Panasonic Viera TC-P50GT25 3D Plasma HDTV Page 3
High on the list of discs I use for resolution and color evaluations is a Pioneer demo disc distributed to Pioneer dealers (it was never made available to the public). It runs for nearly an hour and includes an incredible range of material: scenic shots, movie trailers, and closeup shots of everything from brilliantly detailed silk kimonos to (plastic?) sushi. My favorite selections are two montages of clips from a variety of European HD broadcasts. These were shot in 1080i, and they’re amazing. The cuts from one clip to the next are fast enough to give Michael Bay a headache. But they look so good even on such a short exposure that I’d buy many of the complete concerts sight unseen if they were available. Sadly, they aren’t, but the clips were an eyeful on the Panasonic. This disc has looked terrific on many high-quality displays, but I can’t recall ever seeing it look better than it did on the TC-P50GT25.
And what about those black levels? The black bars on program material that doesn’t fill the full 16:9 screen (2.35:1 and 4:3) were clearly visible in a darkened room, but I had little complaint about the blacks and shadow detail in the source content. From beginning to end, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince is a hellish test for a display’s ability to render dark scenes convincingly. The Panasonic sailed through it without complaint. The opening shots of Harry in a London underground train station, the subsequent scenes as Harry and Dumbledore move about in a dark village and house, and virtually everything beyond that were nearly flawless on the Panasonic. The scenes never degraded into the confusing jumble of foggy, grayish blacks and muddled detail that you often see on lesser sets.
The Panasonic reproduced blacks in other program material equally well. I never got pulled out of any film trying to see what was going on in the shadows or wondering why a dark scene just didn’t look right.
The only HD displays that can do noticeably better blacks than this Panasonic are a very few projectors, the best LCDs with LED locally dimmed backlighting, and the last generation of the now discontinued Pioneer KUROs. Any of these options will cost you considerably more than $2,100.
Through the Looking Glass
As I’ve already noted, the THX mode is 2D only; when you switch to 3D, the THX Picture mode (and menu) changes names and becomes the Cinema mode. A THX mode calibration must be performed in the service menu. There’s only one group of settings there, and they apply to both the THX mode in 2D and the Cinema mode in 3D.
Don’t assume that a calibration performed in the 2D THX Picture mode will carry over to produce equally good results in the 3D Cinema mode. As is the case with all 3D sets we’ve checked, the 3D glasses alter the color balance. It doesn’t look bad (at least not on this set), but if you want accurate color with your 3D, you must choose a mode other than THX/Cinema for 3D, and the set must be calibrated by measuring through the 3D glasses.
I chose the Custom mode for 3D, since it offers the widest range of user control. Even here, a 3D calibration involves compromises, as it has in most of the 3D sets we’ve tested. The controls, control range, and techniques needed for a fully satisfactory 3D calibration are still works in progress, both here and elsewhere. For more on the calibration, see HT Labs Measures.
The bottom line is that even with these compromises, both before and after calibration, the Panasonic produced compelling 3D images on the 3D program material currently available—most of it animated. A Christmas Carol displayed amazing depth on the Panasonic and, for the most part, a subtle rather than excessive use of the 3D process. The Polar Express is more aggressive in its use of 3D effects for effect’s sake. I lost count of the number of times the train made like a roller coaster. But it was still a lot of fun, and the film’s more relaxed scenes were also totally convincing. The depth genuinely enhanced the experience.
While nothing can enhance the 3D release of Clash of the Titans as a movie, the opening scene, with its layers of stars in a CGI universe, was effective. The stars have far more layered distance separation than they do in the real world, but it sure looks impressive. Even the 3D conversion process used in postproduction for the live-action scenes worked reasonably well. As with A Christmas Carol and The Polar Express, Clash of the Titans was more than satisfyingly bright on the Panasonic. I don’t agree with the reviews I’ve read that complain about it being more dark- and muddled-looking in its theatrical presentation (which I skillfully avoided) than the average 3D film. I suspect the critics’ eyes were glazed over from the film’s muddled script.
I saw a trace of ghosting in a few scenes of the 3D material I viewed on the Panasonic, but this was rare and certainly less frequent on the TC-P50GT25 than on any LCD 3D set we’ve tested.
The set also has a 2D-to-3D conversion mode. This is the first Panasonic 3D set to offer this feature—even the more upmarket VT25 sets don’t have it. I found it remarkably effective, particularly in the Maximum setting of its 2D-to-3D depth control. It’s the best 3D conversion I’ve experienced so far. The 2D version of Avatar was so striking with this feature engaged that I almost didn’t care that the release date for the widespread availability of this title in true 3D was still obscured deep in the mists of Pandora at the time of this writing.
Apart from Panasonic’s 3D glasses (not the most comfortable on the market), the two Panasonic 3D sets we’ve reviewed have produced the most satisfying 3D I’ve yet experienced from an HDTV. The only exception is sheer brightness; some LED/LCD sets have an upper hand on that front.
The TC-P50GT25 is a top 2D performer as well. When calibrated in the 2D THX mode, it’s a winner in color, detail, freedom from artifacts, superior black levels, shadow detail, and value—and clearly a Top Pick.