Updated and Corrected 3/24/2012
Panasonic entered the flat panel market as plasma HDTV company, producing some of the highest-rated displays of the last few years. In 2010, it began to offer 42-inch LCDs. For 2012, they are ramping up its LED LCD line with new 47- and 55-inch screens, featuring very thin bezels, highly styled cabinets, 1.1″ depths, new signal processing, a new track pad remote control and more.
We were extremely impressed by our first look of the new flagship LED LCD WT50 series at the January CES. Using an improved LCD crystal alignment and a new filter, Panasonic appeared to accomplish something no other LED LCD or conventionally backlit HDTV has done before: near-ideal vertical and horizontal viewing angle performance, high contrast, great image uniformity, and deep blacks. We felt an early evaluation would be of particular interest to our readers.
The WT50 series is loaded with almost every feature available in 2012: Active Shutter Progressive 3D, Backlight Scanning, Clear Panel Pro (with 16 zone dimming), plus new signal processing methods called 1080p Pure Direct, Pure Image Creation, Vivid Color Creation and Web Smoother, for enhanced color detail and smooth motion signal processing, among other benefits.
Panasonic includes two remote controls. One is similar to last year’s (and full sized) plus a second Touch Pad controller.
In addition to apps and streaming services (like Vudu, Amazon, Netflix, Wealth TV, Wealth TV3D, etc.) Panasonic offers sports, weather, games, health and fitness, social networks, Skype (with optional camera) and new childrens’ apps and soon, Disney books.
Performance features include ISFccc Calibration settings, a color management system, 24 Hz input, 240 Hz refresh, plus a scanning backlight.
We were given an opportunity to spend around three hours with the TCP55WT50 at Panasonic’s New Jersey headquarters. The unit was a pilot production sample with the certification required for sale, but it appeared a side trim piece was missing. Given our usual review methodology requires days not hours, we condensed our testing, using the factory preset color management while negating our full battery of a 2D and 3D sources (cable, satellite, disc, streaming). After optimizing the main user controls, such as color, brightness and contrast etc., we checked factory-default color points, minimum black level , white level (light output), motion resolution, as well as jaggies, noise reduction, motion resolution test etc. We used the HQV standard and HD test discs along with the FPD motion resolution test disc and our HD signal generator. We plan to do a more in-depth test once a production sample becomes available around April.
The WT50 uses new Panasonic 3D Bluetooth glasses that were unfortunately not on hand, so all of our test results are in 2D mode. We saw impressive 3D demos at CES but we will reserve judgment until we get our hands on a production sample and the new glasses.
The WT50 produced a retina-searing image of 85.4 ft. lamberts in the “Vivid” picture mode. This mode is designed for brightly-lit showrooms, not home viewing environments so we switched over to the Cinema picture mode for the majority of our testing and viewing.
In the Cinema mode the TC-L55WT50 produced a maximum brightness of 28.71 ft lamberts with a full white 100IRE signal, more than adequate for almost any home. The minimum black level produced an amazingly low 0.002 ft lamberts. This is the lower limit of our Minolta LS100 light meter and the lowest black level we have seen since the last generation of the Pioneer Elite plasma! Please note this is with the LEDs “on” (some sets turn them off when fed a black test signal). To date we have not received a sample Sharp Elite LED HDTV, however our esteemed colleagues at Home Theater magazine measured it with the LED backlight “on” at 0.011 ft lamberts, a level over five times higher than the WT50.
These measurements produced an outstanding contrast ratio of 14,355:1. We checked color temperature, in the warm mode using factory Cinema defaults, and measured a near ideal 6440K to 6517K from 20 to 100 IRE levels.
Color points were close to the HD rec.709 standard. Without making adjustments to the unit’s color management system, the readings are as follows: (rec. 709 in parenthesis for comparison) Red= x.643, y.336 (x .64, y.33) Green= x .316, y .619 (x .30, y .60) Blue= x .158, y.070 (x .15, y. 06)
We also checked the signal processing via the HQV discs (both HD Blu-ray and SD DVD). These tests include jaggies, color bars, noise reduction, deinterlacing, 3:2 film conversion in HD. The WT50 passed every one. Ditto for passing all the standard definition tests, which also includes animation cadences. These tests make many other TVs produce unwanted picture artifacts.
Picture uniformity, a big issue with competing LED LCDs, wasn’t perfect but was among the best we’ve seen to date on a LED LCD. There were no vertical bars (called jail bars), no bright spots (called flashlighting) and just some slight dimming near the edges while viewing near black or gray test signals.
Motion resolution came in at full 1080 lines (per picture height) with the frame insertion 240 Hz mode “on,” even at its lowest setting. With the circuit “Off” it measured 330 lines, the same as other LED LCDs operating at the 60 Hz position.
Aside from the excellent results above, the real tests came while viewing movie content. With limited time remaining, we confined our viewing to movie Blu-ray discs. The TC-P55WT50 produced excellent images with great detail, solid uniformity and deep, detailed dark areas. Shutting off all the room lights confirmed the WT50’s deep blacks.
Three things made this TV stand out from every other LED LCD flat panel we’ve tested to date: the viewing angle, the black level and the signal processing. No matter if we stood up or sat, viewed straight on or at an angle, the WT50 produced a fine image with no color shift or increase in black level. This is a LCD first, with no need to sit at dead center for the best image. I’d even go so far as to say, in this regard, it made us forget we were watching a LED LCD and not a plasma, which are known for their outstanding viewing angle.
The black level is lower than any 2011 HDTV we tested, being one-half of the best level we tested on a Panasonic VT30 (0.004 ft lamberts). We like to emphasize this was with the LEDs on, not off, as other sets simply shut down the light source, a condition that is only worthwhile when the screen fades to complete black during a program, Star filled space scenes and similar content requires the LED backlight to be on at all time. This would mean the black level is higher than shutting of the LED, but shutting off backlight (as some HDTVs do) distorts the image by burying dark detail into black.
Panasonic’s signal processing advances were evident when we selected the lowest motion enhancement setting. We’ve often complained about the “soap opera effect” which on other LED LCDs (and CCFL LCDs) made film-based material appear look like it was shot on video. The Panasonic did not. This attribute alone makes the WT50 worthy of consideration for every movie buff.
Panasonic’s TC-L55WT50 sets new performance benchmarks against every other HDTV. In addition its fresh styling, svelte form factor, $2,999 retail price and many Internet features makes it a worthy contender for best LED LCD of the year.
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