For the last couple of years Panasonic's best plasma has been the most highly anticipated TV review on CNET, and 2011 is no exception. The top-of-the-line Panasonic TV-PVT30 series is the most clicked-upon TV on our site and my most asked-for review on Twitter, and despite coming in No. 2 in our poll to the flagship Sony, we're confident that no other TV commands the same expectations.
In nearly every way the VT30 lives up to the expectation. If Panasonic's claim about its black-level stability holds true, allowing it to outdo the 2010 models after a few months of age, the VT30 is the blackest plasma we've tested since the Pioneer Kuro (but the Kuro is still better). Other areas of this Panasonic's picture quality are also generally superb, although it doesn't stand quite as tall above the competition as last year's VT25 series did. The competition, namely Samsung's best plasmas, has gotten better, and the PND8000 we tested (review posting soon) outdoes the color accuracy of the VT30, although the Samsung falls short of the Panasonic in a couple of other areas. The Samsung is the better value, however, so if you want the best picture for your dollar, the VT30 is not the way to go. But if you want the best picture regardless of cost, the Panasonic TC-PVT30 series is our No. 1 pick this year.
Editors' note (September 1, 2011): The reviewed size of this TV is undergoing long-term testing, the results of which don't affect this review but may be interesting nonetheless. Click here for details.
Series information: We performed a hands-on evaluation of the 55-inch Panasonic TC-P55VT30, but this review also applies to the other screen size in the series. Both sizes have identical specs and according to the manufacturer should provide very similar picture quality.
|Panel depth||2.2 inches||Bezel width||2 inches|
|Single-plane face||Yes||Swivel stand||No|
The Panasonic VT30's main design improvement over the GT30 series is a single pane of glass that fronts the entire panel, eliminating the depth difference between the frame and the screen. We've always liked this look, and we appreciate the VT30's touch of extra classiness: a thin sliver of silver along the extreme edge to offset the glossy black. There's also a small speaker bulge along the bottom edge, but it's subtle and set back enough that the panel appears a perfect rectangle.
All told we like the design, but it might be a bit understated for some tastes, and we do wish the bezel around the screen was thinner, a la the GT30 or, better yet, the Samsung PND8000/D7000--both of which have a slight design edge over the VT30.
Panasonic's simple glossy black stand has a relatively large footprint, and we were a bit disappointed that it doesn't allow the panel to swivel.
|Remote control and menus|
|Remote size (LxW)||9 x 2 inches||QWERTY keyboard||No|
|Illuminated keys||31||IR device control||No|
|Menu item explanations||Yes||On-screen manual||No|
Panasonic's menus and remotes are basically unchanged from 2010. The menu system looks and acts quite a bit less sophisticated than Samsung or Sony, and we didn't appreciate having to scroll through so many pages in the Picture menu. 3D Settings seems misplaced in the Setup menu, and on-screen support beyond basic explanations is nonexistent.
We like the remote more than Samsung's thanks to the better button differentiation, but not quite as much as Sony's slicker clicker. We missed having a dedicated Netflix button, and noticed that despite officially renaming its Internet suite for TVs "Viera Connect," the button on the remote still says "Viera Cast."
|Key TV features|
|Display technology||plasma||LED backlight||N/A|
|3D technology||Active||3D glasses included||1 pair|
|Screen finish||Glass||Internet connection||Wi-Fi adapter|
|Refresh rate(s)||96Hz, 60Hz, 48Hz||Dejudder (smooth) processing||Yes|
|Other:THX display certification for 2D and 3D; includes Wi-Fi adapter and 1 pair of 3D glasses; additional 3D glasses at $179 each are TY-EW3D2SU (small), TY-EW3D2MU (medium) and TY-EW3D2LU (large); optional Skype camera/speakerphone (TY-CC10W, $169); optional network camera (wired BL-C210, $199; Wi-Fi BL-C230, $299)|
Compared with the GT30, the flagship VT30's main step-up features are a dedicated 96Hz mode for 1080p/24 content and a single included pair of 3D glasses. Both models offer THX certification, which can be utilized via a preset picture mode available with both 2D and 3D sources. New for 2011 Panasonic has added dejudder processing to its plasmas. See performance for more details.
The new 2011 glasses are quite expensive at $179 list per additional pair. Improvements over the 2010 glasses, model TY-EW3D10, include an on-off switch to make it easier to determine whether they're powered up, a closed design and significantly lighter weight. We wish they used Bluetooth sync like Samsung's 2011 glasses. On the other hand we appreciate their prior-year backward compatibility; you can use Panasonic's 2011 glasses with the 2010 TVs, and the 2010 glasses with the 2011 TVs.
Panasonic includes a Wi-Fi dongle with the VT30, occupying a USB slot but happily allowing you to use a wireless connection with this TV without paying an extra $80 or more for a dongle.
|Streaming and apps|
|Amazon Instant||Yes||Hulu Plus||No|
|Other: CinemaNow, Dailymotion, Ustream.tv, Alphaline, NBA GameTime, MLB TV, Fox Sports widget, Napster, Shoutcast, Picasa, Gameloft games including Asphalt 5 and Golf, Withings Wi-Fi body scale;|
Like Samsung and LG, Panasonic redesigned its Internet suite for 2011 TVs, adding an app store, greatly expanding content offerings and changing the name--it's now Viera Connect for TVs, although the old VieraCast moniker still applies to 2011 Blu-ray players.
Vudu video and Hulu Plus are still missing, and we could nitpick about the absence of Rhapsody since Napster gets a spot, but otherwise the selection is solid. Unfortunately the Netflix interface doesn't allow search and uses the old, horizontal scroll instead of the new tiled layout, but at least you get genres.
Notable apps include Shoutcast for Internet radio and one that works with the $159 Withings Wi-Fi body scale. We checked out the new Asphalt 5 racing app on the GT30 we reviewed earlier and although it was better than most TV games, we figure it's with $0.99, not $4.99. In addition to paid apps, the Viera Market also has actual merchandise, including 3D glasses, SD cards, gamepads and Logitech's DiNovo keyboard (everything is list price, unfortunately).
Overall we preferred the layout and simplicity of the Viera Connect interface to Samsung's significantly more ambitious, and more cluttered, Smart Hub. Panasonic seems to enforce a straightforward menu structure and default font in many of its app and widget designs, and as a result using them feels easier and more cohesive. We didn't miss having a Web browser or video search capability, and as with last year we liked the ability to arrange and reorder app tiles among the various screens.
On the downside response times were slower than Samsung in many cases, but not slow enough to be annoying. We also wish you could activate apps from within the market, as opposed to having to back out to the main Viera Connect interface.
|Adjustable picture modes||6||Fine dejudder control||No|
|Color temperature presets||5||Fine color temperature control||10 points|
|Gamma presets||6||Color management system||Yes|
|Other: Gamma detail adjustment; ISF Day/Night modes for professional calibrators|
The VT30 offers more user-menu control options than any other TV we've seen yet. New for 2011 Panasonic has added a 10-point grayscale adjustment, full-fledged CMS and, unlike any other TV we've seen so far, a 10-point luminance control to home in on gamma. Unfortunately these controls are only available in the Custom preset, not on any others; they were difficult to use and didn't produce the results we expected.
If you don't want to mess with controls, THX for 2D and 3D gets you pretty close. And if you want to pay a calibrator to mess with controls, for example to set up the ISF Day and Night modes, you might want to ask for someone who can take advantage of the Calman auto-calibration system built into this TV.
You also get full picture control with Netflix and other streaming services--the TV basically treats Viera Connect as a separate "input." Panasonic also offers 2D-to-3D conversion among its smattering of 3D settings, but it won't convert streaming video.