I’d heard good buzz about the VT30’s ability to deliver deep blacks; some had even invoked the Kuro word. (See our review of LG’s 50PZ950 for some background on that legend.) And while the Panasonic’s black-level performance didn’t exactly rival my— admittedly dimming — memory of Pioneer’s late, lamented plasma TVs, I was nonetheless impressed. To put things in technical perspective, the VT30’s black level measured 0.006 ftL. That’s about as black as black gets when it comes to current plasma TVs.
How did this translate during movies? Very nicely. During Source Code on Blu-ray, in the recurring scenes where Colter (Jake Gyllenhaal) interacts with Goodwin (Vera Farmiga), shadows in the claustrophobic capsule he’s strapped into displayed a good sense of depth, and plenty of detail was visible on the surrounding walls and control panels. Black letterbox bars on the wide aspect ratio films I watched also blended seamlessly with the edges of the set’s surface, which helped them disappear. The only real gripe I had was that contrast looked a bit too hot in this scene and others — partly the result of my pushing that adjustment beyond the THX mode’s default settings to give the picture sufficient punch.
Colors were pretty much dead-on. During another scene from Source Code (also recurring — watch the movie to find out why) where Colter, now in the guise of Sean, wakes up on a train and talks with Christina (Michelle Monaghan), the Panasonic reproduced the slightly enhanced skin tones without pushing them toward the too-warm side. The red of the train seat cushions, and the green hues of the passing landscape seen from the windows, also looked balanced as opposed to overly rich. And when Christina reached into her purse to retrieve a ringing cell phone, the logo on the Dunkin’ Donuts bag she was holding revealed those unmistakable orange and magenta hues.
To check out the set’s 3D performance, I pulled out a Blu-ray 3D disc of Gnomeo & Juliet, a clever retelling of the classic story using garden gnomes and other animated lawn ornaments. A few scenes from this disc really popped in 3D on the Panasonic’s screen. For example, one shot where Gnomeo’s out-of-control lawnmower skids out into the street showed a strong sense of spatial layering between Gnomeo in the foreground, traffic speeding in the mid-ground, and houses/trees in the far distance. Beyond that, pretty much every shot from this film showed a solid sense of 3D space. Crosstalk artifacts, meanwhile, weren’t an issue: The only example of these that I noted was during the opening scenes of Monsters vs. Aliens. I can’t say these were particularly bothersome, though I don’t recall seeing any at all in the Panasonic VT25 model I tested this time last year. Maximum light output in THX 3D mode (measured through the glasses) was around 10 ftL —a typical result.
The VT30’s video processing abilities were above average for the most part. It had trouble dealing with 2:2 pulldown on the test discs I used for evaluation, and was also slow to lock onto a 3:2 cadence. (With 3:2 Pulldown set to Auto instead of On in the setup menu, it wouldn’t lock on at all.) I also saw a few “false contouring” artifacts, which tend to show up as a coarse texture across uniform bands of color. Screen uniformity was perfect over a wide viewing arc — expected since plasma technology typically excels in this area. If you plan to install this set in a bright room, however, beware of its reflective screen: When overhead lamps in my room were switched on, I noted a fairly high level of onscreen glare.
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