Panasonic's TH-103VX200W 103-inch 3D plasma hands-on

Most flatscreen TVs are mass-market commodities, but Pocket-lint got a peek at some very special plasmas from Panasonic at this week’s trade-only ISE (integrated Systems Europe) event in Amsterdam. Already approved by Pope Benedict XVI - several of these giant Panasonic plasmas now adorn the Vatican Museum - these monster screens truly are the current benchmark in picture quality.

Using thirteenth generation Neo PDP plasma panels designed and built by Panasonic in Japan, its VX Series models - which comprise a £43,000 85-inch TH-85VX200W plasma as well as the £84,000 TH-103VX200W we spent some time with - make up its Custom Home Theatre (CHT) range.

Ultra high-end (can you tell?) these screens represent the pinnacle not just of plasma tech, but also of active shutter 3D.

At this price it ruddy should be, of course, but everything is here for a cutting edge installation: advanced colour management, 16 memories for picture settings, customisable inputs (up to six HDMI inputs and RS232 for integrating it into a control system), and, most importantly, 3D crosstalk reduction tech and a 30-bit colour processor.

The blackout demos of Avatar (what else?) in Amsterdam were something else. With some active shutter 3D glasses donned, there’s an immediate drop in brightness but, crucially, it’s not to the detriment of the picture, as with some of Panasonic’s more mainstream 3D screens. On those smaller panels, the Full HD pixels are squeezed together and a touch too much light is lost, affecting colours. On this 103-inch panel, the individual pixels are spaced-out a tad more, and simply let out more light. There is still a visible drop in brightness, but this time it actually helps accentuate the panel’s native contrast ratio.

So often exaggerated by manufacturers, Panasonic’s claim that the TH-103VX200W delivers a 5 million-to-one contrast ratio (in simple terms: there’s 5 million steps between pure white and deepest black) appears to hold true - we counted them all! But seriously, blacks aren’t forced, they’re nuanced and natural, with darker areas and shadows in the forests of Pandora sparkling with subtle detail.

Put simply, the TH-103VX200W’s performance is like a home cinema projector - only better. There are also no restrictions on watching in day or night, though a near blackout is always advised (those who can afford the £84,000 can probably stretch to a pair of blackout curtains).

The much-maligned active shutter 3D tech, which was pioneered by Panasonic, sees its resurgence here. The criticism the tech has come in for mostly revolves around the cost of its glasses, the frequent and irritating flicker of the glasses, and the fact that you must sit dead-on to the screen to get a decent 3D effect.

The expensive glasses remain a problem whether you watch 3D on a plasma or LCD TV, but there is a difference between the two that’s immediately apparent on the TH-103VX200W. LCD TVs emit polarised light, and so do active shutter 3D glasses, so when you don 3D glasses and lay at an angle - on the sofa, for example - you're changing the angle of polarisation; the picture darkens, or disappears. There’s no such interruption on a plasma; its fluorescent light is polarised by the 3D glasses, but it makes no difference where or what angle you watch from.

Wary of crosstalk - although not a major problem with the first-gen 3D plasmas - the TH-103VX200Wplasma also slightly lags each frame of video to match the LCD glasses.

Despite the 3D picture being exquisitely clean and detailed, bright enough, and containing lusciously deep blacks and awesome colours, there’s a nagging sense that the 3D effect could be more impactful.

Is Panasonic being a tad conservative in keeping 3D on plasma looking clean, yet subtle? Or are the brands using 3D LCD TVs being too ambitious in delivering eye-popping 3D with far too many side effects?

There’s probably a crumb of truth in both statements, though even if you get your hands on a TH-103VX200W (it’s distributed to custom installers in the UK by AWE Europe) it’s already been surpassed -Panasonic was also demoing its TH-152UX1, a 152-inch "4k2k" (4096 x 2160 pixel resolution - that’s 8-megapixel compared to Full HD’s 2-megapixel) plasma, which sells for … deep breath … £540,000. A mere show-off product not intended for sale? Apparently not!



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