Panasonic TX-65VT20

At 65-inches in diameter and with a depth of just 90mm, is this 3D Ready plasma the ultimate flatscreem TV? It certainly looks the part, but if you’re going to spend this kind of money on anything it should be faultless.

And for all its high tech features and plasma brilliance, there are a few issues that take the shine off this beast of a screen.

Its huge size is obvious, but this 50kg package has gubbins galore; both Freeview HD and Freesat HD tuners star alongside USB recording (to external HDD drives), THX certification, Infinite Black Pro, Intelligent Frame Creation Pro (to smooth-out Blu-ray) and, of course, the star turn: compatibility with Panasonic’s own - and now industry-standard - Full HD 3D TV system.

That latter requires a 3D Blu-ray player, and we’d suggest you go for either Panasonic’s DMP-BDT100 or DMP-BDT300 to keep remote controls to a minimum. Which brings us to our first criticism of the TX-65VT20; its remote is identical to those delivered with Panasonic’s £500 LCD TVs - shouldn’t there be something a bit flashier at this price point?

Connectivity brings up another (albeit tiny) bone of contention; the set’s two USB slots are too close together. Attach the in-the-box wireless LAN adaptor (DY-WL10) to one of them and the other is rendered unusable.

Other connectivity includes an HDMI input, a CI slot, two USB ports, headphones and a SD Card slot on the TV’s side panel. The rear houses three HDMI inputs, Component video, Composite video, two Scart, PC (VGA), optical audio and analogue audio ins and outs. Usefully, one of those HDMI ports features audio return, so you can easily take audio from the TV's tuners out to a compatible amp.

After swapping between the adaptor and a USB stick we sussed-out that the TX-65VT20 can play just a small selection of files from a USB stick or SD Card (JPEG, DivX, MP3 and M4A) and can only stream JPEG, MP3 and WMA music files from a networked PC (using the DLNA standard) - so no room for DivX HD and MKV files.

Media playback is nothing on Viera Cast, which the TX-65VT20 natively hosts. This super-quick service is investigated in other Panasonic reviews, but we’ll say here that this version includes (among a few too many German and Czech news apps) Twitter, Eurosport, Skype (if you buy a Panasonic TY-CC10W Skype HD camera/microphone) and AceTrax. The latter delivers movies if you register the TV with an online AceTrax account, though the choice of movies isn’t exactly exhaustive. New releases like Clash of the Titans (£3.49 to rent/£10.99 to buy) sit alongside classics such as The Matrix (£2.49/£6.99), but there’s no HD or 3D content.

Ah yes, 3D. We were supplied with a Panasonic 3D Blu-ray player and a 3D copy of Ice Age 3, the latter containing some incredibly impressive 3D effects. Using one of the two pairs of 3D glasses that come with the TX-65VT20, we tried hard to see what difference the "3D edge smoother" did, but at least Panasonic does provide some picture settings dedicated to 3D. It all works automatically for 3D Blu-ray - as it should - though if you plan to get Sky’s 3DTV service some manual tweaking will be in order; there are several picture modes and different 3D types (including Sky’s side-by-side format) to choose from.

What we did notice during Ice Age 3 is that although still images look sharp and in 3D, fast-moving pictures do blur - a lot. For example, during a shot where a character makes a gesture, does a somersault, then looks into the camera, the somersault is blurry and indistinct. Either side of the fast action, the 3D effects are smashing, with some incredible depth of field that really does bring backgrounds to life, though because of the glasses 3D fare appears relatively dimly-lit, which has repercussions for colour vibrancy and less-than-pure white.

The 3D glasses, meanwhile, need a redesign; slightly fiddly to operate (the glasses need to be switched-on and permanently communicate with the screen to synchronise the shutters on each lens), some reflections creep into the sides and they are uncomfortable. How uncomfortable depends on the size of your nose (the smaller, the more painful in our extensive tests!), but there are two types of nose guards and a lanyard with each pair just in case you want to look even more ridiculous.

This review has zoomed-in on a few negatives so far, but let’s not get carried away; away from the novelties of online networking and 3DTV, the TX-65VT20 is one of the finest flatscreen TVs around. Built using Panasonic’s NeoPDP technology, this top-draw plasma is more versatile and more impressive than any big screen LCD/LED TV we’ve seen.

Switch to the THX preset and 2D Blu-ray is stunning; lush colours and fine detailing dominate, with no need for the extra smoothness offered by that Intelligent Frame Creation frame insertion tech - invented to cure LCD TVs of their motion blur. Such problems don’t affect this plasma, which is also swimming in true-to-life black, again, unlike LCD (hence the LED backlighting idea).

We beat the plasma drum for two very good reasons, both demonstrated in spades by the TX-65VT20; Blu-ray and HD may not look their brightest, but they do look their best, while fast-moving games and standard definition fare are clean and free of artefacts. You won’t get these kind of highs - or versatility - on LCD TVs. Add some powerful speakers and, despite a few rough edges, the TX-65VT20 is something very special. 

Verdict

Uncomfortable 3D glasses, a cheap remote and some underwhelming digital media efforts aside, the TX-65VT20 is the most impressive big screen around; there are issues around 3D picture quality (and content), but its versatility and skill with Blu-ray and Freeview HD/Freesat HD make this all-encompassing plasma unbeatable in a high-end home cinema environment.



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