The Panasonic P55VT65 is a 55-inch TV from what would have been Panasonic’s flagship plasma series if the brand hadn’t gone a bit mad - in a good way - and launched the P60ZT65. It thus boasts a high-end plasma filter; a huge contrast range; extensive Smart TV features and picture calibration aids; 3D playback; and the endorsement of the independent THX ‘quality assurance’ group. If Panasonic's record with Plasma TVs is anything to go by, we're in for a treat.
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Plasma traditionally struggles to compete with LCD technology aesthetically. Mostly because it’s impossible to support a heavy plasma panel in the sort of barely-there screen frames routinely wrapped around LCD TVs these days. But the Panasonic P55VT65 at least has a stab at looking good thanks to its use of a ‘single layer’ fascia, its silver outer trim and a surprisingly glamorous and open-looking metal stand that cunningly disguises the fact that the P55VT65 weighs a tonne by modern TV standards.
It's a shame then that, as with other Panasonic TVs this year, the Panasonic P55VT65 has a disappointment in store with its connections, only providing three HDMIs rather than the four we’d hope to see on any ambitious TV these days.
The connectivity improves with the discovery of twin tuners for both Freesat and Freeview HD, making it possible to watch one programme on a connected Smart device and a different one on the main TV screen.
Its multimedia connections are good, too. For starters there are USBs you can use for either recording from the TV to USB hard drives or playing photo, video and music files from USB storage devices. But also you get both LAN and built-in Wi-Fi support for streaming files from DLNA PCs and accessing Panasonic’s online Viera Connect platform.
There’s much to admire about Viera Connect, such as its clear, pretty interface and intuitive content finding tools. The set works very well with Panasonic’s excellent Viera Remote 2 app for iOS and Android devices too, and there’s enough content around to make things look busy.
However, there’s no denying that the platform could still do with a few more of the UK’s key video streaming services - LoveFilm, the ITV Player, 4OD and Demand 5 are particularly noticeable by their absence.
The star of the P55VT65’s smart TV show has to be its new My Home Screen interface. This multi-hub systems does a cracking job of simplifying access to your favourite content - especially as you and other members of your household can easily set up your own personal home hubs containing links to only the content you love. For a much more detailed look at My Home Screen, check out our previous feature.
The P55VT65’s picture setup menus are comprehensive, with full colour, gamma and white balance management toolsets and an unusually long suite of impressively useful picture presets. These include two THX modes that deliver great results for movies and two slots an Imaging Science Foundation (ISF) expert could use for calibrating image settings designed to suit your room conditions.
The THX modes are there, of course, because the TV has passed the rigorous image quality performance criteria - for 3D as well as 2D - demanded by George Lucas’s independent quality assurance organisation.
At the P55VT65’s heart is one of Panasonic’s latest NeoPlasma Black 3000 plasma panels, with their 300Hz Focused Field Drive technology for improved image stability and motion handling. It also uses Panasonic’s Infinite Black Ultra high-contrast technology and a superior contrast filter to that found in the step down GT60 series, and has enough power in its Hexa-Processing Engine to deliver an impressive 30,000 steps of gradation.
One final feature of the P55VT65 worth highlighting is its use of front-firing speakers - supported by a rear-mounted woofer. Propelling the sound straight out of the screen rather than downwards like most TVs do should help soundtracks sound much more potent and clear.
There are a few basic rules of thumb to follow if you want to get the best out of the Panasonic P55VT65. First, avoid the far too aggressive Dynamic picture preset, at least when watching 2D. You should also turn off the Eco mode that adjusts the picture in relation to the brightness of the room you’re in, and you should treat the set’s noise reduction routines with suspicion, leaving them off entirely with HD footage.
The Intelligent Frame Creation motion interpolation system on the TV should also be handled with care, as if you use it on too high a level it can make pictures look processed and unnatural - especially when watching Blu-rays. However, you might find you need to use the IFC processing on its lowest level, as this helps remove/reduce some dot fizzing noise over moving skin tones.
Aside from these points the Panasonic P55VT65 can be as easy or as hard to set up as you like, depending on whether you’re happy to stick with the well-conceived THX presets for dark-room movie viewing and a slightly subdued take on the Standard mode for daytime TV viewing, or whether you want to get involved with the immensely flexible picture adjustments.