Panasonic TX-P50VT30

This is home cinema heaven. We can spot a blackout-bound plasma screen a mile off, but the backlit remote control in the TX-P50VT30’s box – it glows a dark red behind the buttons to delicately help with operation in the dark – is the first clue that this 3D plasma has high-end ambitions.

However, it’s a different kind of luminescence that is at the core of this wonderful picture performer. Where LED TVs typically struggle in their attempt to make LCD panels more dynamic and thus able to show both bright and dark images simultaneously, the TX-P50VT30 achieves it without breaking stride.

Blu-ray stunner

Switch the lights off and it’s still easily possible to make out the panel’s innate brightness - we’re not talking total, utter black here – but we’re sincere in saying there is no other TV that can so well decipher and deliver accurate images from a Blu-ray disc.

Detail in a completely still image is excellent, too, if a shade beneath the levels reached by a same-size LCD TV, but the TX-P50VT30 is more adept at dealing with motion. Quick camera pans and objects rushing through a shot don't cause blur and resolution loss, but are instead tight and comfortable to watch. This fluidity is another innate skill of plasma, and we’re actually more impressed by the TX-P50VT30’s lack of judder while watching Blu-ray. It’s also worth mentioning the built-in audio here, which is surprisingly good given the product’s thinness.

3D performance

Spin some 3D and the quality continues, with clean and involving sequences that don't often get confusing or difficult to decipher, but frequently wow. Although the same attributes remain from the TX-P50VT30’s 2D performance, we’re slightly disappointed by how much deeper the black we perceived the image after putting the 3D spectacles on. Truer black is always welcome, but here it’s at the cost of brightness generally; there’s slightly less shadow detail in black areas, and the pizzazz is removed from brighter images. Overall though, this is a sterling 3D picture.

Make standard definition beautiful

Almost as impressive as 2D and 3D Blu-ray is the way the TX-P50VT30 handles lesser video sources and makes them enjoyable. With both Freeview HD and Freesat HD tuners and interfaces on-board, this is a screen built to please almost any kind of user, though we’re not convinced about the electronic programme guide. Stuffy, small and scarred by a large window that’s clearly designed to - but in reality, does not - host a live channel, it’s in dire need of an overhaul.

Media playback extras

At least recordings can be made to a HDD hooked-up to the side-panel’s USB slot, and thus accessed though a dedicated icon on Viera Tools - a presentation of the TV’s core services that can be reached at the touch of a button on the remote.

Also on Viera Tools are shortcuts to accessing media stored on a USB stick, though the two slots on the rear of the TX-P50VT30 are somewhat hidden and could be tricky to reach if this huge, heavy plasma is wall-mounted. The Media Player supports AVI, MP3 and JPEG from USB, extending to MP4, AVC HD and WMA music if the TX-P50VT30 is on the same network as a DLNA-compatible (Windows 7) PC.

Online services

It is worth getting online, not least because there’s built-in WiFi, so positioning the TX-P50VT30 isn’t a problem. Do so and you’ll also bring alive another core feature of all mid-to-high-end Panasonic TVs in 2011 - Viera Connect. Replete with Skype - if you buy a Skype kit from Panasonic - BBC iPlayer, Acetrax movie streaming, the live BBC News web feed and a nicely presented, intelligently searchable YouTube. There’s also a developing ‘app store’ area with various apps and games.

We’ll leave you with a slight anomaly; despite being clearly designed for use in a dark room – for it’s here where the TX-P50VT30 truly impresses - this giant plasma is nevertheless one of the most attractive screens around. At this price it has to compete with Samsung’s pencil-thin LED TVs, but at 37mm in depth it should be slinky and slim enough for most. The bezel around the actual plasma panel is a lot wider than on a top-end LED TV, but we think the use of one sheet of glass across the front, as well as a distinctive silver trim, lifts the TX-P50VT30 to the upper echelons of flatscreen TV styling.

Verdict

An enchanting and spotless performance with 2D and 3D Blu-ray persuades us that this is the ultimate home cinema screen for many. A great all-rounder that’s as adept at upscaling SD fare as it is with native HD.

The TX-P50VT30 also comes stuffed with features - Freeview HD, Freesat HD, Viera Connect (with BBC iPlayer) and DLNA streaming - but it is the sheer image quality at its core that we love. It also suggests, yet again, that plasma is the panel tech best able to cope with this era’s two main issues - making 3D both comfortable and impressive to watch, and allowing low-bitrate broadcasts sing on a big screen.