Smart TV home page for an ad, and there's no way to remove it.
Picture settings: The GT50's THX modes are quite good by default, and unlike on the 65-inch VT50 I reviewed, their light output is not limited overmuch. That's more a function of screen size than any difference between the two series, I'm guessing. Either was I really appreciated that both THX Cinema and THX Bright Room offer basic adjustments -- an improvement over LG's nonadjustable THX.
The only mode to offer advanced controls is Custom, which unlike the others also allows different settings for each input. Its Pro section gets a two-point grayscale control and a few gamma presets, along with a bunch of less useful stuff like Black Extension and AGC, both of which sound be set to zero. Along with the VT50 from Panasonic's own line, LG and Samsung both offer 10-point (or higher) grayscale settings, along with full color management, in their plasmas -- making the GT50 the least calibration-friendly plasma at its price point.
Connectivity: Plenty of inputs, including four HDMI and a PC input (step-ups over the ST50), grace the GT50's backside. Component- and composite-video connections require use of the included breakout cable.
There's no meaningful difference between the GT50 and the ST50's picture after both are properly calibrated. Both are outstanding performers, among the best plasma TVs I've ever tested, and just shy of the picture afforded by the much less affordable TC-PVT50 series. Samsung's PNE6500 and PNE8000 scored the same as ST50 and the GT50 in this category, but I'd pick the Panasonics because of their slightly better light output (at least compared with the 60-inch Samsungs).