In the past, if you wanted a "big screen" experience the only logical solution was to buy a projector. Impressive as they are, they do present a few problems — you need to watch them in the dark, the bulbs need replacing and so on — and so patient home theatre enthusiasts have awaited the arrival of "affordable" big-screen televisions as an alternative. At last, they are rewarded with the appearance of Panasonic's new flagship plasma: the TH-P65VT20A
Like the 50-inch version of this series, the colour of the VT20 was probably aiming for "copper" but somehow ended up with "metallic brown". Nevertheless, the shade is still quite subtle and would blend well with fashionable dark wood furniture.
Not only is a 65-inch plasma the equivalent of a person who is five-foot five inches tall but it weighs just as much at 54.5 kilograms! You'll need a couple of people to help you lift this one. The TV is still relatively slim and sleek but unlike the 50-inch it lacks a swivelling stand.
The remote control is Panasonic standard issue, but it's easier to use than before: the centrally-based "Viera Tools" button brings up an On-Screen Display (OSD), which includes access to IPTV and 3D.
Technically, the TH-P65VT20A is based on Pioneer's Kuro plasma system and features a "glassless" waffle front, which offers better off-axis viewing. The panel has been given THX's official tick of approval and features a high 5,000,000:1 dynamic contrast for deep blacks and a full 1080p moving picture resolution for better on-screen movement.
While the manufacturer may trumpet 3D as being the most interesting thing about this TV, we think it's wrong. Why yes, it lets you watch 3D TV and Blu-rays with the included pair of 3D goggles (you read right, just one pair!), but it's the internet connectivity that's intriguing here. The Panasonic features IPTV under the name of "Viera Cast", with access to YouTube and local video content "coming soon". You can also Skype your buddies (with the addition of the AU$199 camera) and also access Bloomberg, Twitter and Picasa.
The Panasonic ships with four HDMI ports — with ARC support for single cable convenience — two components, an S-Video, a PC input, SD card slot and four AV-ins. The TV can playback media files such as AVCHD, DivX HD, SD-Video, JPEG, MP3 and AAC via one of the two USB ports or the Ethernet connection, and can also record free-to-air content on a single tuner with the addition of a USB drive.
If you're looking for a big screen, then plasma is the perfect balance of price and performance. While it's over twice the price of the 50-inch VT20, the Panasonic is still four grand cheaper than Samsung's smaller, "luxury" TV — the UA55C9000.
It's not surprising that the 65-inch performed similarly to its smaller sibling, but there were some significant differences. Let's just say this first: this TV is *insert expletive here* huge! It will dwarf most lounge rooms, and as a result one quirk that was insignificant on the 50VT20 was suddenly quite noticeable. For example, during our testing we noticed a diagonal mesh effect that didn't appear on the 50-inch. Apart from that, the 65-inch version is better in most ways.
Panasonic's strength is in contrast performance, and we'd argue the 65VT20 has the deepest blacks we've seen on a plasma. The Panasonic lures you in with inky-black tendrils and you're left mouth agape at the depth of its images. Whether it was the fine detail in the murk of Bruce Wayne's Asian prison cell or the individual hair on King Kong's arm softly blowing in the morning air, you'll see shadow details most LCDs will miss.
Colour accuracy is also a bonus, with images from the King Kong DVD looking incredibly natural. Batman Begins on Blu-ray, with its muted palette, looked gorgeous and detailed — also confirming the TV could properly handle colour gradations, which is a problem with "lesser" panels. Switching back to Kong and the TV demonstrates how talented it is in eradicating noise from an image: the long shot of King Kong on top of the Empire State displayed crisp edges with none of the mosquito noise of lesser screens.
The TV supports 24p, which is supposed to provide smoother pictures when watching Blu-ray movies, and this smoothness was demonstrated in both our synthetic HQV tests and the opening of Chapter 11 on the Mission Impossible III disc. The TV didn't pass the 30fps Video HQV tests, but this could only be an issue if you watch NTSC video content, and not even really much of a problem then.
If you're looking for a television for watching sport, you won't find any as impressive as this Panasonic. Watching both AFL Grand Finals (in 2D and 3D) brought with it a room full of sports fans, and the TV's ability to grab hold of a game as fast as Aussie Rules meant we didn't miss any of the action.
Where Panasonic can't keep up with current processing leaders such as Sony, is in its dealings with "jaggies", and on a large screen these are one of the most distracting image artefacts after judder. Like the 50VT20, the 65-inch has problems resolving a standard-definition image, and on the King Kong disc it appeared as if some actors are wearing flesh-coloured Kanye "grille" glasses instead of eyeballs.
Watching the 3D animation Cloudy With A Chance of Meatballs we failed to notice any crosstalk issues, and images were bright and involving. Only occasionally did 100Hz "haloing" effects occur, which are an unavoidable side effect of the high hertz rate of 3D systems. The 3D system is also significantly less bright than competing products so you can only really watch 3D in the dark.
We tried playing some 3D games but after getting giddy playing Wipeout HD on PS3 we abruptly stopped. Despite what some pundits say, 3D games aren't where (any) TV is at.
Given that the amount of content is still small, the VieraCast internet streaming service is a little less impressive than competitors. The VieraCast screen is a little dour in dark blue, and apart from distractions like Twitter and Facebook the only real "couch-friendly" content is YouTube. Content looks as good as you can expect web-centric video to look on a humongous screen!
Lastly, if you don't have a sound system, our advice is: get one. If not, then you'll find that the Panasonic is a reasonable communicator, but of course no match for even a modest system. Dialogue is clear, but it does lack sparkle and intimacy. Music is relatively propulsive, and movie sound also carries a decent amount of bass weight.
So, this TV costs about the same as a good-quality projector and projection screen, and capable of an image almost as big. Would we recommend this instead? Why, yes. While it gives off a decent amount of heat it actually swallows a lot less power than an equivalently-priced projector and you can watch it comfortably in a lit room.
It may not be the prettiest flower in the bunch, and has its quirks, but the Panasonic VT20 is an impressive television. To those who buy it: you better stock up on beers, you're going to suddenly make a lot of new friends.