Panasonic’s new VT30 plasma range has a lot to live up to. Its VT20 forebears were almost universally revered as the best 3D TVs available last year, and we declared the Panasonic TX-P50VT20 supreme TV in the 2010 T3 Awards.
This year’s step-up models come in four screen sizes: the 42in TX-P42VT30 reviewed here, and 65-, 55- and 50in alternatives. All sport dual Freeview HD and Freesat HD tuners plus oodles of picture-processing technology.
Panasonic TX-P42VT30: Build and features
Design-wise, the TX-P42VT30 is undeniably striking. Front-facing, the set is edge to edge glass. The look is haughty yet sophisticated. This is mirrored in the remote control, which has glossy keys with red backlighting. The panel itself is just 50mm deep, so you’ll need to use adaptors (supplied) for key connections such as aerial inputs, component and Scart.
Four HDMI inputs are provided, all side facing. They’re joined by an SD card slot and USB. Curiously (for such an expensive set) Wi-Fi is not integrated – you’ll need to use the optional Wi-Fi adaptor included in the package, if you don’t have an Ethernet connection to the set.
Panasonic has made significant improvements to the usability of the VT30, over last year’s VT20 model. The user interface has gone to finishing school and the TVs media streaming is also now best in class. While rival brands struggle to make sense of file formats and metadata, this TV fluently reads everything it encounters. Not only did it play back all file types in our test folder (AVCHD, AVIs, MOV, MKV etc), it also pulled up album art for MP3s from our networked NAS.
Naturally, the TV features VIERA Connect, the brand’s second generation IPTV and apps portal. The amount of content here is considerable, and includes BBC iPlayer, YouTube, Daily Motion, Daily Motion and Shoutcast. There are apps for Facebook and Twitter but you’ll not find them particularly useful, as they’re full screen and not integrated with the TV experience. Potentially more engaging is Skype for video calls. The TV will also record to an external USB hard drive.
However, such frippery is but a sideshow to the main event: image quality.
Panasonic TX-P42VT30: 3D picture quality
Last year’s 3D bugaboo crosstalk is nowhere to be seen on this Active Shutter screen. Thanks in part to new superfast phosphors, the TX-P42VT30’s 3D pictures are clean and free of detail obscuring double images. Even though the supplied Active Shutter glasses rob a significant amount of light from the screen, there seem to be effective countermeasures in place – probably a consequence of the THX 3D certification. Panasonic ships two pairs of Active Shutter glasses in the box.
Panasonic TX-P42VT30: 2D picture quality and audio
The Japanese major says the VT30 represents the pinnacle of its hi-def picture performance art, and that’s no idle claim. Images are blisteringly sharp, while contrast and black level are off the scale. Tron: Legacy (2D Blu-ray) demonstrates massive shadow detail and huge dynamics. Images are equally entrancing from the set’s Freeview HD channels.
Audio is above average. There’s decent stereo separation from the hidden speakers, with a rounded mid-bass courtesy of the dedicated 10W woofer. You also get a trio of ‘sound widening’ modes to experiment with.
Overall, this Neoplasma meets our high expectations. It combines wonderful design with best in class 3D and videophile image quality. Intriguingly, this set’s strongest competition doesn’t come from another brand. Its key rival is Panasonic’s own, excellent (and significantly cheaper) TX-P42GT30. We like to think of GT30 as the Pippa Middleton to the VT30’s Princess Kate. So which one would you choose?
Panasonic TX-P42VT30 price: £1399-£1699 online, link Panasonic
Panasonic TX-P42BT30 launch date: Out now