Okay, so I’ve buried the lead a bit, and I apologize for that. I should have started the review like this: All Hail the Return of Kuro! Pioneer’s vaunted and long-deceased Kuro plasma TV line had the best black levels and contrast ratios of any flat-panel TV, and the Panasonic TC-P55VT50 beats the early Kuros in this regard.
I’ll let that sink in for a second.
Got it? The TC-P55VT50 is better than all but the last few generations of Kuros. I measured a black level of 0.003 and 41.7 footlamberts (ftL) with a white window (see measurement text), for a contrast ratio of 13,900:1. That’s a vastly better native contrast ratio than any LCD or plasma in recent memory. The only displays with better native contrast are JVC’s D-ILA projectors.
The result is a stunning picture. The depth and realism are incredible. Bright parts of any image explode off the screen, while the dark parts sink into infinity. When you watch a letterboxed movie, the black bars disappear into the room. This is the brass ring, folks, the Grail itself.
With dynamic content like Max Payne 3, the stylized bright flashes that mark cutscenes are legitimately bright, the Panasonic’s intense contrast allowing them to burst out from the dark areas.
And it doesn’t end there. The set’s near-perfect color accuracy lends a lifelike realism to all content. Subtle differences in skin tones, lip shades, even different types of grass — all these factors make what you’re seeing less a “TV” image and more a window into another world. Take a movie like John Carter. The TC-P55VT50 perfectly portrayed the muted colors in the Earth scenes, and then later relayed the uber-vibrancy of the many “Martian” colors in scenes on that planet.
The Panasonic TC-P55VT50’s performance isn’t perfect, however. While a white window test pattern (25% of the screen) measured a reasonable 41.7 ftL, a full-screen white pattern measured a comparatively paltry 16 ftL. While a full-screen white image is something you rarely see during regular viewing, this does show that the TC-P55VT50 isn’t exactly bright when compared with an average LCD TV. For daytime watching in a room without curtains, LCD is probably your better bet. The Panasonic TC-P55VT50’s gamma was also a little off from normal, showing more punch in the midrange. I didn’t find this to be a problem, though some who prefer a higher gamma (darker shadows) might find the TCP55VT50’ s brightness adjustment too coarse for their liking.
Panasonic’s TY-ER3D4MU glasses ($80) connect via Bluetooth, and are wonderfully lightweight. They’re one of the most comfortable active 3D glasses I’ve tried. They conform to the Full HD 3D standard, which means you can use them with other standard-compliant TVs, like those from Samsung.
Conversely, you can use Samsung’s Bluetooth glasses with Panasonic’s TV. That’s just as well, because Samsung sells 3D glasses for as low as $20, and no glasses of any kind are included with the Panasonic TC-P55VT50.
The TC-P55VT50 has fantastic depth with 3D. Many scenes in Wrath of the Titans seemed to extend deep behind the TV. Even the opening title cards looked several inches behind the screen. Pictures extended less out in front, though that is typical with a 3D movie converted from 2D. With a native 3D movie like Hugo, there were plenty of scenes that stepped out from the TC-P55VT50’s screen. There was also noticeable crosstalk, however — definitely the worst part of the Panasonic’s performance. That’s too bad, because its 3D effect was otherwise excellent.
One scene early on in Titans best demonstrates the TC-P55VT50’s greatness. After the opening battle, a wounded Perseus sits in a dark room getting stitches in his shoulder. The lighting is great, with a darkened doorway in the foreground and a beam of sunlight on the back of his head. The beam of light is legitimately bright, while the doorway is almost perfectly dark. Details like the dirt on the characters’ faces, plus the natural-looking skin tones, all tied together to make for a beautiful shot on a beautiful TV.
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