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(March 10, 2010) The 3D era arrives today with the first sales of complete systems that include a 3D display, a 3D disc player and 3D viewing glasses. Best Buy’s Magnolia stores offer an exclusive featuring the TC-P50VT20 and Panasonic’s DMP-BDT300 3D capable Blu-ray player.

In TV industry parlance the TC-P50VT20 and DMP-BDT300 are referred to as derivative models, both exclusive to Best Buy. The retailer likes selling derivative models since the exclusivity negates the company’s“price match policy.

Best Buy’s derivative HDTV and Panasonic’s TC-P50VT25 are essentially identical except for the bezel finish (the VT20 is simulated brushed stainless steel, the VT25’s is a dark simulated brass) and the inclusion of an RS-232 interface in the VT20 that can be used with sophisticated remote control systems such as CrestronWe know of no feature differences Update: The difference between Panasonic’s DMP-BDT350 and the derivative DMP-BDT300 is the 350 supports DLNA the 300 does not. The DMP-BDT350 retails for $449.99 and is expected to ship next month.

The TCP-50VT20 retails at Best Buy for $2499.99. The TC-P50VT25 arrives early next month at regional and local retailers at $2599.99 list. Each come packed with a single pair of Panasonic 3D glasses, with addition pairs retailing for $149.99.

I performed tests during a recent visit at Panasonic’s NJ headquarters. Panasonic personnel unpacked the TC-P50VT20 prior to my arrival; all readings are based on out of the box condition with fewer than 10 total hours on the set.

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The VT models are Panasonic’s top-of-the-line 2010 plasma HDTVs. In addition to the 3D features, Panasonic added a number of improvements over its 2009 V10 series. Performance enhancements include: shorter decay red and green phosphors, elimination of the 2nd front glass panel with the addition of a new micro-louvered anti-glare filter bonded directly to the glass, a new panel scan system, anti-blur circuitry and higher energy efficiency.

The 50″ TC-P50VT25 includes a swivel table stand and retains 2009 V10 series performance features including THX certification, 96 Hz refresh (in addition to normal 60 Hz 2D and 120 Hz 3D modes), “Custom” mode with user gray scale adjustments, and user gamma settings. For a full list of VT series features, go to our earlier 2010 Panasonic feature (link).

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Tests began with peak white level readings.  The “Vivid” default mode (often referred to as showroom or torch mode and not recommend for home viewing) came in at 65.18 ft lamberts using a 100IRE window pattern.  Panasonic’s “Infinite Black Pro” mode kicks in when using the “Vivid” setting and yielded a black level reading of 0.000 (meaning below our Minolta LS-100 light meter sensitivity) with a 0 IRE black test signal, making the contrast ratio indeed infinite.  We calibrated the user controls in Custom mode and measured a white level of 32.39 ft lamberts white and .004 ft lamberts black level for a contrast ratio 8097.5 to 1. (The black level reading is about one-half of reported out of the box black levels of the 2009 V10 series). In THX mode (factory default user settings) respective measurements were 31.5 ft lamberts and again an impressive .004 ft lamberts black level. THX factory default contrast setting is at 60 out of 100, a level which provides the ability to increase the white level in bright viewing environments.

Color points were excellent, almost spot on the HDTV standard (in parentheses) measuring in THX mode R= x.642, y.334 (x.64, y.33) G= x.299, y=.604 (x.30, y.60) B= x.149, y.058 (x.15, y.06)

White balance was close to the D6500K (x.313, y.329) in THX mode. 20 IRE recorded at 6578K (x.312, y.323) at 80 IRE 6289K (x.316, y .332). Gray scale adjustments are available in Custom mode, but time did not permit a calibration.

Signal processing using a 480i signal on the HQV test disc was excellent for the color bar test, picture detail and good for the jaggies tests (2 of the 3 Bars).  To my surprise the VT20 failed the 3:2 pulldown test with the control set to “Auto” (it passed in the “On” position) . The unit also failed the video noise reduction test, with no effect with the control settings at strong, mid, or weak.

HD HQV tests provided similar results with the VT20 failing 3:2 pulldown when the control is switched to “Auto” from “on” and negligible noise reduction. Panasonic personnel on hand during the testing said they’d study my findings. Considering that last year’s models aced the noise reduction and all 3:2 pulldown tests, we will check to see if Panasonic produces a firmware update for both new production and for sets already in inventory.

The 96 Hz mode eliminates the need for 3:2 pulldown and associated judder. It was flicker free for all HD 2D content viewed.

The FHP disc motion resolution test provided excellent results. Enabling the anti-blur mode made the test pattern rock solid and exhibited full 1080 line per-picture-height motion resolution. The moving sign and license plate tests confirmed a significant reduction of phosphor lag. There were no signs of phosphor lag when we switched to viewing an action movie on Blu-ray disc.

The new anti-glare coating is very effective, providing impressive results with extreme off vertical axis light sources such as ceiling fixtures.

2D Viewing

The improved scan and phosphors along with the deep blacks and accurate color provided excellent image reproduction and fine shadow detail. These improvements add up to amazing overall images free of the “video look” associated with 120 and 240 Hz LED LCDs.

3D Viewing

My only 3D source was the demo disc packed with Panasonic’s Blu-ray player, which provides clips from “Astro Boy” as well as numerous live sequences including beach shots, dancing, volleyball, super-slow motion sports and a wonderful underwater fish segment.

As much as I tried to see the issues witnessed with the Sony FHD3D TV (the only production 3D models publicly demoed in 3D link) I did not see them. They simply are not present.  These include crosstalk seen as ghost images, motion artifacts best described as a motion breakup, sort of like a strobe effect and flickering. (One note: when I switched the user control from 120 Hz to 96Hz, flickering appeared in bright scenes, so keep it at 120 Hz).

The mode memory choices such as “Custom” have offsets built-in to compensate for the brightness reduction of the 3D glasses and any other image picture parameter shifts. They proved quite effective, although until Panasonic or someone else makes 3D test signals available on Blu-ray, there is no way to calibrate the user controls in the 3D mode.

Overall, I find the 3D image outstanding with considerably more brightness and pop than the motion picture theater 3D movie experience.

In other words, if you like 3D in the movie theater, you’ll love the way this TV does it at home.

Final Notes

Panasonic has set the bar high for Generation 1 FHD3D TVs. With the exception of the noise reduction and the Auto 3:2 pulldown not functioning (a minor issue, however, and one that should not appear in any 2010 HDTV) the TC-P50V20 is an excellent HDTV and FHD3D TV. The HD Guru awards the Panasonic TC-P50V20 ♥♥♥♥ 4 out of 5 hearts.

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