Panasonic Viera TC-P50GT30 3D Network Plasma TV - Review

The Panasonic TC-P50GT30 is a feature-packed TV, but is it the right TV for you?

Panasonic TC-P50GT30 3D Network Plasma TV - Photo of Front View
Panasonic TC-P50GT30 3D Network Plasma TV - Photo of Front View. Photos (c) Robert Silva - Licensed to About.com

Introduction

The Panasonic TC-P50GT30 is a 50-inch Plasma TV that incorporates 3D display capability from 3D Blu-ray, TV broadcast, cable, or satellite TV source, along with network media player capabilities, which allows direct access to both PC-based and online streaming audio/video content. With the addition of a compatible accessory webcam, you can even make Skype video phone calls. The TC-P50GT30 also utilizes an attractive, thin profile, design.

In addition, the 50-inch TC-P50GT30 also features a 1920x1080 (1080p) native pixel resolution, 600Hz Sub Field Drive, 4 HDMI inputs, and a two side mounted USB ports for accessing audio, video, and still image files stored on flash drives. The Panasonic TC-P50GT30 is definitely a feature-packed TV, but is it the right TV for you? To find out read the rest of this review. Afterward, also check out a Photo Profile and a sampling of Video Performance Tests.

Product Overview

Features of the Panasonic TC-P50GT30 include:

1. 50-Inch, THX Certified, 16x9, 3D capable (including 2D to 3D conversion), Plasma Television with 1920x1080 (1080p) native pixel resolution, and 600Hz sub-field drive

2. 1080p video upscaling/processing for all non-1080p input sources as well as native 1080p input capability.

3. High Definition Compatible Inputs: Four HDMI, One Component (via supplied adapter cable), One VGA PC Monitor input (via supplied adapter cable).

4. Standard Definition-Only Inputs: One Composite video input (via supplied adapter cable).

5. Analog stereo inputs (supplied adapter cable).

6. 10 watts x 2 sound system. One Digital Optical output for connection to external home theater receiver, stereo receiver, or amplifier.

7. 3 USB ports for access to audio, video, and still image files stored on flash drives. DLNA certification allows access to audio, video, and still image content stored on network-connected devices, such as PC or media server.

8. One RF coaxial cable input connection.

9. SD Card slot for access to JPEG still images stored on SD Cards.

10. Onboard Ethernet port for wired internet/home network connection. WiFi connection option via supplied USB Wi-Fi Adapter.

11. VieraCast: Internet apps for access to online content from a variety of sources including Pandora, YouTube, Netflix, Blockbuster, Flickr, Picassa, Facebook, Twitter, and more...

12. Skype-enabled (optional Panasonic-compatible webcam required).

13. ATSC/NTSC/QAM tuners for reception of over-the-air high definition and unscrambled high definition/standard definition digital cable signals.

14. Pixel Orbiting function for prevention of image retention. Image retention repair function also included.

15. Link for remote control via HDMI of multiple HDMI-CEC compatible devices.

16. Wireless Infrared Remote Control included.

For a closer look at the features and functions of the Panasonic TC-P50GT30, check out my supplementary Photo Profile

Plasma TV Basics

Plasma TV employs technology similar to that used in a fluorescent light bulb. The display itself consists of cells. Within each cell two glass panels are separated by a narrow gap in which neon-xenon gas is injected and sealed in plasma form during the manufacturing process. The gas is electrically charged at specific intervals when the Plasma set is in use. The charged gas then strikes red, green, and blue phosphors, thus creating a television image. Each group of red, green, and blue phosphors is called a pixel (picture element). For more details on Plasma TVs and Plasma TV technology, refer to my Guide To Plasma TVs

3D

A 3D-enabled TV will work with 3D-enabled source devices that comply with the industry standards for 3D. 3D-enabled TVs are required to be able to receive video signals encoded in one of several 3D signal formats (Side-by-Side, Top-and-Bottom, Frame Packing). 3D source signals can be provided by 3D-enabled Blu-ray Disc players, cable/satellite boxes, or game consoles. 3D-TV converts all incoming 3D signal standards to a frame sequential format for 3D viewing.

In addition, the Panasonic TC-P50GT30 also features real-time 2D-to-3D conversion. This is not as good a viewing experience as watching originally produced or transmitted 3D content, but it can add a sense of depth and perspective if used appropriately and sparingly, such as when viewing live sporting events. On the other hand, since this feature cannot calculate all the necessary depth cues in a 2D image correctly, sometimes the depth is not quite right, and some rippling effects can make some background objects look too close and some foreground objects may not stand out properly.

For viewings either native 3D or 2D/3D conversion on the TC-P50GT30, compatible active shutter 3D glasses are required, such as the TY-EW3D2MU provided by Panasonic for this review or compatible universal active shutter 3D glasses, such as the XpanD X103 which I also used for this review.

Network Features

In addition to its 3D and HDTV capabilities, the TC-P50GT30 also incorporates networking and Internet capabilities, which Panasonic labels as VieraConnect and VieraCast.

The main selections on the TC-P50GT30 are Facebook, YouTube, and AccuWeather, Skype (requires compatible webcam for video calls), Netflix, and FOX Sports.

Additional selections on successive pages of the menu include CinemaNow, Pandora, NBA Game Time Lite, MLB TV, USTREAM, and Picasa.

Also included is access to a VieraConnect Market, that has a listing of many more audio/video internet streaming services can be added to your selection for free, or for a small fee.

The TC-P50GT30 is also DLNA certified, which means that it can be integrated into a home network, with the ability to access digital media files from other DLNA network connected devices, such as PCs and media servers.

Additional Components Used In This Review

Home Theater Receiver: Onkyo HT-RC360 (on review loan)

Blu-ray Disc Players (Both 2D and 3D compatible): OPPO BDP-93 and Panasonic DMP-BDT110 (on review loan).

DVD Player: OPPO DV-980H.

Loudspeaker/Subwoofer System 1 (7.1 channels): 2 Klipsch F-2's, 2 Klipsch B-3s, Klipsch C-2 Center , 2 Polk R300s, Klipsch Synergy Sub10.

DVDO EDGE Video Scaler used for baseline video upscaling comparisons.

Audio/Video connections made with Accell, Interconnect cables. 16 Gauge Speaker Wire used. High-Speed HDMI Cables provided by Atlona for this review.

Software Used

3D Blu-ray Discs: Avatar, Despicable Me, Drive Angry 3D, Resident Evil: Afterlife, Tangled, Tron: Legacy, Under The Sea and Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs, Space Station, and The Green Hornet.

2D Blu-ray Discs: Across The Universe, Hairspray, Inception, Iron Man 1&2, Kick Ass, Percy Jackson and The Olympians: The Lightning Thief, Shakira - Oral Fixation Tour, Sherlock Holmes, The Expendables, The Dark Knight, The Incredibles and Transporter 3

Standard DVDs used included scenes from the following: The Cave, House of the Flying Daggers, Kill Bill - Vol 1/2, Kingdom of Heaven (Director's Cut), Lord of Rings Trilogy, Master and Commander, Outlander, U571, and V For Vendetta.

Video Performance

The TC-P50GT30 is a very good performer. For 2D viewing, using either the Cinema or THX picture presets, the color, contrast, and detail was very good and consistent across sources. However, the THX picture setting preset, in absence of further manual calibration, provides the most accurate color and contrast levels.

Black level was deep and even across the screen, which is expected on a Plasma TV, and the GT30 does not disappoint in this area. This contrasts with the black level "blotchiness" that can be visible an LCD TVs that use LED Edge Lighting. Also, the letterbox and pillar box bars, when they are present, were very black so as not to be distracting, blending well with black frame of the TV, which makes watching 4:3 and 2:35 aspect ratio content more pleasurable.

In addition, the TC-P50GT30 provided smooth motion response in 2D and 3D. It is important to note that Plasma technology typically provides a more natural motion response than LCD or LED/LCD TVs.

I wanted to make sure to note that when viewing 3D, it is important to adjust the TV's picture settings for 3D viewing. I felt that the Standard, Cinema, and THX picture settings were not optimum for a good 3D viewing as the contrast and brightness were inadequate to prevent some of the cases of crosstalk and glare that can be corrected by making a few adjustments.

When viewing 3D material, although the THX setting is probably the most accurate in terms of color and contrast, I found that it was best to use the Game setting, or better yet, use the Custom option and set the brightness and contrast levels to your preference (do this with the 3D glasses on and viewing a 3D Blu-ray Disc).

For me, increasing the Brightness and Contrast somewhat made the 3D images more defined and compensated well for the loss of brightness when viewing through 3D glasses, as well as minimizing some "ghosting" effects. On the other hand, avoid using the Vivid setting provided on the GT30 as it makes the image a little too intense as colors and whites have a tendency look too hot (oversaturated color and too bright whites) with this setting.

With the 3D Blu-ray Disc material available for this review, I found that Avatar, Resident Evil: Afterlife, Drive Angry and Tangled offered some excellent 3D examples, but it is evident that the 3D viewing experience depends on everything in the chain: TV, Content Source, and Glasses working well together.

In addition to doing well with high definition source material, the Panasonic TC-P50GT30 also did fairly well standard definition source signals, with some exceptions. For a look at the ability of the TC-P50GT30 to process and upscale standard definition source signals, check out a sampling of video performance tests.

Internet Streaming

The big addition Panasonic has made on its TVs is the incorporation of internet streaming, which Panasonic refers to as VieraConnect or VeiraCast.

Some of the accessible streaming sites include Facebook, YouTube, and AccuWeather, Skype (requires compatible webcam for video calls), Netflix, Amazon Instant Video, and FOX Sports. Additional sites can be added via the VieraConnect Market menu (see photo).

Playing the available content is easy, but it must be noted that you need a good high-speed broadband connection. In my area, my broadband speed is only 1.5mbps which resulted in some visible compression artifacts and long buffering times.

On the other hand, Netflix detects your internet speed and adjusts the streaming quality accordingly that it looks as good as possible based on your situation. The result isn't always that great both stopping and buffering issues are minimized. For those not familiar with Netflix, it is a subscription pay site that provides, with a modest monthly fee, unlimited viewing directly to the TV, of a library consisting of both current and catalog home video releases. In most cases, the movies can be viewed in standard definition, high definition, or high definition 1080p.

It must be noted that there is a lot of variation in the video quality of the streamed content, ranging from low-res compressed video that is hard to watch on a large screen to high-def video feeds that look more like DVD quality, and, in some cases, better. Even the 1080p content streamed form the internet will not look quite as detailed as 1080p content played directly from a Blu-ray Disc. Of course, broadband speed is also an important factor with regards to streaming quality.

DLNA and USB

Besides the ability to stream content from the internet, the TC-P50GT30 can also stream content from DLNA compatible media servers and PCs connected in the same home network. I found that at first TC-P50GT30 did not detect my PC. However, after downloading Twonky Server and Twonky Beam to my PC everything fell into place and I was not only able to access audio, video, and still image files directly from my PC's hard drive, using the TC-P50GT30, but I also had access some additional Internet Radio and YouTube content.

In addition to DLNA functions, you can also access audio, video, and still image files from SD Cars or USB flash drive-type devices. Other USB devices that can be connected to the TC-P50GT30 via USB include a Windows USB Keyboard and a Panasonic-compatible Skype Camera.

What I Liked About Panasonic TC-P50GT30

1. Excellent Color, Detail, and Black Levels.

2. 3D works well provided the brightness contrast settings are set appropriately and the content is produced well for 3D viewing.

3. Internet streaming feature provides good selection of internet streaming options.

4. Access to digital media from USB flash drives and DLNA certified network connected devices.

5. Excellent motion response on 2D material and good motion response on 3D material.

6. Additional picture setting/calibration options. This may be overwhelming to the novice, but provides the more technically inclined and installers more comprehensive calibration adjustments for better results. Preset THX 2D and 3D picture setting provided.

7. Large, but easy-to-use backlit remote. Backlight makes it easier to use in the dark.

8. Skype feature a nice added bonus.

What I Didn't Like About Panasonic TC-P50GT30

1. Long turn on time - takes about 5 seconds to hear the sound and see image on the screen.

2. Screen surface susceptible to some glare.

3. Long time duration when changing TV channels. This may be frustrating for some. There is a delay of about a second when changing from one TV channel to another. Screen goes black between channels.

4. 3D Glasses not included and are expensive.

5. Webcam for Skype use not included.

6. No analog audio outputs - digital audio output only.

Final Take

The Panasonic TC-P50GT30 3D/Network Plasma TV is a very good example of how using a TV has changed in recent years. At its core, the TC-P50GT30 provides excellent viewing performance with 3D and 2D high definition sources that should please most consumers.

Also, there are a host of additional well-provided for features that the user can take advantage of, from Internet streaming of movies and music to network media player options, to using the TV as video communication display when using Skype. All these features really add to the = value of the TC-P50GT30 as a centerpiece for a home theater system. About the only things it doesn't have is its own built-in Blu-ray/DVD player or DVR.

Admittedly, Panasonic doesn't offer as many selections with regards to internet content providers as some other manufacturers, its video processing and upscaling, although good, could use slightly more improvement, and I would have liked to have seen a preset picture settings mode specifically optimized for 3D viewing. However, if you are looking for a new TV, definitely put this set on your list. Even if you are not looking for a 3D TV, the TC-P50GT30 provides an excellent 2D high-definition viewing experience and the other added features definitely makes it worth consideration.

For a closer look at the Panasonic TC-P50GT30, also check out my Photo Profile and Video Performance Test Results.

Compare Prices

Also available in larger screen sizes. Compare Prices for the: 55-inch TC-P55GT30
60-inch TC-P60GT30, and 65-inch TC-P65GT30.