Panasonic Viera TH-P50VT20A

The Panasonic Viera TH-P50VT20A is an excellent TV with tech-smarts not available elsewhere, and will probably be seen in years to come as the "pinnacle" of plasma design.


8.6
CNET Rating
8.0
User Rating

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CNET Editor

Ty is a journalist with 15 years experience in writing for IT and entertainment publications. He is in charge of the home theatre category for CNET Australia and is also a PC enthusiast. He likes indie music and plays several instruments. Twitter: @tpendlebury


At the beginning of 2009, Pioneer announced it was pulling out of plasma production, and as a result many of its engineers migrated across to Panasonic. Eighteen months later, the Panasonic VT20 is the first television that incorporates the know-how gained through making one of the best TVs ever made: the Pioneer Kuro.

Design

Panasonic has taken a different tack for the design of its V and VT series televisions. Where in previous years the company has opted for simple piano-black finishes here it's broken out of the corral with something different. While the V series features a brushed aluminium look, the VT20 boasts a faintly metallic and dark brown bezel. Not the greatest colour in the world, metallic brown, but the effect is subtle and sophisticated.

The TV is quite slim and light too thanks to the lack of an external glass layer, in fact at 27.5kg it's managed to reduce the weight on the previous V10 model by a whole 9kg! The unit is solidly built as you'd expect and features a stippled swivel stand that makes it more comfortable to view the screen in other parts of the room.

The remote control is nothing special and is based on Panasonic's years-old design, but at least the centrally-based "Viera Tools" button is actually useful now as it brings up an OSD menu including 3D settings. You'll still need to hit the smaller "Menu" button to access other TV settings though.

Features

In September 2009, Panasonic was very excited about Avatar and its potential to sell 3D gear. And the TV it used to show a 3D trailer of the movie? A prototype of the VT20. So, as you can imagine, Panasonic is quite chuffed with its 3D system. The TV comes with a single pair of glasses, but if you want more than this they cost AU$199 each. Ouch.

The TV ships with a copy of Ice Age 3 and Coraline in 3D. Rumours are that Panasonic has an exclusive for the Avatar 3D Blu-ray and will start shipping it with its TVs later in the year.

The VT20 features all the usual 3D modes (side-by-side, top-bottom) and will also convert 3D material (such as the World Cup final) back to 2D, which could be useful if you have more people than 3D glasses. However, this is a feature we desperately want for other, non-3D TVs.

If you're not interested in 3D then the TV caters for you too. The "glassless" waffle front means there are fewer reflections when watching this TV and there is a better off-axis response as well. The TV comes with a 1080p moving picture resolution, which means sharper movement, has a high "5,000,000:1" dynamic contrast and has been certified by THX.

The TV also comes with two USB ports that can playback media files such as AVCHD, DivX HD, SD-Video, JPEG, MP3 and AAC, and can also record free-to-air content with the addition of a USB drive.

As with other TVs released this year, the Panasonic features IPTV under the name of "Viera Cast" with access to YouTube and Bloomberg, with local content "coming soon". You can Skype your buddies (with the addition of the AU$150 camera) and also access Twitter and Picasa.

Performance

At CNET Australia we're big fans of plasma technology, but think that this year LCD is nudging its way ahead. Given the Panasonic's heritage we feel duty-bound to give the VT20 a high rating almost by proxy: "It's based on the Kuro? Automatic five stars." But the truth of it is that things have changed drastically in the TV landscape in the past 18 months. After much hand-wringing, we're sorry to say plasma is no longer king.

After using the VT20 for a while we have to admit some mixed feelings for it. It's great in well-lit rooms (a first for a plasma) and is even better in a darkened home theatre. Pictures are sharp, blacks are deep and detail is as sharp as you'd expect from the current leader in plasma technology. But in some respects it's not as good as last year's V10.

Starting with synthetic tests our television aced all of the HQV tests, bar the film mode (24p) test. This is one better than the V10, which also failed the video test, but this still means that you may experience some judder when watching Blu-ray movies.

This proved true on the Mission Impossible III Blu-ray, which showed a propensity for clunky motion, but this also depends on your player. While we had judder issues with the PlayStation 3 we had none with Panasonic's own BD300. Despite passing the synthetic jaggies test, the VT20 left us scratching our heads with its inability to smooth out some jaggies. There was a lot of moire on the railings at the beginning of the bridge scene of MI3 and this was disappointing — the Sony HX800 was able to clean this image up spectacularly and still deliver a detailed picture. Despite this, the image was sharply honed without degenerating into noise and blacks were inky.

Traditionally, plasmas have problems with clouds — whether it be dust, sunsets or storm clouds — and this is because they weren't able to handle the subtle graduations of colours. This usually resulted in clear streaky lines and "buzzing" artefacts. Moving to the Batman Begins Blu-ray, though, we found that the Pana no longer sees this as a problem. The clouds above Ra's al Ghul's mountaintop palace were smooth and fluffy.

DVD replay was also good, with the sunrise over the Empire State Building in King Kong never so believable. Images were clear, full of depth and natural looking. While clouds did show a little bit of "buzz" colour gradations were mostly smooth. Another thing we noticed was that large patches of sky also displayed faint strobing horizontal lines on occasion, and this occurred regardless of the player.

LCD TVs have a terrible problem with off-axis viewing — that is, viewing when not directly in front of the TV — and even the Sony HX800 has a problem with this. This Panasonic has the best viewing angle of any TV we've seen so far. Add a swivel stand and you can truly watch this TV from anywhere in the house, presuming you have a line of sight.

Sound quality was good, with voices clear and soundtracks delivered with oomph, though we did find that there was a "chuffing" noise with music.

After connecting a USB disk, we found that the on-board recorder is very quirky and not recommended as an alternative to a PVR. It won't let you preset recordings, you can only record the show you are watching. To access it, you need to press the SD-card button on the remote.

So far, so good. But the TV wasn't as successful in some areas, particularly 3D. While images suffered from very little "crosstalk" or ghosting, we did find that engaging the 3D mode did cut the TV's brightness quite significantly. This would make it hard enough to watch in a lit room if it weren't for the flicker — any light source that's in your peripheral vision will flicker. So it's best to watch this TV in the dark if you want to watch 3D. Obviously this can present a problem when you're watching communal 3D content such as sport.

The internet features aren't that comprehensive at this stage though browsing YouTube was fun. We look forward to the company announcing content deals with the commercial and public broadcasters in the near future to round out its content offering.

Conclusion

We had high hopes for the Panasonic VT20 and they were mostly fulfilled. This is truly one of the best plasmas that has ever been produced. Black levels are very high, pictures are detailed and off-axis viewing is the best of any TV currently on the market.

Unfortunately, the spectre of the "grey" black levels issue will hang over Panasonic TVs, and there's even debate over whether it even affects Australian models at all. It's too soon to say if this TV will be affected, but we can imagine that the brightness will increase gradually over the life of the set instead of overnight.

The VT20 is an excellent television, and we predict it will be seen as one of the best TVs ever. It just happens that Sony's TV is that much better.

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MarcelG Facebook
5
Rating
 

"Great TV lousy internet connectability"

MarcelG posted a review   

The Good:Great picture and integration with Pana's surround stereo (Viera link)

The Bad:Pana's internet options are rubbish with no web browser

Loads of dramas connecting via LAN and had to purchase a wireless to make the internet happening, add to that a Skype cam and the whole experience has become a rather expensive one. Frustrated that Panasonic still hasn't released a web browser, which would make the packasge a lot more attractive.

The televison part and viera link once set up with the hard drive recorder and the surround stereo is a breeze to use (except for the missus who will never learn to drive anything more complicated than a vibrator).

rogerhassan Facebook
9
Rating
 

"Amazingly great TV, Love it!"

rogerhassan posted a review   
Australia

The Good:Amazing crisp and black picture.

The Bad:Limited Settings, Hard drive recording is annoying.

We got the 54 inch version of this TV a little while ago and it has been simply amazing.

The picture is amazing, blackest blacks and just great colour. I'm sure it could be further calabrated to be even better but at is great anyway.

A lot of connections at the back and side so you can almost do anything with it.

Haven't connected it to the internet yet so don't know if that works well, but I don't see why it wouldn't.

There could be a few more settings on the tv and you apparently have to buy a panasonic approved hard drive to record digital tv, or if there isn't it hasn't accepted the one I tried.

Overall amazing TV, really happy with it and the home theatre it came with.

 

Pninja posted a comment   

Just purchased the 54inch version it has excelent picture with fantasic black levels and calibrtion settiwith so I used a calibration disc, A bit disappointed in viera cast nowhere near the apps as American version but thats usauly the case in australia .

Dustman
9
Rating
 

Dustman posted a review   
Australia

The Good:Great TV

The Bad:Hard to get best picture settings

Can someone please give me the BEST settings for Best picture quality for this TV, I just can't get it right.
I would really appreciate any advice.
Thanks

 

Pninja posted a reply   

Get your self a copy of Dve hd basics blue ray disc it's a start on calibration and you calibrate it in the professional settings

 

tim posted a comment   

The Good:simply the best

The Bad:the cnets lack of knowledge on tvs, sony better?

how in the world could the sony be better, a back lit tv will simply never produce the black levels or the response times to even sneeze at the superior performance of the vt20, sony= samsung panel, made in china/panasonic= panasonic panel, made in japan. get your facts straight and do some home work rather then reding of a company specs sheet, i bet you werent even using a 15.8 gbs hdmi cable when testing the panels there for the 24p motion will not be shown with full information anyways. i bet you nerds used $5 hdmi cable from jb hifi with ur mums pocket money for these tests

 

Gaza posted a comment   

Good TV but very bad service, my one stop working 3 weeks a go & still not going, AWA does the service for Panasonic & they are crap, had to call them lots of time to see when the part for my TV would be in, all they said was it's coming....

JohnA123 Facebook
8
Rating
 

JohnA123 posted a review   

The Good:Picture Quality

The Bad:Audio

Picture is amazing. AVI video playback from usb looks poor compared playing back the same video from the ps3. Also tv looks better from the ps3 play tv addon all because the ps3 upscales all video. Would be nice if manufacturers included a video upscaling feature in the tv's. Audio wasn't as deep as my old high end crt tv. Fiddling with settings has imporved the audio but still not as good as my old set the bonus home theater speakers should fix that can't wait til they arrive. SD card video playback doesn't work when trying to play video from my panasonic camera which is less than 12 months old. 3d looks good but only when you don't have any light sources to the side of the tv which limits me to watching 3d at night because the slight light coming from my windows with the curtains closed is enough to spoil it. Aesthetically the tv looks great I was little concerned by the brown/bronz bezzle in the store but it goes really well with my hardwood furniture. I don't regret buying this TV and have overall been extremely happy.

 

Thomas posted a comment   

I wonder... What SONY is better?? Dont leave that hanging, eh?

Buckmeister
8
Rating
 

Buckmeister posted a review   

The Good:Best Blacks, Great Picture, easy menus, sound is good, 3D Picture is excellent, the size of this Big TV is easy to watch.

The Bad:Media Server fiddly to setup and then it does not play AVI, QT, VOB and WMA files. MKV has been the only file I have it plays

3D: Only one set of 3D eyewear included with this TV and it's at least one set too few. Unless you are a nigle not mates, expect to be forking out another $199 for a second set of eyewear. In my case I need two more. 3D content is also hard to find. I have two Video shops around my area and between the two they only had 3 different titles in 3D. I went to purchase 3D Blu ray and that was even a harder task to locate 3D content.

As it is a 1080p Full HD panel, it is a high quality image details when viewing video from a Blu-ray disc or other high DEF source connected over HDMI. The motion movement is very noticeably smooth and the plasma is less fatiguing to watch I'm finding then the LCD.

This plasma Panasonic is a good performer when it comes to 2D content a well, one of the best if not the best picture on a TV I've ever owned. This is my first Plasma

MEDIA SERVER: This is the only disappointment for me. My Media NAS (external Hard Drives) setup is through Panasonic wireless dongle. This setup was very easy and I have full VEIRA CAST Panasonic internet features working very well.

Currently I have the Xtreamer and the e-TRAYz NAS setup which plays any format I've feed through the wireless setup. (Obviously not 1080p/i) But anything from 720p down works fine. Pictures, movies, From DVD to home made movies, AVI, WMA DVIX etc all play on the Xtreamer. The Panasonic manual said it plays MEPG2 (PS and TS formats). Well, it doesn't do that well at all. It starts to play the MEPG2 and then it either freezers or the screen goes black/blank after a while. the Wireless connection it strong (same thing happens with wired connection). Jpegs (Pictures from digital camera) do not all play. Dependent on the format or size of the sub-sampling and pixels to whether it can display the Jpeg. Ironically, none of my Panasonic DMC-FZ20 Jpegs will display on the Panasonic TV. You have to laugh at the absurd sometimes. Other Jpegs in the directory display.

To not drag this on, I am extremely disappointed with the VEIRA tools. VEIRA tools is the feature where you pick the media server and other media feature. None work as you need them to work. Panasonic make no claim for it to play all types of format to be fair, the VEIRA feature is useless.

Upshot is it's a great Picture in 2D and better in 3D


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User Reviews / Comments  Panasonic Viera TH-P50VT20A

  • MarcelG

    MarcelG

    Rating5

    "Loads of dramas connecting via LAN and had to purchase a wireless to make the internet happening, add to that a Skype cam and the whole experience has become a rather expensive one. Frustrated that..."

  • rogerhassan

    rogerhassan

    Rating9

    "We got the 54 inch version of this TV a little while ago and it has been simply amazing.

    The picture is amazing, blackest blacks and just great colour. I'm sure it could be further cal..."

  • Pninja

    Pninja

    "Just purchased the 54inch version it has excelent picture with fantasic black levels and calibrtion settiwith so I used a calibration disc, A bit disappointed in viera cast nowhere near the apps a..."

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